Wine talks; ask anyone. The oracle at the street corner; the uninvited guest at the wedding feast; the holy fool. It ventriloquizes. It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, teasing out secrets you never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers. It speaks of great plans, tragic loves and terrible betrayals. It screams with laughter. It chuckles softly to itself. It weeps in front of its own reflection. It revives summers long past and memories best forgotten. Every bottle a whiff of other times, other places, every one -- from the commonest Liebfraumilch to the imperious Veuve Clicquot -- a humble miracle. Everyday magic, Joe had called it. The transformation of base matter into the stuff of dreams. Layman's alchemy.
Take these six in Jay's cellar, for instance. The Specials. Not wines really meant for keeping, but he kept them all the same. For nostalgia's sake. For a special, yet-to-be-imagined occasion. Six bottles, each with its own small handwritten label and sealed with candle wax. Each had a cord of a different color knotted around its neck, raspberry red, elderflower green, blackberry blue, rose hip yellow, damson black. The last bottle was tied with a brown cord. Specials '75, said the label, the familiar writing faded to the color of old tea.
But inside was a hive of secrets. There was no escaping them: their whisperings, their catcalls, their laughter. Jay had hidden them behind a crate of more sober vintages the day he'd brought them back from Pog Hill Lane. Five weeks later he could almost persuade himself they were forgotten. Even so he sometimes imagined he heard them, without really knowing what it was he heard.
Jay Mackintosh was thirty-seven. Unremarkable but for his eyes, which were Pinot Noir indigo, he had the awkward, slightly dazed look of a man who has lost his way. Five years ago Kerry had found this appealing. By now she had lost her taste for it. There was something deeply annoying about his passivity and the core of stubbornness beneath. She knew there were depths to Jay, but for some reason he remained sealed off to her, neatly deflecting any attempt at intimacy. Her only point of entry to that secret place was through his books. Through his book.
Fourteen years ago Jay had written a novel called Jackapple Joe. It won the Prix Goncourt in France, translated into twenty languages. Three crates of vintage Veuve Clicquot celebrated its publication -- the '76, drunk too young to do it justice. Jay was like that then, rushing at life as if it might never run dry, as if what was bottled inside him would last forever in a celebration without end.
But then something happened. Perhaps it was the unexpected success of Jackapple Joe which paralyzed him. Perhaps the weight of expectation, of affection from a public hungry for more. Television interviews, newspaper articles, reviews succeeded each other into silence. Hollywood made a film adaptation with Corey Feldman, set in the American Midwest. Nine years passed. Jay wrote part of a manuscript entitled Stout Cortez and sold eight short stories to Playboy magazine, which were later reprinted as a collection by Penguin Books. The literary world waited for Jay Mackintosh's new novel, eagerly at first, then restless, curious, then finally, fatally, indifferent.
Of course he still wrote. There had been seven novels to date, with titles like The G-sus Gene and Psy-Wrens of Mars and A Date with d'Eath, all written under the pseudonym of Jonathan Winesap, nice earners which kept him in reasonable comfort. Every month the post brought him a sizable packet of fan mail, all addressed to Jonathan Winesap, mostly from America. Sometimes the letters contained blurry photographs of UFOs or accounts of out-of-body experiences or magical amulets or newspaper clippings dealing with unexplained phenomena. These he explored, debunked and filed away in the neat drawers of a large cabinet next to his desk. He was a great advocate of keeping fiction in its place. Sometimes he attended fantasy conventions and made impassioned speeches about what he called the Conspiracy of the Unexplained, in which he argued that the public's appetite for strange phenomena was being deliberately nurtured by the media to divert attention from a world crisis spinning ever more wildly out of control. He bought a Toshiba laptop which he balanced on his knees like the TV dinners he made for himself on the nights -- increasingly frequent now -- Kerry worked late. Occasionally he lectured at writers' groups, held creative-writing seminars at the university. More often he wasted hours surfing the Internet and drinking too much.
Kerry watched him with growing disapproval. Kerry O'Neill (born Katherine Marsden), twenty-five, cropped red hair and startling green eyes, a journalist made good into television by way of Forum!, a late-night talk show where popular authors and B-list celebrities discussed contemporary social problems against a background of avant-garde jazz. Five years ago she might have been more tolerant. But then, five years ago there was no Forum!, Kerry was writing a women's column for the Independent and she was working on a lighthearted book entitled Chocolate -- A Feminist Outlook. The world was filled with possibilities.
Her book came out two years later on a wave of media interest. Kerry was photogenic, marketable and mainstream. As a result she appeared on a number of lightweight talk shows. She was photographed for Marie Claire, Tatler and Me! but was quick to reassure herself that it hadn't gone to her head. She had a house in Chelsea, a pied-á-terre in New York and was considering liposuction on her thighs. If she sometimes wondered what had happened to the impetuous girl who had read Jackapple Joe and fallen wildly in love with the author, she seldom spoke of it. She had grown up. Moved on...
Blackberry Wine: A Novel
- paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
- ISBN-10: 0380815923
- ISBN-13: 9780380815920