The single glass of champagne wept tears of condensation, pooling on the white cloth marred only by the soft smudge of the spreading damp. Framed by yawning doors opening to rooftop terrace, the sunset cast a soft orange glow, catching rainbows in the glassware and rendering the suite quite beautiful. Beside the glass, an array of dishes carefully selected weeks in advance, each ingredient, each dish, each course so imperative to this occasion that the choice of hotel had fallen wholly and solely on the reputation of the chefs and their diligence in the kitchen.
There was chocolate: sultry sepia squares of silkened cream. Oysters, just three. Cabernet, open to the air, breathing, improving, evolving. The blue flame flickering softly beneath a bell shaped cloche, highlighted wisps of escaping steam caught by the light of slender candlesticks. Cheese – a Buche D’Affinois – rested, oozing its way across the platter toward the proud plump figs four.
She contemplated the positioning. Where to sit him? There, just to the left of the candlelight. He would have a perfect view across the table and she; she could observe his face, uninterrupted. Satisfied, she reached for the champagne and the bubbles, bouncing with joyous freedom, escaped to burst softly on her wrist. Absently, she raised her arm. Licked them away.
“Champagne is the can’t-go-wrong choice,” he’d said. “It lifts any oyster to noble status.” The bubbles had tickled her nose and elevated straight to her head, making her giddy. “Now, an oyster,” he had said. “Just try.” She had never had an oyster. The sluggy mollusks looked unappealing, and quite snot like. “Breathe in”, he instructed, “now bite. Just once.” He’d waited, watching her face. She bit. Sweet creamy meat, a faint hint of melon, then… cucumber perhaps? Intoxicating, yes. Sultry, yes. Surprising? Oh, so yes. He’d offered another, each reach across the table shortening the space between until, finally, feeding her from his fork, they ate as one.
It was from that moment on, he became her nourishment. How they feasted. There were sweet ripe white peaches fed to her blindfolded, the soft graze of fuzz brushing her chin. There was caviar – fine, nutty bursts of brine; and strawberries still warm from the sun, the juice running down her chin to stain her blouse.
Sputtering, the little blue flame leapt before extinguishing, the brightness nudging her back to reality. Shadows lengthened, soon it would be night. She had to eat something, she knew, before nerves got the better of her. The tip of a finger pressed into a morsel of chocolate, raising it to her mouth. Gently the sliver slipped between her lips. And as the unctuous richness spread through her mouth, her head ached in memory – chocolate along her body, warm lines of vanillay heaven, traced by his fingertips and chased by the lick of his tongue.
Surely, that Roennfeldt had been breathing long enough? She cupped the bowl with both hands, feeling the movement of the liquid, the stem a pendulum. A slight tilt, a swirl – not too fast, just gently – then head down, inhale. Cinnamon, chocolate, blackcurrant… her mind raced back, back to the vineyards; to wine and grapes and long walks between rows.
It was the day he’d lain her down among the vines, all fallen fruit and dropped leaves and grass forming a patchwork quilt of aromatic softness. Afterwards, she’d brushed the debris from her jeans and he’d reached across and plucked a leaf from her hair. “You’re beautiful”, he’d said. But that was before. Before the winter of her bones, no spring to follow.
At first, she thought the headaches were a reaction to the food. No more chocolate. No more cheese. No more red wine. Later, together they would sit in the clinic, each treatment harder than the one before, and they’d talk of grapes and white peaches and oysters and chocolate. “You’re beautiful”, he’d murmur, the pain a shadow behind his eyes.
When her hair started falling, she cut it short. Later, she took to wrapping her head in scarves, the gaudy colours a distraction from the sallow of her skin. And when they knew for certain, they stopped everything. They’d gone to dinner to celebrate and once again, she’d eaten from his fork. But the red meat made her gag and they left early, his coat sheltering her thin frame from the cold that didn’t exist outside of her skin.
Goosebumps peppered her flesh. The dark, on little cat feet, had crept into corners and waited, making way for night. Draining her glass she poured once again, before lifting the now cool cloche. Beef tournedos. Carrots, peas. It was as she had ordered, raised beautifully on the crouton, the slightest hint of Madeira mixed with rich earthy smell of foie gras. Now slicked in oil, the tepid jus congealed, the crouton a sponge. Her stomach rolled.
She pushed the room service trolley out into the cool corridor. Reaching behind, she flipped the card to “Do Not Disturb” and turning, took in the room, almost invisible in the darkness. The once pristine cloth stained with a scattering of chocolate crumbs, the almost finished bottle of Roennfeldt, and his beautiful face. It was time.
Deliberately, she placed the envelope beside him. Penned were two words outside, two words inside. ‘My love. I’m sorry.’ Beneath, a leaf, brown and tattered, the crumbling shreds still smelling faintly of vineyard. She reached for him, pulling him toward her, needing to see, just one more time, the soft, dark curls. The brushed silver frame caught the edge of the little white bottle, knocking it to the floor, the contents rolling across the carpet like marbles.
She locked her eyes on his, ebony pools staring back at her. Gently, she traced the glass. “You’re beautiful”, she whispered.
She reached for scattering of shiny red pills, and one by one, she brushed away the lint and placed them in her mouth.
Tilting her head, she swallowed, washing them down with the last of Cabernet.