Tuesday, September 1

Champagne

‘NO.’
‘Yes.’
‘No!’
‘Yes.’
‘You turned thirty?’
I told her that I had, indeed, turned thirty; last Tuesday—‘Unless my maths is all wrong.’
‘Didn’t you turn twenty-one when I was here?’
‘No, I’d just turned twenty-one… I was twenty-one in August – obviously – and then I started here in October… No! November… Fuckin’ hell.’
We were both in the darkened kitchen, unwilling to turn on the simple light, but the office just beyond and the sterile white bleeding in. We were making cafetières of coffee, lending the room a very delicious smell. We used to work together, she & I; her husband still did work with me and she had been brought in for some contract work. Us working together seems so long ago, back when I was new in the city and we visited bars that have long since been shut down; either bulldozed for skyscrapers or turned into fabric shops. (We carried our cafetières into the office and the smells came with us.)
‘We forgot to give this to you before you went away,’ says one of the girls on reception to me: it is a card and a one of those fancy card bags for bottles; inside the fancy card bag for bottles was a bottle. I was surprised, had not expected such a gesture; went for a cigarette, came back, collected them both and walked to my desk. The envelope had not been sealed, nor licked. To me, an envelope unlicked lacks a certain something, like gifting a book without inscribing the inside, or getting your hair cut without a shampoo first.
I read the card. It was host to many wishes and many jokes. I put the card back in the unlicked envelope, and then into my bag.
Champagne. The fancy card bag was silver, made of silver card, and it had a silver cord for a handle. Inside was a bottle of champagne, staring up at me. The champagne said hello and that it was nice to meet me. It struck me as a strange gift. I do not find champagne’s taste particularly appealing – that coveted region of our neighbour – but drink it on occasions where there is little other choice, and to sip it seems the appropriate thing to do – such as sealing an envelope with a lick. The bottle of champagne was a tongue in the fancy card bag, a tongue refusing to lick envelopes. It stared at me.
I knew I could not drink this bottle of champagne alone. Who drinks a bottle of champagne alone? Not me. I could not drink it alone. It was unthinkable for me to go home that evening and drink the champagne by myself, to solitarily enjoy my birthday present from work. Yes, open it; pour it into one of the flutes my ex’s sister gave us when we were still together (only two survive; half the original four; maybe symbolic) and then what? Cheers. Cheers who? Salute? Salute to thin air. Who would wish me good health against the rim of my lone flute? No, I could not drink the champagne alone. It would have to sit there until such an occasion when I have company fine enough to indulge it. I shall leave it out on the side, room temperature, and when I get a chance to drink it, it shall be too short-notice to chill, in the fridge, squeezed between the green red yellow peppers. On that night, when it comes, I shall drink room temperature champagne and remember my birthday that happened by accident.

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