Tuesday 26 January 2021

Biscuits, With Malbec


Biscuits, With Malbec

Mike Lee

a Malbec



I need to undarken the room. 

Irina rose from her chair, and with a smooth flourish she spread open the curtains. 

Her approximately onyx eyes squinted in the light, as she peered beyond the alabaster of the terrace wall. She rested her gaze at the peak of the mountain rising above the sea pines and the cumulus dotting the sky.

Irina wanted to ascend that mountain. The hike was scheduled for tomorrow. The journey was expected to be a straightforward, leisurely climb and to lack the surrealism of the novel Mount Analogue, a book that evoked Irina’s dreams, ones she usually concealed.

She read the novel at a time when she was struggling to live without judgment, to be at peace with the present, and accept a likely future framed by traditional expectations.

Irina turned from the window and sat, picked up the book from the side table and began to read.

The mountain brought Irina to the concept of a quest. She revisited the plan of climbing it shortly after they moved to the city to begin their office jobs. She even purchased a print of the mountain to hang it in her cubicle.

From reading Mount Analogue, Irina discovered a valuable insight: she realized that the journey is not a straight line, but circuitous. The journey in itself, perhaps, was but a means to an end. 

The door to the invisible must be visible.

Yes, baby. What?

I’m quoting the book I am reading.

Oh. That novel. You’re obsessed.

She looked up from the pages.

Perhaps. The word extended from her lips with a sensuous hiss.

They arrived at this resort on their first vacation in more than three years. The city was a day’s drive north of this minor paradise on the coast. This helped make it the first choice for Irina and Antonio to take a break.

The second was for the mountain.

Irina first encountered the mountain in childhood in an afternoon geography class during middle school. She was immediately attracted by the images when they flashed on the screen in the dark classroom.

The video was an exploration of the then-newly opened national park that encompassed the forest-covered mountains. Enraptured, Irina fell smitten, feeling a sense of belonging that was unlike anything experienced before.

The mountain became the land of her secret commonwealth, as she drew pictures of the mountain, and imaginary maps of the land surrounding the peak. She created towns and cities, roads and rail lines, all linked to magnificent futuristic cities rendered in her head.

Then sixth grade became seventh. Adolescence intervened, distracting her. It was years before Irina returned to dreaming of attaining the summit.

Antonio programmed a mix of jump blues on the sound player. Slim Gaillard Quartet’s Dunkin’ Bagel was the first song, which transformed the sedate hotel suite room into a fantasy of a halligalli.

Irina turned and pulled her right shoulder to her chin, and smiled coquettishly.

Splash in the coffee, baby. Irina said, her red lipsticked lips parting to show her profound overbite. Though she had the salary and dental insurance to get them fixed, Irina chose not to have the work done, inspired at seventeen by the words the younger sister of her then-boyfriend said: 

They give her character.

She agreed.

So her mouth remained unchanged, proving that all it takes is a few words from someone, somewhere to lift spirits and raise self-expectations.

Those black pools for eyes. Antonio said this when they first kissed. He repeated those words still in intimate moments. Another reason to love him, she thought as Irina applied the eyeliner, curving at the outward corners.

They were not very hungry, so they settled on ordering biscuits with butter and jam. They decided on a bit of decadence, so Antonio retrieved a bottle of Argentine Malbec from the cabinet. The wine was none too cheap, and its hints of blackberry could have been a breakfast all its own.

While they ate on the white balcony, Irina looked toward the horizon. Clouds ringed the summit.

The weather is lovely, but the pollen in the air is rotten. But that’s me, arguing with St. Peter, again.

What else is new? What will you be arguing with him about later?

Where it was that I lost my confidence.

That. Again?

Her brow furrowed.

Antonio was in a mood, which was unfortunate. Despite loving him deeply, Irina found his brooding unattractive sometimes. She pictured Antonio as the gloaming of an overcast sky, and it certainly marred his otherwise romantic nature.

She steered the conversation elsewhere.

I am truly excited about tomorrow. The hike will be such an adventure. I feel I have already projected that when we go through the forest path that it will be memorable, and therefore I feel like now I’m going to set aside an infinite amount of time to build new memories.

Antonio looked up. I know hiking the mountain is important to you.

Irina looked at her husband, reminded that Antonio knowing her was his hottest quality.

Yes, you know I often experience the contortions of an obsessive mind. It is so often like the process of extracting a certain pebble--a tumor--from my churning brain. These pebbles, formed since childhood, sometimes pass as kidney stones; and other times are blasted with explosions of epiphanies. 

Antonio blinked, and breathed deeply.

I just love these buttermilk biscuits.

Irina smiled, reminded of Daumal’s statement that what is above knows what is below. That was the point, after all.

It was time to ascend.

About the author

Mike Lee is a writer, editor and photographer in New York City, His work is published in CafeLit, Lunate, Ghost Parachute and many others. 

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