The Sea Of Wine

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man's grandfather dies, and the story of his bizarre, otherworldly final days are recounted by no other than his mailman, Hank.

Submitted: August 24, 2015

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Submitted: August 24, 2015

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The Sea of Wine

 

My grandfather lived his last years alone on 919 Leston Drive, in a squat white building with a red clay roof. His final days were spent hunched over a glass of wine. I will tell the story of those days as it was told to me.

 

His name was Archibald—my grandfather, I mean; everyone called him Archie. He was 89 when he died—when he was younger, he told anybody that would listen that he would make it to 100, or die trying. He told this joke to everyone, including his mailman, a middle aged fellow by the name of Hank. I’ve only met Hank one time in my life—the night he told me this story.

Hank had been delivering the mail to 919 for ten years at this point—many of those while my grandmother was still alive. He came to know Archie very well, and often made a little spare conversation with him as he dropped off his junk mail and the occasional doodad from Amazon. I never wrote wrote to my grandfather; perhaps I should have.

But on one afternoon, around two o’clock he told me, Hank wandered up to 919 with nothing special held under his arm; couldn’t even remember what he was delivering that day. He stepped over the wild blackberries that grew on the front lawn, and knocked on the door—it was an unnecessarily ornate thing, red wood carved into an intricate design—and waited. Usually, Hank would hear a thump as Archie tipped over his chair trying to get to this door. My grandfather didn’t get much company in those final days. But today, he heard nothing.

“Archie?” called out Hank. “I’ve got your—uh—whatever this is. You ok in there Archie?”

But Hank knew that my grandfather wasn’t ok. He was never able to tell me how he knew, but he did. I suppose he was right.

Hank left the package on the door step and walked sheepishly into my grandfather’s house. The inside was just the same as the outside—very Californian. The floors were devoid of carpet, and were instead covered in baked red tile. Mosaics depicting the Mohave and cow skulls and owls hung on the wall, interrupted only by yellow paint.

He walked through the entry way, and turned left into the kitchen where my grandfather spent most of his days sitting at the kitchen table—he told us when we visited (which wasn’t often enough) that he had the best view of the garden from there, but we knew it was because the kitchen table was the only place to sit that was close to the liquor cabinet.

But when Hank rounded the corner on that day, Archie was no where to be seen. The only thing that remained was a full glass of wine, next to an empty bottle that had been knocked on its side.

Hank looked around, expecting a robber. He rushed over to the table, picked up the bottle, and brandished it in front of him like a weapon.

Nothing happened—no armed grandfather-killer crept out of the woodwork.

Confused, Hank called out again. “Archie—buddy? I let myself in mate, I hope that’s ok. You see, I uh, got a bad feeling abou—“ but then he stopped. Hank looked down at Archie’s glass. Something was odd.

Archie always put ice cubes in his wine—Hank knew this because he brought them to the door with him to get the mail. There were no ice cubes in this glass, and it was full too the rim. There was even a little ring of moisture around the base of the glass.

Hank’s head began to spin, and one thought occurred to him—This glass has been here a long time.

The next thing Hank knew, he was drowning, and he tasted grapes. His eyes bulged as he found himself some thirty feet underwater—his surprise bubbled out in great pockets of air that rose rapidly to the surface. Unsure of what else to do, and unwilling to drown, Hank kicked his legs and swam towards the surface.

He emerged, coughing and gasping, on the surface of a great purple ocean. Hank smacked his lips, and discovered that he was swimming in a sea of wine.

When Hank told me this story, he paused here for a moment, and then said “I remember having one singular thought in that first moment—if the ocean is made of wine, what do the sharks look like?” He smiled when he said that, but did not laugh.

Next, Hank told me of how he treaded water for a moment, making sure that he wasn’t wildly hallucinating, and then began to check his surroundings. As far as he could see, there was nothing. That is, except for one tan dot, far off in the distance. Hank did what any sensible man would do—he swam towards it.

Twenty minutes later, Hank the mailman was crawling up, exhausted, onto the bank of a sandy island some eighty feet in diameter. On that island, there were three things—a blackberry bramble, an up turned boat, and my grandfather Archie. The blackberries were sweet, the boat had a hole in it, and my grandfather was very much alive.

Hank wobbled over to him, and plopped down by his side. Archie was staring calmly out over the magenta waves.

“What the fuck just happened Archie?” said Hank.

Archie said nothing, but only smiled. He didn’t even look down at Hank.

While he was catching his breath, Hank marveled at how fit Archie looked—not at all like his wiry and liver-spotted self. His skin was clear, and his arms were like knotted bunches of rope—he may have even had more hair. My grandfather looked like an olympic rower.

When Hank asked him why this was, Archie only said “I’ve been swimming in this ocean for a very long time Hank.”

They sat there for a moment—neither one saying anything—their feet warming in the golden sand. Hank ate a blackberry; Archie didn’t.

A few minutes later, Archie looked over at Hank for the first time, and Hank got the feeling that he was being seen for the very first time. Archie’s brown eyes had flakes of gold in them, and those iridescent slivers seemed to glow in the bright sunshine. “We should sleep for a moment,” said Archie. “Aren’t you tired?”

And he was—Hank had swam all the way there. Hank nodded, unsure of what to say, and curled up on the sand.

 

The next thing Hank knew, he was waking up amidst tall blades of green grass. He stirred, and realized that unlike ordinary grass, these stalks were growing out of cracked earth—Hank brushed it with his finger, and found it to be dry as could be. He sat up.

For a moment, Hank thought he was back home, looking at 919 Leston Drive. But he wasn’t. What Hank was looking at now, was a towering castle that looked as if it had been made out of 919 Leston Drive. Great walls of white stone rose up from barren, red earth, and were decorated with bits of mosaic tile in as many colors as Hank had ever seen, add some that he’d never seen—cow skulls and owls dotted the walls here and there. The towers and balustrades were ended in points fashioned from clay tile. The whole vision was interrupted only by a massive tunnel that lead through the front wall—Hank could see inside from where he was sitting, and noticed that the walls of this tunnel were painted yellow.

Hank stood up and walked towards what he knew was Archie’s castle.

He was greeted at the door by—and this was saying something at this point—the strangest thing he’d ever seen. Standing before Hank the mailman, were two giant men; except these weren’t really men at all, but two, giant grasshopper mice dressed up in armor and holding pikes. They smiled down at him, and wiggled their whiskers.

“Who, are you?” squeaked one.

“Is Archibald expecting you?” chirped the other.

Their voices were high, but somehow imposing. Hank wiggled uncomfortably. “Um—you see—I’m not really sure. Uh, my name’s Hank. Pleased to—I’m Archie’s mailman.”

At this, their little jaws fell open—Hank thought he even saw one of them wipe away a little mousey tear.

“I see.” They nodded solemnly, and stepped aside.

Hank kept on walking. He passed through the yellow tunnel, and looking up, saw that light was dancing on the ceiling. Hank thought it looked a lot like the light that played on Archie’s table in the afternoon.

When he’s passed through the tunnel, Hank found himself in an empty court yard. At the far end of this space, was a gigantic version of Archie’s front door. Hank knocked on it, and it swung slowly open without a moment’s pause. Hank wound his way up a giant stair case.

He told me that he climbed that stair case for a week, not growing even the slightest bit tired. In fact, he claimed, he never felt more alive that the time he spent in that passage. On his left and right, for days and days, were marble busts in the likeness of thousands of people he’d never met.

Hank paused here in the story, looking me over with tears in his eyes. He sat straight up in his chair, and said, “Most curious thing of all sir, was at the very top of that stair case, was one last bust. That one, sir, was of you. No mistake.”

I’ve never known what to make of this.

Hank told me that he doesn’t remember ever seeing a door at the end of that staircase, but the next thing he knew, he was in another room in that castle. He turned around, and saw that he was standing before a great window—no glass, just an opening in the wall. He looked out, and saw the court yard he’d passed through earlier.

It was different now. Where before it had been empty, the courtyard was now bursting at the seams with people. In one corner, happy couples toasted glasses and kissed each other slowly on the lips. In another, a group of young men were clustered around a motorcycle that one of them was revving. Somewhere near the center, a group of children played happily in a wooden playground.

Hank turned away from that window, and walked down another hallway. At the end of it, he saw Archie sitting proudly—one leg pulled up in a kind of cocky pose—on a throne made of wicker. He was gigantic, and seemed to grow larger with every step that Hank took. Finally he was at his feet, and Hank felt content.

Archie smiled down at him, and then leaned his great head down so he could be at his level. After a moment, he even hopped off his throne, and sat cross legged on the floor.

Hank was crying at this point in his telling of the story. “He was so young,” he told me. “I’d never seen a man so happy in my life, and I doubt I ever will again.” He looked up at me. “Your grandfather was a great man—you need to know that. I don’t know why; I don’t know what made him a great man, but he was. What I saw that day—there’s no other way to say it kid. The world will be a worse place without him, but I wouldn’t call him back if I could.”

I didn’t know what he meant then, but every day I think I know a little better. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out for good.

Hank wiped his face, and finished his story.

Suddenly, Archie was his size, and they walked arm in arm around the wall of his castle. Out in the distance were desert mountains, as brown and ragged as anything he’d ever seen—even though he knew he’d never visit them, Hank couldn’t wait to get there.

Great Zeppelins bobbed in the distance about a clear blue sky, and somewhere, a long way off, a city hummed in a glow of neon light.

They went back inside, and Archie walked over to table, identical to the one in his kitchen. He picked something up, and walked back over to Hank. In his hands, was a little brown box, with the Amazon sticker pasted loyally on the outside. He handed it to Hank.

“Thank you,” he said.

As Hank began to disappear, he looked over to his left, behind Archie’s throne. Sitting there, wrapped up in churning folds of green silk, was the most beautiful woman he ever seen.

Hank told me that even though he’d known her only as on old lady, there was no doubt in his mind that that beautiful woman was my grandmother. He smiled, and told me, “She was hunched over a typewriter, working on a novel. How funny, I never knew she wrote. I bet Archie did.”

And that was it. Hank told me that, next thing he knew, he was sitting back in Archie’s kitchen, holding that tiny brown box. “I haven’t opened it,” he’d told me. After a moment’s consideration, “I probably wont—probably.”

I never saw Hank again. He’d come to me, compelled to tell me the final moments of what he considered my grandfather’s life. After that, he hopped back into his mail truck, and chugged off into the Californian night, never to be seen again.

I hope he’s doing well.

You may be wondering at this point if Hank made the whole think up, that he really found my grandfather dead at that kitchen table, drowning in a puddle of spoiled wine. I don’t know, and more over, I don’t care. What does it matter? All I know for sure, is that we never found my grandfather’s body, but when I went over to 919 Leston Drive after Hank’s story, I saw a glass of wine filled to the rim—no ice.


© Copyright 2020 Michael Austin Elliott. All rights reserved.

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