Jun 1997

Beaujolais Nouveau

by Paul Lima

Adonis Led by Cupids to Venus by Francesco Albani

Adonis Led by Cupids to Venus by Francesco Albani

"Stare at her," I tell Savario. "Watch her slide a thin finger across the bridge of her pale, perfectly straight nose."

"Return his look," I tell Star. "You like men who have that cocky swagger."

They listen to me attentively then make eye contact. So in control I am, I tell myself. Author I am. "Bless you, my characters," I say. "You know the genre. Romance. Go forth and earn cash for me." Then I rest, confident I can leave them on their own.

And everything goes amiss.

Savario orders another beer and moves down the bar beside her. "One for you," he says. "Whatever you're drinking for whatever you're thinking."

"I'm drinking vodka and tonic with lime," Star says, "and wondering where my friend went. We were celebrating something and she disappeared. I wonder if she went to the washroom? Or home? Home with a stranger, maybe? Do people still do that?"

"Do you ever do that?"

"That's what we were doing here," she says. "Celebrating my 21st birthday."

"Many happy returns," he says.

And so they talk. Getting-to-know-you stuff. She's getting drunk. He brushes a hand against her hip, an elbow against her breast, to see if she'll pull away. She doesn't. His swagger increases.

Well after last call, they leave the bar. As the sun rises, Savario crows—in the cramped front seat of a red Mustang. She makes a lot of noise, too. The noise wakes me up.

"Oh my characters. My charactersWhy have you forsaken me?" I cry. "This is not the stuff of romance. You should be ashamed." But it's too late. They deny knowing me.

"Screw off," they say. "We're getting married."

I curse them and try to cast them out of my storyBut, having no idea what's in store, they continue to plot.

"Fine," I hiss. "Exercise your free will. I'll watch from here."

They get married on a boat. Polly wants a cracker. Polly is the Captain's parrot. The Captain doesn't marry them. A priest does. Neither of them go to church but his parents insist on a priest. Since they're paying for the wedding. . .

The Captain isn't really a Captain. His friends call him "Captain" because he pilots the boat: it's a water taxi that ferries business travellers from the mainland to the airport on the island in the city's harbour. During the ceremony, the parrot sits on the Captain's shoulder and shits.

The Captain is his best friend—Savario's best friend, not the parrot's. Come to think of it, he's Polly's best friend, too. I mean you wouldn't let just anybody sit on your shoulder and shit, would you?

Astrid, her friend who deserted her at the bar, and Romero, his unmarried older brother, stand up for them. They dance at together the reception. Romero makes a pass at Astrid. What does he say? Nothing, really. Do you remember how guys like me made passes at girls like you during slow dances in the high school gym? He's 33 and still makes passes that way.

Astrid remembers. And takes him home.

Star and Savario toast each other with red wine: Beaujolais Nouveau. Her parents, a university professor and a deputy minister in the provincial government, supplied the wine.

Savario screws up his face when he drinks his toast. He's used to home-brew: wine tasting like raunchy socks fermented in tepid bath water. Her parents cringe at his cringe but withhold their disapproval. So non-judgmental they are; so politically correct. I cringe too because I can't believe my parents have made an appearance in my story.

So the newlyweds honeymoon in a cottage on Wasaga Beach then move into a small house on which his parents have made a substantial down payment. That's when the battles begin. He wins repeatedly. She bleeds profusely. There are occasional cease-fires, but they don't hold.

If only they had followed my detailed plot outline.

Frustrated by the distance I swore to keep, I call out to them. "Repent. This story can be saved." But they are so far removed from the characters I had sketched, they no longer hear my voice. And writing this becomes as arduous as trying to make wine without grapes. Or perform miracles without faith.

This is who they've become.

Savario dropped out of high school seven years ago to install louver doors for his father's construction company. He moonlights with the Captain. They do break-and-enters and rob milk stores to pay for the cocaine they snort. He doesn't tell Star about any of this.

On a dare from the Captain, he gets high and robs the bank where she works as a teller—but he makes sure she's on lunch. Nice guy.

Star works as a bank teller. But you know that now, so the editor will probably cut this lin! e. If you're reading it, he didn't. She doesn't know much about him. She didn't think to ask. He was her ticket out: out of the confines of her parent's home; out of the straight lines of the story I had plotted. And look where it got her. So naive she is about life outside the genre.

Three months after they get married, the Captain drowns in gale-force winds that sweep across the harbour late one evening while he is getting laid on the boat. He liked getting laid on the boat, the Captain did, with Polly on his shoulder. He liked to let the waves do his work: he liked they way they rocked and rolled him. They really did a number on him that night.

The parrot survived. So did his lover, Astrid. She may have been indiscriminate about her lovers, but she wasn't stupid. She made him wear a condom—she wore the life jacket.

After the Captain's death, Savario takes in the parrot who squawks a lot. He's confused, Polly is—locked in a cage without a shoulder to shit on. Star's happy for a short while because she has somebody to talk to: until Polly bites her while she's cleaning the cage.

"What did I do to deserve this?" she cries. The this she cries about is more than a bite on the finger.

Savario's confused, too—locked in a marriage without his best friend's shoulder to lean on. In his confusion, Savario confesses to Star about his odd jobs and cocaine. "I want to start over," he says. "A clean slate with you."

Star has never heard anything so beautiful as the sound of a man confessing. (Good gawd, this story may have romantic potential after all.) They hug and kiss and make love for the first time since their honeymoon. She gets pregnant.

His parents, now that she's pregnant, give him money to renovate the house and add a basement apartment. Savario is handy when he applies himself. He installs louver doors like he makes love: quickly but with precision. He hangs them in every doorway in their house, including the bathroom—which she finds disconcerting because they don't lock in the rude morning-sickness sounds she m akes or the ruder morning sounds he makes. But she doesn't complain because bliss has returned.

His father and brother come over to help Savario finish the basement. They put in a bedroom and kitchenette and refurbish the laundry room. Romero goes upstairs to get a beer. Star is on the living room couch caressing her swollen belly. Slow-dance music is playing on the stereo. Romero makes a pass at her. She screams. Savario runs upstairs and beat the snot out of his brother.

Savario weeps.

After the fight, the brothers shrug and say to each other: "Come on, let's forget it." "Don't worry 'bout it." "It was nothing." "Yah, forget it." They descend into the cellar to finish the renovations.

Not true, Star says. But she is heard.

Savario forgets about the fight he didn't finish and starts to snort to forget what he refuses to remember.

Star begins her maternity leave. Savario says she can't go back to work. "We'll have rental income soon," he says. "You don't need to work."

"But I want to work."

"You're not going back."

"But I want to!"

"Tough shit."

He slaps her. Draws blood. But she refuses to cry.

So much for bliss. They battle over everything. The name of the baby. The sex of the baby. His parents' frequent visits. The baloney sandwiches she makes him for lunch every day. His late nights out.

And I jump back into my story because, deja vu, I've seen scenes like this before, only worse. Trust me. Otherwise I wouldn't've done my doctoral thesis on "Infallible Cure to the Heredity of Co-dependency: Terminating the Curse of the Sins of the Father Through the Absolution of Vasectomy."

Curious about how this character is developing without me, I slip inside Savario's head. There I discover: he's trying to forget that he can't remember more than the fight with his brother. He's trying to ignore abstract images decorating his brain like shadows on the wall of Plato's cave: a gruesome character sketch that could lead this story into the valley of the shadow of death. A True Confession in the making? But I fear evil and there are some things even I would not write for love or money. Or love of money.

Besides, I like Star. So pretty and petite she is. And feisty now. She shouldn't have to suffer the enmity Savario feels just because he can't deal with shadows. She needs me.

Once the "flat for rent" sign goes up, I cast myself as a mere mortal and move into the basement.

I meet with Star outside my bedroom as she stuffs clothes into the washer. She does laundry almost every day: Savario's work clothes and her blouses bloodied from nose bleeds. That's how each battle ends: with her nose bleeding.

I help her fold sheets, chat her up, make her laugh. Such a charmer I am. We sit on the couch in my room, watching 'Leave It To Beaver' reruns on TV while laundry churns.

Savario is stoned the night the baby is born. I drive Star to the hospital and stay with her in t he delivery room. I hold her hand as she gives birth to a daughter, Carla-Jean: my first fictional baby

After the birth, Star and Savario declare a truce (even though Savario wanted a son). But when Star asserts herself and tells Savario, "I still want to work." Well... I meet Star as she stuffs more bloodied clothes into the washer. Her cheek is bruised. Her lower lip trembles. She forces a weak smile. We talk.

"How's Carla-Jean?"

"What've you been up to?"

"What's your perfume called?"

"Can I make you something to eat?"

We watch 'Leave It To Beaver' while laundry churns and baby sleeps. We drink Beaujolais Nouveau and eat sandwiches—baloney smothered with mayonnaise on Wonder Bread. I prefer tuna but say, "Delicious."

Beaver ends. Star says she has to feed Carla-Jean. She leans forward. I lean forward. We kiss, until I put my hands on her breasts. "Carla-Jean!" she says.

Next morning, Savario shouts, "BaloneyBaloneyHow many times, baloney?"

Fist slaps flesh. Shouts and screams. Front door slams. Engine turns over. Rubber burns in driveway.

Star comes down stairs carrying Carla-Jean and her bloodied blouse. She slumps over the washer. Defeated.

Star weeps.

I slither up to her with a box of tissue and a bottle of Beaujolais. "Come. It will do you good."

We put Carla-Jean on my bed, pen her in with pillows. We sit on the couch, uncork the bottle and drink. As Ward Cleaver lectures the Beaver about whatever it is he always lectures the Beaver about, my character and I, on the couch, make love.

"Gee thanks, Dad," the Beaver says, "I guess you're right."

We make love through All My Children, The Young and the Restless, Wheel of Fortune, then pause while Star feeds and changes Carla-Jean.

Milk and shit.

We make love during The Price Is Right, Wok With Yan, Gilligan's Island, and Jeopardy, then pause to drink again.

We're making love during M*A*S*H and don't hear rubber burning in the driveway. Before we can retreat, Savario bursts into my room. I want to slug him. But write myself under my bed, cowering like a little boy. Little boy. Little boy who can't stop Savario from hitting Star. Even though he's seen this scene before. From this perspective before. Under the bed before. Watching feet dance a contorted dance across the floor. Before. His eyes.

Little boy. Little boy. Impotent little boy. Cowering under the bed: images of parents: the motivation for the scene: the scene he cannot write. Impotent to intervene, to stop Savario from shattering every louver door in the house. From breaking Star's nose, cracking her ribs.I do diddle but doodle while Savario burns.

When Star gets out of the hospital, she takes Carla-Jean to Astrid's place where the story ends.

It rains at the end of the story, as Star sits on the couch in her best friend's living room, drinks a glass of white wine, looks out a streaked window and doesn't answer a knock on the door.

Who could it be? Her parents? Savario? The Captain come back from the dead? Me? The omnipotent impotent author begging forgiveness.

Answer the bell, Star. Please. I promised you romance. I will deliver. But you have to let me in. I'll knock off Savario in a car accident. You'll get the insurance money; go back to school. Become a lawyer. I'll be a famous writer wrongly accused of his murder. You'll defend me. You'll win. We'll fall in love. I'll take you to my secluded villa on an island in the Caribbean's. And you will have romance!

Star slides a finger across the crooked bridge of her discoloured nose. She shrugs. Becomes dust. I eat my words: fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They make me see: I am naked without genre. I sweat, from the brow, blood: the effort required to till fiction out of a life that is cursed.


Paul is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in Toronto, Ontario. He teaches an Interactive Creative Writing and Freelance Writing course via email.