My grandmother lingered between worlds. Sometimes we’d catch a glimpse of her diaphanous gown, the blue of her halo, the sheen of her teeth. My uncle claimed her house now and set up a home office in the same room that once served as his bedroom. He ushered in clients all day long, sat with them, listened to their woes, as footsteps were heard just outside the door.
One morning, when I was sitting in the living room fingering the gilded wing of an angel, a tall Indian man exited my uncle’s office and slowly descended the stairs. He had ringlet curls, an exceedingly dark brow, and was exotic in every sense of the word in his silk Nehru jacket and pantaloons. He nodded his head in acknowledgement and then went out the front door. I watched him maneuver his lithe body into his Land Rover and drive away.
We left the next day to take the ferry back to New England. I had settled the estate, mediated filial affairs, and now it was imperative we get home; my fiancé and I were renovating the house and there were calls to make to contractors, catalogues to sift through, paint chips to consider. The bills needed paying. The wedding needed planning. At noon, we stopped at a small cove aside the road and ate sandwiches. The green grass sloped down to serpentine trees rising up from a river where a bride and groom stood waist deep saying their vows, and the bride’s veil wavered in the water like an unruly spirit.
My fiancé folded a napkin and placed it in his pocket. He always had his buttons buttoned, his beard shaved clean with recognizable edges. He smelled like soap, was the first to leave the bed, get dressed. At the banks of the river, he said there was a slight film on the water. I cupped it in my hands, brought it to my lips. “Why would you do such a thing?” he said. He packed up and we headed to the port.
There was no room on the six o’clock ferry, and we made reservations for a later one. We drove away from the port and to the vineyards, turning off the main road, and following a long driveway up to a stone house with trellises of drowsy roses. My fiancé followed the arrows to the tasting room, while I went to the patio to check the messages on my phone. When I looked up, I noticed that the Indian man I saw at my uncle’s house sat at a table across from mine. He fingered a long stemmed glass and was dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans. At this point the sun was starting to descend, and the June air started to shift in warm, caressing winds.
The man asked me if I wanted to join him. Please, he said, motioning to the seat across from him. He ordered some wine for me and asked me where I was from. I told him. The wine came and he told me to drink it. The taste of the wine brought to mind the sweet turn of the day, the weeks, the months, and how these could be reaped and savored in one substance. The man regarded me as I sipped, waited patiently for my full swallow. I noticed how the neckline of his T-shirt was especially low to expose the fine skin of his neck.
I asked him if he was one of my uncle’s clients and he said, no, on the contrary, he was there to offer him spiritual advice. He did not elaborate on this, as if he knew well how to keep one’s secrets. He looked over at the next table where an Indian woman in a sari of woven light was rubbing spices into her temples. At this point I imagined myself lying with the dark man. By his intense gaze, I believe he knew these thoughts and they weren’t all that different from his own. He invited us to stay for dinner. I told him we had to catch the ferry. He said, “Do you know why your grandmother is stuck between this world and the next?”
I thought of my grandmother dying in a bed in a nursing home, not knowing her own name. I thought of the way she clawed at the air, trying to grasp something in her mind’s eye.
The man rose, brought the glass to his lips. Placed the chalice down. “She longs for her own sentience,” he said. “Do you know what I am telling you?”
“Yes,” I said.
Before he disappeared into the cool darkness of the stone house, he bent to whisper something in the ear of the woman with the sari. She glanced at me, gathered her skirts, approached my table, and sat in the vacant seat. She told me she could teach me her special recipe for soil, how it should be supplemented with blood and bone, how this made everything grow with such vibrancy. I dangled with this word, vibrancy. I let its sweetness entice my tongue, roll between my breasts, slip between my thighs. I could see it clearly then—the hills of vines, the giant supine bodies, entwined, sinking into the earth.
This story meanders like the river with the film on it. Her fiancee disappears at the winery. She drinks with a stranger that answers questions she never asked. I am left to wonder what he means by ‘grandma looking for her sentience.’ Is grandma a computer? While I loved the sari woven in light, what bearing does the mysterious woman add to the story? Is she the room monitor holding our narrator until her fiancee reappears? I need to go out and blend some blood and bone to make special soil and think on this until clarity arrives. While confusing I liked this story.
I don’t think it wanders. If you look at the first and last lines it’s about life and and what happens after death. The grandmother was a beautiful creature and where is she now? This narrator is looking for an answer to the meaning of life and finds it in a way that’s hard to paraphrase. I think she learns that sex is more than sex, as it always is. I am missing one thing – why she’s with a fiance who doesn’t have what she needs? He’s a foil of course…..