Prologue from Broke the Grape’s Joy
I’m standing on a roadside verge, facing a vast vineyard. Behind me is the D936. The road is busy, but the stream of traffic flowing past is silent. Each car, each truck, every bus and motorcycle, buffets me soundlessly. I stare at the wreckage. The van is there, lying on its side, crushed and distorted. A stream of diesel fuel trickles into a pool of spilt red wine from a consignment that will never be delivered. Someone has opened the door. The cab is unoccupied. I take a couple of steps forward and see a woman kneeling on the tarmac holding a limp, blood-soaked body.
I hear the policeman’s voice. ‘It’s alright,’ he says. ‘He’s not dead.’
I move closer and see that he’s right. The man is gazing up at the woman’s face, smiling. Gradually – following the dream’s absurd logic – it dawns on me that I am the woman, and the man is my husband, Olivier. I cradle him in my arms, staring into his shining eyes. At first I think: oh, thank God, it’s all been a big misunderstanding; then: Jean, you’ve always been a sucker for a smile.
‘Yes,’ I call out, ‘these are vines wrapped round his head, not thorns!’
I try to untangle a knot of coarse vine shoots that start to sprout from his hair and beard. But the stems tighten, biting into the skin on his forehead, cheeks and jaw, binding and constricting his throat. His eyes show fear. His breathing becomes restricted, as though he’s sucking at his breath through a straw. I panic, and tug and snap the creeping vines that threaten to suffocate him. I use my secateurs to prize out the tougher stalks that only bite deeper into his flesh like tensioned wires on a rotten post. In my haste, I injure him. The blood, at first only a trickle from the cuts on his head and neck, begins to flow and spurt. His mouth fills with red froth – a gory, bubbling ferment. The fibrous tourniquet grips harder, the garrotte’s loop tightens.
He is dead.