"The Catalufa" by Evan Lawrence.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
by Nathan Knapp
I was 22 when I broke the bottle. We didn’t have much money back then—still don’t now—but I guess there’s a bit more now than there was back then.
My wife and I both knew that we didn’t have the money for wine, and if I insisted she probably would have flatly rejected the purchase. But I didn’t demand. I just held the bottle in the little wine shop at the exit of our local grocery store. She saw me holding the bottle. She saw me placing it hesitantly back on the shelf.
She walked up beside me, kissed my cheek, and said that we should buy it. I tried to protest, but she nodded and smiled all the way up to her eyes. I paid for it with debit, hoping our bank account had just enough to cover the cost.
It wasn’t fine wine. It wasn’t vintage or some pricey variety. It was just a bottle of simple Ontario blush wine. I wanted to cherish it the way an elderly woman cherishes her fine British bone china passed down to her from her grandmother. I wanted it to last for weeks. A little sip at a time. I wanted it to celebrate getting through another day, without hurting myself, without quitting on all my responsibilities, without staying in bed until noon wracked with guilt. I wanted it because I couldn’t afford it. It was my oasis in the middle of a trek through the Sahara. It was my hope of things to come. A taste of what could be.
The purchase went through, probably with only a few cents to spare. We walked home from the store, carrying our groceries in the sagging plastic bags. We talked of what we would do that week and our plans for the summer to come. We spoke of travel and visiting the beach. We knew none of those things could really happen, but we also knew that talking about them like they could made them feel possible.
My wife held the heavy steel door to the apartment hallway for me while she balanced her share of the grocery bags, and I slipped into the basement hallway. It smelled of antiseptic floor cleaner just barely covering the smell of dust. The door slammed hard, sending a strong wind rushing by us.
We walked up the flight of stairs to the second floor, and as I opened the door to the second floor hallway, I switched the bags from one hand to the other, and dropped one. The bag fell to the cement floor and made a smashing sound as the bottle of wine split apart, spilling wine in every direction. It echoed through the entire stairwell, or at least it felt that way to me. I stood numb holding the door, my lower lip trembled, and my wife stared at me with an expression of disappointment and anger.
I didn’t know what to do. We walked back into our apartment without saying anything. We set the groceries down on the counter and then I picked up a roll of paper towels from our pantry and I returned to the stairwell. It reeked of wine and I wiped the floors, using half the roll, another item we could barely afford. The towels turned black from the dirt that the superintendent’s mop had missed. I just wanted to wipe the floors as fast as possible, hoping no other resident would show up and find me crouched low to the ground. No one interrupted.
I went back into our apartment. I leaned against the doorframe of the kitchen and watched my wife put away the last of the groceries. I turned and went to our bedroom and fell to the floor crying.
I cried for almost two hours, without stopping. I had never cried so hard in all of my life. I was slumped in a ball on the floor, in the corner, pushing my back so hard against the walls I thought I would crack the drywall. I rocked back and forth and the tears came effortlessly. I cried for everything that was lost. Everything that was gone and couldn’t come back.
I cried for my stupidity to try and enjoy anything beyond the basics in the grocery store. I cried because I desired something more. I cried because I knew I couldn’t afford it then, and I cried because I still had the ability to buy it. I cried for all the people in the world who couldn’t buy a cheap bottle of wine, even if they wanted to. Because I told myself I couldn’t afford it and yet I bought it nonetheless. I brought it home and spilled it all over the stairs. I spilled it without even tasting a drop. I still think the saddest part might be what my mind did when it first broke. I thought about somehow trying to save what was left in the bottle. Somehow pouring the few ounces that were left in the cracked base of the bottle into a wine glass and sipping it. But I knew that it was foolish. The shards of glass were everywhere and they would have cut up my insides. It was gone and it wasn’t coming back, ever.
I cried for everything I ever put my mind to accomplishing that just ended in failure. I cried for my vain efforts to raise my family out of the pit of poverty. I cried and my wife didn’t even try to console me. It was my own fault. I never should have held the bottle in the store. I never should have happily bought it. I never should have been so careful trying to protect it as I opened the stairwell door.
It was three years ago that I broke the bottle, but I’ve never let it go. I haven’t cried since. I haven’t had any wine either. I guess it’s easier sometimes to stop grasping for what will inevitably slip through your fingers. I guess sometimes you just need to accept that the things that slip through your fingers were never meant to be between them in the first place. They are available to reach, but impossible to hold.
The bottle of wine on the shelf that day—I wish I never picked it up.
Nathan Knapp, a full-time English and French teacher, is renovating a 19th century house in rural Eastern Ontario with his wife Judith and their two cats. The cats are lousy carpenters, but they make good companions. He is currently seeking a home for his first novel and he is busy at work on a second. This is his first publication.