Rose sat outside the farmhouse, resting in the warmth of the afternoon sun, a glass of wine her solitary companion on the small, wooden table in front of her. She usually spent the late afternoon here. It gave her a clear view up the unmade road that led from the front gates up to the side of the house and barn. The storms last winter had broken up the rough gravel track but there were more pressing things to fix around the property. It had been a never ending list since she’d taken on the farm and vineyard. Besides, the state of the road meant visitors had to approach very slowly and she appreciated that.
Rose had arrived, alone, in Lauzertes four years ago, driving down to South West France in her battered Volvo, the remnants of her previous life packed up in the boot and across the back seats. She had a few leads, potential places to live that she’d found online, but had known the first time she saw Tuq Del Bouys that she’d discovered the right home. Remote, peaceful, quiet. A vineyard with room to grow. They’d described it as rustic but ramshackle was closer to the mark. She didn’t care. There was no hurry. It was a place you could get lost from the world.
She took a sip from the glass in front of her. Her first year’s vintage. On the tongue it was pleasant enough but left a slight but distinct aftertaste. Bitter. She’d always been amused by that.
The scrape of the gates to the main road disturbed the quiet and Rose looked up to see a figure getting back in to a Renault – always Renaults – and starting back up their car. As it cautiously picked its way up the gravel track towards her she had time to make out that it was Stephan – Monsieur Gillot to his customers. He owned a shop over near to Moutauban, almost an hour away. He’d been trying to sell her wine for the past few months and had become a persistent, regular visitor. Rose disliked regular visitors.
“Bonjour Monsieur Gillot” she called towards the car, its door opening.
“Please Rose, like I have said before, call me Stephan” he said walking over towards her. “And no need for French.”
“I need the practice Stephan” she laughed. “Je suis encore très mauvais dans votre langue”
“No, no” he smiled back. “Really, you are not”. Rose could scarcely fail to notice the insincerity in his face. In truth she had made very little effort to learn French in her time here, managing by having as little interaction with anyone as possible. “I like to practice my English. Please ?”
“Okay Stephan, you win. At least let me offer you a drink ?”
Stephan took this as his cue to take a seat beside her. Rose briefly excused herself to disappear inside the farmhouse to find another glass. He would want to taste some of her wines again so she pulled out bottles from each of the years she’d been in residence.
“I hope we can perhaps talk about some business ?” called Stephan from outside.
“Just a moment” she shouted. Trying to gather up four bottles, two in each hand, Rose realised she would struggle to take a glass out at the same time. She tried to balance one of the bottles back up on a work surface but managed to let it slip from her fingers; it smashed on the floor, blood red wine seeping across her flagstones, flecked with fragments of glass.
“Everything okay ?” called a concerned sounding Stephan. Rose picked up the biggest piece of the broken glass, the neck still had about half of the bottle attached to it, its jagged edges now dripping with her plum coloured vintage from last year.
“I’m fine” she called back. “Small accident. Just coming Stephan”. She decided to leave the remnants, put the broken neck of the bottle back on the work surface and took everything else out to her expectant guest. Smiling she poured Stephan a glass from a bottle produced in her second year.
“Sante” he proclaimed, tipping his glass towards her.
“Cheers” she smiled back. Stephan drank deeply from his glass, no sniffing, no sipping, a hearty gulp.
“It is good” he declared. “Tell me again Rose. What is this one ?”
“Year two” she said. “I call it ‘Tourneville’, you can see the grapes just over there.” She gestured towards part of the vineyard across from where they were sitting.
“Tourneville ?” said Stephan. “There was a gendarme in the town of that name, wasn’t there ?”
“Yes” said Rose. “Yes there was. Such a loss. This is just my small tribute really.”
Stephan took another swig. “Well, it is certainly good. A big improvement on your first year if I remember rightly.”
Rose laughed. “Yes, a big improvement on Smithson.” She caught his inquisitive look. “My husband’s name, well my married name too. I have, of course, taken to using my maiden name again.”
“Another tribute ?”
“More a remembrance” said Rose. “Poor old James wasn’t alive when I made the trip down here.”
“Such a shame” said Stephan. “If you don’t mind me asking Rose, how have you developed the terroir here so well ? Each year, subtle notes and differences in your wine. Our climate has been so good each year but the same. You must be a magician with the soil.”
“I’m sure it’s just luck” smiled Rose. She stared at Stephan intently. Why must they all be so interested in her ? “You mentioned business ?”
“I would love to stock some of your wine in my shop” said Stephan. “I know people were a little suspicious at first – who is this English woman thinking she can make French wine – but it is so good. It will sell.”
Rose sighed. “I’m not sure Stephan. We discussed this before. I like things quiet here.”
“I will not take no for an answer” he declared, folding his arms in mock defiance. Rose stared at him again. So many questions. So many visits. “Okay” she responded, rising from her seat. “Let me fetch you some bottles.”
She was gone for a few minutes. Stephan called out questions about years three and four: ‘Durand’ and ‘Fournier’. Just local names she’d heard and liked she shouted back. An effort to get to know the community. She walked back out of the farmhouse and Stephan looked up at her expectantly.
“So, Rose, how many have you for me ?” he asked.
“Just one Stephan” she responded suddenly bringing the broken bottle up hard and sharp beneath his chin, the glass embedding itself in his throat. Blood flowed from his jugular, neatly funneling back down the bottle and began to pour from the uncorked neck.
Year five. The climate might worsen next year so her grapes might need strength. Persistence. ‘Gillot’ would give the soil persistence.
This is the seventh story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/