Aeration by Gary Fincke

After his wife dies, her wine keeps arriving monthly, twelve bottles each from two clubs, the first his birthday gift to her, the second, more expensive, for an anniversary. To replace the first, he’d said, but she had kept both. “Not that much,” she would say when he began to count. “I share with my book club. A friend or two from time to time. I give some as presents.” But now, without those reasons, the first two dozen, crated in the bedroom, seem to whimper for release. Soon, though each afternoon and evening is slow and endless, two dozen more arrive, and he has never cared for wine.  

Despite never answering a promotion offer, he knows the bottles will keep arriving, selected by algorithms and automatically charged to their shared credit card. On her birthday, a complimentary cheap prosecco arrives from one of the clubs. From the other club, the gift is her favorite, a verdejo from Spain. By the following month, when he finally unpacks all of the boxes, the bottles, mostly of dry whites, sprawl over so much of the bedroom carpet that he knows he needs to cancel. 

She kept records of her passwords. The sites are bookmarked. But he hesitates, remembering that she once told him that well-stored wine will keep for years. He buys a dozen new wine racks. He arranges them in an arc in the bedroom that he has long since abandoned, moving into the guest room after weeks of sleeplessness. All of those racks are bored so perfectly from oak that he stares into the circles before he slides the bottles in, so foolish, for a lifetime, with tools that it is impossible for him to name how the tunnels were accomplished.  

At last, he waits to unpack, each month, until both club selections arrive. The days of anticipation seem shorter. The time spent unpacking is a blessing. But what he grows to love is watching the way the light plays on the twenty-four new bottles, the spectrum of colors produced by the variety of wines. He lingers before storing them in the racks, opening the walk-in closet to her dresses, her skirts, her blouses, and the wonder of her rows of shoes. Always, he scans them as he relishes the idea that wine should be sipped and savored.  

At last, after a year, he cancels. He lays the final order into the last open rack. All of the 290 bottles are horizontal. All are located in shadow, the room thermostat preserving a constant temperature, a dehumidifier keeping the humidity low, the door closed except for his entering and leaving. From among her clothes, he carries his favorites to the guest room closet. So much time has passed, the dresses seem new as he dreams her into the open and airy guest room. How her body was eager for his at intervals that always surprised him. How she directed him as if he were a naive bride. 

Now, he begins to open the wine, carrying one six-ounce glass into the guest room each evening. Chardonnay. Sauvignon blanc. Pinot grigio. He imagines her declaring that each bottle, despite its age, is as pleasing as promised. Without fail, he allows the wine time to breathe. Glass by nightly glass, he finally sips and swallows, working counter-clockwise. He feels the future emptying itself, creating a space so wide and featureless that it seems like another planet, one with gravity that makes walking so difficult that he becomes breathless moving from room to room.

Biography: Gary Fincke’s latest collection of flash fiction The Corridors of Longing was published in 2022 by Pelekinesis Press. His long-form story collections have won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and the Elixir Press Fiction Prize. He is co-editor of the annual anthology Best Microfiction.