Chianti 81 By Andres Rovira Cigarette smoke snakes out of my ashtray of a cup holder. I drum my fingers to Metallica’s solo on the sticky wheel. The air conditioning starts to reek as if something wild crawled in there seeking shelter from an ugly world and died. The drum solo unleashes a savage staccato of machine gun fire. I don’t know why I still listen to Metallica. Probably to remind me of a better time, when all I did was head bang, get laid, and let the subway decide my path. My taste buds cry for another smoke and I give in to their tears, bringing the pack to my mouth and dropping the next Camel between my lips. I juggle my cell and the lighter around and almost lose sight of the road. A forest appears and the road breaks right through it like nature’s uninvited guest. The moon glows high like a neon exit sign and I know exactly what I need to do. I pick up my cell and scroll through the phone book until I find the number for Things Remembered, one of those gift basket companies with the cookies, soaps, and cheesy thank yous. I got an old girlfriend a soap basket from them a few years back so they should still have my credit card information. As the number begins to dial, I feel that familiar cold pressure at the back of my neck. “I’m calling a gift basket place,” I say, looking at the Jesus Christ bobble head doll on the dash, who nods with approval. “It’s my father’s birthday.” I prop the cell to my ear with my shoulder and light the smoke. The lady who answers has a gentle voice. I can hear her doing a radio commercial for gift baskets. “Hi, thank you for calling Things Remembered. My name is Meadow. How can I help you?” “Hey Meadow. How’s your night going?” “Great. Thank you for asking. And yourself?” “Heh. Well, I’m in a sticky situation. I haven’t spoken to my father in years and now he’s turning sixty five and I want to get him a gift basket, which doesn’t make any sense because the only thing the old man values are his guns and his wine cellar.” “Well, you are in luck, sir. We happen to have a specialty basket with a bottle of our finest wine, chocolates and assorted nuts.” “Okay. I guess he’d like that. What kind of wine is it?” “It’s a Chianti 81 from our very own cellar.” I let out a drag and see myself as a nineteen-year-old jabroni with a mohawk, jumping into the back of Arty Chase’s Cadillac convertible. We rode to Woodstock for the weekend and never came back. “Sir?” came the delicate voice. “Hey. Sorry. 81 was a very…eventful year.” “I see. Well, where would you like the basket delivered?” “The address is 4960 North East Miller’s Crossing, Springfield Illinois.” “You remembered the address.” “Some things just stick with you.” And this mental image doesn’t want to leave. The whitewashed fence. The broken bicycle he never had time to fix, lying rusty on the yellow grass like a battle’s casualty. The wind chimes keeping me awake at night and the unfinished meals that kept me hungry on those nights.
“What is your father’s name?” “Walter Fisher.” “And your name?” “Martin Fisher.” I could hear her fingers dancing along the keyboard and pictured my name engraved in stone, buried under leaves in a forgotten field. In this field, no one comes to visit me. “And what would you like written on the card?” “Card?” “Every gift basket comes with a thank you card with your own personal message.” “Oh.” “If you prefer a standard message, we could certainly take care of that for you.” “No. I’ll come up with one. I might as well. The least I could do.” “Okay. Whenever you’re ready.” The pain in the back of my neck spreads to my temples like fire and my mind hits a concrete wall at breakneck speed. I was never good at this writing thing, let alone wishing strangers happy birthday. “Okay. Let’s see. Dear Dad. Dear Dad. Happy birthday. Enjoy the wine.” “Mhm.” “Enjoy the wine. Meadow says it’s the finest.” Meadow lets out a light laugh and continues typing. “No. That’s stupid. Take that last part out.” I open my mouth to speak, gather my thoughts, but I could only produce one word. “Goddammit!” There is an unbearable silence on the line. The forest seems to grow thicker around me and the road narrower. “Is everything all right, Mr. Fisher?” “The bastard was right. He warned me. Said you are defined by those you surround yourself with. I didn’t listen. Look where it’s gotten me. A one-way road.” And the road begins to curve to the right. The sepia-colored moonlight illuminates the top of the trees and they resemble clawed hands. “Are you still with me, Meadow?” I ask. “I’m still here.” “Write this.” Like a spiritual awakening, the words come naturally and sincerely, like they always should have. “Dear Dad. I’m sorry for abandoning you when you needed me the most. Sorry for not being there when Mom died.” I remember the sounds of heart monitors beeping along the hallway and the unexpected visits from the doctor when I was trying to smoke pot in the bathroom and fanning the smoke out of the window. “I wish I could have been a better person, a better son and live my life in your image.” I remember the boring banquets he would force me to go to, in which he would
stand at his podium and accept achievement awards and the rounds of applause from his colleagues and friends, genuinely proud of his work and I remember wishing I were anywhere else. “Keep bringing joy to all of those around you. Keep being so influential.” I remember the day he picked me up from school after I got in a fist fight with Rex Thompson and how I expected to get yelled at, but he wasn’t mad. He told me to keep standing up for myself and that Rex Thompson was a pansy. He bought me a frozen yogurt afterwards and I remember that being a pretty good day. “I love you, Dad. No matter what you may think, I always have.” And now the road is in complete darkness and I could barely see. The Jesus Christ bobble head doll keeps nodding. He likes this. Of course he does. “Is that all?” asks Meadow. “Happy birthday. Your son, Marty. Or just Marty.” “Okie dokie. Your total is fifty nine ninety nine and the package should arrive in two to three business days. You Master Card will be billed.” “Thank you, Meadow.” “Thank you, Mr. Fisher. Hang in there.” I toss my cell on the passenger seat, roll down the window and flick away my cigarette. The songs of a thousand crickets resonate outside in a processional hymn on my behalf. They are welcoming me into the wild. “Thanks,” I say. “I needed to tie up that loose end.” The pressure in the back of my neck is released as Arty Chase lowers the gun. From the rearview mirror he looks cryptic, slouching in my leather seats. He is a shadow defined by his eyes, eyes that have witnessed decades of gloom, yet still carrying remnants of childhood in the form of a youthful glimmer. The gun rests patiently on his knee now. “Pull over,” he says. His voice has grown cold throughout the years. I step on the breaks and we emerge into a clearing in the woods. “Get out.” I follow orders and open the door to something primordial, where the blood of the ages seeps into soil with the chance of re-awakening as an oak tree. The cold steel presses to the back of my neck again and together we approach the timbers and rodents of the wild and I can’t help noticing how utterly peaceful it is out here. I think of Chianti vineyards out in the Tuscan valley and something I read in some science fiction novel about going back in time and changing all of your wrongdoings and how the universe will find a way to course correct itself and bring you right back where you belong. I think about trees falling in the woods and the possibility that they won’t make a sound because nobody is there to hear it. I look up at the stars and wonder what the world looks like from up there. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I wish I could be reborn as one of them and watch the earth from my fixed position in the cosmos, searching for all of its faults, missed opportunities and what ifs. They really are beautiful.