The Personification of Merlot
Zelda had revisited The Prose & Wine café many times – well, eleven times to be exact – over the last four months. The motivation each time she visited was solely the opportunity to hear him read just one more time. She could not remember ever hearing lovelier recitations of any pieces of classical work. She was confident that his voice, laced with a lilting and beautiful English accent, was a gift from the Gods, derived from ancient times. She did not know his real name, because everyone who came to hear the recitations knew him only as The Eloquent Englishman.
She often wondered if anyone on the face of the earth could read Shakespeare, Chaucer, Byron, Keats, or Milton with such beauty and stirring emotion. So enthralled was she by his rendering of any piece of prose, she knew he could have read a children’s book, and she would have been enraptured by the melodic timbre of his voice. Of course, it did help just a wee bit that he was also quite appealing in his appearance. In fact, it helped a great deal and added immensely to his overall allure.
Zelda herself wanted to be a writer. Her innate desire was to write with passion, and she wanted whatever she wrote to be so enchanting that someone would want to read it repeatedly. Moreover, she desired to write something that he would want to read aloud in cozy, dimly lit cafés like The Prose & Wine. Thus, she justified her repeated appearances at the café to hear him read by telling herself she was receiving the necessary inspiration to do just that. However, truth be told, she had fallen, and she had fallen head over heels for a man who read from the Classics quite hauntingly and beautifully.
This evening, she had been tempted to stay home and not visit The Prose & Wine for the twelfth time. She was beginning to feel a bit conspicuous about frequenting the café when he was to be the guest reader. Moreover, she wondered as to whether he had grown suspicious of her true motive. She thought it entirely possible that he could see right through her. However, after a lengthy debate with herself all afternoon, she had ended it by chiding herself for being silly and presumptuous. He surely did not even know she existed, less that she had been to each one of his readings at The Prose & Wine. She was certain her fears were ill based and inconsequential, and so, she had decided to come to the café this evening after all. It would make her very happy to do so, and he would never notice her, of this, she was sure. Moreover and much to her dismay, it would not be long before he would move on from the city of New Orleans, and she would never see him or hear him read again.
This lovely, chilly January evening, he would be reading excerpts from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, and Zelda was so excited she could scarce stand it. Sitting alone with a glass of French Merlot on her tiny table, she sipped her wine and looked out the window as snowflakes fell in the soft glow of a street lamp. She sat at her usual table, impatiently twirling her foot as it hung draped across a slender leg. Only about sixteen other people, mostly couples, were attending this evening. Perfect, she thought. She secretly longed to be the only one in the café so that she could enjoy the evening with him solo, but she knew that was impossible. Picking up her wine glass, she took a long swallow of the burgundy Merlot, hoping it would help to quell her impatience and anticipation as she waited.
The lights in the tiny café grew dimmer with the exception of a single light focused on the center of the makeshift stage. Zelda immediately placed her wine glass back on the table and perched straighter on the edge of her seat as she waited. Before long, he walked out from the back of the establishment and took a seat in the lone mahogany Mission Style chair. With a casual nod, he greeted his small audience.
“Good evening, my friends. I should like the opportunity on this beautiful winter evening to warm our minds with some beautiful words written by Sir Walter Scott. The book from which I will be reading is Lady of the Lake, first published in 1810, and the excerpt is from the Canto Fourth.”
He opened the small book in his hands and moments later, the smoothness of his velvet-lined voice soon drifted across the expanse of the small room:
“The rose is fairest when ’t is budding new,
And hope is brightest when it downs from fears;
The rose is sweetest washed with morning dew
And love is loveliest when embalmed in tears.”
Entranced, Zelda listened intently to the words wrap fluidly around his eloquent tongue and spill forth into the stillness of the dimly lit room. Despite the silliness of it, all her mind could seem to think upon was the ‘swooning’ that was often detailed in Romance novels she had read when she was younger. She was certain at this moment in time that she might swoon and faint fast away upon the floor of The Prose & Wine, so overcome was she by his lovely recitation of Sir Walter Scott’s prose. Fleeting thoughts of him bent over her lifeless body while attempting to resuscitate her lingered pleasantly in the back of her mind until she forced herself to focus once again on the beautiful words and timbre of his voice as he continued to read.
Thus, the night ensued with readings from various excerpts of the famous poem. Zelda was smitten and did not once stir during the entire time. So moved was she by the lovely poetry that she occasionally lifted a finger to wipe at a stray tear that fell upon her cheek. Ah, but she could live life in such a way, listening to such beautiful recitations by such a one as he.
Once the recitations had ended, the waiter made the rounds, replenishing everyone’s drinks. As the waiter poured a new glass of Merlot for Zelda and then stepped away, she gasped for he was standing there, behind the waiter and directly in front of her small table.
“Good evening,” he said with a brilliant smile and voice of velvet that made Zelda’s breath catch in her throat. “I hope you enjoyed the reading.”
Zelda was unsure how she did so and from where she found her voice, but she returned his smile and managed to answer him without stammering like a timid child.
“Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sir Walter Scott’s writings are so beautiful.” As are you, she thought.
“Excellent. I am so pleased you liked it.” He looked about the room for a minute before his gaze found hers again. As if unsure what to say, he cleared his throat and said, “I’ve noticed that you’ve managed to attend all my readings. I hope that means you have enjoyed them. ”
Zelda felt a blush creep across her cheeks at his words. He had noticed her uninterrupted attendance at his recitations after all. Well, she could only hope that was a good thing. “Yes,” she said. “I have enjoyed each one of them very much, but I think tonight was my favorite.”
For mere moments, the two stared at one another, seemingly frozen in time. Blue eyes met green ones, and in the skip of a heartbeat, connected. Zelda felt a small shiver run down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold weather outside.
“May I join you?” he gestured to the empty chair at her table.
“Oh, yes, most certainly! Please forgive my lack of manners,” she said as she quickly moved her wine glass and the copy of Lady of the Lake she had brought with her so that he could take a seat. He motioned to the waiter so that he could order a drink. Zelda watched him from beneath her lashes and wondered if she was in a dream. If so, it was a wonderful dream and she hoped never to awaken.
“I’ll have whatever she’s having,” he told the waiter, motioning to Zelda’s glass of Merlot.
Zelda was suddenly very self-conscious as the waiter brought her companion’s wine. Her slim, woolen skirt seemed shorter and tighter by the minute, and the burgundy turtleneck she had worn seemed to bind her chest tightly, preventing an adequate flow of air. Nervously, she tugged at the hem of her skirt and then fidgeted with the stem of the wine glass, glancing up at him to ensure he was, in fact, still there. She refrained from the temptation to pinch herself just to be sure she was awake.
“You like Merlot then?” she asked, and then mentally kicked herself. Why of course he liked Merlot. He had ordered it, had he not? Stupid, silly question and stupid, silly girl! she chided herself.
“Yes, I do,” he smiled, and a big dimple grew in his left cheek. “It’s a favorite. I find it to be such an approachable wine. It is full-bodied and elegant while it pairs with nearly every kind of food but also stands alone quite well. I enjoy the sleek softness of it - fruity, velvety, so rich in nature,” he added as he took a sip from the wine glass the waiter had placed before him.
In addition to softly sensual, like the way in which you partake of its richness, Zelda could not help but mentally note, watching his throat as he swallowed. My God, but had anyone ever been able to describe the deliciousness of a glass of wine or Merlot in such a way? She was sure not. Indeed, the enunciation and the beauty in his description, rhythm, and flow of words were like the velvety, rich smoothness of the wine personified.
He looked at her and extended his hand, “My name is Gawain.”
She responded, captivated by his beautiful smile, with one of her own. “Zelda,” she said and felt the warmth in his firm handshake.
“What a lovely name. Quite unusual though,” he noted.
She nodded. “My mother was a huge fan of Fitzgerald.”
“Ah, yes, I see. Well, it certainly suits you quite well.” He then gave a small laugh before he continued. ”My mother was obviously a fan of the Arthurian legends.” As he spoke, he watched her intently, as though attempting to determine what she was thinking. Knowing exactly what she’d just been thinking about the soft sensuality in the way in which he had described his wine and then partook of it made Zelda blush again as she looked down into her own glass.
“Are you from New Orleans, Zelda?” he asked.
“I am,” she nodded and laughed softly. “Quite thoroughly Southern.”
“Like a Magnolia, I would say. Or perhaps, better yet, a lovely Camellia,” he responded in earnest.
Zelda looked at him, flattered that he would think her as lovely as a Southern bloom as he was certainly a stunning specimen in his own right. Gawain’s green eyes watched her over the light of the table’s candle as she returned their intensity with her blue gaze. The strength of their connection seemed to intensify like the flame of the candle.
“Thank you for the lovely compliment. May I ask where your home is?” Zelda asked and looked down and pretending to remove an invisible piece of lint from the table.
“I’m from across the pond,” he replied. “Cornwall, England to be precise. But I like it here very much and think I might stay a while longer than first planned.”
Zelda looked up as she heard the emphasis in his words. His green eyes continued to gaze at her as if she were the only person in the room, wanting to gage her reaction to the words he spoke.
She suddenly grew a little more confident and gave him a beautiful, warm smile. “That would be wonderful, Gawain. I am your number one fan, I assure you. I could easily listen to you read for endless years. Your voice is so lovely and made for such lovely recitations.”
At her words, he cocked his head a bit and his brow rose in question as he looked at her. “Endless years? I fear you might regret that one, my dear.”
Realizing what she’d said and what he was inferring, Zelda blushed and mentally cursed herself for doing so yet again while also silently answering him. I would never tire of that sensuous, velvet voice of yours - not even in a million years!
He looked down at the table and noted the lovely antique edition of Lady of the Lake that she’d brought with her before glancing up to study her a bit more. After a moment, his voice laced with seriousness, he said, “Why do I feel as if I already know you, Zelda? As if I have always known you?”
In response, Zelda emitted a faint, nervous laugh and quickly took a sip of her wine before she said, “Quite possibly because I’ve been to all your readings, hanging on to each and every word. I adore the Classics and the way in which you read them is so beautiful.” If only you could know how much I adore you, too.
“Yes, quite possibly, but still….one has to wonder,” he said as he reached across the table to lightly touch Zelda’s hand with his own. Unexpected, the touch was like a bolt of electricity. Stunned surprise surfaced in both eyes of green and blue.
Zelda’s breath caught in her throat, as she realized the full importance of her visit to The Prose and Wine this night. She shivered again as she realized that had she not come to this evening reading, there would have been no Gawain at her table, and no such connection between them. Yes, fate was an oxymoron: tricky and wondrous at the same time. She was immensely pleased she had listened to her voice of reason earlier that afternoon and come tonight. For in the briefest heartbeat, Zelda knew the connection between them had already grown with unusual and easy momentum. It was gaining a life of its’ own, much like a newly opened bottle of Merlot being exposed to the air, thereby allowing it to breathe while the fullness embodied therein enhanced with every second it rested. No, she was not dreaming. This was blissful reality. All roads were converging in a way that felt completely natural and completely right tonight. Without a doubt, there was a consequence for every little inconsequential action.
“Shall we do this again, Zelda?” Gawain asked, emboldened by the look in her green eyes.
“Yes, most assuredly.” Zelda quickly replied.
“Well,” he began, but then briefly diverted his gaze to the glass of Merlot before continuing as though he was slightly nervous. “Perhaps we should consider this to be our first date for I find that I am already looking forward to our next one.”
Suddenly, filled with newborn confidence and joy, Zelda lifted her slim hand so that her delicate fingers lay atop Gawain’s hand. It was warm to her touch, and she felt the gentle strength embodied therein. Realizing there were unknown and uncharted depths awaiting discovery within the man seated before her, she felt a thrill of anticipation and excitement. Smiling exuberantly, she answered, “Indeed, nothing would please me more, Gawain. I, too, cannot wait for what tomorrow may bring.”