An Odd Date
It had been some time since he called through the order. Good Peking duck can’t be rushed, he thought to himself. Waiting in his car, Neil had taken the moment to study the layer of dust that covered the dashboard. There were fist imprints in places where he had struck it, slamming his clenched fist down like a gavel. The news on the radio always frustrated him. Those numbers were not going down. He looked out into the laneway. What had passed for grungy and gritty a few months ago now looked grubby and grimy. The city was quiet. Without the cast of extras of foot traffic, its backdrop looked old and faded. Graffiti ages quickly, he noted. In a crack in the mortar in the bluestone wall next to his window grew a creeper. A native. Small trefoil like leaves with a little pale violet flower. He had the same plant in the bush next to his vineyard. He imagined this one being a distant relative of a plant that grew under the manna gums when this place was just a colonial outpost at the end of the world. When civilisation ended not much farther than the range of a rifle.
A low-level hum came from his phone as it vibrated to let him know his duck was ready. He had never had take-away meals from this Chinese restaurant before. He always thought that dining here was about the experience. From the person who held the lift door in the lobby to the way the maître’d would beam across the tables full of diners with a smile just for him. It was the way the chair was pushed in when he took a seat. It was the way in which small decisions were made by floor staff on his behalf, without a single assumption being made. The balance of the cutlery in hand, the crispness of the tablecloth, the resonance of the wine glass. It was all good. That the food was clean, perfect Cantonese, he considered, was a bonus. A brief exchange at 1.5m, a nodded thank-you through a mask, the rustle of a plastic bag, and he was out the door within 45 seconds.
Neil sat in a borrowed flat. The duck was laid out on the table. The pinot open. Through the window entered the sounds of the city outside. The banging and pummelling, the crack and whack of the deconstruction of the old Italian joint downstairs.
“Pinot is a polyamorous wine,” he said. Neil liked talking about pinot, even when no one was listening. “It loves everything. But when you’re eating duck, there is only one wine. And that is pinot.” He paused. “Or Nebbiolo.”
Neil poured some, not too much, of the earthy, deep-red wine into his glass. The colour reminded him of the dust on his dashboard. Dust from the vineyard in which he grew the grapes to make the wine. His wine. He dabbed a little hoisin sauce onto the duck, its skin forming angles impossible in life. The pancakes had a pleasing pallorous texture. Skin on skin. He took a bite from the Peking duck. He thought of Phil Spector. A wall of sensation. Smooth, crisp, fat, salt, sweet, hot, crunch, slippery; long, lingering flavour. The pinot was not cool, but broad on his lips. He liked the tannin. He felt that New World pinot makers were afraid of tannin. But he liked the big wines made by Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier in Burgundy. All that tannin extracted from the skins. All that plunging. A pinot that will happily sit in the bottle for decades. The fruit, the soil, the harvest, the pigeage, the long dark days spent on lees, the slow pumping. He tasted his labour. He felt it was an odd date he was on. It was a date with his own company, with his own wine made by another him the previous year. A previous year and a previous him. The duck was good. The pinot was good. Together, they were even better.
He looked out the window to see the wood panelling from the red pasta joint thrown in the back of the dump truck by a bloke in footy shorts and a burgeoning mullet. The bloke returned a few minutes later with an industrial microwave. He paused. He rested it his crooked knee and opened the passenger door to the truck. He heaved the stainless steel box into the cabin. Neil looked up and watched the tattered Southern Cross flag flutter from a cable suspended from a motionless crane. It was an odd date.
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