TWA Wine by Josip Novakovich

While teaching a writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center, I invited a friend of mine to join me as I had a whole cottage with three rooms to myself, and to be my guest in the workshop of nonficiton. Captain Mark, now an American Airlines pilot, said he would come at ten in the evening on the first Thursday night, July 18. And so I cancelled my other social engagements, such as tea with Howard Norman, and waited in the cottage that very humid and sulty evening. Nothing worked to cool me off, and so I sat in my underwear, waiting for Mark. He didn’t show up and it was midnight, and then at one I fell asleep. He rang the bell at 2 in the morning, and before him, entered a bottle of red wine. Great to see you buddy, take this little token!

Great, let’s drink it, I said. Without looking at the label, I uncorked the wine, and poured some of it into one coffee cup for him and one for me. –Not bad, I said. I tossed it in my mouth, and could tell it was a bit dry, on the sour side, but altogether not bad, although not sensational either. –What kind of wine is it?

Oh, it’s Chateu Margaux from 1996, premier grand cru. The French knew what they were doing. It’s so good to see you, he said.

He took his shirt off and put his strapped handgun into his briefcase. I wiggled in my clammy tee shirt and had another gulp. Pretty soon I was close to the end of the bottle, and the wine tasted better and better, and I said, This seems to be better than I thought. I am now awake! Better than coffee. Better than coffee, he chimed. And the last drag of it was suddenly fabulous.

It intrigued me that a flat wine could become so good during the course of an evening, but then, such is the power of waking up and drinking. In the morning, for the hell of it, as probably many other petty people do these days after parties, I googled the wine he gave me, and was a little disconcerted to see that the going rate for it now was in the range of $800-1000. What the hell, I pissed his fine wine for no reason, just like that! I also read that the wine should be decanted for at least an hour to balance out after long entrapment in the bottle.

Mark, what’s up with this wine? Thank you very much, you should have warned me that it was so special.

I thought it would speak for itself, and I wanted to surprise you.

Thanks to Mr. Google, I am surprised. You could have . . . so how come such good wine?

It’s the anniversery of my fiance’s death. She died in the crash of TWA 800, bound to Paris, and I bought a case of the wine. So each anniversary, I drink one bottle.

My God, yes, you told me the story. You were supposed to fly with her and you’d be dead but for some reason you didn’t fly with her.

We should have another bottle to go into detail. Great to see you, Amigo, Mark said.

Josip Novakovich emigrated from Croatia to the United States at the age of 20, and recently to Canada at the age of 53. He has published a novel, April Fool’s Day (in ten languages), a novella in three forms, Three Deaths, and story collections (Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust, Yolk and Salvation and Other Disasters) and three collections of narrative essays as well as two books of practical criticism, including Fiction Writers Workshop. His work was anthologized in Best American Poetry, the Pushcart Prize collection and O. Henry Prize Stories. He has received the Whiting Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Ingram Merrill Award and an American Book Award, and in 2013 he was a Man Booker International Award finalist. Novakovich has been a writing fellow of the New York Public Library and has taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Die Freie Universitaet in Berlin, Penn State and now Concordia University in Montreal. This fall Esplanade Books will publish his most recent collection of stories in Canada. He is revising a novel, Rubble of Rubles, and putting together another story collection,

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