In the next visit to the Midnight Library, Mrs Elm helped Nora ﬁnd the life she could have lived that was closest to the life depicted on the label of that bottle of wine from the restaurant. So, she gave Nora a book that sent her to America.
In this life Nora was called Nora Martìnez and she was married to a twinkle-eyed Mexican-American man in his early forties called Eduardo, who she had met during the gap year she’d regretted never having aer leaving university. Aer his parents had died in a boating accident (she had learned, from a proﬁle piece on them in e Wine Enthusiast magazine, which they had framed in their oak-panelled tasting room), Eduardo had been le a modest inheritance and they bought a tiny vineyard in California. Within three years they had done so well – particularly with their Syrah varietals – that they were able to buy the neighbouring vineyard when it came up for sale. eir winery was called the Buena Vista vineyard, situated in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and they had a child called Alejandro, who was at boarding school near Monterey Bay.
Much of their business came from wine-trail tourists. Coachloads of people arrived at hourly intervals. It was quite easy to improvise, as the tourists were genuinely quite gullible. It went like this: Eduardo would decide which wines to put out in the glasses before each coach load arrived, and hand Nora the bottles – ‘Woah, Nora, despacio, un poco too much’ he reprimanded in his good-humoured Spanglish, when she was a bit too liberal with the measures – and then when the tourists came Nora would inhale the wines as they sipped and swilled them, and try to echo Eduardo and say the right things.
‘ere is a woodiness to the bouquet with this one’ or ‘You’ll note the vegetal aromas here – the bright robust blackberries and fragrant nectarine, perfectly balanced with the echoes of charcoal’.
Each life she had experienced had a diﬀerent feeling, like diﬀerent movements in a symphony, and this one felt quite bold and upliing. Eduardo was incredibly sweet-natured, and their marriage seemed to be a successful one. Maybe even one to rival the life of the couple on the wine label of the bottle of ropey wine she’d drank with Dylan, while being licked by his astronomically large dog. She even remembered their names. Janine and Terence ornton. She felt like she too was now living in a label on a bottle. She also looked like it. Perfect Californian hair and expensive-looking teeth, tanned and healthy despite the presumably quite substantial consumption of Syrah. She had the kind of ﬂat, hard stomach that suggested hours of Pilates every week.
However, it wasn’t just easy to fake wine knowledge in this life. It was easy to fake everything, which could have been a sign that the key to her apparently successful union with Eduardo was that he wasn’t really paying attention.
Aer the last of the tourists le, Eduardo and Nora sat out under the stars with a glass of their own wine in their hands.
‘e ﬁres have died out in LA now,’ he told her.
Nora wondered who lived in the Los Angeles home she had in her pop star life. ‘at’s a relief.’
‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ she asked him, staring up at that clear sky full of constellations.
‘What?’ ‘e galaxy.’ ‘Yes.’
He was on his phone and didn’t say very much. And then he put his phone down and still didn’t say much.
She had known three types of silence in relationships. ere was passive-aggressive silence, obviously, there was the we-no-longer-have-anything-to-say silence, and then there was the silence that Eduardo and she seemed to have cultivated. e silence of not needing to talk. Of just being together, of together-being. e way you could be happily silent with yourself.
But still, she wanted to talk. ‘We’re happy, aren’t we?’ ‘Why the question?’
‘Oh, I know we are happy. I just like to hear you say it sometimes.’ ‘We’re happy, Nora.’
She sipped her wine and looked at her husband. He was wearing a sweater even though it was perfectly mild. ey stayed there a while and then he went to bed before her.
‘I’m just going to stay out here for a while.’
Eduardo seemed ﬁne with that, and sloped oﬀ aer planting a small kiss on the top of her head.
She stepped out with her glass of wine and walked among the moonlit vines.
She stared at the clear sky full of stars.
ere was absolutely nothing wrong with this life, but she felt inside her a craving for other things, other lives, other possibilities. She felt like she was still in the air, not ready to land. Maybe she was more like Hugo Lefèvre than she had realised. Maybe she could ﬂick through lives as easily as ﬂicking pages.
She gulped the rest of the wine, knowing there would be no hangover. ‘Earth and wood,’ she said to herself. She closed her eyes.
It wasn’t long now. Not long at all.
She just stood there and waited to disappear.