There was no way anyone would actually confuse blood for wine, or wine for blood. Not in real life. Not if they really knew anything about either.
Wine rarely dried the crusty rust red that blood did. He’d seen a deep ruby red wine dried on a cork before, as if it had been stamped into a puddle of wet blood, but once blood was dry, it no longer looked like that.
Besides, it was too thin.
He held up his wine glass and admired the burgundy color of his port. It did seem to ignite bloodlust, however. The deep, liquid red. The biting flavor. The way it stained clothing. It was very much like blood in many ways.
He had sometimes been accused of having wine in his veins instead of blood. His wine ratings were respected near and far. He was rarely seen without a bulbous wine glass clutched in his fist in those days.
He took in a deep breath, savoring the scent of the wine, but also the scent of freshly dug earth. They said a wine connoisseur had finely honed senses of smell, not just for smelling wine. Every scent was more potent and more distinct when you made your living by your nose.
The wine cellar, his pride and joy, was newly dug and furnished. Centuries worth of wine lay nestled in wooden racks, tilted at just the right angles to keep the corks moist but not oversaturated and just the right temperature so the flavor would be perfect when poured.
Not everyone understood his obsession, however. His wife tended to be resentful of how much time he spent drinking, or drinking and spitting, or drinking and talking with his fellow wine connoisseurs.
He swirled his wine in his glass thoughtfully, and then took a deep inhale to identify the scents. And finally, he allowed himself a small sip. He swirled it around in his mouth and smiled a closed-mouthed smile.
“I should have known I’d find you down here,” an obnoxious nasal voice said from outside the cellar. His wife poked her head through the door timidly, and rolled her eyes as she took in the new addition to their home. “How much did this set us back?” she asked disdainfully.
He spat the tasted wine into a different glass, no longer able to relish the crisp taste of his wine with his wife nagging at him.
She wrinkled her nose. “Must you persist in that disgusting habit when I’m in the room?”
He sighed and set both glasses on the new elaborate marble-topped mahogany table. “And which habit is that, dearest? The drinking or the spitting?” He didn’t like her in his space. His private, personal drinking space. The one place he could escape her. The whole reason he had had it built.
“Both. The spitting is for boys and filthy men. The drunken debauchery is for the slobbering alcoholics you find on the streets. Neither befits a man of your station.”
“That drunken debauchery is part of what gives me my station,” he reminded her as gently as he could.
She shrugged one of her slim, pretty shoulders. “No matter. Are you ready to go? We have a party to attend.”
He gave one last wistful look to his perfect glass of port, and left it.
That night was only the first of many that she rooted him out of his hideaway – what should have been his sanctuary. He couldn’t spend a night drinking in peace without the woman coming down to nag at him for something or other. He had thought once he had the cellar built, and his collection out of sight from the rest of the house, she’d leave him alone. Now it was always something else. Some other husbandly failing or inadequacy. Something he hadn’t done right or done at all.
The only peace he found were in his gentlemen’s nights, where they would walk up and down the rows of his wine cellar and make appreciative sounds about his collection and pop open a barrel to try now and then, before putting it back to continue to ripen.
She stayed far away on those nights, and would greet him with seething silence after the gentlemen had gone home.
One night she grew more bold and made multiple visits under the guise of serving them. Hors d’oeuvres, removing their dirty glasses, relaying messages from the wives upstairs. His jaw clenched tighter every time she violated his space. The only way to unclench it was to throw back another glass of wine.
By the end of the evening, he was furious and drunk. She arrived to escort the last of his guests away, and he drained his last cup. When she returned, he was clutching an empty bottle, hunched on a stool at his oak table.
Looking back, he couldn’t even remember what she said, or what he said back, but somehow she was screaming at him, calling him a filthy drunk, a worthless husband, and impotent to boot. And then he was yelling back, calling her every uncouth name he could think of. He didn’t even remember what name was the last straw, but she screeched, yanked a bottle from the nearest rack, and flung it at him full force.
Too drunk to react quickly enough to catch it, it crashed into the marble counter and shattered, spewing a ruby tidal wave everywhere.
He sank to his knees to see which of his precious children had been murdered. His extremely rare 1853 Madeira Terrantez, to his horror. Since their outbreak of powdery mildew had decimated their vineyards, which drastically reduced their production just two years ago, they still hadn’t recovered.
“Woman, do you realize what you have just done?”
She stared at him defiantly. “Ooops. I hope it wasn’t expensive.”
“It very well could have been the very last bottle of its kind.”
“It’s only a bottle of wine,” she said plaintively. “They all taste the same, anyway. Why do you care so much about some stupid bottle of wine?”
She grabbed another and threw it over his head.
He gasped as he ducked. It hit the corner of a shelf and cracked in half, staining the fresh wood purple.
“Cease, woman!” he bellowed.
But she didn’t. “You love this wine more than you love me!” Another bottle went flying. This one he dove forward and managed to catch before it smashed. He landed hard on his knees, but the bottle was safe.
He stood slowly, so as not to stumble or fall over. She had another bottle, one of his precious port he had loved so much that first day the cellar was completed. She cocked her arm back to throw it.
“Don’t you dare,” he snarled. “This ends now.”
She threw it as hard as she could at the ground. The dirt floor absorbed the impact so the bottle didn’t break, but she took a heeled foot and smashed it with the spike.
He lurched forward, towards the woman who was defecating upon everything he held dear. He still held the broken bottle of Madeira by the neck.
The look she gave him was ugly. “I hate this ridiculous wine cellar, I hate this awful manor, and most of all I hate you!”
He felt no remorse as he slashed the broken bottle across her throat.
“I hate you too.”
She slumped to the floor, mouth gaping open like a fish, her blood spurting across the dirt floor mixing with the spilled wine.
The next morning he figured out what to do with the body. The poet Poe had once written a story about a man who sealed up another man behind a wall of bricks in his wine cellar. He didn’t see why it couldn’t work for him. The cellar was new enough that nobody would question a wall in the far corner.
He worried briefly that her decomposition might contaminate his wine, so he dug a shallow grave in the dirt floor before putting up the brick wall. Each brick was another one of her accusations, naggings, and jabs at his hobby and his manhood. She would rest for all time behind that wall, and nobody would ever find her.
Once the work was done, he picked up the broken pieces of glass, but left the wine stains, especially the Madeira. It was all that was left of that vintage, soaked into the floor of his wine cellar.
He accepted it as the christening of his cellar, as one might christen a new sailing vessel. Christened with wine and blood.
He raised a wine glass filled with deep red liquid, toasted the air, and drank.