Biscuits With Malbec – Mike Lee

I must undarken the room.

Irina opened the curtains.

Her onyx eyes squinted as she peered beyond the alabaster of the terrace wall. She rested her gaze at the mountain rising above the sea pines and the cumulus dotting the sky.

Irina wanted to ascend that mountain. The hike was scheduled for tomorrow. The journey was expected to be a leisurely climb lacking the surrealism of the novel Mount Analogue, a book that evoked Irina’s dreams.

The mountain brought Irina to the concept of a quest. She revisited the plan of climbing it shortly after they moved to the city. She even purchased a print of the mountain to hang it in her cubicle.

From reading Mount Analogue, Irina discovered a valuable insight: she realized that the journey is not a straight line, but circuitous.

The door to the invisible must be visible.

Yes, baby. What?

I’m quoting the book I am reading.

Oh. That novel. You’re obsessed.

She looked up from the pages.

Perhaps. The word extended from her lips with a hiss.

* * *

They arrived at this resort on their first vacation in three years. The city was a day’s drive away. This helped make it the first choice for Irina and Antonio to make a break.

Irina first encountered the mountain in childhood in an afternoon geography class during middle school. She was immediately attracted by the images when they flashed on the screen in the dark classroom.

The video was an exploration of the then-newly opened national park that encompassed the forest-covered mountains. Enraptured, Irina fell smitten, feeling a sense of belonging that was unlike anything experienced before.

The mountain became the land of her secret commonwealth, as she drew pictures of the mountain, and imaginary maps of the land surrounding the peak. She created towns and cities, roads and rail lines, all linked to magnificent futuristic cities rendered in her head.

Then sixth grade became seventh. Adolescence intervened, distracting her. It was years before Irina returned to dreaming of attaining the summit.

* * *

Antonio programmed a mix of jump blues on the sound player. Slim Gaillard Quartet’s Dunkin’ Bagel was the first song, which transformed the sedate hotel suite room into a fantasy of a halligalli.

Splash in the coffee, baby. Irina said.

Those black pools for eyes. Antonio said this when they first kissed. He repeated those words in intimate moments. A reason to love him, she thought.

* * *

They were not hungry, so they settled on ordering biscuits with butter and jam. They decided on a bit of decadence, so Antonio retrieved a bottle of Argentine Malbec from the cabinet. Its hints of blackberry could have been a breakfast all its own.

While they ate on the balcony, Irina looked toward the horizon. Clouds ringed the summit.

The weather is lovely, but the pollen in the air is rotten. But that’s me, arguing with St. Peter, again.

What else is new? What will you be arguing with him about later?

Where it was that I lost my confidence.

That. Again?

Her brow furrowed.

Antonio was in a mood, which was unfortunate. This morning, Irina found his brooding unattractive. She pictured Antonio as the gloaming of an overcast sky.

She steered the conversation elsewhere.

I am truly excited about tomorrow. The hike will be such an adventure. I feel I have already projected that when we go through the forest path that it will be memorable, and therefore I feel like now I’m going to set aside an infinite amount of time to build new memories.

Antonio looked up. I know hiking the mountain is important to you.

She read the novel at a time when she was struggling to live without judgment, to be at peace with the present, in accepting a likely future framed by traditional expectations.

Yes, you know I often experience the contortions of an obsessive mind. It is so often like the process of extracting a certain pebble–a tumor–from my brain. Formed since childhood, sometimes they pass as kidney stones; and other times blasted with explosions of epiphanies.

Antonio blinked, and breathed deeply.

I just love these buttermilk biscuits.

Irina smiled, reminded of Daumal’s statement that what is above knows what is below. That was the point, after all.

It was time to ascend, whatever Antonio’s mood. He could use the exercise.

Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and a reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in trampset, Lunate, Bending Genres, Ghost Parachute and others. Website:

Image via Pixabay

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