A bottle of Chateau Lafite made Adam Green a visible man. A single bottle, sold to the young man in the third row, for two hundred and fifty-three thousand dollars. A record price. Thomas Jefferson had etched his initials in the glass along with 1787, a very fine year.
A rising young hedge fund manager, the Wall Street Journal called Adam.
He kept the bottle on his mantel for a while. His emerald god of double-digit returns. Sometimes in the translucent hours when stock markets slept, he would pace, and he’d ponder the glass with its living cells still crawling beneath the surface, some forgotten craftsman’s breath preserved in embryonic bubbles. He imagined stomping on grapes, blowing sand into crystal, and felt strangely sad that the only alchemy he knew was to plant a million dollars somewhere and hope it would grow. Of course, he was also learning to savor good things. He told himself that was a sort of talent that ancient hands and feet had plucked and squeezed those grapes so that someday he could taste immortality.
New investors came to him, the young hedge fund wizard who could afford Thomas Jefferson’s wine. He talked about his possession sometimes, with the discretion befitting a man who could afford such things, and strictly in the company of those who wore their own armor of wealth. Everyone—a unanimous consensus, though maybe he was selective in who he asked—said of course. The world might blow up. We are men who don’t need rules. Drink it someday.
The bottle didn’t appear at his wedding. He married Jennifer, who was lustrous and brunette, and she’d lived all her life with so many possessions she didn’t have to talk about them. Nor did the bottle present itself when they had twin girls, Emma and Allison.
Emma jumped her horse and won ribbons. Allison listened to the nanny’s tales of evil spirits that fluttered into empty bottles, and how you could trap them on a bottle tree. Adam wanted to fire the nanny but Jennifer let their daughter make a bottle tree. “She’s expressing herself,” Jennifer said, and her voice rose. She was loud behind their iron gates. She gobbled up pleasures.
Alison came home from college and didn’t go back, then began to wander amongst the people in the streets. It was the year people began to gather outside homes with gates. Adam drove through them one morning and saw a sign that said “Hedge fund guys: higher taxes or guillotine.” His daughter brought some of the people into their house. They smelled like a subway ride with no destination, though they were polite enough to him when he crawled in late at night. He was exhausted, what with the records he had to gather for the Attorney General subpoena and all that. The street people said hello then talked as though he wasn’t even there; his fatigue made him almost invisible in his own home.
He found them in the kitchen that night before his hearing was to begin. They had a couple of jugs of cheap wine on the table. “Nice house,” said someone, sounding almost sympathetic. “But I guess you’ll be in a country club jail.”
“Just don’t drink my special wine,” Adam heard himself saying. He knew those were fighting words, but he had a sudden urge to look at the bottle again, as proof of who he was.
He heard his daughter screaming don’t open it and someone guffawing, “yeah, it could be the only inheritance Allison gets.” Still, the corkscrew turned.
It was liquid inside, deep red in the glass, thick as caramel on his palate, yet the taste taunted him. He had expected to swallow the secret to immortality. It was sweet, like an untrammeled forest yet it stung at the same time, like salty tears.
Adam was not without a plan. The next night, when he crept aboard a small plane beneath a moonless sky, he had the grizzled bottle tucked away in a small knapsack. He couldn’t take much. On a branch of a barren cypress tree amidst bottles of indigo, claret and jade, one etched bottle the color of archaic money might have been a giveaway. But it was an island of inhabitants who’d arrived in the dark and knew how to live without history.