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art by Shothot Designs


Tara Barnett's poetry and prose is just beginning to appear. For future apparitions see www.tarabarnett.com

When the first soldier came to taste of Ana's wine, I asked Mama when a man would first taste mine. "Patience, my beautiful daughter," she told me. "Let the wine age, and it will become richer, and stronger than its oak cask." But the first soldier who tasted took my sister Ana away, although her wine was still young and sweet, perhaps because he liked the taste.
It was many years still before a man came to taste of my wine. I had many long days to think, read, and become skilled for the man who would drink of me fully. Every day I seasoned that barrel, breathed in its heady aroma, and adjusted the heat of my father's cellar to best temper my powerful brew. It was my full-time obsession.
When I was born, Mama planted my birth sac at the finest place on our hill, lit by our red sun and glistening at night in the shadow of the four moons. In the ethereal garden of the women, my fruit grew tall over the other girls', bowing towards the closest moon at night. My first home and my family seed grew and flowered and bore fruit, an early and hopeful parallel. The large purple berries shimmered like dewy velvet and were Mama's pride and joy: a promise of grandchildren.
While I was still a girl, I tended my plant like a sick babe, although it was very healthy. It became a spoiled child under my green thumb. It demanded more from me than I could spare, then shrank into distemper when I would not give it. So I learned to give myself completely to this plant, such that I might someday have a proud husband.
When I harvested my plant, I did not drop a single fruit. I cut it down with Mama's silver shears and caught the thorny branches in my hands, such that they might never touch the ground. I twisted each fruit off its vine and smeared its skin with my blood, which gave my fruit the taste of iron. A man can taste devotion in the cask, even after many years.
Mama and I constructed my proud drink before many jealous wives and daughters whose plants were not so strong. I had more than enough fruit to fill the great cask my father had built for me. We gave it just a little sweet rose, to draw in a man, then left its lusty nature alone. When the fruit is good, it needs no spice. Mama said it was the finest wine she had ever seen made.
It is our way to give our girls these tender plants, a gift from mother to daughter. When she is old enough, a child learns to care for her future in the vines of her plant. The garden of women teaches duty to the child, subjugation to the needy. The harvest gives her nimble fingers that know thorny pain and can care for velvet fists of berries with a cautious hand. When she first stirs her purple elixir, choosing undertones on the lap of her Mama, she knows she is a woman. And when she waits for months for a stranger to ride down the road and ask for a taste, she becomes one in the lonely anticipation.
I did not know then what I know to be true now: that a heady brew can scare them, like the blood of a comrade makes mice out of an army. I waited, looking down that long road, and every man who rode our way passed me by. My drink became stronger, became an acid drug, and with it my mind fermented and became potent. I knew, at that point, that my wine was too strong no matter what Mama sang from her delusional bed. So once again, I became obsessed with the earth.
I grew in my garden a sea of sweet fruits, hearty herbs, and exotic spices. I collected the pistils of tiny flowers until I had enough to cover the acid of my wine. I grew summer berries to make it sweet again. From the trees, I collected honey to stick a man to me.
I seasoned my wine once again with new spices, and with every harvest, it grew stranger and more powerful. I tried to take away its strong beginnings, to cover up its overpowering fruit with window dressings, but nothing could disguise the burning acid it had become. It simply grew, like me, until even my more ambitious plantings could not change it. So I gave up.
After many months, I began to love this satellite garden, my personal drawer of life's flavors. Instead of love magic, I began to grow medicines and more. I grew flowers of great beauty and trees that seemed to spring towards the moons overnight. I created alchemy in my garden shed, and my picnic feasts, eaten on the very earth where they were born, were more satisfying than those that came from the great fields tended by red-skinned farmers. In my fields, neglected by my father, I made more life and magic than a son.
That was when I knew doubt. I resented my wine. It grew too strong, and it made me strong. Perhaps it was fated from the very seed, or perhaps the gardener had some effect on it. When it sprang from the ground, there was no turning back.
And I thought, why should I wager my life that a soldier, a farmer, or a magician will drink of my wine and be drunk on it? It seems unjust that I should raise another beautiful daughter like me, teach her to till the soil, give her worth, then pour that worth into wine. Is this garden not enough to show a man that I am a master of the earth?
I have waited years, and still no man has come. They speak of me in towns, the woman with the smoking elixir. The vixen with the harsh brew. My wine no longer has a taste, but a legend.
In my garden now I have grown a special herb, the final part of the recipe of me. I have tended it in secret in the hidden shade of the corn. It grows slowly, but it grows potent. When I dry it, crush it, and leech it in the wine, it will be my scorpion's spine. No man will take me from this garden. I will live and die here in the flowers and the trees, back to the garden from whence I came.
My father has called into the valley, as Mama has been begging, to find a man with strong magic: a man who can drink of a poisonous woman and not die. He will see my foolish garden and smile, for he will know in his heart that he can best me with his palate, simple maiden that I am.
He will be wrong.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 13th, 2010

Author Comments

When I sat down to write this piece, I was mainly interested in the classic idea of a person's worth being synonymous with some arbitrary material item, although I did attempt to cast doubt on whether or not the wine's quality was truly arbitrary. Out of that somewhat abstract concept, this strange and independent character came to life for me. Thus, "Drink" became a story.

- Tara Barnett
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