This short horror story was originally published in the online zine, MicroHorror.
Michael Rogan picked up the bottle of wine and held it close to his eyes to examine the label. Brookshire Farms. A recent vintage Australian merlot. Soft acidity, medium body, and hints of oak and black cherry. He wasn't too crazy about the hints of oak—if he wanted to taste wood, he'd go chew on some of the shade trees in his backyard. The merlot had, however, received an 89 from Wine Spectator. Not bad, for a bottle hiding in the clearance bin. He set the bottle onto a cushion of frozen vegetables in his shopping cart.
There was a time when any wine would do. In his younger days, Michael had paired zin with fried chicken and cab with salmon. Rookie mistakes. Over the years, his tolerance for poorly-matched wines and foods had diminished, much like his ability to spot them at an arm’s length. Michael had what you would call a mature palate. It was tough to find a good wine on a retiree's budget, but he did well enough.
It was Saturday afternoon. The supermarket was packed. Since he retired, he’d become accustomed to the relative lack of shoppers out and about on weekday mornings. The Saturday shopping traffic wasn’t a problem for Michael. He simply hung his wife’s handicapped tag from his rearview mirror. Front row parking at Kroger. His wife couldn’t drive any longer, so someone had to use the tag. Normally, he wouldn't think to hit up the grocery store on the weekend. However, Michael’s red wine stock had unexpectedly run empty from so many consecutive nights of red meat.
In the dairy section, two twenty-year-old boys stopped him as he searched for an aged gouda.
“Mr. Rogan!” one of the boys said, snapping Michael out of his shopping daze. There were only two types of people that addressed him as Mr. Rogan: telemarketers, whom he hated, and students, whom he hated even more.
He recognized one of the boys as one of his art students from a few years ago. This was just before he had retired early to care for his ailing wife.
“How are you boys doing?” Michael said.
“Good, good. Just pickin’ up a case of brewskie,” Jacob said, holding his case of Coors Light up for Michael to see. “And you?”
“Just picking up some wine for my wife,” Michael said. It seemed that he never stopped talking about his wife. There was the cancer that spread through her body like a spilled drink being absorbed into carpet, and then the long and painful bedside vigil that Michael held that required him to retire early. Michael had cared for his wife as the illness ravaged her body.
After an awkward pause, Michael asked the boys if either of them were married yet.
The boys looked at each other and laughed.
Michael could see they were unshaven and untamed by the female of the species. They had no idea yet of the companionship that a spouse could provide as the years stretched on into decades. Right now, these boys just needed each other, beer, and take-out food. Neither of them could know the lengths that one could be pushed to facing losing someone forever. When the doctors had given Michael’s wife only three months to live, Michael knew that there was only one way to keep her with him as long as possible. That was two years ago; now he was still taking care of her and refused to let her go. His wife wasn’t in any condition to be seen, but he lined her room with the flowers and get-well cards that trickled in.
You’ll understand one day, Michael thought. “Take care, all right? I’ve got to get back to my old lady."
The boys nodded goodbye, carting their cases of beer off to their bachelor pads. What Michael wouldn't have given to live such a carefree lifestyle. He didn’t have the same luxury. Although his wife was no longer sick, she still required care. A tender filet of her right thigh was defrosting in the kitchen sink right now, and his wife tended to go bad quicker than other red meats. She would spoil if Michael didn’t get back to her soon.