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Joe the Gardener
by Fred Vogel

With his health deteriorating by the day, Martin knew it was the right time to bring out the big boy before his taste buds headed further south - the bottle of 1945 Chateau Margaux, his birth year. He had purchased the bottle in the mid-eighties from a New York wine shop for three-hundred dollars. He knew in today's crazy wine market it was worth ten times that amount, but he had bought the wine to drink, not to flip.

Sadly, he had no one to share this special bottle with now that his wife was gone.

Martin made his way down to the cellar and flicked on the light. He located the bottle and headed upstairs, a climb that was becoming more strenuous than it had ever been before the chemo.

It was time to pop the cork.

He removed the foil and ever-so-gently worked the Laguiole opener into the cork until it showed itself in its entirety, much to Martin's relief. He carefully decanted the wine, making sure the sediment stayed at the bottom of the bottle. He took a Riedel Bordeaux glass from the cabinet and set it on the end table next to his easy chair in the den. He went into the kitchen and made up a plate of cheese, crackers, and red grapes.

He sat down and poured himself a small amount. He swirled, sticking his nose deep into the glass, enjoying the robust bouquet from the dark red fruit, possible black cherries or raspberries, along with the hint of pipe tobacco and the presence of wood, all well-integrated. He poured a few ounces into his glass. After another half-dozen swirls, he raised the glass to his lips, ready to experience what he hoped would be something extraordinary. But before he could take the first sip, Joe, the gardener, revved up the lawnmower outside the window where Martin was seated, creating a terrible racket. This won't do at all, Martin said out loud. He placed the glass on the table and went outside. Joe shut the motor off when he saw Martin approach.

"Hello, Mr. French.

"Good afternoon, Joe. May I have a word?"

"Yes, sir. Of course."

"Joe, I'm about to experience something that I have been waiting to do for the last thirty years."

"Yes, sir?"

"Joe, you are a wine drinker?"

"Not much of one. My sister likes the Yellow Tail."

"Well, your sister is not alone in that. Joe, I am about to drink from a bottle of wine that I purchased back in the '80s."

"Wow. And it's still good?"

"That's what I'm hoping to find out."

"I see."

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't mow today. I'm looking for some quiet time with the wine. I know it must sound crazy."

"Maybe a little."

"What if you just work on the hedges today?"

"I can do that, if you'd like."

"I would like. The grass can grow another week."

With that, Martin went inside and sat in his easy chair. He swirled, then took the much anticipated first sip. It was everything he had hoped for and more. He could hear Joe outside, whistling while he worked. For crissakes, Martin thought, setting down his glass and going back outside.

"Joe, I don't mean to be a pain in the rear or anything, but is there any way you can keep the whistling inside your head today?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. French. I didn't realize I was even doing it."

"I don't know, Joe. Maybe I'm making too big a deal out of this whole thing. And if my wife were here she would agree to that thought."

"Mrs. French was a nice lady."

"Yes, she was."

"She always smiled and said hello."

"Joe," Martin said. "I'm sorry, but I don't really know that much about you even after all these years. Are you married?"

"My wife died four years ago. I live with my sister."

"I'm sorry. Do you have any children?"

"Two boys. One's a doctor in California and the other is in the Air Force."

"You must be proud."

"Yes, sir. Very much. They are good boys."

"I'm sure they are."

Martin patted Joe on the shoulder and headed inside.

He took a handful of grapes and popped them into his mouth. He watched Joe through the window, wiping the sweat from his forehead as he clipped the hedges. Martin sat down in his easy chair and picked up the glass of wine. Without the hum of the lawn mower or Joe's whistling, he took another sip. The wine, despite its advanced age, was opening up beautifully to show even more characteristics.

Martin's eyes filled with tears, not from the beauty of the wine, but from his ever-growing loneliness. He retrieved a silver tray, along with another wine glass. He placed the cheese plate, wine glasses, and decanter on the tray and walked outside.

He knew he needed to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with his new friend, Joe the gardener.

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