Jane Erdington had a magic bottle of wine. Or a magic cupboard, whichever way you wanted to look at it.
Jane had experimented with different bottles of wine and different cupboards, but the magic only seemed to work if she had the same combination of the two.
Which was disappointing, really, because there were times when she might have fancied a nice rich Chardonnay, or celebratory bottle of Brut. But what she had was the eternal Merlot.
It had long been her favourite red, and red her favourite tipple, but its persistence was, well, a little too persistent.
Over the years she had infuriated herself trying to work out how the magic worked. What happened when the empty bottle, lid fully screwed into place, was put into that cupboard. She has tried moving the cupboard to a different wall, a different room, a different house, even. But the magic had not been affected. She had tried weighing the cupboard (although that was very awkward indeed), but it seemed the weight change was only notable after she had looked up and noticed the newly filled and sealed bottle.
Sitting there. Watching her.
There had been times when Jane had doubted whether the magic were benign. Perhaps she was being seducing into alcoholism, or perhaps she was mad already and this was some twisted joke she was playing on her schitzophrenic self. Maybe she was only dreaming – drunkenly – again and again.
She had worried if the wine might be poisoned, dodgy. She had bought an identical bottle of Merlot and tried to blind taste it to see if there was any difference. But if there was, she hadn’t recognised it.
Maybe the wine itself was magic and was making all this happen to her?
But in that case, what about all the friends and neighbours she had had come round and drink the bloody stuff with her? Sometimes just for moral support, not that she had told any of them a thing about it.
Jane sighed, as she went to the kitchen for the dust pan and brush.
Then of course, there was the other question: the question of why she had put a lidded empty bottle in the cabinet and closed the door in the first place. Well, the answer to that was simple enough, wasn’t it? Well, sort of.
Because of course, it had been an honest mistake at first. She had rinsed the bottle out, put it’s lid back on, and meant to place the empty bottle in the recycling bin before going to the cupboard for another bottle, but instead she had placed the empty bottle in the cupboard and then gone to the recycling bin before realising that she was a nitwit and turning back round to the cupboard again.
Half-a-bottle-of-wine Jane (she had been sharing that time with her sister) had blinked at the cupboard, shrugged her shoulders and picked another (the same) bottle of wine off the shelf, which they had tidied up nicely before wobbling their way up to bed.
The next morning, though, that was trickier to explain. Jane had got up and come downstairs to tidy up the pizza boxes and squirt a bit of air freshener about before her sister came down. And she had picked up the one empty bottle of Merlot, rinsed it out, put the lid on, and walked over to the recyling bin. Which was empty.
And then she had remembered her confusion. What a numpty, she told herself, walking over to the cabinet, rinsed bottle (somehow, inexplicably) still in her hand. She opened the cupboard. No empty bottle.
And that was when she had gone through the very bizarre re-enactment which had finally enlightened her to the truth – or at least the beginning of it – with an ear-piercing scream that had woken her sister in a fright, driven her to fly down the stairs and demand what was the matter in a shaking and frail tone to which Jane had replied – and to the life of her, even now she wasn’t sure why she had so replied – in an equally shakey and frail tone, the single, explanatory word:
That had really been very silly of her, Jane recalled, putting the dustpan and brush to good use. But at least her sister had been as scared of spiders as Jane had always been, and for that reason they had been able to retire upstairs together, waiting until the monster retreated, where they talked about headaches and bacon butties, and didn’t mention magic or anything like it at all.
Salt, Jane told herself, as she trundled over to the kitchen. That was the stuff for carpet stains.
Obviously she had had her doubts at first, but prolonged drinking and refilling had given her all the evidence she needed. At one point she had decanted twelve bottles of Merlot into various other containers, before establishing a sober truth and inviting some friends over for punch.
And, in the winter time, mulled wine.
She had guarded the bottle jealously after that. She had even contemplated a lock on the cupboard. That had been a bit ridiculous of her.
And she was pretty sure that it was the same old bottle, because even if the wine and the seal were materialising, the label wasn’t. It had been looking shabby for a while now, she recalled. Various spillages, peeling corners. It had been two years, Jane reminded herself. Two years of drinking a continuous flow of Merlot from the same sodding bottle. It was a miracle of sorts, she supposed. Except Jane wasn’t Jesus.
She sighed and stared down at the salt-sowed red-stained carpet before the cabinet. Well, she said to herself, all miracles must come to an end.