Margo tied the apron around her waist, automatically straightening the fabric over her jeans and black t-shirt. This was the last thing she felt like doing, putting on a happy face and dealing with the public, but the summer had been hotter than usual and it had been rare to have people take the turn off the highway to the vineyard. Usually all they could hear was a soft buzzing like a tired blowfly as traffic kept on driving towards the next town.
But Max had put the flags out with his usual sense of quiet determination. She didn’t have the heart to make it any harder for him today. There were times when she had to wonder how he didn’t know already that she’d come to the end of her tether and that she couldn’t bear another season in this dusty, desiccated landscape.
‘I’ve got a good feeling about today, darl. The heat’s eased and there’ll be lots of people on the road, heading home or just out for a Sunday drive. Could you knock up some of those pastries? I’ve already made a start on the side salads. I’ll finish them off and give you a hand.’
She had the oven heating up and had started making cheese and spinach triangles. There were mini sausage, sage and onion rolls that she could reheat along with some gourmet pies in the freezer if things went as Max predicted. They had the cheese platters ready and she had some fresh fruit that she could prepare as well.
As she cut and rolled and sliced, basting the pastries lightly and sprinkling sesame seeds on top before sliding them into the oven, her mind slipped back into the recurring thought spiral of telling Max she had to go. And not just go, but go and not come back. He was so optimistic about the next season – the next season would always be better, the rains would fall when they were needed, the harvest wouldn’t be affected by blight. His optimism had carried her on for the last couple of seasons as they limped along, but it wasn’t strong enough to take her any further.
She’d set the timer and was starting to clean the benches when she heard a car pull up. Margo stilled her hands for a moment, listening for voices. It was probably one of Max’s mates, coming around for an interminable yarn to help pass the day. But no, there were several car doors slamming and the thumping of feet. Great. A family. It was hard to keep kids entertained at a winery, and the little play area that they had put together in the early days was looking a little tired. It looked like she felt. Shabby and like it had seen better days.
Margo looked up and found a smile for the woman that was heading towards her. She could see Max talking to the husband, and the kids were squealing towards the slippery dip, racing each other to be first.
‘I know it’s not even noon, but can I have a glass of whatever chilled white you have?’
Margo’s smile widened. ‘Of course.’ She grabbed a large wineglass and poured the woman a drink. She started her usual spiel about the vintage but the woman politely shook her head. Margo shrugged and stepped back, intending to make a start on a fruit platter and see if there was something she could make for the kids. They’d run out of energy at some point.
She could hear the click of the glass as the woman placed it on the counter.
‘Sorry if I sounded rude. We’ve been on the road for hours and when we saw your winery I told Dave that if he didn’t turn in he would regret it.’
‘One of those days?’
‘You have no idea. I’m right on the brink. We’ve been away for the weekend but I might as well be at home. He goes off with an old friend and I’m stuck with the kids in a motel room. Well, you wonder why a person drinks.’ She waggled the now empty wineglass and Margo refilled it.
The woman continued on, but Margo looked over her shoulder towards Max. Max was having an animated conversation with the husband, and she could see from his hand gestures that he was describing the vineyard. He was probably telling the man how they found this place on a day not unlike today with the heat of summer fading and the promise of a life spent together, not just spending nights and weekends together. Max had the vision and she was part of it. Maybe she wasn’t ready to give up on that just yet.
Photo: vineyard at Angaston, South Australia