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Thread: The Vineyard

  1. #1
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    The Vineyard

    Hi guys, this is the first short story I've posted here, so enjoy, and be nice! Comments and critique are most welcome!


    I walk slowly along the carefully planted rows of grape vines, running my hands through the leaves as I walk. I love this time of year, autumn. The trees on the hill behind my house slowly turn gold, orange and red, until a thick carpet of leaves covers the ground. The sun starts setting earlier, until I’m left pacing the vines as with the sunset in the distance, sinking slowly behind the sides of the valley. The leaves of the vines are tipped with gold from the dying sun, then brief darkness before they gain a silver sheen from the moonlight. I love the cool rush of leaves against my hand, the night breeze on my face, the swish of the leaves in the still night air.

    The best bit of the season though, was picking the grapes. I would start, filling old wicker baskets with the plump green fruits. I always started early, my childish eagerness getting the better of me, the desire to bury my hands in the cool bushes, searching for the largest, sweetest grapes on the vine. Most of them make it into the baskets, although a few here and there take a detour between bush and basket, and end up being eaten. The baskets I collected were fine to eat, but too early to be made into wine, so rather than the presses they were grown for, the grapes end up in punnets, on their way to the market in the village nearby. After a few weeks of solitary picking, my wife would join in. By then, the grapes would be well and truly ripened, ready for the wine presses, and I always feel the first bottle of wine each year is the best of the batch.

    A month after picking the first succulent grape, the two kids have joined in. The evenings after school are filled with harvesting our precious crop. I have many a fond memory of the week or so following, before they lose interest and see the monotony of the task. I could never tire of it though. There is an art to it; applying just enough pressure, and twisting slightly as you remove the grape from the vine, and the satisfaction of carrying a basket full of grapes back into the house and down into the cellar with the rest of the year’s crop is a feeling matched by very little.

    The vineyard nearest to me is owned by a big company, who produce fine wine en mass. Every year, the peaceful road is torn up by monolithic machinery. The pickers arrive, towering cranes and nets on treads as tall as I am. You are aware of their arrival before you hear them, and long before you see them, as all the birds scatter from their treetop nests, shrieking into the clear night sky. The owner of the vineyard arrives in a private jet, landing on the strip he had built a year or two ago. He always takes the trip from his retreat in California, to his vineyards here in France. His job title changes every year; this year he was “the chief inspector of produce and shipping”, I think… Every year he visits my vineyard too. It’s always the same, him in a sharp suit, me in my overalls, with a hole in the knee. He looks identical to the year previous, whereas I show the signs of ageing all too clearly, the long life of physical labour taking its toll on my body. He always comments on this, a quick quip, but he knows it hits deep. He suggests, in an all too casual way, how machinery would increase my welfare, longevity, not to mention profits. And then he leaves me, with his business card, and an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

    Despite starting a month after me, the machinery leaves within a few days of arriving, the vines picked clean. The nets drag the leaves clean off the vines, leaving them standing tall, yet stripped, dishevelled, standing in rows of churned soil. The business man leaves the day after they do, leaving the road down to the village unusable to me for a few weeks. I sometimes wonder what it would be like, to live with utter disregard for others. To be able to manage not just a vineyard, a whole company, without spending anywhere near as much energy as I do now. I wonder these things, but I’m never envious. I merely carry on my life, picking the last few acres of grapes. This year, I had to enlist help from the village. My back couldn’t take the last week of the harvest, and I knew that my choice to live and work by hand was having an effect on me. The business man, who was the same age as me, looked thirty years younger than me. I was becoming frail far earlier than I should be. The technology available to the rest of the working world had vastly increased their health well into their eighties.

    Even knowing all this, the year after I did the same, I started picking weeks before the grapes were ready, and picked into late September. The sensuousness of the harvest was too much of an attraction. At the end of the harvest season however, I was taken into hospital. The physical strain had been too much for me, and I was told not to continue working on the vineyard. It was a crushing blow, but I had no choice. The year after, my son married. Not having a place of his own, his wife moved into the vineyard with us, and I was overjoyed to watch as he paced the vines by moonlight, as I had done. The two of them, aided by my daughter, picked the vines that year, as my wife and I watched from the terrace outside our house. My son spoke to the business man that year as well, and to my amusement, took an instant dislike to him. That Christmas, my daughter in law fell pregnant, and I saw my grandchild, a few months old, eating his first grapes at this year’s harvest. It seemed to me that the new generation had taken up the task of maintaining the vineyard, and I felt that I was leaving it in capable hands. I bought a small cottage in the village, and my wife and I decided to move just before the harvest began.

    So, I came to be walking along the edge of my vines for the last time, running my hands along the glossy, silvery leaves, brushing my hands against the first grapes of the season, weeks too early to be picked, yet I knew they wouldn’t be on the vine for that long. With the wind whistling gently over the top of the vines, I walked down the winding road to the village, arm-in-arm with my wife, leaving the valley behind, taking only memories, and a good few bottles of wine as reminders of my peaceful, satisfying years at the vineyard.

  2. #2
    Reprobate RaoulDuke's Avatar
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    I thought this was a heartwarming tale, and very atmospheric. I feel like I've become a little more sun-tanned and weatherworn for reading it, just like the protagonist.

    One thing though; you change the tense you are writing in at various points in the story and I don't really see why. The first paragraph is in the present tense, the second in the past, the third back in the present, and the rest of the story jumps around between tenses. I think the story would leave a more powerful impression on the reader if you were to be more uniform with your tenses, for example writing all but the first and last paragraphs in the past.
    "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."

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