They fell in love at first sight. He loved her because she was young, beautiful with a marked irreverent streak, which in full flow made her blush with excitement and men weak at their knees as they wondered what else lay behind her emerald-green eyes. She loved him because he was rugged, strong, and because he was an up-and-coming artist and for as long as anyone can remember men and woman have been attracted to poets, writers and painters whose abilities, whether real or imagined, become peacock feathers – their possessors magically transformed into highly-charged, sexual magnets.
For the first few months, before they moved in together, their waking thoughts were of each other. At lunchtime she would rush to his studio where he had spent the morning unable to concentrate, jumping from one unfinished work to another waiting for her arrival. When she appeared, he would lock the door and draw the curtains on the enormous southern-facing windows and they would feverishly undress amongst the debris of semi-finished plaster heads and wet canvasses on spindly easels.
After they got married, their passion, much like the effervescence of a good sparkling wine, soon calmed down and they happily settled into a new routine. Each day they discovered something surprising about each other taking great delight even at the mundane and absurd. He would make a point of watching her in the mornings bent naked over the sink feverishly brushing her teeth before showering and be lost in admiration at her alabaster skin, shapely feet and legs wondering if he could ever reproduce her in plaster or marble. In the evenings, once they had settled down, she would snuggle up to him secretly sniffing his skin which smelled of linseed oil and gypsum, delivering an electrical jolt through her body and bringing up involuntary images of their contortionist-lovemaking on the velvet chaise-longue in his studio.
“It won’t be easy. I am not cheap and I only drink pink Krug.”
Little by little, without noticing at first, they begun to tire of each other. Not that their love had in any way diminished. If anything, it had grown stronger and it would have seemed inconceivable to them that they would not grow old together. They tried all sorts of tricks to rekindle primordial passion. They tried romantic weekends in the countryside. They surprised each other with small, thoughtful gifts left with little notes in surprising places. She started going to the studio at lunchtimes, but the studio now seemed cold and damp and the thought of undressing surrounded by wet plaster appealed to neither of them.
“Why don’t you take me to one of those cosy little restaurants notorious for illicit liaisons between struggling artists and bored upper-class housewives? We could pretend we just met.”
“Yes, why not. It so happens I am looking for a model. A nude one at that!”
She looked straight into his eyes and with an air of feigned seriousness said: “It won’t be easy. I am not cheap and I only drink pink Krug. Nothing else will do!”
The next few days were spent in a whirl of anticipation for both of them. She bought a pale-pink twin-set, an expensive tweed skirt which covered her knees and brown nondescript leather shoes with no heels to speak of. She wanted to look the part. A string of cultured pearls completed the transformation. Had a casual observer seen her underwear it would have undoubtedly brought to mind that overused but wise cliché that ‘a book should never be judged by its cover’.
When she arrived, he pretended not to recognise her.
He managed to book a table at a restaurant he had frequented years before. It so happened it was St Valentines and the chatty girl at the other end of the phone told him he was lucky to get a reservation at such a late stage. Next, he went in search of the Krug Rose. None of the usual outlets stocked Krug.
On his fourth attempt, he found what he was looking for in a specialist shop much frequented by wine geeks and lawyers. The man at the other end of the phone had gone into verbal ecstasy at the mention of Krug Rose.
“Ahh pink Krug. A daring and magical Champagne like no other. What harmonies and delicacy. Rapier-like and crystalline. What flavours. It will ensnare your senses and enthral your palate. A remarkable wine! Unfortunately, I only have one left but I will be happy to give you a discount and keep it for you.”
On the way to the wine shop he smiled to himself thinking of the cost of the wine. He had never spent three hundred pounds on a bottle of wine. No wonder the man at the shop had waxed lyrical at the Krug. Still, he had no doubt it would be the best-value Champagne he would ever buy!
The shop reeked of privileged lifestyles. Wooden boxes and an assortment of French wines with exotic names filled the small shop window. Clearly visible amongst the wooden cases and bunches of pretend grapes was a burgundy-coloured box with a pink label with the words Krug Rose clearly visible. The extortionate price of the wine could be seen dangling from a thin, brown cardboard label.
He pushed open the door, an old fashion bell ringing noisily as he entered. Shelving from floor to ceiling held hundreds of upright wines and on the floor wooden cases stacked one on top of another. Behind the counter a shy-looking girl in her teens looked at him and bade him good morning. After some brief pleasantries he asked for the Krug at which point she apologised and told him she was only looking after the shop as the owner had been called away. He would be back shortly and would he mind waiting? She herself worked in the bakery two doors along.
“No need, the wine is in the window and the price clearly marked. I’ll take it now.”
The girl had insisted on carefully wrapping the box and soon he was on his way carrying the heavy wine under his arm. When he got home, he placed it in the fridge.
On the appointed day he arrived early at the restaurant. The place was already full. Mostly couples. Some clearly besotted with their partners others self-consciously going through the motions of being in love.
When she arrived, he pretended not to recognise her. She came up to him and offered him her hand. He stood up as they introduced themselves to each other.
The upper classes have long known that to bring a room to life one should have one tatty and worn piece of furniture. Her clothes made her face look younger with a translucent glow and her figure, under her staid clothing, looked disturbingly erotic. The string of pearls made her seem innocent and more than a few of the diners wondered what a beautiful but naïve-looking woman was doing with such a scruffily dressed, unkempt man.
She asked him about his work. He about her taste in art. They ordered Rìsi e Bìsi and drunk white wine from the Mâcon. For such an oddly-matched couple they seemed to be getting on very well. It did not go unnoticed that she slipped her shoe off and was gently rubbing the unkempt man’s ankle. Neither did it go unnoticed when he reached over and rubbed her pearls between his fingers making her smile and her eyes sparkle.
“I think we should carry on this conversation at my place. It seems everyone is watching us. Have you noticed?” he said.
“Is this what you do with your clients?
“I must warn you. Many men have tried to make love to me. Only those with pink Krug succeed.”
“Have you met many men who serve Krug?”
“It’s quite common in my circle.”
“And do they always succeed?”
He comes back to the living room with the Krug still in its box. She sits demurely upright on the sofa looking at him. Two champagne glasses, like sentinels, wait on the glass coffee table.
He unwraps the box exposing the Krug label. They look at each other and smile.
Carefully he opens the box. They burst out laughing. Nestling uncomfortably in the silk-lined coffret is a bottle of cheap Prosecco. Of course, nobody in their right mind would keep expensive Krug in a warm shop window!
When they stop laughing, they open the Prosecco. They grimace at the poor quality of the wine.
“I am sorry I should have checked. I’ll go and pour this away.”
As he reaches for the bottle, she grabs his wrist. Pulls him towards her and whispers something in his ear. He smiles. As she leads him away from the living room with one hand and the bottle in the other, he is glad it was Prosecco and not Champagne.