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Fiction: Waiting for Rain by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mundari Vineyard 2045, Nashik (India), Shiraz

Black cherry, plum, and currant flavors mingle with aromas of sweet tobacco and sage in this dependable offering from India.

The sun peeking through the grapevines felt hotter on Bharat Mundari’s neck than twenty-four degrees. Another perfect day. Bharat scowled and worked his way down the row of vines, thinning the grapes so the remaining Shiraz crop would become fuller and riper.

Not that there was a point in having healthy vines when he couldn’t pay his weather bill. Without rain, the grapevines would weaken under the stress, and stressed grapes made poor wine. No one bought flawed wine.

He snipped another cluster from the grapevine, dropping it on the ground where it would raisin in the persistent sunshine.

He needed his micro-climate back.

“Bharat!” Indra peered over the trellis. “Have you heard anything I said?”

He stood, working the kink out of his back and blinked at his wife. “No. I’m sorry, my dear, I was thinking.”

She tilted her head, like an inquisitive bird. “About what?”

About how the family was destitute. About how he had no resources. About the rain. “Nothing important.”

She arched an eyebrow and looked down the row to their youngest daughter, Rachana. “Nothing important? Do you hear your father? Here we are discussing possible grooms and he is distracted by ‘nothing important’.”

“I’m sorry.” Bharat smoothed the anxiety from his brow. “What did you say?”

“Rachana said she wants to date.” Indra frowned. “I told her in my youth we wouldn’t think of such things, but everyone thinks you and I married for love.”

“True.” The dust between the rows coated his feet as if the earth itself wanted to prepare him for the poverty awaiting them.

Indra stopped and peeled back her glove. “I thought so.” She showed him the blister on her hand from the pruning sheers. “I wish you had hired a crew to do this.”

If she knew about the debt…Bharat snipped another cluster from the vine. “It’s important for Rachana to learn the business.”

“Not if she marries into another family.”

They had just married one daughter off; the thought of paying for another wedding made him shudder. “I’m in no hurry to see her married.”

The bindi mark on Indra’s forehead seemed to glare like an accusing third eye.

“Let her find her own husband if she wants one.” Bharat went up the row, heading back to the winery. It was starting again, the marriage broker fees, setting the dowry… And a marriage broker would look at his financial records. He ground his teeth. They had no money.

The tap tap of Indra’s footsteps followed him, but he kept his eyes focused on the winery. He could imagine the look of reproach in Indra’s eyes.

“Bharat?”

She always knew when he lied, so he simply grunted. 

“What’s wrong?” Indra’s voice sounded sweet and gentle, but the question held too many demands.

“Nothing. I have some work in the winery.” He escaped into the cool dark of the cellar. The stacked barrels of last year’s vintage soothed him with their mute round sides. They asked him no questions.

But the current vintage had its own demands.

Watering the vineyard would require every waking moment. That left no time for shoot positioning, leaf pulling or hedging. And what of thinning? How could he tend the wines in barrel and water the vines?

Any one of the millions of unemployed laborers in Nashik could irrigate, but a day laborer would want his wages at the end of the day. And if he had money to pay them, then he could pay the weather bill and he would not need to irrigate.

How had his father managed before the India Space Research Organization began weather control? Bharat had barely been in his teens when they switched to micro-climate management, but Nashik had been a wine region since the time of the Moghuls. Of course, it had rained more then. He still remembered monsoons.

Bharat ran up the stairs to his office and sat in front of the ancient quad-core processor. He asked it, “What are forms of irrigation for vineyards?”

It immediately responded with a list of sites; at the top, the ISRO offered micro-climate management. Bharat grimaced and scrolled through his other options.

Rachana cleared her throat. “Hey, Bapu?”

He jumped. He had not heard her enter. “Are you finished with thinning, then?”

She nodded. “Those rows. Matti wants to know when you want dinner.”

At the thought of food, Bharat’s stomach turned. “Don’t wait for me. I’ve got work to do.”

“‘kay.” She leaned over his shoulder. “Irrigation, huh?”

Sweat pricked on the palms of his hands. Words came out of his mouth in a string of lies and half-truths. “Wine historically had seasonal variations but we’ve lost that. I thought I’d stop using a micro-climate so the grapes could truly express the vintage.” As Bharat spoke, his words became true. He had attended some pre-weather control vertical tastings and the vintage variations were fascinating. “We’ve gotten away from what wine is supposed to be.”

“I thought you’d just forgotten to turn the rain back on after Deepali’s wedding.”

She had noticed. Of course, she had; he had been programming the 1969 Hermitage weather patterns since she was a little girl. If the weather company had given him an extension on his bill, today would be overcast and twenty degrees.

“I didn’t think it would be this long between natural rains.” Why had it been so long since it had rained? He remembered a year when his father had turned off the weather and it had not been this long between rains. Bharat turned back to the computer. “Run on. I have work to do.”

When Rachana was gone, he opened the FAQ page of the ISRO website and clicked on, “What happens when you can’t pay your weather bill?”

At India Space Research Organization, we don’t want anyone left in the cold. When your micro-climate is discontinued, your weather will remain 24°C and sunny.

Each individual word made sense, but the picture they painted when strung together mocked him. 24°C and sunny.

Your weather will remain…

Sunny.

He stared at the words so long that all meaning drained away from them. How could they be true? There must be thousands of people who could not pay their bills in the cities. He had been to Nashik and seen the poverty lining the streets.

But he wasn’t on the municipal weather grid here, the city weather tax did not cover his vineyard. His land was large enough that the nanites in the atmosphere could give create a localized micro-climate.

“It won’t rain again.” He wanted to call the words back, as if saying it out loud had made it true.

The vineyard would die.

Bile surged up at the back of his throat. He stumbled away from the desk trying to reach the rubbish bin before vomiting. No rain. Cramps wrenched his back as he heaved again. Sunny. He clenched the plastic tub, gasping. Ruined. Sweat covered him with images of dirt floors, and tiny rooms; Indra, with her sari hitched up around her knees, doing laundry in the Godavari river like one of the untouchables.

Bharat knelt on the floor until the wave of nausea had passed. Then he leaned against the cool wall and stared out the window, empty. The moonlight lay over the vineyard like a sari draped across a beautiful woman. How could he take Indra from this?

He hung his head. Vomit had splattered his shirt. He gagged again, wanting to crawl out of his own skin to get away from the stench.

Unclean. He ripped the shirt off and hurled it into the rubbish bin. 

One of the harvest hands had rigged a shower in the cellar, attaching the barrel washing hose to an old garden nozzle. Bharat snatched his coveralls from the peg inside the door.

In the cellar he stripped and stood in the middle of the cavernous room, with barrels stacked five high around him. He grabbed the soap the cellar rat had left. Honeysuckle. Bharat’s stomach heaved again. Who had brought a scented soap into the winery? That could wreak havoc on his ability to distinguish odors in the developing wine.

He meant to wash quickly, but the rhythm of the drops pounding against his skull displaced all thought. Their aquifer ran deep and water from the surrounding hills fed it. The water pelted his face, warm from the solar tank on top of the winery. He could use that to water the vineyard. That was something.

He went outside, pulled the hose from the wall and started to water the grapevines. The earth crackled with thirst as it absorbed the cool current.

Each row was planted at one meter spacing, 50 vines-to-row, with two meters between rows. 194,256 square meters of vines. If he soaked the ground with water for ten minutes at each vine it would take… Three hundred hours. He almost stopped in despair, but had no other answer.

The house was dark when Bharat returned, but Indra rolled over as he slid into the bed. “What time is it?”

Bharat glanced at the clock and winced. “Late.”

“What were you doing?”

“Work.” He kissed her cheek. “Go to sleep.”

Indra snuggled next to him, her body warm against his. She kissed the back of his neck and stiffened.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Then, almost as if she couldn’t help herself, Indra said. “Your hair smells different.”

“I took a shower in the cellar. Remember the contraption the harvest hands rigged last year?”

She pulled back. “Why didn’t you shower at home?”

“I—” He stopped. He did not want to tell her he had been sick. He did not want to answer her questions. “I just did. Does it matter?”

She answered with less than a whisper. “No.” Indra turned her back to him leaving a chill between them.

#

Château d’Yquem, Sauternes 2024

Revisiting the perfect 1931 season, Château d’Yquem has recreated the wine considered the Holy Grail of Sauternes. Concentrated fruit and brilliant acidity marry perfectly in a wine for the ages.

Shutting the door to the study, Bharat cradled the bottle of Sauternes under his arm. It was only one bottle out of the collection of anniversary wines Indra’s parents had given them as a wedding present. He had no reason to feel guilty about selling one bottle.

He was doing it for her, so she would not know they were destitute. He set the golden bottle of wine next to the computer and surfed across the web to his favorite wine auction site. With the money from this sale, he could buy enough hose to put in a crude drip irrigation system.

Opening a new auction page, he began inputting data from the wine. 

Indra opened the door of the study. The lamp in the living room backlit her, peeking through the folds of her sari.  “Bharat? The holographer sent Deepali’s wedding album.”

“I need to finish some work. I’ll be right there.”

“You work so hard.” She crossed the room, her hair still as dark as when the matchmaker had introduced them. Leaning down, Indra kissed the back of his neck. He caught the hints of jasmine in the natural scent of her skin.

Bharat captured her hand and kissed her palm, thanking all the gods that Indra did not know how badly in debt Deepali’s wedding had placed them. “Give me five more minutes.”

Indra fingered the collar of his khurta with her free hand. She whispered so her voice seemed to kiss his ears, “Perhaps when you finish, we could do more than look at holos—Are you selling one of our anniversary wines?”

“I—” He looked at the screen, half-filled with information from the wine. “Yes. I am.”

In his hand, her fingers twitched like a mouse. “Why?”

Shrugging, he released her and picked the bottle up. “We’ve got more than we’ll use.”

“But it’s our anniversary wine.”

“It’s one bottle.” He ran his thumb across the label, trying for nonchalance.

“I see.” Reflected in the glass, a distorted Indra retreated from the room without another word.

When the door closed, Bharat shut his eyes and cursed. He should tell her the truth. Even with solar power and well water, eventually Indra would need some money. And then what?

The door opened again. Bharat spun in his chair, still cradling the d’Yquem.

Rachana poked her head around the door. “Do you have time for a quick chat session?”

“Of course.” He set the bottle down, and wiped his forehead, forcing a smile.

She sat on the edge of the desk. “You know this whole natural weather vintage thing?”

He nodded.

“Well, I was talking with a—” She hesitated and looked away. “A friend of mine at school who’s interning at a law office and his boss is a wine geek.”

His boss?”

“Um…yeah. Anyway, he told his boss, and his boss was way excited, so I said they could come for a barrel tasting. I know I should have asked first, but…”

“So, who is this ‘friend’?”

Rachana ducked her head, looking like her mother in her coy moments. “A classmate.”

Unlikely. “Does he have a name?”

“Mukund Krishnasami. May I bring them for a tasting?”

“Have you talked to your mother about this?”

“You know Matti. She goes epic if I mention boys at all. And…and you said that I should find my own husband.”

Bharat winced as his angry words from the vineyard returned to haunt him. Still, this would give him a chance to look the boy over. He nodded. “All right.”

Rachana grinned and bounded to the door. “Hey. Matti’s got Deepali’s wedding album. Want to look at it?”

He could finish the auction listing later. “Of course.”

As they entered the living room, Indra looked up, wiping her eyes hastily as if she had been crying.

Bharat stopped in the doorway. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” Indra smiled, but her eyes were red. “Just allergies. It’s all this dust, I suppose.” She waved at the dry landscape.

Rachana laughed, crossing the room to plop beside Indra. “Get Bapu to turn the weather back on.”

“You turned off the weather?” Indra looked stricken. “Why?”

Bharat swallowed the panic rising in his throat. “I want to make wine influenced by natural weather. The whole industry makes wine that tastes the same; we’ve lost the differentiation in vintages.” These were not lies which spilled off his tongue. He did hate the sameness. He wanted to make wine expressing a time, and a region with true terrior. “I want to make something new.”

Indra’s gaze drifted back to the grapevines thrusting through the dry soil. “But the grapes will die without water.”

That’s why he had stayed out every night, watering the Shiraz. “I know. I’m putting in a drip irrigation system.”

Indra crossed her arms and leaned back on the couch. “Well, I don’t see how drip irrigation is any different than scheduling the rain.”

“The temperature and humidity, water retention in the soil—” Bharat could not explain all the variables which made harvests different. He flung out his arms in frustration. “Will you trust me!”

Her nostrils flared, the gold ornamental stud sparking in the light from the window. “Of course, husband. I am your true companion and life-long partner.”

The words of their wedding vows crossed the room like a slap. Bharat’s face burned. She had no right to challenge him. He had striven to protect and care for her.

Rachana cleared her throat. “Weren’t we looking at Deepali’s wedding holos?”

“If your father wants to, then we will.” Indra’s smile chilled him.

Rachana looked caught between her parents. “If this isn’t a good time…”

“No. This is a perfect time.” Bharat sat beside Indra.

As if nothing had happened, Indra opened the small folder to the first holo. Above the folder, a tiny Deepali danced with her new husband to faint wedding music. Even in miniature, she looked radiant with joy. Bharat leaned forward. The wedding might have beggared them, but he could not deny his little girl anything.

Tears streamed down Indra’s face. “This was the happiest day of my life.”

Bharat smiled at her. “You said that on our wedding day too.”

Her tears stopped. “I was wrong.”

Rachana stood abruptly. “I…I have some homework.”

Reaching forward, Indra snapped the holo folder shut. “And I need to make dinner.” She pushed the holo to Bharat. “Perhaps you would like to view the rest. Their wedding vows are particularly lovely.”

Bharat watched her rise. “I thought you had not watched it yet.”

“I haven’t, but I remember the vows.” She paused in the doorway. “I like the part where the groom promises to cherish the bride and consult her as his partner.”

She swept into the kitchen. Bharat winced as pots clanged together.

He stared at the holo folder for another moment and then returned to the office to list the Sauternes.

He should have done that earlier.

#

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Pinot Noir, Lauren, 2031, 2032 and 2033

Typically polished wines from this respected producer in the Red Hills. Uniformly clean, balanced and delicious Pinot Noir.

In the winery lab, Bharat hunched over the spectrophotometer, running the numbers on the sugar content and acidity profile of the grape sample. With the unrelenting sunshine, the fruit was ripening faster than he had expected. As long as the vines did not shut down before the drip irrigation system arrived, he might have an early harvest.

Indra knocked on the door of the lab, holding his E-bud. “You left this at the house.”

“Thanks.”

She set the earbud on the workbench beside him. “A woman called.”

Would that be Rachana’s lawyer? “Did she leave a number?”

“Your e-bud recorded it.” Indra crossed her arms as if she were hugging herself. “Bharat…”

When she did not continue, Bharat looked up. “What?”

“Nothing.” Indra shook her head. “Nothing.”

He waited to see if she would say anything else, and then returned to his sample.

After a silent moment, the winery door closed with a little more force than necessary. Bharat set down his sample. What had he done to make Indra angry? He had thanked her for bringing the earbud down.

Later. He would ask her later. Bharat clipped the e-bud behind his ear and pulled up the last incoming call; the e-bud tapped his optic nerve, flashing “Kumari Tupno” across his field of vision.

The woman who appeared superimposed in the winery had hair that seemed like an advert for a high-end designer. “Bharat! Thanks for calling me back. I’m very excited by what I hear about the new direction you’re taking your wines. Very excited.” Kumari’s voice marched through the e-bud. “When I started collecting wines, I couldn’t afford foreign wines and your father was my favorite of the local producers. No one else planted Shiraz in those days.”

Somehow the conversation drifted to the climates for growing grapes. Bharat found himself running through the different great vintages whose weather patterns he had copied over the years.

“So far, the best results have come from using the Hermitage 1969 patterns. But it gets dull.”

“I know exactly what you mean.” Kumari laughed. “Though not as a wine-maker, of course. A friend of mine did a vertical flight from Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Dull, dull, dull.”

“Back to back vintages?”

“God. Yes, I don’t know what he was thinking.” Kumari sighed. “I tasted a pre-weather control vertical flight from Latour. God. The differences amazed me.”

“What years?”

“2000, 2001, and 2002. The 2000 blew me out of this world; still fresh with fruit and truffle, and this wonderful minerality. The 2001 was good, but 2000 was outstanding. 2002 had this earthy, gamey character. They were so different.”

“Vintage variation.” 

Kumari said, “That’s why I think your return to natural weather is exciting.”

“I am sorry to disappoint you. I won’t be able to do a natural weather vintage after all.”

“Why not?”

Bharat hesitated and then explained the ISRO’s policy, which left him with weather he could not control and could not turn off.

When he finished, Kuzahli sniffed. “They can’t force you to accept services you don’t want. So we’ll have to stop ISRO from controlling your weather.”

While Kumari explained her hopes for the case, Indra poked her head into the lab.

Bharat muted the e-bud’s mic. “What?”

“Dinner is ready.”

“I’ll be up soon.”

She nodded and slipped out. Bharat unmuted the e-bud as Kumari finished. Even within the privacy of the lab, his next question almost stuck in his throat. “What—what are your rates?”

Kumari cleared her throat as if she were embarrassed. “Would you consider futures on next year’s vintage? I retain an old fondness for your wines.”

“Why next year, why not this one?” He should not even question such a generous offer.

“Well, we won’t have a court date in time to affect this year’s harvest so it will still be produced under an artificial micro-climate. Now, when we come out for the barrel tasting, Mukund can record the current conditions and you can turn the weather control back on.” She laughed. “He and your daughter are so cute together.”

Bharat split in two, wanting to ask about his daughter and her assistant, but caught by the phrase, “turn the weather control back on.” He grimaced, focusing on business. “Do I have to restore weather control?”

“I understand your reluctance, but I can make it look good in court. ‘Farmer forced to use ISRO’s services or face losing crop.’”

“But—”

“Trust me, the press will eat it up.”

That sounded wonderful, but too late for this harvest. Mechanically, Bharat made arrangements for a tour and barrel tasting. He finished the call and put his head on his hands. This harvest was doomed.

Unless he turned the rain back on.

Bharat looked at the numbers he had run on the fruit. It came so close to being ready for harvest, but the vines would not get there without water. He drummed his fingers on the table, trying to calculate if he could make it to the end of the season without weather control. The Sauternes auction had another three days to go and then he could buy the irrigation hoses.

But even with that, Indra was right; it was little different than using weather control. He groaned. Indra. He had forgotten dinner.

By the time he got to the house, Indra and Rachana were already eating.

“I’m sorry I’m late. It took longer than I thought.” He sat at his place. The table groaned under vegetable kebabs, rice, nan, dal, raita and Sag Paneer. A glass of pale straw wine—probably an Alsatian Gewurztraminer—waited for him.

“What were you talking about?” Rachana asked.

Bharat glanced at Indra but she was absorbed in adding more dal to her rice. He looked back at Rachana and shook his head trying to signal that he didn’t want Indra to know about the phone call. “Not much.”

Indra put the spoon back in the bowl of dal. “You certainly spent a long time talking about not much.”

“I was arranging a barrel tasting.” His innards twisted in knots.

“Oh.” Rachana said, “Thanks for doing that.”

Indra said, “Why am I the only one who doesn’t know who’s coming?”

Rachana met Bharat’s gaze, her eyes wide. She shook her head, clearly begging him not to tell Indra about her “friend.” Bharat picked up the glass of wine to delay answering. Gewurztraminer, indeed. “Is this the Hugel?”

Indra shook her head. “Ostertag. Who is coming?”

“A lawyer wants to talk about futures in the next vintage.” That was true. He swirled the Gewurz in his glass and studied the legs, but his heart pounded as he tried not to look at Indra.

She said nothing. Then Indra pushed her chair back from the table and picked up her plate. She walked to the kitchen.

Rachana asked, “Where are you going?”

Indra paused in the doorway. “I’d rather not eat with people who are lying to me.”

Bharat set the wine glass down, harder than he intended. “I wasn’t lying!”

“And you’re not telling the truth.”

“Every word I’ve said has been true.” He had been very careful.

“Oh. I’m sure, that’s true. But you can say only true things and still tell a world of lies.”

Bharat stood, but his knees trembled under him. “When have I lied to you.”

“Every time you’ve said that nothing is bothering you.”

Rachana stared at the table like a child being punished. “Stop it! Bapu’s just trying to protect me.”

Bharat did not know whether he should curse or bless his daughter’s timing.

“Protect you!” Indra looked like she was going to throw the plate across the room. “From me? What have I done?”

“No, no. You’ve done nothing, Indra.” Bharat came around the table, holding his arms out to her.

She backed away. “Don’t try to comfort me!”

“Matti. I’m sorry.” Rachana put her head on her hands. “I’m dating a boy at university. He’s coming with this lawyer. That’s what Bapu isn’t saying.”

Indra caught her breath. “You’re dating.” She swung around to Bharat. “You knew this? And didn’t tell me?”

“I—It slipped my mind.” He winced. How could something so important slip his mind?

Again, Indra raised the plate as if she wanted to hurl it. She trembled and lowered her arms. “What’s his name?”

Rachana peeked over her fingers. “Mukund Krishnasami.”

“And what does he do?”

“He’s getting his law degree. Corporate law.”

Indra nodded. “He’ll make a good living then.” She took a shuddering breath. “Well. We’d better go shopping tomorrow to get you something new to wear. We’ll need to call the cleaning service in—

“No.” The word surprised Bharat.

Indra looked at him briefly and then turned back to Rachana. “And I’ll want to meet his parents, of course. Would it be better to have the meal catered or—”

“Stop!” Bharat pressed his hands against his temples, as his wife’s mouth seemed to hemorrhage money. “We can’t do any of that.”

Indra slammed the plate against the floor. The porcelain shattered, pieces skittering across the tile. “Why? What are you hiding!”

Bharat twitched. She wanted to know what he had been hiding, then fine. “We don’t have any money. We spent it all on Deepali’s wedding.”

“How can you expect me to believe—” He could see the memories of the wedding stride across her face like the elephants which bore the bridal couple off to their honeymoon. Her face paled with understanding. “That’s why you sold the Sauternes?”

He nodded.

Indra’s face slowly crumpled. She covered her mouth with her hand, but a moan still escaped from her. Bharat’s heart caught as she began to sob.

He reached out for her again, but she shook her head and held up her hand, waving him away. Bharat pressed his hands together in supplication. He could do nothing but repeat, “I’m sorry.”

She lowered her hand. “I thought you were cheating on me.”

The floor seemed to drop away from him. “What—why?”

“When you sold the Sauternes, I thought it meant you weren’t expecting more anniversaries. And you’ve been staying out every night for weeks; when you come home you smell like honeysuckle. You hate scented soaps.”

“I was watering the grapevines.” He forced the rest of the explanation out. “I couldn’t pay the weather bill.”

“I don’t understand. Why didn’t you just tell me?”

He pressed his hands tighter against his forehead to keep it from splitting open. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

“Do you have any idea what things I’ve been imagining because I knewsomething was wrong but I didn’t know what it was?”

“I’m sorry.” Bharat could only repeat the words like a mantra. “I—Deepali’s wedding was so important to the family.”

“I’m not a child. Even Deepali would have understood if you had told us.” Her chin trembled and she backed away from him. “Twenty-four years—you’ve had twenty-four years to understand me and you still think I’m a doll.”

“No. Indra, I love you—”

“But you don’t trust me.” She ran out the door.

Bharat’s chest felt hollow. He turned slowly away, and saw Rachana still sitting at the table. Her shoulders were hunched like a beaten child.

“I’m sorry.” There was nothing else left in him.

#

Château Latour, Bordeux, Pauilac, 2000

Simply sublime. Luscious fruit, spice and silky tannins dance gracefully across the palate in this massive yet elegant wine.

Another perfect morning shone over the vineyard. Bharat stood in the door of the kitchen and cleared his throat.

Indra turned from her book. “Yes?”

“The lawyer and her assistant are due at nine. Will you join us?”

Indra considered him for a moment and then marked her place and put the book down. “Yes. Let me change.”

As she passed, Bharat inhaled the scent of jasmine she left in her path. He leaned against the wall and shut his eyes. What a fool.

“Bapu? May I come too?” Rachana stood in the living room, twisting her hands as if she were still a little girl.

“Of course.” He went to the window. No clouds graced the sky, except over his neighbor’s land. At best, the grapevines at the outer edges would receive moisture from the run-off, but nothing else.

Indra returned, dressed in work clothes which somehow made her look older and stout. She stood at the window with him.

He wanted to seek comfort or to comfort her, to wrap his arms around her and bury his face in her hair. But they waited, with silence between them, watching the rain on their neighbor’s land. Rachana paced in the room behind them.

At half-past nine, an aero swung onto the property. With his wife and daughter creating the picture of a perfect family, Bharat led the way outside. They all had smiles like the day, beautiful and dry.

A young man got out of the aero. Alone. Fresh-faced and eager, he smiled. His eyes darted to Rachana and his smile broadened, before he held his hand out to Bharat.

“I’m Mukund Krishnasami. Dr. Tupno had a last minute emergency, but thought we could still record conditions.”

“Of course.” So this was Rachana’s “friend” from school.  With his easy good looks the boy probably had lots of “friends.” Bharat gestured to the vineyard. “Shall we start with the vines?”

“Please.” Mukund pulled a small camera bag out of the car. “I’m ready to record.”

“I can carry that for you.” Rachana stepped forward. “So your hands are free to film.”

“That would be nice.” His hand touched hers too long when he handed her the bag. “Thank you.”

What sort of man let a woman carry his bag? Bharat crossed his arms over his chest. Beside him, Indra watched the couple thoughtfully.

Bharat started down the closest row of Shiraz, explaining that he had watered these vines, so they remained reasonably healthy. He kept trying to watch Rachana and Mukund out of the back of his head. Indra followed behind the couple, surely keeping an eye on them, but she was smiling.

Bharat stopped with his hand on a leaf. When he had last seen her smile?

After they finished with the first row, Bharat led them deeper into the vineyard, to rows he had not watered yet. The signs of stress were clear to his eye. The shoots were beginning to droop, the leaves were loosing their waxy green luster, not enough to be apparent without looking at a healthy vine, but even that little bit meant the stress would already show in the wine.

He pointed at a cluster of grapes he had pruned earlier. The cluster lay on the ground, desiccating in the heat. “See. These grapes show the severity of the current conditions.”

Mukund took pictures but every time Bharat stopped talking about wine, the boy started a conversation with Rachana. Did he think his employer had sent him to flirt with Bharat’s daughter?

Indra stooped and gathered a raisined cluster from the ground. She plucked a wrinkled berry off the stem and tasted it. “Bharat, what’s that wine made from dried grapes?”

“There are several. Most come from Italy, but Amarone is probably the best known. The whole clusters are traditionally dried on straw mats but most people use electric dehydraters now.” Clearly, Rachana needed to explain her behavior with this boy.

“Have you tasted these?”

“What?” Whole clusters! He turned his back on Rachana and the boy. “Amarone—do you think?”

She held out the bunch of dessicated grapes. The flesh had shriveled on them, concentrating the juice in the tiny packets. Bharat plucked a grape and placed it in his mouth. The flavor exploded on his tongue. None of the stressed qualities of the grapes still on the vine showed here. The sugar, acid, and vibrant flavors had been concentrated by the slow evaporation of water through the grape skins.

He picked up another cluster. They showed the same raisined quality and the flavors were consistent with the first sample.

This could make an interesting wine. Different. One showing the qualities of the vineyard during this time. Bharat had been so focused on making it rain, that he had not thought about other ways to make wine. In the past, the thinned grapes had only been garbage, not beautiful packets of flavor.

Indra tilted her head, watching him. “What do you think?”

He laughed and grabbed her around the waist, lifting her off the ground. “I think you’re brilliant! We can make an Amarone style wine.” He kissed her cheeks. “My love, I would never have thought of this on my own.”

With her thumb, Indra wiped a tear from his face. “And I would never have thought of it if you had not introduced me to wine.” She nodded past him to Rachana and Mukund. “Do you think they would be good partners for each other?”

Bharat narrowed his eyes, imagining them in fifty years. “I don’t like the way he makes her carry his bag.”

“Ah.” Indra shook her head. “I like the way he lets her share his burdens.”

“Which is what you asked of me.”

“Yes.” She took his hand. “I promised to be your partner.”

Bharat looked at the raisined grapes in his other hand. “Will you forgive me?”

“Forgiving you takes no effort, but I need your trust. That’s what hurt. You did not trust my love for you.”

Bharat dropped the grapes in the dust and turned fully to her, taking her other hand in his. “I promise to be your true companion and life-long partner from this day forward.”

She smiled at him and led him forward a step. “Let us take this sixth step for longevity.”

At the sound of the sixth sutra of their wedding vows, the hollow space inside Bharat slowly filled. He led her into the fifth step, moving backwards through their vows. “Let us take this fifth step to pray for virtuous, intelligent, and courageous children.”

She looked at Rachana and wrinkled her nose in a smile. “Let us take this fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness, and harmony by mutual love and trust.”

The vineyard dropped away, and his world filled with Indra. “Let us take this third step with the aim of increasing our wealth by righteous means.”

“Let us take this second step vowing to develop mental, physical, and spiritual powers.” Indra leaned forward and kissed him, the scent of jasmine filling his nostrils.

He kissed her back. “Let us take this first step vowing to keep a pure household; avoiding things injurious to our health.”

Rachana laughed. “What are you two doing?”

The steps of the wedding sutras had taken them down the row to Rachana and Mukund. Bharat lifted his head from Indra and smiled at his daughter. “We are having a romantic moment. Go away.”

Then he held his wife and wept as she pulled him closer.

#

Mundari Vineyards, Amarone, 2048

An odd but interesting wine for the adventurous. Made from dessicated Syrah in an Amarone style. Dried cherry and cranberry favors dominate within an overtly sweet but lively structure. 

Mundari Vineyards, Shiraz, 2048

The flagship wine from Mudari this year is deeply flawed.

The result of an ill-considered weather experiment, the wine suffers from flabbiness, high ethanol and queer tequila flavors. 

Bharat handed a printout of the latest copy of Sommelier India to Indra. “It’s here.”

“And? No—don’t tell me.” Indra started to read and sucked in her breath.

During Kumari’s legal battle with ISRO, Bharat had not turned the weather control back on. With the sugars concentrated by dehydration, the potential alcohol levels of the grapes were high. The Amarone remained in balance with its residual sweetness, but the dry Shiraz showed coarse flavors and was excessively alcoholic.

She set the review down. “Oh, my dear. I’m so sorry about the Shiraz.”

Bharat fought the grin threatening to overwhelm him and handed her another page. “Look at the incoming order forms for today.”

More orders than they usually received in a month filled the page. “Most of them are for the Shiraz.”

Indra’s eyes widened as she scanned the order forms. “But—why?”

The grin broke out, spreading across his face. “The novelty! It’s been at least forty years since a vineyard was stressed by drought.”

Indra raised an eyebrow, and the corner of her mouth twitched with the beginning of a smile. “Maybe we should put ‘deeply flawed’ on all our labels.”

“Perhaps.” He laughed, still giddy.

She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I want you to know that I am very proud of you.”

Her words poured through him with sweet comfort. “Thank you.” Bharat held her and listened to the rain falling on their vineyard.

Indra snuggled against him. “What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.” He kissed the top of Indra’s head. “But it will be beautiful.” 

Location

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