Like, I suffered Fortuna’s thousand slights in silence. But when she insulted me, I vowed revenge.So Friday morning, while I look in the boudoir mirror, apply my smokey eye, and sharpen my eyeliner, I imagine Fortuna’s obliteration. I bear my teeth in a smile. My perfect collection of bicuspid, canine, and incisors shine at me; in the far back, the caps of molars gleam like wet eyes.
The only way they could be prettier, I think, is if they were gum-deep in Fortuna’s arm.
My phone buzzes. The vibration reverberates through the ceramic sink. I check my messages. Above all the undeleted condolences burns Fortuna’s text. That’s the perfect place for it: scum floats. The wonky 301 in her photograph dangles from her eyelid, a lash hangnail.
hey bby, she says. I’m not sure I can do the wine tasting at your fam’s place today, this is super late notice! Ty tho!
OK, nbd, I reply. My stiletto acrylics scrape my screen. I texted you bc I have 5 new wines and i bought some amontillado (??) but next time. You look good in that recent selfie, btw. That’s ur new image in my phone.
I flip my phone facedown. Fortuna frightens me sometimes, with her kilos of daddy’s gravedirt money and her serpentine stranglehold on social media, but I know her weakness: she’s a total freak for wine. As my phone buzzes in succession—one, twice, three times, four—I ice on plum lip matte.
My reflection trims every angle of my lips in purple. She’s deliberate. Hospitable. She doesn’t fester with resentment as she gazes at the photos tucked into the mirror frame. The three women in those photos ooze friendliness, including me. My reflection oozes friendliness too. In the simmering silence, I check my phone.
Ur joking, Fortuna’s first message reads. Amontillado?
I smack my lips.
Wine #1: Harlequin
Riesling. Aged 6 years.
Fortuna arrives cloaked in the aroma of sangria, designer sunglasses askew in her hair, titty tape bolting her cleavage into her deep v parti-stripe shirt. She spills from her chauffeured car and onto my driveway in a tempest of coos and fluttering fingers. Her high voice scrapes the October twilight alongside the nerves in my teeth.
“Oh my God,” she says, pecking my cheek. “Hi, gorgeous! It’s been so long!”
“Way too long,” I agree.
I loop an arm around Fortuna. I avoid brushing her when we hug. Fortuna’s wasp waist and shellacked tresses are assaults on entropy. Behind both are heaps of calorie-counting, hairspray, and calculations. Control. Cruelty vibes beneath all that Pat McGrath foundation. Fortuna sculpts her body the way she sculpts her pyramid scheme empire and list of mutuals. Sober Fortuna, anyway.
“M’am, will you be requiring a ride back?” Fortuna’s chauffeur cranes his head out of the window.
“Don’t worry.” I smile. “I’ll make sure she gets home.”
“You heard her.” Fortuna dismisses him with a wrist flick. “See you later, hun!”
Fortuna wobbles on her wedge heels as we head into my family’s estate. She points at peacocks strutting in the gardens and flashes her immaculate coffin nails. In the tasting room, Fortuna snatches the laminated sheet of wines. She moves with the grace of a sick dog gnawing at grass. Typical. As she seizes a cheese cube off the counter, I pour the first wine.
“Monica,” she says, “you don’t have the amontillado listed.”
“Not yet.” I hand her the glass. “I was a little silly. I purchased it without talking to you about it first. I’m not sure if it’s real amontillado.”
“No offense, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.” Fortuna raises her palm. “By the way, don’t bother with the wine descriptions. Your family makes good wine, but like, I’m not here for the official tour.”
“Of course, babe,” I say.
Fortuna guzzles the zinfandel. Bottles of essential oils clatter together in her purse, scraping against cat brass knuckles and hair pins: rats skittering under rotten floorboards. Half of the wine, Fortuna swallows. The other half, she spews into the tasting barrel. Her lip tar remains unmoved. The bell earrings hanging from Fortuna’s ear lobes jingle, their clear sound rattling against her clouded gaze. She’s an eyesore. She looked so garish in that hospice waiting room.
I pour the second sample of wine. It’s no splash—it’s generous, verging on indulgent. Its rich yellow body leaps up the glass sides. Fortuna’s eyes widen. She coughs into the back of her moisturized hand. Still, she doesn’t remark on it. I knew she wouldn’t. Lushes never whine about big samples.
Do dogs receive treats before euthanization? Likely not. I still hand Fortuna the glass.
Wine #2: White Lies
Chardonnay. Aged 7 years.
“This chardonnay would pair nicely with a walk,” I say. “It’s way too warm to stay cooped up. We can make our way to the cellar while we chat.”
Fortuna starts. She scrapes another cheese cube off a toothpick. “Are we taking the spit barrel with us, or? Like, I’m trying not to drink too much.”
I waltz to the door. “You’re so funny. Come on. Let’s go.”
Fortuna’s smile is messy. Her teeth are perfect, edited by years of wires and retainers she hid behind propped-up menus on Italian patios. I spent time in Rome when I was nine, as did Lenore, though none of us met until years afterwards. Lenore was immortal until she stepped into Fortuna’s footprints on a Roman cobble somewhere. The grody, greedy essence of young Fortuna engaged her to Death before Lenore even knew of their courtship. It was Fortuna’s way of trying to divert Death from seeking her instead, I’m sure.
Fortuna swirls the wine in her glass as she strides after me. We leave the tasting room and trot around a tulip-lined garden fountain. The flower heads bob, heavier than fist-sized sapphires.
“Tell me about this amontillado,” Fortuna says. “Did your family pick it up, or you?”
“I did.” I sip my chardonnay. “That was during my summer sabbatical.”
“Right. You deserved that.” Fortuna squints at one of the peahens in the bushes. “Taking care of your mental health is important. Especially when you’re grieving.”
Is the cure for grief rose oil? Is it cinnamon oil smeared behind the ears of a corpse, or a choker of chamomile? Fortuna enthusiastically recommends all those crunchy cures. She’s itching to sell me the dream. Proud Lenore sure bought it. I cannot tell this bitch that the oil I long for is her bottled blood. That is essential.
“Self care is important.” I brush my hair behind my neck. Fortuna coughs into her arm while a peahen ogles her. I dump my wine in the fountain, unnoticed. “Okay, babe. Next wine.”
“I don’t know if I want the next wine.” Fortuna gulps the rest of her glass. “You picked the amontillado, right? We should just taste that now, if it is amontillado.”
“Let’s go inside first,” I say.
Wine #3: Serpent’s Heel
Vermentino. Aged 10 years.
“Your house is so… retro,” Fortuna says, shivering, as I lock the mahogany double doors behind her.
That is not the word she wants. My family mansion is a nightmare of dripping windows, dark wood, taxidermy, and high ceilings. A century ago, the mansion’s couches and floors gathered lungfuls of choleric blood. Now, its clean walls groan with age. It’s a slab of New England cruelty pinned onto West Coast cliffs. No amount of potted palms softens its face. It is a home where mental rot and discipline flourish. Peace is not an option. White suburban brutality honed Fortuna, but this cancerous place crafted me. We are not the same.
Fortuna coughs in the cold, open foyer. Contract consumption, bitch, I think. I extract the next bottle of wine from a hallway bar to pour her a deep, olive glass of it.
“I thought this was a tasting!” she says.
“It’s to warm you up,” I say. “Drink.”
Fortuna clutches her glass to her chest while we strut down the hallway. Stuffed ravens glare at her. Moth-eaten boar heads judge. Our heels click on the polished hardwood. It takes a staff to clean this mansion, but while my family suns in San Francisco, I’ve slipped everyone a few fifties or a fruit basket to scram. When I swish the vermentino around my mouth, I taste notes of almond and lime. When I listen to the silence in the mansion, I sample something more fulfilling.
“I never noticed that snake tattooed on your ankle,” Fortuna says. “It’s cute.”
“It’s my family crest,” I say.
“Yeah, your family seems obsessed with the whole crest thing,” Fortuna says, eying a shield on the wall. “Nemo me impune lacessit. What does that mean?”
“All friends are welcome here.”
The further we creep into the mansion, the more her manicured brows knit together. The more her brows knit, the more Fortuna’s face dips into her glass. The growing slur in her voice pleases me. Every time she stifles a cough, I sip. We flit closer to the cellar.
Fortuna’s discomfort illustrates her alien nature. Lenore’s childhood house of ghosts twinned mine. Her upbringing made her vulnerable and vain in a way neither Fortuna nor I are, but before her death, she and I were a perfect pair. Two hot ghosts that knew no one could wrong us without consequences. That isn’t different now, even if I’m alone.
“Seriously,” Fortuna says. “You don’t have to do this for me. I don’t want to trespass.”
“It’s totally not a problem.” I brush a moth off my silk skirt. “I invited you.”
Guilt dances on Fortuna’s face, then relief, which is how I know she hangs on the cusp of drunkenness. Sober Fortuna feels nothing but opportunistic joy.
“I thought you were mad,” she says, “after the whole—”
“I’m not mad.”
“Oh.” Relief greases Fortuna’s limbs. She throws back the rest of her glass. I retrieve the next bottle from a wine shelf. Upon returning, I find Fortuna sprawled on the fireplace, looking every inch the fool. She takes a mechanical sequence of selfies with a gargoyle before lurching towards me. Fortuna cocks her hip and twists her camera to encapsulate us both.
“Let’s take a photo together,” she says. “For old times sake. Ugh. I wish Lenore was here! I miss drinking with her.”
My blood boils. Lenore’s pale hand drapes in mind again, her emaciated wrist cloying beneath the odors of death and eucalyptus. I grit my teeth. All of my heartbreak and depression-fermented fury mean nothing if I don’t channel them to rectify how I’ve been wronged.
“I miss her too,” I say. “She would love this.”
As if! Fortuna mocked Lenore more than she loved her, both online and in life. Fortuna swells. Preens. Picks her golden angle. She strangles a cough. I hope dear Lenore watches us now, if only to witness the treat I have planned later. Fortuna and I pose for the camera.
“Kisses,” Fortuna crows.
I smile, imagining her in flames: a blazing tallow pillar melting into a lump of make-up and corpse wax.
She winks into the shutter.
Sherry. Aged 12 years.
Fortuna adores luxuries. Monetized grifting, coconut water, wine tasting… prolonged suffering.
“I’m about to blow chunks,” she says, leaning against the cellar door, wane.
“Babe, I’m so sorry.” I stay three stairs down, a stain of sherry lingering in my glass. Fortuna has half a glass left. “I didn’t know things had gotten this bad. You’ve been keeping up on your IV cocktails and aromatherapy, right?”
“Yeah.” Fortuna squeezes her eyes shut. “It’s the new diet. It’s taking a lot out of me. And you know how I feel about carrying an inhaler. Whatever. Sorry about this.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I sigh. “I shouldn’t have dragged you out here for that amontillado. I bet it’s sherry. I def dropped the ball. You should go home and take care of yourself. Have a cup of tea and a nice collagen mask. I’ll call Lucy. She can tell me what it is.”
Fortuna straightens. Her earrings jingle. Indigent jealousy wildens her eyes. Her brilliant clothes and milk skin make her a blinding silhouette against the cellar door. Fortuna clutches her stomach.
“Lucy?” Fortuna’s teeth gleam purple. All of her whitening sessions fail her now. “Lucy? Girl! Lucy can’t tell amontillado from sherry! She can’t even tell sewer water from sherry!”
“Maybe she can’t, but like, Lucy knows better than me.” I study my nails. “I don’t want to ask too much of you. Not after you visited Lenore in the hospice.”
Spiritually, Lucy twins Fortuna, which is perhaps why they hate each other. In some past life, in some kegel-tightened womb, Lucy was the wad of tissues who gnawed Fortuna’s throat out with her miraculous fetal teeth. The victor. Fortuna never forgave her for that. One just knows these things. Lucy now is a full-bodied, full-voiced influencer garbed in Haute Couture and backhanded compliments. The last time she supped with Fortuna, they tittered with compliments in the cocktail lounge and wracked up a $300 bill. That whole evening, Lucy eviscerated her beat before millions on Instagram.
They are similar breeds of intelligent idiot.
“Not Lucy!” Fortuna struggles upwards. “Monica, you have to show me this amontillado.”
Fortuna’s confidence eclipses her pain. That long-suffering look convinced Lenore to empty a fortune into her hands. One lock, frozen by hairspray, hangs rigidly against her forehead.
“If you insist,” I say.
Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 15 years.
“Do you know what I miss?”
“Tell me what you miss,” I say, pouring a glass of cabernet sauvignon.
The cellar is a cave cluttered with honeycombs of aging wine and titanic racks of wooden and steel barrels. Earth entombs us. All of the wine corks create a facsimile of fungi sprouting from the wall. No one steps down here besides family. Fortuna sprawls on the stairs at the bottom, legs askew. She reeks. One of her unbuckled heels hangs from a curled finger. The other lies on the floor.
“Lenore was such a sensitive person,” Fortuna says. “Like, she took advice from friends seriously. She for sure wasn’t so open-minded that her brain fell out, but if you could make a case for something, she would listen. Everyone else I know is way, way too stubborn for that. You’re too stubborn for that. Maybe that’s why Lenore was so gorgeous. She knew when to take advice.”
I press the wine glass towards her instead of smashing it into her head.
“I’m super drunk,” Fortuna mumbles. “I shouldn’t have anymore.”
“No, gorg, you should,” I tell her. “Treat yourself.”
A cough lodges in Fortuna’s throat. Quivering, she claims her glass.
“You’re not still angry at me about Lenore, right?” Fortuna says. “I know you two were close when she passed, even if like, I broke you two up with the essential oils thing. She died so young.”
“Of course I’m not angry,” I tell her. “Who do you think I am?”
“You hold grudges, Monica. I’m fairly sure you think I killed her.”
Fortuna stares at me, wary, red wine dribbling from her mouth. I fix my gaze on the cellar wall. Halloween encroaches. To keep things seasonal, my family plastered rhinestone-studded paper skeletons on the walls. They swim in the murk, mandibles agape, phalanges extended in a freestyle. They’re chic, but they’re a poor substitute for the real thing. Diet necrosis. I drink. The cabernet is velvety. It’s fuller than blood in my mouth. I study the twister of silver skeletons encircling the cellar wall. If I look at Fortuna now, I’ll shred her face apart.
“Me? Hold grudges?” I say. “Never. Like, you had the best intentions when you introduced her to holistic medicine. Lenore didn’t want to try chemotherapy anyway.”
The wine stem boils between my fingers. Fortuna tips into a coughing fit.
“Lenore’s looks was one of the only things she had control over, which you pointed out, so… it gave her a sense of peace. Plus, it’s hard to tell if essential oils or mainstream medication works better.”
I find my composure. I turn. I smile.
“Lenore made her choice,” I say. “It’s all behind us, Fortuna.”
“That’s great. The amontillado is in front of us, right?” she says.
“Not quite yet.”
Malbec. Aged 18 years.
When I first point to the empty wooden barrel—the one I commissioned for this occasion—Fortuna laughs her ass off at my suggestion. “Monica.” She giggles. “Do you seriously want me to get in that barrel for a photo?”
“Seriously.” I twirl my hair. “I’ll help you get in. Can you imagine what a fun shot it will be? The potential captions are endless. You’re intoxicating, you’re a taste, you’re delicious—”
Fortuna is laughing. “Oh my God, stop.”
“It’s a gag photo, babe,” I say. “It will be a reminder we had a fun night. No posting necessary.”
Fortuna shakes her head. By the time I grant myself a taste of malbec, she’s game. Drunk Fortuna caves so easily. I pour her a sample of the malbec, too. Fortuna gulps it.
“This is going to be so funny,” she says. “You’re weird, Monica. I love it.”
“It’ll be a total riot,” I say.
The skeletons watch Fortuna struggle to climb into the barrel. They whisper when I boost her in. She crumples at the bottom with a crash and a hoot. Her giggles echo against the oaken walls. I toss her heels in after her.
“Hey, hey!” Fortuna laughs.
“Give me your phone,” I say.
Fortuna’s coughing escalates. She shakes. I snatch her phone from her fist. Crash diets and years of ditching her hideous navy inhaler have cracked her. Fortuna’s glass shatters in the barrel with her. She shrieks.
“Hang on, Fortuna,” I call, grabbing our final wine. I uncork the hole drilled in the barrel lid. “I’m coming!”
“I cut my leg.” Fortuna chortles. “I’m bleeding.”
“Don’t hurt yourself too badly.” I offer her a glass brimming with tawny wine. “You need to try this amontillado for me first.”
Fortuna is babbling with excitement when I pop the barrel lid in place.
“Monica.” Her echoes sound baffled. “You didn’t take a picture.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I fetch a shovel, glee in my heart. The metal scrapes the floor.
“This is good amontillado. Like, you picked it well, somehow.”
A velvet spaghetti strap descends my shoulder as I hoist the shovel. Its head outshines silver: a gem far more precious than rhinestones or the Cartier hoop in my nostril. My muscles ache exquisitely as I hold the shovel at the zenith of its arc. I hold my breath; I listen to Fortuna ramble. I think of glass shards piercing her shin. The IV in dying Lenore’s arm.
Fortuna’s coughs christen the barrel. “I’m cold,” she says.
“Ssh,” I say. “Sssh. Can you hear that?”
The shovel trembles. I am all burning nerves. I am the pendulum before its down-swing. The barrel waits for me, Fortuna its liquidizing treasure trapped inside. I don’t need a shovel for this. But a night of wine tasting isn’t complete without a concerto.
“Hear what?” Fortuna says.
In Pace Requiescat
Amontillado. Aged 23 years. Oak barrel.
I swing the shovel onto the barrel lid. It clangs. Fortuna screams.
“Oh, my God.”
Another arc. Another ringing thwack.
“Monica! For the love of God!”
Fortuna thrashes in the barrel. Her bells jingle in one crash of noise after another. She screams until a splatter of vomit silences her. The shovel clatters to the floor. I grab the hose. I crawl to the side of the barrel, gorging on Fortuna’s misery.
“It’s a joke, Fortuna!” I croon. She blubbers. I fit my fingers against the barrel’s sides to drink the vibrations of her misery. Tenor for tenor, I match the artificial concern she had at Lenore’s bedside. “Like, take a joke!”
Fortuna hiccups in confusion. Hysterical laughter follows. I feed the cellar water hose through the hole in the barrel lid. How generous of me, I think, to bathe retch-flecked Fortuna. I’m sure she savored the notes of fear in her vomit.
“This is cruel, Monica,” Fortuna says.
Real grief graces her voice now. I test the hose. It’s secure. The barrel’s grain caresses my palms. My skirt scrunches against the wood. Unbidden, I smell death and eucalyptus again, mixed in with the ethereal, oak and tobacco taste of amontillado. A staccato of Fortuna’s hacking turns to puking again. A bell clatters against the bottom of the barrel.
“Kisses.” I tremble in relish. “You’re going to age like fine wine.”
“Monica,” Fortuna moans. “Please, dear god.”
“Oh, babe,” I say. “God isn’t listening.”
I slowly, slowly turn open the hose.
Samir Sirk Morató is a scientist and an artist. They love pulp. Some of their work can be found in Catapult, The Dark Sire, and Prismatica. They are on Twitter and Instagram @spicycloaca.