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This Place of Wonder: A Novel

This Place of Wonder: A Novel PDF

Author: Barbara O'Neal

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing


Publish Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN-10: 1662503709

Pages: 316

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface


My first impulse was to burn it all down, but no native Californian would ever—even reeling with drink and fury and a desperate need for revenge—set anything on fire.

Instead, I found an axe and carried it out to the vineyard. The night was clear, full of stars. The mountains carved a jagged line across it, and I had to pause to admire the scene for a moment. So beautiful. Such beautiful land. Such a beautiful night. How could things still be so beautiful? Shouldn’t everything stop?

A song ran through my head, an ancient pop song.

Before me stretched the tidy rows of vines, so very alive even without leaves. I raised the bottle I carried to my lips and drank of their fruit, sharp and dry, almost perfect. I imagined I could hear the vines breathing, taking in the moonlight and the cold night air, preparing for the new season, their roots drinking nourishment from the soil that I had so carefully tended.

I raised my axe.

And could not bring it down, could not kill the living vines. It would be murder.

Instead I picked up the nearly empty bottle and carried my axe to the wine cave. Rows of casks lined both sides of the center aisle. The most perfect vintage we’d created, seven years of work to arrive here, to the thing I’d always known I could make.

I raised my axe, swung, and brought it home, right through the center of the first cask. Wine burst free, pouring out like blood, faster than I would ever have imagined. For one moment my heart clenched, hard, as if to wake me up.

But I walked down the row, swinging. It was hard, physical, slamming work. I sweat, and paused to capture wine in my palms. Only I would ever taste it. No one else, ever. I wept, and swung, and drank, and chopped open every single cask in that room.

Sticky, cold, swaying, I climbed the stairs to the outside and pulled my phone out of my pocket. “Meadow,” I said when she answered. “I think you need to come get me.”


I’m sleeping hard when the phone rings. It shatters the dream state and slams me into a state of high alert. Phones don’t ring in the middle of the night for no reason. They don’t often ring at all since technology has allowed us to shut out anyone we don’t want to hear from.


Throat tight, I scramble for the phone. Squinting at the screen, I blink at the bright light, but it isn’t a number I recognize. I drop the phone on the bed, nestle more deeply into my fluffy duvet. A cat body, limp and immovable, sprawls over my ankles, and I try not to move so much that I disturb her. Beside the bed, my two dogs snore. Elvis with his big nose sounds like a train. It makes me smile. Better snoring dogs than snoring men, I always say.

The phone rings again, and I suddenly worry that it might be Maya, trying to reach me. I ignored her once, exasperated with her drama, and that led nowhere good. She hasn’t been allowed many calls in rehab, but I grab the phone, just in case.

“Hello? Maya, is that you?”

“It’s Norah.”

I shift hair out of my eyes. Norah is my ex-husband’s most recent live-in, and she’s never called me before.

A clammy shiver walks down my spine. “What is it? Is Augustus okay?”

“No,” she wails. “No! He’s dead.”

My heart squeezes hard. “What? That’s impossible. I just saw him last night.” But I’m sitting up, my feet touching down on the floor. “What happened?”

She’s sobbing, incoherent, and it makes me impatient until I remember that she’s barely thirty.

“Norah, take a breath. What happened?”

I hear her inhale, exhale. “I don’t know. Maybe a heart attack or something, they think.”

Augustus. For a moment my mind goes still, filling with an image of his big, competent hands. Sensual hands. Strong. “Are you at the house?”


“I’ll be right there.”

“Thank you,” she breathes.

I hang up, and for one long moment I don’t move. A faraway howl rises in the canyons of my body, coyotes crying out. The world will not be the same without him. I drop my face into my hands. No tears, only a shattering that creates a kaleidoscope of images arranged over thirty years.


My phone rings again, and this time the call is from Peaches and Pork, the restaurant that made us both wealthy and mildly famous. For a moment, irrational hope flares. Maybe Norah was mistaken, and he isn’t dead at all.


“Hi, Meadow, it’s Kara.” The restaurant manager. Her voice is hushed. Dull. I press my hand to the middle of my chest, feeling as if I’m the one having the heart attack.

“So it’s true,” I say before she can. “He’s dead.”

“Yes. I just wanted to be sure you knew, and see if you want me to handle anything any particular way.”


“There was someone with him.”

“A woman.” I don’t know why I’m surprised, after all this time, all his infidelities, but I am. It is unexpectedly painful.

“Well, she can’t be more than twenty-two.”

I would bet a million dollars I know which one. I saw her the other day when I went to deliver some produce—a tall, lean beauty with a perfectly flat belly and breasts like Venus and, of course, acres of long hair. His thing. So cliché. “The new bartender?”


I set the phone on my dresser and press the speakerphone so I can get dressed. “Damn. Obviously she’ll have to talk to police, but give her a bonus of $5,000 if she’ll sign a nondisclosure agreement to keep her from talking to the press.”

“Done. What about the restaurant?”

“Closed for the week until we can sort things out. We can discuss when to reopen once we figure out the logistics of everything else.”

“Got it.” Kara is an enormously competent woman in her early fifties, square and solidly built, and has run P&P for a decade. “Funeral? Do we know those details?”

This sinks me, and my legs turn to rubber. I sit on the chair, airless, looking out toward the fields, rows of rare squashes and heirloom tomatoes shining beneath the nearly full moon. “No funeral or memorial. He wants to be cremated and scattered over the Pacific.”

“Mmm.” She takes a breath. “We might want to do something for the employees in a couple of weeks.”

I nod, still unable to stand. A fine trembling moves beneath my skin, forehead to shoulders, down my back and chest, my arms and legs, as if I’m freezing. “We can talk about that.”

“Once they release the body, where should it go for cremation?”

I frown. “Release the body?”

“Yeah. Cause of death is unclear, so the coroner has to do an autopsy.”

“Norah said a heart attack.”

“Not clear. The girl said he was weak and fainted.”

This visual brings a wave of pain down my spine. “I saw him just last night,” I say, and even I can hear my voice is hushed. “He seemed fine. He hasn’t been sick, has he?”

“You know Augustus. He would work with an amputated arm and swear he was fine.”

I breathe in, slowly, aching in every part of my body.

“Are you okay, Meadow?”

“No. But I will be. How about you?”

“Not really.”

We sit, linked by the connection, and stare at the atomic-size hole that’s been blown through both our lives. As I contemplate the future, it seems slightly possible that without him, the world will simply stop turning. Finally I say, “I’ve got to go. Norah is hysterical.”

“All right. Talk in the morning.”

In the darkness, I hold the phone in my palm, wondering how to break the news to my daughters, Rory and Maya. Especially Maya, who is two weeks away from finishing rehab. Will this derail her completely?

Finally, I get myself together and head for Belle l’Été, the house where I spent twenty years building an empire with my ex-husband. A house I loved and hated leaving. A house where a woman who will have to go now lives.

It gives me no pleasure that he was cheating on her, too.

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