This is the season they use fireworks to scare the starlings from the vines. The season of hot afternoons and crisp evenings, when her lower back will stiffen with chilled sweat as the sun disappears from the rows of grapes to be harvested.
She lives with the men, but apart, separated by a sheet hanging across one end of the dormitory. She smells their feet and armpits in her sleep and dreams of her husband, of the way he smelled after his bath. How his hair always kept some fragrance of his sweat.
This morning she wakes before the others, startled by the sound of the starlings as they take off in one great mass of beating wings and agile bodies. She creeps out of the dormitory, towel and soap in hand. They have allotted her a shower stall in the communal bathroom; the men leave her alone.
The new worker comes as she is drying her hair. He arrived weeks after she and the others and does not live in the dormitory but in a camper van parked above the terraced slopes. At night she can see the tip of his cigarette glow in the darkness. A few days ago, she saw him pierce a thin vine shoot with his thumbnail, then watched him put the finger to his tongue and test the sap.
He excuses himself, backs away, says he thought she had her own bathroom somewhere else. He is lying. The men discuss her when they think she is out of earshot. They complain, but they are all a little afraid of her.
She pretends not to understand him. She is not from his country and she shouldn’t know his language.
When he is gone she puts her head under the sink again. His voice belongs to another man. A man she has not seen for six years, who is presumably still waiting for her return. Her mother’s letters tell her as much. He sleeps on the couch, shouts her name from a drunken slumber, complains of the pain in his missing foot.
She opens the bathroom door and calls to the new worker, this time in his own tongue. A few of the other men are up now, peeking out from the doorless dormitory. He ambles to her wearing a shy, humble smile. He is younger than her. His nose is crooked and beautiful.
The punch comes as a surprise. She is not a violent person. He falls, she apologizes. He waits at her feet, rubbing his jaw, still smiling a little. He says sorry in the language everyone can understand.
When she helps him up, apologizing again, even smiling a little now too, he keeps her hand, moving a sharp thumbnail across her skin. He walks away, putting his thumb to his mouth while she rushes into the shelter of the vineyard as the fireworks boom over her head and the starlings squawk and escape across the sky.