Short Story: Love Potion
Buying a Love Potion
It was his butt I saw as I bent over the counter. “John-Edward Jones,” I husked in my best Mata Hari, “can I have some of your love potion?” The Food Baron, as he was known to us all, rose. In his haste, he bumped his head against the counter, then stood to face me. He didn’t look overjoyed to see me. Truth be told, he looked somewhat confused.
“You gave some to Mrs. Rathbone for Henry.” All trace of Mata Hari had disappeared from my voice. My mouse-like persona was back, and I cringed.
For a moment the Food Baron stared at me, blinked, and then said, “Ah, you mean my Combination Tonic. It’s the Indian Gooseberry that does it.”
“Indian Gooseberry?” I repeated in a stupor. I was definitely back in my Miss Mouse mode.
“Might I ask you who you want this for?” John-Edward stared at me, a question in his eyes. Then I saw the penny drop. It didn’t do much for my self respect.
A quick recovery was called for. “I have a friend coming to dinner,” I said. I made sure he understood that 'friend’ was in italics. I saw the look of incredulity on his face. Some things are not good for a woman’s ego.
“Oh, then, I must give you the recipes that accompany the tonic. Are you planning a permanent union?” he asked me in a matter-of-fact voice.
“Something like that,” I stared at him intently. I might as well have been Jane Eyre eyeing Mr. Rochester for all the response I got.
John-Edward got busy. He grabbed a few pages from various places on the counter, took a few bags from his shelf of herbal remedies. His apothecary was well arranged. When he had it all together, he explained to me how to prepare the food and how to use the herbs that went with the recipes. He was his normal, precise self.
The Food Baron had come to Amorique, our small village, some two years ago. He had set up his apothecary-cum-restaurant in the middle of our quaint town square. At first, we had been suspicious – we’re a suspicious lot after all - but then his food got to us. In time, we also got to know his herbal expertise, and we were converted to a more traditional way of life. The Food Baron himself, however, remained an enigma.
“First, you must serve the oysters, then the black beans, and, lastly, the chocolate. You must leave the exact time between the servings, and drink the mixtures - very tasty - with each course. They have a very special chemistry with each other.”
“I’m not sure I’m that good a cook,” I said, “Couldn’t you come do it for me?” I saw him blink, then look up at me. I saw his eyes widen for a moment, and I think that was the first time he really saw me. I wondered if he noticed his other clients as little as he noticed me.
I was waiting for John-Edward at the Food Baron when he opened shop the next morning. My face looked miserable. “It didn’t work,” I said.
“Impossible,” he replied. “What did you not do?”
It was a difficult question, and I blushed. He looked at me with sadness for a moment and I took the opening, “Please come help me cook that meal this evening.” I pleaded.
“There something different about you,” he said. “Have you had your hair cut?” Well, actually, I’ve had my hair coloured, my skin lasered, my system detoxed, my colon cleansed, my arm twisted by my best friend, and all the man could ask was if I had had my hair cut? There are times in a girl’s life when patience is called for.
“Perhaps I didn’t do the recipe right.” I changed the subject, “Can you cook, Food Baron?”
He didn’t say anything.
“If you could come around this evening and go through it with me, I’ll cook you a lovely meal.”
“Not the aphrodisiac one I hope?” he teased with a smile.
The deal was done. We set a time for six, and I almost skipped to my next chore.
I heard Joanna Rathbone in the background...
What exactly he fed her, I don't know, but she sure looked better with each passing week.
I heard Joanna Rathbone in the background. Her cackling laughter was difficult to miss. Joanna lived at the Food Baron, all 70 kilos of her. She used to be 140 kilos. She came in for breakfast. She came in for lunch. She came in for dinner. The Food Baron could have got rich off her. What it was exactly he fed her, I don’t know, but she sure looked better with each passing week. I once heard him mutter something to her about taking four cups of ginger tea a day. Better her than me. I hate the stuff. All that heat.
I paid John-Edward, turned from the counter and walked to the door, browsing through the many herbs and organic displays around the store. He’d arranged the place beautifully. The herbal counter stood right at the back of the store, so on the way in and on the way out, you really could impulse-buy quite a bit. John Edward was a shrewd man despite his doctoral garb.
Of course, if you managed to get past that lot without a single purchase, there was always the restaurant. Its aroma would entice the archangel Gabriel himself, and the baroque décor was the cherry on top. Some things were just perfect.
Friday nights were not my best night, but that night I had a plan. I made my way to Rosemary’s and plonked myself down to await her detoxing and beautifying regime. We’d been at it for two weeks now. The manicures, the pedicures, the cellulite wraps and the aroma-rubs. Tonight, we would be doing yet another facial. “Your eyes look dreadful,” she said, eyeing me disapprovingly.
“Where’s the cucumber?” she yelled to Vicki, her latest assistant.
Rosemary and I girl-talked for the next couple of hours. Then, it was time to say good-night and I made my way home, a dinky two bed apartment in a pre-war block overlooking the sea. I dropped into bed early, knowing that the next day would either be life-changing or a big disappointment.
I needed to collect something from the lab...
La Mer, sung by that divine French man, Charles Trenet, was seeping from a distant office, and I wondered who was at work on this glorious, sunny morning.
Saturday was market morning in Amorique. Fresh flowers, fresh strawberries; fresh faces, come to think of it. I mused between the flowers: jasmine, my favourite; orchids, erotic and sensual; carnation, eternal and true. I chose the jasmine. How could I not?
Then I began to focus on the food. Oysters for Edward’s work, asparagus for mine; black beans for the Food Baron but a more solid cut of beef for me; chocolate and cherries for Edward’s coup de gráce, carob and cream for mine. It would be an interesting and informative evening.
I needed to collect something from the lab so I turned into Ocean Drive. I was happy in my work, not the least of it which was that I looked out of my lab and onto the deep, blue sea. La Mer, sung by that divine French man, Charles Trenet, was seeping from a distant office, and I wondered who was at work on this glorious, sunny morning.
I skipped lunch. I shopped instead. I needed something to wear. The man-hunting business has a high requirement for clothes of different temperaments. What to buy? Rosemary suggested sexual allure; I thought sensual mystery. I landed up buying black lace at Zara and pink chiffon at Marconi. Then I dumped them both and bought sensible cotton at H&M. It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.
Early afternoon I arrived home and started preparation. If John-Edward came at six, it would take an hour to prepare his recipe. We wouldn’t eat it, of course. That wouldn’t be fair to Edward. He hadn’t come to be seduced. No, I would feed him with my own special efforts, and the rest would keep for another occasion.
He arrived promptly. I couldn’t help but notice the blue jeans and the white shirt. Gone was the white doctor’s coat. The jeans further defined that famous butt, and I wondered what women he had in his life. I wondered, too, if he was a man of many talents.
For no reason that I could think of, I felt relaxed; prepared, no doubt, by weeks of work. I showed him the kitchen and prepared myself to study his methods. We chatted amiably and I asked him where he had developed his interest in herbs and food.
“I trained as a naturopath, then spent some years studying Chinese herbal medicine. That led to some Ayurevedic stuff and from there I found myself looking at many different herbal traditions in different parts of the world. I’ve always loved the kitchen and I began to try to find ways of using herbs and food together.”
“What’s your favourite herb?” I asked.
“Astragalus - good for energy flow,” he said.
I made a mental note of that.
He washed the oysters, then marinated them in a lemon, garlic and oregano concoction. He left them, then took the beans, added a soy sauce, mixed the herbs that he’d brought with him (the same ones he’d sold me the previous day), added some chestnuts and began to simmer the mixture. He prepared the rice, making sure that another sachet of herbs was evenly dispersed. I followed every move. He was as precise as he always was. Then came the chocolate and the cherries. Once more, he prepared a marinade. He put the cherries inside, then suggested we leave them for half an hour. I was only too pleased.
I prepared us some decaf – he drank it - and we chatted.
“Why’d you come to Amorique?” I asked him.
“Would you believe that my guardian angel said I’d find the girl of my dreams here?” That caught me unprepared. But guardian angels are an interesting topic so we spoke about them.
John-Edward was everything that I was not. Yet, here he was in my house, preparing me for the night of my life. Half an hour passed quickly, and we were back in the kitchen with the cherries. He removed them from the marinade, gently heated the chocolate and dipped each in separately. I have to tell you it took every ounce of will power not to ask to taste. He must have known that. “Want to taste?” said he and smiled. John-Edward has a gorgeous smile.
“That’s it.” he said, “Think you can get it right next time?”
“I hope so,” I said. “Okay, you’ve kept your share of the bargain. Mine is mostly done. I pre-prepared. If you take a seat in the dining room, I’ll serve in a few minutes.
I heated up the asparagus in the microwave, then covered with a dollop of sour cream. I then took the small vial that I’d collected from the office that morning and sprinkled lightly. A girl has to impress sometimes, and I had my own magical ways.
John-Edward ate happily. “It does have an original flavour,” he said. “Some zip to it, too,” he sounded surprised. I bet.
Then came the Hungarian goulash, always a favourite of mine. I served it with rice. It didn’t need much else. Lastly, the carob and rum crème came laden with calories and charisma. He commented, “I see you like a little excitement in your life.”
“Oh, more than you can imagine,” I laughed, suddenly certain that the magic was working. I took the opportunity of removing the overcoat that had covered my dress-to-undress attire.
Sometimes a girl’s timing just has to be perfect.
His eyes locked into mine. I felt him change, charge up, become the man hidden to me before - the man whom I knew was there all along. “You’re different,” he said, for the second time that day.
“Yes,” I responded, “and so are you.”
He looked at me some more, and then he smiled. “I think I’ve been had,” he said.
The Food Baron was a man of action I was pleased to discover, but then I’d watched him turn a community of food slobs into a town with taste. More importantly, I’d watched him teach a community to use its food to maintain life healthily.
He touched me. Melting wasn’t my style, but there are times in a girl’s life when she melts, so I melted. Then we melted together.
It was a while before he said. “What did you put into it?”
“How did you know?” I asked.
“It takes one to know one.”
“We call it the Love Potion.”
“I’m a biochemist.”
“A biochemist,” he said, then laughed. “We could make quite a team,” he added.
Exactly my thoughts.
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© 2017 Tessa Schlesinger