Bruno loved Hilda fully and truly, no matter her feelings towards him. He loved her knowing that when she finally understood his love, she would finally love him in turn. Being told to fuck off countless times, hung up on beyond the number of stars in the sky would not deter him from what was surely the universe’s plan for him, for them both. But oh! Each second of the wait was agony, each moment away from her side burnt like lava in his veins. If only, if only there were a quicker way to her true heart.
These were the thoughts percolating in his brain on the evening he caught glimpse of a bright pink neon sign, blinking on and off in the night. LOVE POTIONS SOLD it advertised in the window of an otherwise unremarkable, shabby-looking shop labelled “Madame Tethys’ Charms & Elixirs.” Bruno hesitated, his disbelief and self-respect straining against entering, but his desperation won out.
The interior of the shop was not the haven for old incense and older occult props that Bruno had expected. Rather, it was clean, functional, all glass and metal frames. Displays offered vials, bottles, paper constructions, wood and metal gewgaws. Behind a counter stood a statuesque woman, olive skinned with horn-rimmed glasses that seemed professional rather than trendy, and coal black hair gathered into a bun.
“Welcome,” she said, genuine warmth emerging from her professionalism. “Anything in particular I can interest you in?”
“I—” Bruno’s voice cracked. He coughed. “I was thinking about the… love potion?”
“A popular one,” said the clerk. “It comes as a powder, you should know. You mix it yourself, in water or some other liquid medium.”
“T-that should be fine,” said Bruno, who hadn’t actually thought that far ahead. “But, ah, it actually, y’know, works?”
“Oh, yes,” said the clerk. “Very much so! Immediate and complete fascination and adoration guaranteed. So strong is it, in fact, there is no known means of reversal. An improvement over the original, you might say.”
“So, I get my money back if it doesn’t work?”
“Definitely,” she assured him. “Not that it’s ever happened.”
Mind alive with the hope of the requited love he had long awaited, Bruno paid the woman the agreed-upon price. He hurried from the shop, featureless plastic bag clutched furtively to his chest like a man with an eagerly-sought and particularly foul porno tape.
“This isn’t a date,” Hilda told him for the second time. “This is just because I don’t think you’ll get it unless you see the words coming out of my mouth: “I don’t love you. I don’t like you. I can’t stand you, so would you please just leave me alone. If you don’t listen to me this time, I’m getting a restraining order.”
They sat at the window booth of the bar. Bruno sat rapt in the presence of her perfect beauty, as usual, captured by each movement of her black dreadlocks against her brown forehead, each angry flicker of her deep brown eyes, each hissed insult from her perfect, full lips.
But Bruno could not allow himself to be distracted from his desperate mission. She couldn’t see him put the powder in her drink, lest she think he was slipping her roofies or some other nefarious date-rape drug.
“Oh, isn’t that terrible?” he said, pointing out the window, unable to think of a more convincing ploy. It still worked. Hilda looked.
“What?” she asked, distracted from her disdain. Bruno emptied the opened packet into her beer.
“Oh,” he said, “I thought I saw a crow carry off a puppy. Never mind. Let me make a toast at least? To new beginnings?”
“To new beginnings,” Hilda assented. “Amen.”
They both downed their beer. Bruno watched Hilda eagerly.
“What?” said Hilda. “Do I have foam on my face?” She wiped.
Bruno’s heart began to sink. The clerk had said “immediate.”
“Did I get it?” Hilda asked. “I—whoa….”
“What?” said Bruno. “Are you okay?”
“The room just got all… spinny. I think I drank too fast. Just let me….” She looked down, then looked back up again at Bruno. He could see her pupils dilate. His heart quickened. Was this it?
“What’s wrong?” he whispered.
“You… I’ve never really looked at you before, I think. Do you want to have another drink?”
“Let me rub your feet, love, they must be sore,” said Hilda, already removing the shoes from the feet of her husband of five weeks. Bruno pulled back.
“No, no, I’m quite alright,” said Bruno.
Hilda stood up and immediately scurried across the room. “A drink, then,” she said, eagerly, “to calm your nerves, love.”
“I’m—I’m fine. Thanks. Really.” Her beautiful form—she was still beautiful, achingly so—was seemingly overshadowed by the fervour of her love for him. Dampened. Tarnished. Cheapened. He broached the topic he’d been working himself up to for days.
“What—you see,” he stuttered, “Hilda, I don’t think it’s working out,” he blurted. “I think I want a divorce. I’m pretty sure.”
“Oh, love, that’s ridiculous,” said Hilda without hesitation. “We belong together, you said it yourself so many times, when I wouldn’t listen. Now I finally understand, and you say we have to part? Nonsense. The world will keep us together.”
“I don’t think you understand,” he persisted. “I don’t love you, not anymore. I just don’t, and that’s that.”
“Hmm…” she pondered. “That is a problem, then.”
“So you see,” said Bruno, “Divorce is the only option. I’m seeing a lawyer tomorrow. I want you to come.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” said Hilda, moving suddenly towards the door. “I’m going out. Don’t wait up.”
Unfortunate, thought Bruno, but he hoped this flight might at least indicate he’d broken through to her.
Falling asleep without her the night before, Bruno woke the next morning to the sound of her singing in the kitchen. As he propped himself up in bed and blinked the sand from his eyes, Hilda entered the room with a tray in her hands, a hot breakfast and orange juice carefully arranged.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to wake you, love,” she said happily.
“You didn’t have to do this,” said Bruno. “The divorce—”
“Oh, I don’t care about the silly divorce,” she interrupted. “Just take a gift for what it is.”
Bruno acquiesced, and started in on the meal. He was a trifle nervous, as Hilda hovered attentively over every bite and sip as he did so, but it was good. When he was finally finished
“Thank-you,” he said, levelling what he hoped was a stern gaze at her. “Thank-you but this doesn’t change—uh—doesn’t—”
“Yes,” she asked eagerly.
Bruno stumbled over his words, but somehow all he could think of in his head was “I love you.” Something’s wrong, he thought. I’m not in love with her anymore. I wasn’t in love with—the juice! Something was in the—
Then their eyes met, and he was lost in them forever.