As St Valentine’s is approaching I decided to try and participate in an initiative of one of Goodread groups I am a member of, Café Literario, where the founders of the group suggested posting stories to celebrate certain occasions (Christmas, holidays…). I came up with a romantic story to celebrate St Valentine’s (and the friendship day) and decided to share it (in English version) with you. I hope you enjoy it.
The elixir of true love
The phenomenon had been going on for two days and by now Amelia had lost her patience and run out of ideas. It was true that she wanted to find a boyfriend and she hadn’t gone out with anybody for a long time. But that did not mean she was happy with the current state of affairs. It had gone from one extreme to the other, and now she couldn’t walk past a man without he staring at her as if enchanted, trying to chat her up, and following her wherever she went.
She had waited until dark to avoid having a crowd of men follow her everywhere. After checking the internet and not finding an answer, the only thing that had come to mind was to go and visit grandma Petra. In Madejar, her village, grandma Petra was the unofficial authority in all matters of local history, potions and lotions, matters of the heart, folklore… Petra Gutiérrez was the autochthonous version of Google, although with much more colour and style.
Hiding in the shadows and trying not to meet anybody on the way, Amelia reached granny Petra’s house. It was a small rustic house, rugged, that seemed to have been hammered out of the stone hill it lay on.
“Grandma Petra! Grandma Petra! It’s me, Amalia. I need your help!”
“Come in, come in my child. You know you’re always welcome.”
Amelia walked into the house, that had the feel of a museum of rural life from a couple of centuries ago, and she found the old woman sitting in front of an open fire in the dining room/lounge.
“Hello, my child. Sit down, sit down. Tell me, what brings you here this time of the evening and in such a hurry?”
Amelia obeyed her, sitting down on a low chair, and without further ado she went straight into it, as she usually did.
“Grandma. For the last two days, something very strange is happening to me. Every time I leave the house all men I come across turn around to look at me, whistle and shout compliments at me, buy me flowers, follow me everywhere I go, like lapdogs… I don’t know what’s wrong with all of them, but it isn’t normal. And don’t tell me I’m very pretty and they just like me, because it had never happened to me before and I know it’s not true.
Grandma Petra stared at her and kept quiet, as if deep in thought. Finally she said:
“Did you do anything out of the ordinary, a couple of days ago?”
“Thursday?…. Nothing that I recall. I was checking the paperwork and tidying things up and… It’s true! I found some handwritten notes within my mother’s things. Recipes. I prepared one of the infusions and tried it.”
“Do you remember what you put on it?”
“I have no idea.”
“What do you mean?”
“Instead of ingredients the recipe had symbols. I realised they matched those in the jars my mother had on her cupboard. And I prepared the infusion.”
“And you drank it without knowing what it had on it?”
Amelia looked at grandma Petra.
“My mother used to tell me that there were no poisons or dangerous ingredients in her cupboard… I know I don’t remember everything and my mother… died years back, but I remember that perfectly well.”
Amelia’s father was a geologist and he worked in oil fields abroad and she didn’t see much of him. Her mother had been her rock and had brought her up without much help. Unfortunately, her mother…
She noticed her eyes getting watery. Grandma Petra stood up and hugged Amelia, squeezing her hard.
“We all miss Manuela. She was a great woman.”
Despite the length of time that had gone by since her mother’s death, nearly five years, Amelia hadn’t touched any of her things, leaving all as it was until a few days earlier. The local government was planning on refurbishing the street where she lived and had asked for some documents. While she was looking for them she’d come across some sheets of paper, the assumed recipes, and her mother’s diary, although it seemed to have been written using a code she had not been able to decipher.
“Yes, but why did she write the recipes and her diary in such a bizarre way? It isn’t as if she had major secrets to keep hidden.”
Grandma Petra sighed deeply and sat down again. This time she fixed her gaze on the fire.
“In fact… there are many things you don’t know about your mother.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you want to know everything… you’ll have to go and visit your mother’s best friend. Cristina.”
“Cristina? Fran’s mother?”
“Yes, Paco’s mother.”
Amelia and Francisco (everybody called him Paco although she had always called him Fran) were very close friends when they were children. Their mothers knew each other since infant school and the children used to play together whilst their mothers chatted, cooked, worked…
“Have you seen him? Paco is here visiting his parents. He’s on holiday. He’s very handsome” said grandma Petra.
“No. I haven’t seen him. We haven’t seen each other for a long time…”
Very handsome… Indeed. When he was a young child Fran was a clumsy boy, very thin, with his hair and his clothes always in a mess. Amelia had never been too bothered about his looks, and although he wasn’t the most popular kid in the school, they enjoyed each other’s company. They read books, played the parts of TV characters; they created imaginary adventures, and did their homework. They were inseparable. A summer, when they were 17, Fran went on holiday with his aunt and uncle to the coast and when he came back he was completely changed. Tall, suntanned, fashionably dressed, and full of muscles. Suddenly all girls were falling to his feet, he was soon Mr Popular, and he became bigheaded, or that was what she thought. He was always busy, never had any time to see her and eventually…
“If you want to know what’s happening and wish to find a solution, Cristina is the key.”
“Aren’t you going to tell me anything else?”
“Go to see Cristina. I am sure she can explain everything. Anyway, it’s about time you sorted things out with Paco.”
“No, don’t tell me you haven’t argued. You were inseparable but as you said before, now you don’t even talk to each other anymore. Unless you want to carry on having any men you come across follow you around, you’ll go and talk to Cristina.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Amelia walked towards the door but stopped before opening it. There was plenty of noise, as if there was a crowd outside, or a bumblebee squad. She peered out of the window, hiding behind the curtains, and saw a huge group of men, in tenterhooks, waiting for her.
“Can I go out any other way?”
“Through the kitchen door…” grandma Petra burst out laughing. “Then it seems you’re going to visit Cristina, aren’t you?”
Amelia shrugged and run to the kitchen. She speeded out to avoid the men waiting for her at the front door. She had to be careful as she would not be able to avoid them for long.
The house of Pedro and Cristina Márquez (Paco’s parents) was by the church, five minutes away from grandma Petra’s abode. Amalia reached there breathless and started knocking at the door very fast.
“Please! Please! Open up!”
“What’s the matter?”
Francisco opened the door. Despite the desperate situation, Amelia couldn’t help gasping when she saw her childhood friend. Grandma Petra was right. He was gorgeous. He smiled widely when he saw her.
“Amelia! It’s been a long time!”
“Hi Fran. May I speak to your mother?”
His expression hardened and his tone grew cold.
“Yes. She’s inside. Come in.”
“Shut the door. Otherwise your house will get invaded by men.”
Francisco looked at her with a surprised expression but she didn’t feel like explaining. Well, she did, but not right then. While walking to the kitchen, following the sound of a radio, Amelia wondered if maybe the strange power she’d acquired over men had ceased to have effect, because Fran had behaved as usual with her. Either that or he was immune to it. She rapped at the kitchen door with her knuckles.
“Come in, Amelia.”
“How did you know it was me?”
Cristina looked at her and smiled. Although they didn’t look alike physically, Cristina was tall and dark haired whilst her mother had been short and had brown, Amelia was always reminded of her mother when she saw her, and that was one of the reasons why she hadn’t visited much.
“I was waiting for you. I’ve heard you’ve become a magnet for men.”
“Grandma Petra was right. She told me I should come to see you and you would tell me something about my mother that would explain everything. I don’t know…”
“Sit down, Amelia, and tell me what’s happening.”
Amelia explained everything.
“And now, what do you say? What is the very important thing you know about my mother that I should learn about?”
“I don’t know if you… believe in traditional wisdom, out of the ordinary phenomena that can’t be easily or rationally explained…”
“What are we talking about? Vampires, fairies, werewolves?” Amalia asked, laughing.
“No…” replied Cristina. “I’m talking about witches, spells… White magic, of course.”
“Are you telling me my mother was a witch? Is this a joke?”
“No. What I’m trying to say is that both of us have… had, a special ability, and we knew things about herbs, potions…”
Amelia stood up and examined Cristina from head to toe.
“Not at all. We used a special language, a code to write about our experiences. If you’d like that I can help you decipher her diary and the recipes. I suspect you might have inherited our gift. I have several books of spells and potions from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. It runs in families. It comes from many generations back. On the female side.”
Amelia didn’t want to believe any of that.
“If that were true I would have heard about it. All villages have their legends and stories; I’ve never heard any such thing about Madejar.”
“Our families have always been very careful. And so were the two of us.”
Amelia wasn’t any more convinced than before.
“So, according to you, why is this happening to me right now?”
“I’ve never tried it myself, but that “infusion” you’ve told me about must be the elixir of true love.”
“The elixir of true love. Every person of the opposite sex who comes across you will fall head over heels in love with you.”
“And how long do the effects last for?”
“Around a month, give or take a few days. But I’m sure there’s an antidote and I believe it’s in one of my books. I’ll get it ready tonight and I’ll bring it to you tomorrow morning. When you see its effect you’ll know I’m right.”
Amelia nodded and went to the door. She turned the handle but stopped.
“What’s the matter?” asked Cristina.
“I was wondering what use such potion would have. I would understand it if you were to give it to somebody you liked to make them fall in love with you, but making all the men around fall in love with you temporarily because of a potion… That’s not true love. I don’t understand its use, or its name.”
“That’s not the reason for its name. It’s true the elixir has that effect on all men, but it doesn’t have any discernible effect over a man who is truly in love with you. If somebody loves you, they’ll behave the same with you as they always have.”
“So, its use is to distinguish true love from illusion, from a whim.”
Amelia left the kitchen, walking very slowly. She stopped in front of Francisco’s room, that looked exactly the same as it had for years. She knocked at the door.
He opened the door.
“I thought you had only come to see my mother.”
“Yes. Sorry, I needed urgent advice. But it’s been a long time since we last saw each other. Not since you moved to the capital to work.”
Francisco was standing by the half-opened door, with an angry expression.
“I wrote to you. I sent you my e-mail. You never bothered to answer to me” he replied.
“I was going to send you a text for your birthday, but… I was convinced you’d have better things to do.”
Francisco looked her in the eye.
“I’ve always had time for you. Whatever you might think.”
“You always seemed so busy, even before you left…”
Francisco sighed and his face changed to a sad expression.
“I came back from that holiday with my aunt and uncle and suddenly… your behaviour towards me changed completely. I couldn’t do anything right… It’s true that people who’d never noticed me before started to laugh at my jokes and be nice to me, but they never mattered to me.”
Amelia kept looking at Francisco. The elixir didn’t seem to exert any effect over him. And if Cristina was right that could only mean…
“Sorry Fran. You’re right.”
“No need for apologies or saying sorry between you and me.”
Francisco and Amelia were looking at each other like transfixed. Francisco’s father, Pedro, coughed, and that made them come back down to earth.
“Are you staying for dinner, Amelia?” Pedro asked, looking at her in a fairly peculiar way. ‘Another victim of the elixir’, thought Amelia.
“Thanks very much. I can’t today. Maybe some other day.”
“Why don’t we meet tomorrow?” suggested Francisco.
“I’d love to.”
Amelia pretended to go out through the front door to confuse the men following her, instead escaping through the garden. She got home tired but happy. She wasn’t sure of how she felt with regard to a possible legacy of witchery and spells, but she felt reassured to know that true love didn’t require any elixirs. And that true friendship is the best foundation of love.