RATED M | 1,000 WORDS
Before Love and Wonder
Story by Alex Singer
Katherine Lovelace was a minister's daughter in our little middle-water town upstate. Her father was one of those men who hits religion like a bottle of bourbon. Fire and brimstone, you know the type. His idea is woman comes under man in the eyes of the Lord, and that's that. So, one day, the missus is a bit too talkative, so our good Christian decides to beat the Lord back into her.
Kathy comes to my father's pharmacy the next morning. She's ten. I'm fourteen and working the counter, because my Pop doesn't trust me with free time. She asks for some painkillers. I give them to her. She asks me what I could give her to make a bad man go away.
I say, "I don't know if my Pop keeps anything for that."
She asks, "Well, what do you do to keep monsters away?"
So I recommend a few basic spells. Cheap, corked stuff. Almost home remedies. A few weeks later, her father has a stroke which leaves half his body completely dead. He has to be spoon-fed by his wife and daughter for the next two years before he finally dies good and proper.
I don't hear much from Katherine Lovelace for a while. She marries some guy right out of high school. A really sharp, well-off guy. Good at sports. Parent's friends with her mother. A real white knight, just missing the horse.
Trouble was, old Lancelot had some old-fashioned ideas about the ladies once you were married to them. Women are supposed to listen to their husbands, he thinks, and Kathy, all doe-eyed, does just that for a while. Eager to please, eager to just be happy. They get the house, the yard, a kid on the way. Until, one day, he decides they're going to move out west to start a business with some friends of his, and Kathy says no. So, like a gentleman, he responds by throwing her down the stairs.
Kathy comes in the next morning. I'm still working the counter, because I'm twenty-one and haven't figured out what to do with my life. I know you've seen her all doe-eyed, but there's nothing doe-eyed about her when she leans over the counter. Her lips are so swollen she can barely shut them, but she buys some cigarettes and some things for the swelling.
She looks me in the eye and she asks me, "Jimmy, what have you got for a louse of a husband."
I say, "I don't know if I've got anything for that."
Without missing a beat she says, "Well, what have you got that's LIKE that."
I list off some basic prescription spells. You know: protection flasks, regenerative draughts, sleep vials, sobering salts... she listens to all of this, asks me some professional questions about the ingredients, the mixing processes, how it all comes together in those little bottles.
Well, two weeks later she has the kid. A little girl. No sooner's she born that that louse of a husband falls and hits his head on the kitchen table, and as far as I know he still hasn't woken up.
So, after that, it's just Kathy taking care of her mother and her daughter, and she does pretty decent for herself. She's needle sharp, and a natural when it comes to brewing. She goes and brews things my Pop wouldn't have even thought of selling. Women's medicine wasn't really his specialty.
She made a decent living doing witch work, selling spells to all the fancy housewives on Easter Road, but Kathy's smart, and she knows she can do better. Trouble is, no one's looking for a witch to do more than sell cradle wards, cooking aids, and contraceptives — my Pop and me hardly felt threatened.
A year after I saw her last, she comes in to buy some cigarettes and pick up some ear drops for her kid.
She looks me in the eye and she says, "Jimmy, what are your thoughts on the city."
Well, I've got two older brothers, and I've always wanted to see the Big Apple.
She shows me an ad for some run down shop space selling for cheap on the Lower East, and says, "Jimmy, what can you do for this?"
So we pack up and open up shop in the city. She moves in with a couple of girlfriends in some complex. I move in with this girl Sissy, one of those real modern girls, you know? I knew how to make some fine family spells, but, Katherine Lovelace, she has a real gift. A lady doesn't get very far in mainline alchemy, she couldn't even get the proper certifications back before they passed the Act and the Feds dismantled the National Alchemist's Association. If she could have... She'd have been a five star alchemist.
She brews. I sell. We open up a second shop soon enough. Love and Wonder Drugstore, as legit an operation as you could have imagined. Then the government cracks down and suddenly what we're doing's illegal.
But, that doesn't stop Katherine Lovelace. She has her mother and her daughter to think of, sure, but there was always more in her than just that. She's still young and beautiful, she knows she can find some rich fellow and have herself set for life, but Kathy doesn't want that. Kathy's done being taken care of.
She turns to me, and says, "Hey, Jimmy. I get how what we're doing is all illegal now, but what do you think about selling some of our spells to that sharp little place my girlfriend Sally works for in Soho? We just put on the books that it's syrup for soft drinks."
And I say, "Kathy, that's crazy."
She says, "Call me Kitty, and that didn't sound like a 'no.'"