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The Elixir
cover design © 2005 Judith Huey.

 

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The Elixir
Magic realism

Thomas F. Root III

 

Chapter One

 

"Stop it, Yu!"

Even after almost three years together, Tom was momentarily confused when his wife said this, before determining whether she was addressing him as "you" or referring to "Yukon," her beautiful white Siberian husky, as "Yu."

"I said stop it!"

"He just wants to play."

"Come on Yu, Mama is busy. I can't play with you now. Go! Go lie down! Be a good dog now."

"Why don't you go lie down now, Carole? I'll take Yukon for a walk. Come on Yukon! Don't you want to go outside?"

"No, Hon, we still have a lot of unpacking to do. Yukon!" She finally gave in and dropped to one knee and, cradling the enormous animal's neck in her arms, let him lick her face. She looked up at her husband and smiled. "This is a special occasion, I guess, our first day here." Yukon, now satisfied, turned his attention to Tom, who genially patted the dog's head with one hand while deftly attaching his leash to his collar with the other.

"The unpacking can wait," Tom said decisively. "We've done enough for one day. I'm going to take out Yukon, and you take a nap." She started to protest, but Tom bent over and kissed her on the lips before she could speak. "When I get back, I'll finish the unpacking. In the meantime, you get some rest." He gently, tenderly brushed her cheek with his free hand. "If you feel up to it, maybe tonight we can try out that little place we passed on the way up here." Tom smiled at her mischievously while Yukon strained at the leash. "I don't know about you, but I could go for a lobster."

"You know I love lobster," Carole said softly.

"You know I love you," said Tom. Tom allowed his gaze to linger on her, an activity which was truly one of his life's most treasured luxuries. Even today, wearing an unzipped, hooded gray sweatshirt/jacket over a clingy, black, scoop-necked, short-sleeved top and a non-descript pair of faded jeans, her long honey-blonde hair straight, uncurled, and pulled back off of a face now completely unadorned by any makeup, Carole could not fail to take his breath away; as always, he was genuinely astonished by her beauty.

"I know," said Carole, nodding happily, her lips curling up into a satisfied little smile. The bright sunshine streaming through the large bay window off the foyer of this cozy Cape Cod that they had rented for the upcoming summer here on the beach in Barnstable was imbuing her big brown eyes with a lovely, greenish cast, and perfectly illuminating the familiar curves of her face: the gentle slope of her forehead…her cheekbones, prominent but delicately-molded…her adorable little button nose…her typically Slavic jaw line, full, strong, and square, yet still somehow so gracefully feminine. At thirty-nine, her complexion was the envy of any woman half her age: unlined and almost completely flawless, her skin-tone so amazingly even and glowing, naturally quite fair and now bearing only the slightest, faintest freckling after all those summer days spent at the shore, first as a young girl in New Jersey and then, for the past five years, in south Florida. "I love you too," she said finally.

Tom's heart fairly melted, as it always did whenever his wife spoke these words; dropping the leash, he pulled her up to her feet and took her in his arms, drawing her very close to him. He began rubbing her back affectionately.

"I love you more," he said.

"No," she said, shaking her head like a contrary little girl, "I love you more." She gently kissed him.

Tom's passion was becoming aroused, but he knew that this was not the right time. Carole had been working hard today, altogether too hard lately, in fact, and she needed her rest.

"Bear hug?"

"GRRR!!"

The two of them mock bear-growled in unison, while embracing heartily and shaking each other playfully in their own little private ritual. Yukon barked, a bit jealous for attention. Tom laughed and let Carole go, then picked up Yukon's leash.

"I guess I should be going."

"Are you going to take him on the beach?"

"No, I think I'll check out the park. I'll see you in a bit. Come on Yu! Let's go outside! It's a beautiful day! With that, Tom and Yukon went out through the front door and started down the edge of the road.

Indeed, it was a beautiful day, perhaps the finest of the New England spring so far: bright and sunny, but a bit on the cool side, with a definite remnant of winter's briskness still clinging stubbornly to the air. It was the sort of day that Tom had always adored, the kind that always made him feel so alive, so secure, so…powerful, somehow invulnerable—or invincible, even—as if nothing could ever harm him—as if he could never die! On a day like today he felt he could accomplish anything he set out to do, that the entire world and all its possibilities lie before him, just waiting to be discovered and realized. Now he was even more certain this move would usher in a new era for him, and for Carole, the start of an exciting new chapter in his life, in their lives. Finally, he had made it back to the Northeast, back where he had always really wanted to be, where he had always belonged—and surely where Carole belonged, too! After all, had she not told him when they had first met, and more than once, in fact, how much she longed for her little house, her old life in New Jersey, but that she just could not go back? Well, now she can, thanks to me, he thought with some satisfaction. We'll go anywhere she wants to go. We can even stay right here, if she decides she really likes it, although I would really prefer to get back "home," to New York. Tom had been born on Long Island's north shore thirty-six years ago, and had spent practically his whole life, even attending both college and law school, in the New York metropolitan area. He often reflected on the supreme irony of having met Carole, born and raised in South Amboy, New Jersey, the two of them having lived their entire lives so close to one another, almost an identical, short distance—albeit in different directions—from the heart of New York City, only after they had both relocated over one thousand miles south, to Broward County in south Florida, Tom to Hollywood and Carole to the adjacent town of Dania Beach.

Now, as he walked down the road with her dog, he smiled inwardly as he remembered how they had first met, at the Church of the Resurrection in Dania Beach—which, in a further twist, had not even been his proper parish; he had begun attending Mass there only because he preferred its priests to the ones at his own church, who had always seemed to be asking for more money at a time when he did not have much of it to spare. Surely, God Himself had had a hand in bringing them together; of this he was certain. It had truly been a case of love at first sight, even if he could not admit this to anyone, including, for some time at least, to himself. Love, he reminded himself, not merely lust. Oh, to be sure, he had found her quite physically appealing. That first time, he had definitely been "checking her out," but when their eyes had first met, it had been as if he were looking into the eyes of his oldest, dearest friend, someone he had known forever. He could never remember if he had smiled at her—he doubted that he had, given his sometimes pathological shyness around truly beautiful members of the opposite sex—but he distinctly recalled knowing instantly, just knowing, deep in his heart, that she was thinking exactly what he was thinking: Oh, my God…this is The One!

Of course, it had still taken several weeks—or was it months?—of exchanging furtive glances, the "sign of peace" handshake, and eventually brief episodes of small talk before and after Mass—initiated by Carole, as she often liked to remind him—before he had finally mustered enough courage to ask her for a date. He remembered every little detail of that conversation, how on that day, as they stood outside the church chatting in what had become their post-Mass custom, she had lingered a little longer than usual—as if she were sensing that he wanted to ask her something and were almost willing him to go ahead and do so—and how his heart had soared when, after he had asked her if she would have dinner with him, she had answered quietly, almost solemnly, but so sweetly: "yes, I would like that very much."

He remembered everything about that first date as well, an encounter that only confirmed what they both already knew: there was a connection between them that was more powerful, palpable, and perfect than either of them had ever before experienced or even dreamed was possible. They must have sat at the restaurant table for at least an hour and a half after finishing their dinner, leaving only when it became painfully obvious that they were the last ones left in the whole place and that the staff really wanted to go home.

Carole invited him back to the little house she was renting, and as they sat on the porch in the sultry south Florida night, talking about nothing and about everything, she only half-jokingly suggested that they drive to the airport, hop on a plane for the Bahamas, and go ahead and get married that very evening. Tom seriously considered it, recognizing correctly that to pretend that any further courtship was even necessary was a mere social formality. That they would in fact marry within the year was a foregone conclusion.

Indeed, Tom looked back fondly on that night for countless reasons, but not-so-fondly for one, for it was then that he had first become truly aware of Carole's physical condition, the first time she had referred to her "disease" and had described herself as "handicapped." Until then, somewhat surprisingly, considering how completely she had been dominating his thoughts, he had not really considered that her health, like everything else about her—to him, at least—might be anything less than perfect. He had of course noticed that she walked with a slight limp, and on more than one occasion had been using one of those three-pronged metal canes favored by the elderly and the disabled, but she was so young, so beautiful—and, yes, moved with such obvious physical grace, in spite of her limp—that he had innocently assumed that she was merely suffering the temporary effects of an injury. Perhaps she was an athlete of some kind, he had speculated—maybe a gymnast, given her very petite size of a half-inch under five feet tall. But on that day he had heard of it for the very first time, something he had never before even known existed. He had not even been sure if he had gotten the acronym right—what was it again, "RSD?" And what does that stand for exactly…?

His reverie was momentarily disturbed as a cool—no, make that cold!—northeastern breeze came off the ocean. Tom shivered; it is true what they say: all those years in tropical Florida have thinned my blood! I'm no longer accustomed to northern climes. Then he started to worry. Are we making a mistake? Have I been selfish in wanting to leave Florida? Will Carole be able to handle this weather? That was the main reason she left New Jersey in the first place! Thank God we held onto her little condo near her uncle up in Melbourne. We can always spend the winters there!

Yukon began barking happily. Well, at least he approves. He always seemed to thrive in the cooler weather. "What a good boy you are!" Tom said with a smile as he amiably patted the big dog's flank. Tom shook his head in genuine admiration, for Yukon was truly a marvel of animal training. While wearing only his ordinary collar attached to a leash, as he was now, he was just like anyone else's pet dog: playful, affectionate, and basically manageable; although, because of his size, perhaps not one hundred percent under human control. But Yukon was something more than a pet; he was also a "service dog," an animal that had been specially trained to assist a physically-challenged owner. Whenever he wore his special harness he knew that he was "working" and could be relied upon to subordinate all of his normal canine desires to the needs of his master. Yukon was very good at his job. Carole maintained that he had saved her life on at least two occasions, pulling her out of the way of city traffic after she had stumbled, overcome by the sheer fatigue of that omnipresent burning pain in her ankle. Since her marriage, however, Carole had found less need for an animal guardian, and Yukon had become more of a family pet than a servant. Besides, as Tom had once pointed out, even service dogs need some "time off" now and again; if not, they can become overstressed, just like their human counterparts.

In any event, Yukon was behaving fairly well today, for which Tom was grateful. Yukon could be difficult to handle if he were acting up; Siberian huskies are known for their strength, and Yukon weighed in at about one hundred five pounds, a good twenty pounds heavier than his little lady master weighed now, in fact. Although Tom prided himself on being fairly strong for his size, he was not a big man either; he was rather small in stature, in fact, standing closer to the "five feet, four inches" listed on his Florida driver's license than the "five feet, six inches" on his New York license, and he had always been slim—having skipped a few meals during the disruptions of the move, he was down to under one hundred twenty. Carole and I both have to put on some weight, Tom thought. I'll make sure to order the creamed spinach with my lobster tonight.

Suddenly, Yukon's happy barking took a slightly ominous turn, becoming interspersed with low growling. He strained against the leash, and Tom had to struggle to hold him back, which he did, but just barely.

"What is it, Yukon? What's the matter, boy?" Clearly, something was really bothering him now. What could it be? Tom looked around. He found himself and Yukon at the bottom of a gently-sloping hill, at the top of which, on a lot completely enclosed by a six-foot high white wooden fence, stood a spacious, well-maintained center-hall colonial. Built into the fence were two swinging-door entrances, one of which was open and was at the foot of a pathway leading to the front door of the house. Standing at the front door was a woman, who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. She was rather tall—quite a bit taller than Tom, in any event, and he was about the height of an average woman—and was wearing a very long, coral-colored, floral-patterned dress and a wide-brimmed, floppy canvas gardening hat. Underneath the hat she wore a pink scarf, wrapped entirely around her head and under her chin—like the bandages on someone who had suffered a head injury—in such a manner as to show only her face, which was even further obscured by a pair of round, oversized, opaque sunglasses. Perched about her shoulders was a black cat, which seemed to be eyeing Tom and, especially, Yukon, with definite trepidation.

"I thought that was supposed to be a 'service dog,'" the woman called out to Tom, in a cultured voice that bore the slightest hint of an English accent. "He looks to me like a wild animal!"

"No, he is a service dog," answered Tom, reciting one of Carole's stock replies to any question of the propriety of Yukon's presence, "he's just not 'working' right now. Actually, he belongs to my wife. I'm only walking him."

"Well, if you can't control him properly, please walk him elsewhere," she said, rather imperiously.

Tom was annoyed. An attack on Yukon was like an attack on Carole, and right or wrong he would defend her to the death. Besides, Yukon had been behaving just fine until this woman and her cat had appeared. And just who does she think she is, anyway? This is a public road! Wait a minute…why would she ever think to ask me if Yukon were a service dog?

"Have we met before?"

"No, but we do know each other. I'm Lucinda Hobson."

"I'm sorry, but I can't really place the name."

"Why you most certainly should! You happen to be living in my house."

 

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Author Bio

Thomas Root was raised in the Little Neck-Douglaston area of New York. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from St. John's University with a B.A. in Philosophy, and later from the St. John's University School of Law. Following his schooling he was associated with two mid-town Manhattan law firms before starting his own law practice in Douglaston, New York. In 1995 he moved to Hollywood, Florida, where he currently resides. "The Elixir" is his first novel.

TTB titles: The Elixir

 

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The Elixir Copyright 2005. Thomas Root III. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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List Price: $4.50 USD

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  Reviews

Lucinda turned her face towards Dr. Bloodworth, her tear filled eyes locking with his "I *have* denied death, Doctor and I will forever!" she hissed, removing herself from his grasp.

Tom and Carole have been happily married for just over three years, but Carole suffers from a rare disorder, RSD - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, which leaves her in almost constant pain. She has her good days and bad days and has spent quite a bit of time with specialists and even some more unorthodox practicioners, but nothing seemed to help.

While on holiday in Cape Cod, Tom meets their unusual landlady, Lucinda Hobson while out walking. He finds her strange, on edge and confrontative one minute, friendly and amused the next. What is even stranger is that she insists that her herbal teas are the cure for all ills and pressures Tom into taking some for his wife.

A few weeks later, after drinking the tea every day, Carole starts to feel better, much much better. Tom can't believe it was the tea, the elixir, as Lucinda Hobson calls it. But when a doctor confirms that Carole is in fact in perfect health, he does begin to wonder. Does the elixir really work or is it all in the mind? And how does Lucinda know so much about it? Lucinda's tales get taller by the day and Tom begins to wonder if in fact she is entirely mad or is what she is saying true? Is her elixir really a cure-all for everything? Even that finality of death?

...You are never quite sure if what Lucinda is saying is entirely true or just the rantings of a mad old woman and by the end of the book, you think it may have been true after all, but it is never really concrete.

...The dialogue is good, realistic and I enjoyed the fact that this was a book with a married couple who were very much in love and not out seeking affairs left, right and centre, it was a refreshing change!

Reviewed by Annette Gisby, author of Silent Screams and Drowning Rapunzel.
 



 

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