The store had been on Main Street for as long as anyone could remember. Signs proclaiming “Love Potions for Sale” and “Greatest Wishes Fulfilled” always got a chuckle from passers-by, but nobody ever admitted to actually going inside. Still, in good economies or bad, it has remained open for business.
A tiny bell jingled cheerily as the door swung open. A girl wearing a nose ring and too much eyeliner sat on a stool behind the counter, chewing gum and leafing through a well-worn chemistry textbook. She stared at the newcomer with the kind of sarcastic glare only teenagers know how to produce.
She put a finger up to silence him. She slid off her stool and came around the counter to get a better look at him.
His tweed jacket was a little bit too small for him, and his shaggy hair was in desperate need of a trim. He self-consciously tried to smooth it down with his free hand.
The smell of artificial strawberries and bananas wafted towards his nose. She was blowing a bubble with her gum, almost the size of her own face, but her gaze never wavered from his.
When it popped, she stuffed the gum back into her mouth and yelled, “Grandma! It’s for you.”
He frowned. “I’m just–”
“Don’t tell me,” she interrupted. “Tell her.” She gestured with her thumb to an old woman entering from the back of the shop. “She’ll be able to help you, guaranteed.” She grabbed her book and walked towards the front door. She opened it, paused, and turned back to face him. “I suppose I don’t have to warn you to be careful what you wish for?”
The bell jingled again as she shut the door behind her.
Confused, the man turned back towards the counter. The old woman was now sitting on the stool her granddaughter had previously occupied. She was knitting something — a scarf or a sweater, perhaps — and she had laid it out on the counter to check her work. The design was intricate, and the detail mesmerizing.
“May I help you?” she asked.
He cleared his throat and put his briefcase on the counter. “Ma’am, I’m here from the Bureau of Buildings. The new City Ordinance 278.23, also known as ‘Beautification of Main Street,’ states that every business that has a storefront must have…” his voice trailed off as he looked back at the knitting. Did one of the designs just move?
The woman reached across the counter to gently touch his hand. Her skin felt warm and dry. “You didn’t really come in here for that, did you?” He knew she was staring intently at him, but he avoided making eye contact.
“I can assure you, ma’am, I did.” He cleared his throat again and tried to pull his hand away to open his briefcase.
Her grip tightened. “Oh no,” she said. “You can’t lie to me.” She reached up and put her other hand on his cheek. “Look at me, Walter.”
As she spoke his name, he raised his eyes in surprise. As their eyes locked, his mind was flooded with memories and feelings, dreams and fantasies. Carol. All he could think about these days was Carol, even though he had only met her a few weeks ago. Even though she didn’t know that he existed. Image after image of her played through his mind like a silent film: there she was in the park, now at her desk, now walking her dog. Her smile melted his heart. He would do anything to get her to love him.
She released his wrist, and the images faded away. He looked again at the old woman, but now there was nothing more than a wrinkled face staring back at him. “Poor boy,” she murmured. “You’re not her type, you know.”
He fiddled with the lock on his briefcase. What had he come into the shop for, anyway?
“I can help you, though.” She turned away from him and began to root through drawers behind the counter. “I have just the thing.”
She was all business now, bustling about the shop and humming a gypsy tune. “Here we go, dear.” She placed a bottle of blue liquid on the counter in front of him.
The sunlight from the outside shone through the glass bottle and cast a small rectangle of blue onto the old woman’s knitting. The designs on the yarnwork seemed to shift in response. He leaned in to take a better look.
The old lady quickly gathered up her project and set it under the counter. She touched the back of his hand again. “Tell me, Walter, do you like your life? Or do you think you could stand a change?”
His life? What a joke. Nobody would like it. He was a lonely bureaucrat with no family and very few friends. Thoughts of Carol flitted through his mind again. “I could use a change,” he admitted quietly.
“Here’s the deal, Walter. What’s in this bottle is guaranteed to transform you into the kind of person who Carol can be with. I give you this — I give you true love — and you forget about silly things like ordinances and the Bureau of Buildings. Sound good?”
Walter looked at the woman thoughtfully. Her wrinkled face belied years of laughter and happiness. Maybe when I’m old, my wrinkles will be like that, he thought. Maybe. I could walk away from this dead end life and start again. Maybe that’s what she’s offering me.
His hand wavered above the bottle. Or maybe this is all a crock. He sighed. The sunlight glinted off the glass neck, making it look like the bottle was winking at him. But if it’s nothing, I could come back tomorrow with a couple of cops and shut the place down. “What have I got to lose?” he asked. With that, he opened the bottle and poured its contents down his throat.
No sooner had the sweet licorice-ginger taste of the liquid touched his tongue than he felt a change coming over him. Things in his body were shifting; his ill-fitting clothes felt looser, except around the hips. His fingers became more slender. His hair was still shaggy, but slightly longer. But his legs — there was something incredibly different about his legs. Horrified, he reached down to his crotch and felt a distinct absence of what made him male. Instead, he found–
“I’m a woman?!” Walter cried accusingly.
But the old woman was nowhere to be found.
The store had been on Main Street for as long as anyone could remember. Nobody ever admits to going inside, but somehow, even in this economy, it remains open for business.