Sprong and Brackett was distinguishable from other shops by the broomsticks, pointed hats and mountain of strange bric-a-brac in its bowed windows. Candles, crystals, and incense sticks rubbed shoulders with figurines of nature spirits, oracle cards and pendants of all shapes and sizes. Marcy pushed the door open and a bell rang. No one was around. She went through to the back and saw a small glass phial on a table. She put it in a pocket and left an envelope in its place. Then she hurriedly exited the shop.
Back at work, Marcy went to the kitchen where several chefs were bustling around and where Fred, the electrician, was tinkering with a fan.
“I don’t like the look of these bearings, they could go any day.”
Marcy laughed, taking in Fred’s good looks and muscular physique. “You always say that, Fred. They’re still working. Just learn to relax.” She put the phial on the side and sat down to rest her feet for a minute, inhaling the scent of frying garlic. Her mind went back to her previous job, working in a call centre. How she’d hated the job, how rude the customers were and how her superior, Hilda’s, body odour made her feel sick. Then, by a stroke of luck, a friend had recommended her to Reubens, one of the most exclusive eating houses in the country. Marcy had met Billy, the owner of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, and he’d taken a shine to her.
“Is everything all right?” Marcy asked a diner.
“I don’t believe this steak is from a zebra,” said a large woman with a round, flushed face. “Tastes more like hippopotamus to me.”
There was always one, Marcy thought. “I can assure you it is, Madam, the manager shot it himself. It was flown back from Nigeria the next day. If you like, he’ll show you photographs of the kill.”
The woman seemed to lose interest, “No, that’s all right, the two can taste similar.” She filled her cavernous mouth with a large lump of meat, topped with mashed potato and gravy.
Reubens had been a revelation to Marcy. Reservations had to be made months, even years, in advance. The restaurant boasted an A-Z menu, from aardvark to zebu, and, of course, astronomical prices. She’d wondered why the restaurant had been so popular, even amongst the not-so-rich who saved for months for a meal there. Then, after she’d been waiting on tables for three months, Billy had called her into his office and told her – under oath – the secret. Every meal had a few drops of a love potion added to it. Shortly afterwards, she was put on the rota to collect the daily potion supply from a nearby witchcraft shop, Sprong and Brackett. In case of problems, a few days’ worth of potion was kept in a safe.
“Marcy, do you have a moment please.” It was Billy Reuben. He looked worried.
She followed him to his office, where a tall man with thinning silver hair, black-framed glasses and a long, pointed nose sat with a pile of ledgers.
“This is Mr. Galton.”
Galton gave a cursory nod.
“Look, Marcy, I’m sorry to have to ask this,” Billy continued, “but, well, you weren’t employed here on account of your brains.” He nodded towards her not-inconsiderable chest. “To be honest, we’re in the shit. Yes, I know we charge an arm and a leg but all these flights from Africa and the jungles of South Asia don’t come cheap, and we’re three months behind with the rent.”
Billy continued, “Well, Mr. Galton has kindly agreed to give us another month to bring the account up to date if you would, well, er, not to beat around the bush, er … spend the night with him.”
Marcy felt her face flush. Well, she knew she was ‘eye-candy’ but, even so! She pulled a face. “I don’t know.”
Just then, the door burst open and Fred, the electrician, came in, singing and dancing, his face red and his eyes shining. “Ooh, I feel love, I feel love.” He gyrated his hips, then made a bee line for Galton, who had risen to his feet, astonished. Fred hugged him and kissed him full on the lips. Fred looked at Marcy and laughed, “I don’t know what happened, I took a little swig from that bottle you left on the side – it smelled so nice, and it tasted so good I just had to drink it all. Now I just love everyone!”
Marcy cringed at her forgetfulness.
Galton eyed Fred up and down. “Actually, I swing both ways. This chap’ll do.”
They left hand-in-hand as Billy smiled and poured himself and Marcy a glass of extremely expensive champagne.
Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth
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