Fredric Mitchem – THE LOVE SHOP

I am Edgar Fish.
    
As the summer twilight cast a purple glow over the city, I pulled up to the Love Shop, my supplier for Sangre de Drago. Entering through the red door, I heard playing from a sound system some bells and chanting. There were all manner of the usual herbs, roots, candles, incense, oils and colognes. A collection of dolls – fertility dolls, devotional dolls, vampire dolls and the like – lined the shelves. As well, there were racks of pornographic magazines and comics. The air was heavy with incense. I approached Mister Ulibarri at the back of the shop. He was a short, wispy-haired man with a skull-like coffee-colored face wearing a tropical-patterned short-sleeved shirt. Behind him on some shelves were the familiar jars and bottles of colored liquid – various ‘potions’ and liquors.

Sangre de Drago is not the common astringent sap of the Amazon, but a bitter elixir made of wormwood and more potent ingredients. A token of its abuse, my shaving mirror that morning had revealed the usual rather sallow complexion, the skin and bone having eroded into a less than respectable mask, the teeth betraying extensive dental salvage work. The mask of addiction…
    
I said: “Hello, Mister Ulibarri.”    
“Mister Ulibarri has taken ill. I am Raoul, his brother.

The resemblance was uncanny.
    
“Twins?”
    
“You could say so,” he said in a bored voice.
    
“I’d like a bottle of Sangre de Drago.”
    
“We have no Sangre.” His accent was Argentinean or thereabouts, ala his brother.
    
“Oh, you’re out?”
    
He looked at me dully. “We sell no Sangre, Senor.”
    
What? I’d always procured it here. “But that red liquid up there. That looks like it.”
    
He half-turned around. Turning back, he said: “It is only colored water, Senor.” And he waggled his tongue slightly.
    
“Eh, what is it for?” What was this? Some kind of a joke?
    
“It is for those who believe.”
    
For a moment I felt disoriented, as if my brain were dislodging from its moorings. “But I’ve always bought it here. Have you discontinued it?”
    
“It is only colored water, Senor. All but the yellow one. That is the piss of the goat.”
    
The incense overpowered my olfactory senses. I felt as if perhaps a headache were coming on. Suddenly feeling on the spot – as if something was ‘expected’ of me – I went to the magazine rack and randomly picked out one of the pornographic publications. “Here,” I said, “I’ll take this.”
    
Silently, he put it in a brown bag.
    
Now I sensed a musty smell mixed with cigar smoke through the incense. I felt a hint of queasiness.  “Eh, you wouldn’t know where I could find some Sangre de Drago?”
    
“Solamente wate coloreado, Senor. Solamente agua coloreada.Only colored water, Senor. Only colored water…
    
His resemblance to his…brother…was indeed uncanny. I almost felt a sense of déjà vu.
    
I now began to feel as if I were being deceived. What was the meaning of this? I can tell you that it was my addiction — yes my addiction speaking. I had to have my precious elixir. I said: “May I look at it. That red one?”
    
He leaned closer over the glass counter. His tongue waggled obscenely. In a near whisper he said: “It is not for you, Senor.”
    
I felt as though I were being patronized, treated like a child. “I must taste that liquid! I’ll not take my business here anymore if I don’t. I can have your license taken away.” I made to reach in my coat, as if for a badge or a gun.
    
Moving back from the counter like a snake recoiling, he acquiesced and turned and reached for the bottle of red liquid. “One sip, Senor.” And I thought I heard him murmur a little sing-song “la, la, la with his tongue.
    
I unscrewed the serpentine bottle and placed it to my lips. The rush was familiar, as was the bitter taste. “Colored water?” My eyes were slits as I peered at him. “I’ll take it.”
    
Did Mister Ulibarri look sheepish? “Twelve dollars and forty-two cents, Senor.” He showed some gold teeth sardonically in what supposedly was meant to be a smile, the skin of his skull-like face stretched back to its limit.
    
“Tell your brother,” (?),”I hope he feels well soon.” Leaving the porno rag on the counter, I made my way with my bottle of Sangre toward the door. I saw a man approaching me through the glass. He had a sallow complexion and rings under his eyes. He wore a light summer suit and matching tie. As I reached out to turn the knob he did likewise. – It was my reflection in the door’s full-length mirror.
    
I got back in the Mercury Vesper and, before starting the engine, knocked back a good third of the ‘Blood of the Dragon’. Soon, it having scuttled all sense — unaccountable for my reasons (or lack thereof) — I awoke to that presentiment in the Twilight of Delirium:
    
I stare down at my morning’s tea, the china cup Art Nouveau, with the ivory-colored handle a disrobed woman arching back to meet the lip.     

Reclining ocean maiden, dream of me when I sleep.     

The gun and badge under my coat rested – ready to serve justice should Mister Ulibarri decline to do me service again…
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Fredric Mitchem has had one fiction, “The Bureau of Phenomenology”, published in issue #73 of Danse Macabre. As well, he has had two fictions published in issue #47 of The Café Irreal. He resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his talking cat.
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