Non-Fiction - The AO Story Collective

The Love Potion

Renate Jakupca
You mention the juzu-plant, Uncle Paulie said. Oh, yes, everybody knows about the juzu-plant. It grows down in No Bottom Valley in the mystical area, sort of northwest of the ARK in Berea.
I hear tell it was once used by the Cleveland Indian's Native population as a medicinal herb. And some folks say that before Halloween, witches come from far and wide to pick the red berries for their various magic spells, but I don't believe this part. Because by the time the trolls and gnomes get done harvesting the crop you have to be a really beady-eyed witch to find what's been left behind. You can find that it grows high up on the cliffs above the Rocky River, and they say you must pick off one of its little red berries at midnight, under the full moon. Then, if you are a young man, and you are anxious for a girl to fall in love with you, all you have to do is to squeeze the juice of the juzu-berry into her coffee.

They say that after the girl has drunk the juzu-juice she begins to forget all sorts of things. She forgets that your forehead is rather low, and that your ears stick out, and that your mouth is too big. She even forgets having told you, the week before last, that she wouldn't marry you if you were the only man in the whole Western Reserve.

All she knows is that the man she gazes at, over her empty coffee cup, has grown remarkably handsome. You can see from this that the plant must be very potent in its effects. I mean, if you consider what some of the men in town look like.

One young man I knew, however, was not very enthusiastic about juzu-juice. In fact, he always said that before he climbed up the cliffs one night, to pick one of those red berries, he was more popular with the girls than he was afterwards. This young man said that his decline in favor with the girls of the neighborhood might perhaps be due to the fact that, shortly after he had picked the juzu-berry, he lost most of his front teeth.

This happened when the girl's father, who was an irascible sort of fellow, caught the young man in the act of squeezing juzu-juice into his daughter's cup.

And afterwards, while others talked of the magic properties of this love potion, the young man would listen in silence, and his lip would curl in a sneer over the place where his front teeth used to be.

"Yes, Boys," he would lisp at the end, "I suppose I must have picked that juzu-berry at the wrong time. Perhaps the moon wasn't full enough, or something. Or perhaps it was not just exactly midnight. I am only glad now that I didn't pick off two of those red berries while I was about it."

We all felt it was a sad thing what the juzu-plant had done to that young man. But with Dick, the new young policeman, it was different.

One night I was out shooting in the woods with a lamp fastened on my hat. You know that kind of shooting: in the glare of the lamp-light you can see only the eyes of the thing you are aiming at, and you get three months in jail if you are caught. They made it illegal to hunt by lamp-lights since the time a policeman got shot in the foot this way, when he was out tracking cattle rustling on the Olmstead Township border.

The judge in Berea, who did know the ways of the voters, found that the shooting was an accident. This verdict satisfied everybody except the policeman, whose foot was still bandaged when he came into court. But the men in the area, some of whom had been cattle rustlers themselves, knew better than the judge did as to how the policeman came to have a couple of buckshots in the soft part of his foot, and, accordingly, they made this new law. Therefore, I walked very quietly that night in the Woods and it wasn't because of that odd thing with the trolls either.

Frequently, I put out my light and stood very still amongst the trees, and waited long moments to make sure I was not being followed. Ordinarily, there would have been little to fear, but a couple of days before two policemen had been seen disappearing into the bush. By their looks, they seemed young policemen who were anxious for promotion and who didn't know that it is more important to a policeman’s career to have a drink with an honest farmer's homemade plum schnapps than to arrest him for hunting by lamp-light.

As I was saying, I was walking along, turning the light from side to side, when suddenly, about a hundred paces from me, in the full brightness of the lamp, I saw a pair of eyes. When I also saw, above the eyes, a policeman's shining badge, I suddenly remembered that a moonlight night, such as that was, it was not good for finding a deer or a stray cow.

So, I started home. I took the quickest way, too, which was over the side of the Valley - the steep side - and on my way down I lost my footing and slid straight down clutched at a variety of branches, tree-roots, stone ledges and tufts of grass. Later on, at the foot of the cliff, when I came to and was able to sit up, there was that policeman bending over me.

"Uncle Paulie," he said, "I was wondering if you would lend me your lamp."

I looked up. It was Dick, the young policeman who had been stationed for some time in Berea. I had met him on several occasions and had found him very likeable.

"You can have my lamp," I answered, "but you must be careful. It's worse for a policeman to get caught breaking the law than for an ordinary man." Dick shook his head. "No, I don't want to go shooting with the lamp," he said, "I want to....... and then he paused. He laughed nervously.
"It seems silly to say it, Uncle Paulie," he said, "but perhaps you'll understand. I have come to look for a juzu-plant. I need it for my studies. For my third-class sergeant's examination. And it will soon be midnight, and I can't find one of those plants anywhere."

I felt sorry for Dick. It struck me that he would never make a good policeman. If he couldn't find a juzu-plant, of which there were thousands in the woods at this time of the season, it would be much harder for him to find the track of a cattle rustler. So, I handed him my lamp and explained where he had to go and look. Dick thanked me and walked off.

About half an hour later he was back. He took a red berry out of his tunic pocket and showed it to me. For fear he should tell any more lies about needing that juzu-berry for his studies, I spoke first. "Barbara?" I asked. Dick nodded. He was very shy, though, and wouldn’t talk much at the start. But, I guessed long ago that Dick was not calling at Christian's farm house so often just to hear Christian relate the story of his life. Nevertheless, I mentioned Christian's life-story.
"Yes," Dick replied, "Barbara's father has got up to what he was like at the age of seven. It has taken him a month so far." "He must be glad to get you to listen," I said, "the only other man who listened for any length of time was a young soldier. But, he left after a fortnight. By that time Christian had reached to only a little beyond his fifth birthday."

"But, Barbara is wonderful, Uncle Paulie," Dick went on. "I have never spoken more than a dozen words to her. And, of course, it is ridiculous to expect her even to look at a policeman. But, to sit there, in the living room, with her father talking about all the things he could do before he was six and Barbara coming in now and again with more coffee - that is love, Uncle Paulie."
I agreed with him that it must be.

"I have worked it out," Dick explained, "that at the rate he is going now, Barbara's father will have come to the end of his life story in two years' time, and after that I won't have any excuse for going there. That worries me." I said that no doubt it was disconcerting.

"I have tried often to tell Barbara how much I think of her," Dick said, "but every time, as soon as I start, I get a foolish feeling. My uniform begins to look shabby. My boots seem to curl up at the toes. And my voice gets shaky, and all I can say to her is that I will come round again, soon, as I have simply got to hear the rest of her father's life-story."

"Then what is your idea with the juzu-juice?" I asked. "The juzu-juice," Dick said, wistfully, "might make her say something first."

We parted shortly afterwards. I took up my lamp and gun, and as I saw Dick's figure disappear among the trees I thought of what a good fellow he was - and very naive. Still, he was best off as a policeman. I reflected. For if he was a cattle rustler, it seemed to me that he would get arrested every time he tried to cross the border.

Next morning I rode over to Christian's farm to remind him about the fishing trip we had planned later on at Coe Lake. I stayed for only about an hour, I wasn't able to get in a word about the fishing trip, but Christian managed to tell me quite a lot about the things he did at the age of nine. When Barbara came in with the coffee I made a casual remark to her father about Dick.
"Oh, yes, he's an interesting young man," Christian said, "and very intelligent. It is a pleasure for me to relate to him the story of my life. He says the incidents I describe to him are not only thrilling, but very helpful. I can quite understand that. I wouldn't be surprised if he is made a sergeant one of these days. For these reasons I always dwell on the more helpful parts of my story."

I didn't take much notice of Christian's remarks, however. Instead, I looked carefully at Barbara when I mentioned Dick's name. She didn't give much away, but I am quick at these things, and I saw enough. The color that crept into her cheeks. The light that came in her eyes.

On my way back I encountered Barbara. She was standing under an apple tree. With her tanned arms and her sweet, quiet face and her full bosom, she was a very pretty picture. There was no doubt that Barbara would make a fine wife for any man. It wasn't hard to understand Dick's feelings about her. "Barbara, “I asked, "do you love him?" "I love him, Uncle Paulie," she answered. It was as simple as that.

Barbara guessed I meant Dick, without my having spoken his name. Accordingly, it was easy for me to acquaint Barbara with what had happened the night before, in the woods, in the moonlight. At least, I only told her the parts that mattered to her, not such as the way I fell down the cliff, clutching at branches and tree-roots. But, I am different. I told her that it was Dick who fell off the cliff. After all, it was Barbara's and Dick's love affair, and I didn't want to bring myself into it too much.

"Now you'll know what to do, Barbara," I said. "Put your coffee on the table within easy reach of Dick. Then give him what you think is long enough to squeeze the juzu-juice into your cup."
"Perhaps it would be even better," Barbara said, "if I watch through a crack in the door."
I patted her head approvingly. "After that you come into the living room and drink your coffee," I said. "Yes, Uncle Paulie," she answered simply. "And when you have drunk the coffee," I concluded, "you'll know what to do next. Only don't go too far." It was pleasant to see the warm blush mount to her face. As I rode off I said to myself that Dick was a lucky fellow.

There isn't much more to tell about Barbara and Dick.

When I saw Dick some time afterwards, he was very elated, as I had expected he would be.
"So, the juzu-plant worked?" I inquired. "It was wonderful, Uncle Paulie," Dick answered, "and the funny part of it was that Barbara's father was not there, either, when I put the juzu-juice into her coffee. Barbara had brought him a message, just before then, that he was wanted in the corn fields."

"And was the juzu-juice all they claim it is?" I asked. "You'd be surprised how quickly it acted," he said. "Barbara just took one sip at the coffee and then jumped straight on to my lap." But then Dick winked in a way that made me believe that he was not so very simple, after all. "I was pretty certain that the juzu-juice would work, Uncle Paulie," he said, "after Barbara's father told me that you had been there that very morning."