“Rub vodka into your chest to break a fever”
Calypso Shakespeare’s green eyes gazed deep into his brown ones. “What is it you want from me?”
“I just need you to give me what you gave the others.”
“I can’t do that. Everyone is different.”
He looked at her with such despair. “My heart … it’s …”
Calypso reached out and touched his arm lightly. “It’s okay. You’ll get through this. I’ll make sure you do.”
She was still for a moment, her skin translucent in the dim light; those incredible cat eyes intense as she searched the ethers for the answer.
She turned to him. “Her name was Mary.” A statement more than a question.
His eyes nearly fell out of his head. “Yes … Mary.”
“Bloody Mary! How dare she treat you like that!” She sprang to life and began to mix: vodka, tomato juice, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. She grabbed a lemon, deftly sliced it in half and gave it a quick squeeze. Her hand slipped into a jar and returned with a pinch of something that smelt of August rain. Her lips moved slightly, an incantation, as she sprinkled it into the glass.
He watched her, mesmerized. She was tall, with endless creamy limbs, her hair a tumble of deep red waves. Dressed in jeans and a simple white T-shirt, she was without a doubt the most stunning woman he’d ever laid eyes on. He’d heard of her for years – who hadn’t in London? – but seeing her in the flesh was something else. She turned and smiled, the type of smile that launched ships.
“This should do the trick.” A quick stir, and a wink as she slid it toward him. “Drink it in five mouthfuls – no more, no less.”
He did as he was told and placed the glass back down, gently, warily. It tasted like summer, and it wasn’t until that moment that he realized everything had tasted like winter for way too long. He licked his lips; it was delicious. Comforting even. And then he looked frightened. His hand flew to his chest.
“You’re okay,” Calypso assured him.
He doubled over and groaned. His back heaved as he hyperventilated, and his breathing became more labored. A slow minute passed, and then a sudden howl, primal, excruciating, left his body. Others turned to watch now. A few first-timers looked concerned. The room was still with anticipation.
An absolute calm settled over him. His head moved slightly to one side, as though trying to recognize something new. Finally he stood, victorious – smiling for the first time in months.
“I feel it! It’s gone,” he declared.
The bar erupted into loud cheers. This behavior, odd though it was, was common in Calypso’s enchanted watering hole. Complete strangers made their way over to congratulate him. Their normal reserve didn’t exist in the cavernous room. They’d all seen the sign on the door that said, Anyone who says alcohol never solves anything has never been here before.
The man reached across the bar, grabbed Calypso’s hand and gave it a kiss. “You’re incredible! Thank you.”
“You needed to release the hurt. You can move on now. Mary didn’t deserve a good guy like you. And by the way, you’ll meet a lovely woman in about three months, through work. Keep an eye out for Samantha.”
Calypso watched until the man disappeared out the door, satisfied that she’d once again helped someone with one of her magical drinks. She glanced around her bar. It was a tiny cavern of a room in the basement of her parents’ pub, the King and Mistress. Calypso and her younger sister, Nell, had been raised in the King and Mistress, with its hodgepodge of rooms and corridors, its rota of regulars, four hundred years of history, and a handful of ghosts. Calypso had always mixed her magical potions behind the bar – even when she was too young to legally do so – but two years ago she had renovated an old cellar and Calypso’s Cauldron was born. The room had low ceilings and was dominated by a large, ornate bar. The oak-lined walls and stone floor kept the Cauldron cool in summer, while the open fireplace warmed it in winter. There were two long, rustic tables surrounded by stools and lit with candles and by the fireplace were a couple of comfortable empire armchairs paired with genuine Victorian footstools. It was welcoming, magical and completely unique – rather like the woman who ran it.
“Ah, Calypso girl, you helped that lad. You always know what the poor sods need.”
Calypso turned to Harry, one of her regulars. “I know what you need, Harry. Sleep. Go home, go on.”
“I’d rather sit here and watch you mix those magical brews of yours.”
Calypso unscrewed the lid of a tin and measured out some leaves. She tossed them into a teapot and steeped them in hot water. Then she placed the pot and a mug in front of Harry. “This’ll help you sleep.”
“Not one of those weird recipes, is it?”
“Plain old chamomile. On the house,” Calypso said.
“Good. Don’t want to wake up in Highgate Cemetery.”
“Most people in Highgate don’t wake up, Harry.”
“Busy night tonight.”
“Always is after I’ve been away.”
“Ah yes, the wandering Calypso. Where were you this time?”
Calypso poured herself a glass of water collected under a full moon and leant on the bar. Her face lit up as it always did when she spoke of her travels. A wanderer by nature, she was rarely in one spot for long. It’s why running her own bar suited her: she came and went as she pleased, and her patrons understood that. “Tallinn for a few days … then I stopped and saw an old boyfriend in Amsterdam.”
“How old?” Harry asked with a wink.
Calypso laughed. “Not as old as you – or as handsome.”
An attractive brunette approached the bar and nervously cleared her throat before speaking. “Excuse me, I heard you … help people.”
Calypso smiled; it was the same smile that had comforted countless patrons. “I do. Take a seat.”
The woman sat and stared anxiously at the gorgeous redhead whose remedies and psychic predictions were so famous. Calypso grabbed a cocktail glass. She scanned the woman for a moment and then snapped her fingers.
“When was the last time you treated yourself? You can only look after others if you first look after yourself. You need a chocolate cocktail!”
The woman realized that’s exactly what she needed.
Calypso continued speaking while she mixed. Her eyes glazed slightly as the veil lifted. “You know, you’re much smarter than you give yourself credit for.” A teaspoon of grated dark chocolate from Michel Chaudun’s in Paris. Some Chartreuse and port. “You lack confidence – stems from your childhood. Your mother never believed women could amount to much. Poor thing.”
Calypso cracked an egg, separated and discarded the yolk, and then strained all the ingredients. Next, from a vial the color of the sky, she added two drops, ever so gently. She placed the glass in front of the woman and looked her straight in the eye. “You are going to pass this exam,” she said. “And you will be an excellent doctor. Sip it slowly.”
The woman placed the drink to her lips. “It’s delicious. It’s like I know it from somewhere.”
“You do know it,” Calypso insisted. “Remember that during the exam. You do know it.”
“Thank you,” said the woman. “You have an amazing gift.”
Calypso nodded. She appreciated and acknowledged her gift. It was rude not to. “Yours is similar. We’re both here to heal.”
“Bloody hell, this box is heavy. Outta my way!” Megan Walker pushed through the crowd and plunked a crate of vodka on the bar.
“I said I’d help you with those,” Calypso chided.
“Yeah, well, you’re needed here so it’s my job to lug this shit around” Megan jumped up onto the bar and swung her legs over.
“What are you? A child?” Calypso shook her head. “There’s a gate there!”
“But then no one gets to see my knickers,” Megan teased.
“Thank goddess you’re wearing jeans.” Calypso laughed.
Calypso and Megan had been best friends since school; the two class misfits who at first were drawn to each other out of necessity, but soon realized they had all the ingredients for a strong and life-long bond.
Megan was as tough as nails – on the outside. She had short, spiky hair that changed color regularly; today it was bright blue. Her nose was pierced, as were her nipples and belly button. She was quite striking, with her big blue eyes and full lips, but most guys didn’t see past her boyish demeanor and numerous tattoos. Inside, she had a heart of gold and was a loyal and loving friend. Her mother had died when she was seven, so her father raised her and her four older brothers alone. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with a daughter, and often turned to Calypso’s mother Batty for help. The rest of the time, he treated Megan like another son. As a result, Megan was a loud, tough tomboy, who preferred jeans and boots to dresses, and watched football rather than chick flicks.
Calypso glanced at her watch. “Don’t you have a gig tonight?”
“Yep, but it’s at the White Horse in Archway, so won’t take long to get there.”
“You go. I can clean up.”
“Megan, leave! Go and prepare to be pelted with tomatoes or heckled or whatever.”
Calypso caught Megan’s eye and they cracked up. Megan was a struggling stand-up comedian, which she joked was the same as embracing failure and poverty for life. Calypso assured her friend that she would make it one day, but in the meantime, Megan had to face a lot of heckling and taunts. Sometimes it bothered her, but mostly she took it on the chin and gave as good as she got.
“Hey, did you hear about the two nuns who were driving through Transylvania?” Megan asked in a perfect Irish accent.
“Okay, give it to me,” said Calypso.
“Suddenly Dracula jumped onto the bonnet of the car and bared his fangs. The first nun turned to other nun and said, ‘Quick, show him your cross.’ So the other nun rolled down the window and yelled, ‘Get off the fucking bonnet, you blood-sucking bastard!’”
Calypso burst into peals of laughter. “That’s a nine. Best one in a while.”
“Good. I’ll tell it tonight and hopefully they’ll be placated and won’t aim for my head when they throw things. See you tomorrow.” Megan gave Calypso a quick hug and bolted for the door.
Calypso lifted the vodka off the bar and started packing the bottles away. She only ever mixed with Babička vodka, a wormwood liquor based on a Czech witches’ brew. Other vodka didn’t compare medicinally.
A voice boomed across the room. “Where’s my girl?”
Calypso grinned as her father strode into the bar and enveloped her in a hug. She was twenty-nine years old, but it was still the safest place in the world to be. Alf Patterson was the size of a bear with a heart to match. What was left of his hair had a ginger tinge, and his laugh, which constantly bounced off the pub walls, could be heard three streets away. He ruffled his daughter’s hair. “How long are you in town for this time?”
Calypso shrugged. She never knew the answer to that.
Alf scanned the room. “They’re all glad you’re back. Anyone left to help?”
Calypso did a quick head count. The couple who’d come in a last ditch effort to save their marriage were kissing passionately in the corner thanks to marigold flowers muddled with lemon juice and sugar, topped with Boudier Saffron gin, Tanqueray gin, Liquore Strega and Licor 43, shaken then double strained. A woman who’d spent her whole life feeling like a clumsy wallflower was now dancing by the fire. A mix of champagne and clementine soaked in Cointreau and cinnamon did the trick. The two brothers who’d fought over a woman had called a truce and were laughing together. Yarrow tea to the rescue. Other people mingled, and chatted, and swapped stories about their personal potion.
“Yep, they’re all done.”
Alf reached up to a bell above the bar and gave it a loud clang. “My daughter is closing shop now. If you want more to drink, go into the King and Mistress. If not, bugger off.”
The crowd migrated contentedly toward the front of the pub. No one argued with Alf, because no matter what he said, he always said it with genuine warmth.
He turned to his daughter. “You too. Come and have a drink. Nell’s here.” They noticed Harry, who’d dozed off with his head on the bar. “Poor old sod. Had insomnia ever since his wife died … although obviously not tonight. What did you give him?”
“Chamomile and a friendly ear.”
Alf nodded. That was often all anyone needed. “I’ll deal with him while you lock up.”
Calypso wiped down the bar. She enjoyed closing time. She basked in the silence, and the satisfaction that she’d helped people. The space was hers and she was immensely proud of it. If she was honest with herself, and she usually was, she also liked closing time because she dragged it out as long as she wanted, anything to put off climbing the stairs to her rooms – alone. She gave a sigh. It was her choice to be alone now. Three years ago was a very different story. She’d been madly in love and never thought she’d be alone again. Foolish ignorance of youth! Since then, being alone was preferable to being in a bad relationship. Or worse, a brilliant relationship that ended badly.
She collected the empty glasses and stacked them in the dishwasher. Next, she gathered together the brews and herbs that she always locked in the safe – some things were simply too potent to be left out. She wandered around the room snuffing out the candles and lanterns. It was important to purify the space each day so she lit some sage and left it smoking in a saucer. Grabbing the keys, she wandered up the eleven stone steps that led to the main bar and locked the heavy wooden door behind her. The rest could wait until tomorrow. She didn’t want to be alone tonight. She wanted to see her family.
Out June 1