Author's Note: Another fractured fairy tale (remember that cartoon?), the moral of which says essentially that there is no such thing as a quick and easy cure -- especially to this terminal condition we call life.


Pills and Potions, or:

The Savior from Over the Sea

Long ago in a far distant land nestled on the coast of the great ocean lived a race of simple people. They were artists and crafters, writers and dreamers, and they lived together in a city made beautiful by their art. Much like the folk of our own land, the people in this distant city were not perfect. They had good days and they had bad days, but on the whole they were content.

And then one day a stranger came from over the sea. She was tall and pale and wore a long coat of sparkling white. She carried herself proudly, her clear gray eyes shining with a keen intellect. The people of the beautiful city immediately took her for a magician or sorceress for not only did she seem to possess great wisdom, but she also brought with her trunk after trunk of curious potions.

The stranger called a meeting of all the wisest folk of the beautiful city. She pulled out bottle after bottle, each shining a different color under the noonday sun. She told the people that she had come from a faraway land that was greatly advanced compared to their own. She had been sent by her own people to help the people of the beautiful city. The city leaders were naturally puzzled. Their lives were comfortable. Their city was attractive and well-maintained. By their reckoning, they didn't think that they needed any help.

“Oh, but you are wrong,” said the stranger. “My people have developed powerful magic that can drive away all of your suffering, sadness, and pain. Just one drink a day from one of these little potions and you can be free from all of your problems. No one will ever be unhappy again. ”

The people were eager to accept her offer, for who wouldn't want all of their cares and complaints erased so easily? So the stranger met with each of them, and if they said that they were sad, she gave them one sort of potion. And if they said they were anxious she gave them another. And for those who said that they didn't have any problems at all, she gave another potion still.

“But I don't really have a problem,” one lady protested. “I’m unhappy, but only because my husband died recently. That’s natural. Why should I take something like this when nothing is really wrong?”

“Just take it and see if it doesn't make you feel better,” said the stranger. “If you feel better after taking it, then you really did have a problem. You just didn't know.”

She told them to take just one sip a day, but if that didn't seem to be working, they were to return to her, and she would give them something stronger. They trusted her because she assured them that the potions always worked to take care of every problem. It was just a matter of finding the right potion for each complaint.

Weeks passed and the citizens of the beautiful city dutifully took their daily potions. And when something terrible happened in their lives that would ordinarily make them sad, they didn't cry because the potion was working. And when something happened that would ordinarily make them anxious, they didn't worry because the potion was doing its job. All of their cares and concerns were erased just as promised. While the potions didn't solve any of the problems themselves, the people found that they simply didn't care enough anymore to get upset.

As the weeks became months, things began to change in the beautiful city. The great structures of marble looked gray and dull because no one worried about cleaning them anymore. The painters and the artists and the sculptors stopped creating any new works because they no longer felt inspired. Once, the lush parks of the beautiful city were filled with young couples engaged in amorous pursuits. Now, husband and wife didn't even share the same bed because no one was interested in having sex anymore. No one was really happy, but not a single one of them was unhappy either. It was just as the stranger had promised.

And then one day, something snapped. Some shred of the former glory of the once-beautiful city rose up in the minds of its citizens. They dragged themselves out of their dull, shuffling complacency long enough to realize that they had become fat and flaccid, and all the joy had been drained from their lives. On that day, every citizen of the once-beautiful city took up his or her vial of potion and cast it into the sea.

The stranger railed and screamed at this, telling them what a mistake they were making. They were trading contentment for all of their old worries and cares. When people still refused to restart her regimen of potions, she began to threaten them. She was responsible for their well-being! If they wouldn’t listen to her good advice, then she would summon her own countrymen from across the sea, and they would descend upon the backward and ungrateful city, making certain that everyone took the potions for their own good.

The citizens refused to listen to her threats. Instead, moving as one, they seized her and tossed her into the sea after her precious potions. Then they walked back to their once-beautiful city. There, they picked up the pieces of lives that had never been perfect, but at least had possessed some measure of joy for every counted sorrow.

--M. Belanger