The bottle was small and cobalt blue. I saw it displayed in the back of a brightly painted wagon belonging to the Golden Dragon Medicine Company. The other bottles on display proclaimed themselves to be snake oils, bitters, patent medicines, and miracle elixirs, but the little blue bottle had no label at all. No name, no promise, no price.
“What does that one do?” I asked the salesman.
He smiled at me and at the crowd. He was missing a tooth, but it was still a selling smile. “That is the finest of my wares. The very best I have to offer. It will grant you a long and healthy life. I stake my life and honor on it.”
The crowd gave an appreciative murmur.
“That’s a lot to promise,” I said.
“You haven’t heard the half of it, little lady,” he said. “If you buy two bottles, you’ll surely acquire all that your heart desires.”
“How much?” someone called from the crowd.
The salesman named his price, and the crowd murmured its disbelief. It was an outrageous price for such a tiny bottle. But was it such an outrageous price for one’s heart’s desires.
That morning, I had sold my father’s team and carriage. He didn’t need them anymore, and my mother and I needed other things more. My purse was full, and I felt the weight keenly as I looked at the bottles. The salesman’s assistant had, by that time, produced a second blue bottle identical to the first: petite and as alluring as the sea.
I was seventeen then. In the eighty-two years since that day, I have never broken a bone, never suffered a trauma, I’ve rarely been ill with more than a simple cold, and I married the handsomest boy in town.
I asked him why he wanted me when there were prettier girls to choose from. He said that even if I didn’t agree that I was the prettiest girl around, I couldn’t deny that I was the most sensible one by far. Well, I didn’t deny it. I loved him, and I loved that he loved me, so I saw no use in arguing.
As the years rolled on, we had seven children, and eighteen grandchildren, and there are twenty-three great-grandchildren so far, with more to come. I have laughed and loved, and cherished and been cherished for all my life long, have I not?
My husband departed some days ago, and presently I will join him. The flesh does grow weary, and I will not wake in this body again. I can feel the truth of that. Maybe you can, too.
I have no regrets with this life I have lived, but sometimes I wonder…
Even now, I wonder, how would things have changed if I’d bought the cobalt bottles.