A Cure for Love by Robert P. Kaye

They didn’t know each other that well, Dalton reflected, considering whether to inquire into the origins of Tim’s smirk. Dalton had chosen to sit across from his younger colleague in the company cafeteria after noticing the rumpled lab coat and the cratered eyes broadcasting a crazy desperation. The conversation sputtered out after a few pleasantries, leaving Dalton to search his memory for a way to engage. He remembered that when they’d talked a few months back, Tim was in love. “So what happened with the fiancé?” Dalton said, realizing too late he’d framed the question in the past tense. “Alice was it?”

“Alicia.” Tim exhibited a semi-deranged grin. “Dumped me three months ago.”

Dalton suppressed a sigh. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

Tim rocked back and forth in unmistakable anticipation of the follow up question that Dalton couldn’t think of a way to avoid asking. “You’re not disappointed?”

“Hell no.” He flicked his hand as if shooing a fly off his cheeseburger. “Love is an obsolete construct.”

A stable marriage had made all the difference in Dalton’s life, and he clung to the unscientific notion that a perfect match existed for everyone. Hell, they both worked in research for the Erectile Dysfunction Division of a major pharmaceutical company where optimism constituted an occupational hazard. “Look, don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll find the right girl.”

“Photo #3” (image via Flickr user blaise_q)

“Irrelevant,” Tim extracted a bottle of pills from his lab coat and shook them like a witch doctor’s talisman. “Thanks to these babies.”

“Anti-depressants?”

“Are you kidding? You know those things don’t perform any better than the placebos.” Removing his oversized aviator glasses made his eyes appear even more protuberant. “Turns out love is a treatable disease.”

“That’s the spirit,” Dalton said. “Heartbreak is survivable. Give it time.”

“Time? Bullshit,” Tim said. “I’m talking about a prophylactic approach.” He rattled the bottle of pills again.

“That’s—” He almost said “insane.”

“I’ve already completed the field tests. Normally, if a girl lets me buy her a drink, I’m her butler and ATM machine until she cuts me loose. But a few of these little suckers and I’m over her like that.” He snapped his fingers so loudly the occupants of neighboring tables turned their heads. “Even if we have sex. And no, it’s not an anaphrodisiac—sexual function is completely unimpaired. Enhanced, even.”

“Tim, please,” Dalton glanced at their colleagues in their pristine lab coats eating normal lunches, engaged in normal conversations about stock prices, lab budgets and breakthroughs always another month or two out of reach.

“Oh come on, man, what’s your problem?” Tim said. “We make good livings providing boners to old farts.”

“Look. You can’t—.” Dalton looked at his plate. He’d opted for the pad thai, which reminded him of Thailand, which reminded him of his first love, Anita, who’d broken his heart when she left for Thailand. He remembered vividly that he felt as bad as Tim looked now. The scars faded, but never went away.

“Why the hell not?” Tim said. “So the fairer sex can section my self-esteem like a tissue sample? What the hell’s fair about that?”

“Look,” Dalton said. “Love is the apex of human existence. It makes life worth living. You can’t treat it like a medical condition.” He felt obligated to say this.

“Yeah. Love makes the world go ‘round, all I need is love, blah, b-blah, b-blah, bblah. Easy for you to say with the beautiful wife and the three perfect kids, but for us legions of the lonely, romance is about as much fun as passing gall stones.”

“Two kids,” Dalton said. “And perfection isn’t a realistic expectation.” In truth, Dalton’s marriage to Emma wasn’t holding up that well, perhaps because he couldn’t shake the feeling he’d blown his chance at true love. He and Anita had moved into a small apartment in their junior year of college, unable to keep their hands off each other, but in the end his death march toward med school would not reconcile with her need to travel. Even all these years later the anniversary of her departure shunted him into a mild depression.

“You know,” Dalton said, looking at the unappetizing noodles on his plate. “You may be onto something.”

* * *

The headline read “No Love Lost—Dating in the Post-Romantic Era.” Three years after product launch, Dalton sat in a coffee shop perusing a magazine cover featuring Tim posed in front of his Lamborghini and columned mansion. He looked pretty good—at least through a camera lens, from a distance.

The easy part had been leaving their research jobs and re-formulating AC4L—A Cure for Love—from available supplements and over-the-counter drugs to avoid federal regulation. The product went viral. An early testimonial told how a mother crushed the tablets into her daughter’s oatmeal, ending a romance with a tattooed biker. The letter was written by the daughter, with a thank you to the parents.

Now that AC4L had shelf space in every grocery store and pharmacy, they’d received thousands of similar stories. Tim rushed through the door, twenty minutes late. “Sorry,” he said, his dental veneers several shades too white.

“I’ve got time,” Dalton said.

“Yeah you do,” Tim said. “Sure you don’t want a big party? Because we can still pull that trigger.”

“This is fine.” They’d sold AC4L to Big Pharma, Tim staying on as the spokesman and Chief of Research. Dalton elected to cash out.

“Yeah. So. Last day,” Tim said. “Then on the road with the fam for, what? A year?”

Dalton noted the veiled revulsion. “That’s the plan.” His marriage had nearly dissolved with the demands of starting the company. He hardly knew his daughters anymore.

“Fantastic,” Tim said. “Genetic replication is the ultimate triumph of biology, etcetera.”

Tim deployed his Grand Inquisitioner’s grin and Dalton steeled himself. “Hey,” Tim said. “Here’s some irony. Didn’t that woman you almost married in college take off traveling?”

“Travel broadens the mind,” Dalton said, regretting having told him anything about his personal life. “You might try it.”

“Ooh! Zing.” Tim rocked back and forth in his chair. “I’ll miss this clever repartee. So, did you ever look her up?”

The PI Dalton hired a year before found Anita in a few days—not difficult, since she lived right in town after spending three years in the Peace Corps, marrying a lawyer and raising four children. She looked beautiful and happy in the dossier pictures and Dalton realized they’d probably passed each other in parks or sat in the same movie audience without sparks arcing between them. The bittersweet agony he’d experienced for all those years now felt as silly as the undying love his daughters once pledged for boy bands whose very mention they now abhorred. He wondered if he’d ever really known her.

He shredded the file; convinced more than ever that he’d made a mistake unleashing AC4L upon an unsuspecting world. “No,” he said. “I never looked her up.”

“OK.” Tim smiled. “If you say so.”

Tim must have had his own PI watching, but Dalton didn’t care anymore. “So, one last question.” Tim’s rocking clattered the empty coffee cups in their saucers. “Do you think—?”

Dalton searched his ex-partner’s laser-corrected eyes and thought he glimpsed panic, like a swimmer realizing he’s about to drown. “Yes?”

“Do you think we could come up with something for regret?” Tim said. The fear flickered out even as Dalton watched. “Murderers would love that.”

“God, look at the time,” Tim checked his watch and stood. ”I’m meeting with the Board at two o’clock and they’re expecting a presentation on a new product. Gotta go.”

“Wait,” Dalton said.

Tim turned around, eyebrows raised.

“How would we ever learn anything,” Dalton rose from his chair. “Without remembering the pain?”

“Yeah.” Tim squinted. “Pain.” He shook his head and smiled like Dalton might be crazy.

Dalton suspected they’d never been speaking the same language anyway. Perhaps it would be possible to outdistance the consequences of whatever Tim concocted. “Well,” Tim said, turning toward the door. “Guess I’ll see you.”

“See you,” Dalton said, knowing he never would.


Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared in over thirty publications including Monkeybicycle, Per Contra, Staccato Fiction, Green Mountains Review, Forge, The Delinquent, Snake Nation Review and others, with nominations for Pushcart, Best of the Web and Story South prizes. His novel, Taking Candy from the Devil, about coffee, Bigfoot and trebuchets, is published online. Links appear at www.RobertPKaye.com together with the Litwrack blog about the collision of words and technology. He writes, works and juggles in the Emerald City.