(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alan Austen, a young man who is passionately in love with a young woman who is indifferent to him, comes to the establishment of a mysterious old man who deals in magic potions. Austen has been told that he can buy a potion that will make the object of his affections fall madly in love with him. The old man shows little interest in the financial profit to be gained from selling Alan a love potion. Instead, he devotes most of his sales talk to recommending a potion that he calls a spot remover or a life cleaner, a powerful poison that is undetectable in an autopsy. Without ever saying so directly, the old man is suggesting that the time will inevitably come when Alan will want to murder the woman whom he now loves so desperately.

The potent poison costs five thousand dollars for a single teaspoonful, and the love potion costs just one dollar. Alan cannot believe his good fortune. He seeks the old man’s assurance that the love potion will be effective. The old man ruefully assures him that it will make the woman fall so completely in love that she will cling to Alan and make him her sole interest in life.

After their marriage, the young woman will want to know everything that Alan is thinking, everything that he has done when he was away from her, and everything that he intends to do when he leaves again. She will demand all his attention. She will be insanely jealous. The reader gradually gets the picture of a suffocating relationship that...

(The entire section is 422 words.)