Silvia Hines worked as a freelance writer and editor for many years, publishing medical, health, and feature articles. She's concentrating now on developing her skills in writing literary short stories and personal essays, with special interest in depicting people with differing worldviews.
Aubrey and Louise have been impressively compatible throughout their thirty-year marriage, even sharing the same type of migraine, and rarely resorting to the hurtful words or stony silences their friends have had to endure from their mates. So when, in their fifteenth year of marriage, Louise’s creative nature started resonating with New Age philosophy and holistic health principles, they were able to laugh easily and make cocktail party fare of the disagreement. It seemed Louise wasn’t sensitive to Aubrey’s skepticism, and he liked to say that a measured amount of difference gave life to a marriage.
“I went to the Bronx High School of Science,” Aubrey announced one evening to a group sipping sherry and bourbon in a colleague’s home. “So I’m not likely to think I can create reality with my thoughts or resolve my trauma by meeting my past-life self as I’m about to be slaughtered by a mob in ancient Rome!”
He pronounced key words and phrases slowly and deliberately, a technique that elicited appreciative laughter from his audience, who were faculty members and graduate students from the university physics department. He’d developed his own improvised English accent and phrasing long after leaving the broad sidewalks of the Grand Concourse of his childhood, where he‘d been known as Artie, and where his slightly nasal, high-pitched voice was identical with that of the other Bronx boys.
Louise never appeared flustered or insulted when the conversation turned in this direction. She continued to smile, as befitted the wife of the department chair. She seemed to detach easily from unpleasant emotions whose expression could not be beneficial, a coping skill she had probably acquired while studying meditation at the Tibetan Buddhist center downtown or moving her personal life energy at a local tai chi class.
At home, Aubrey was a bit more direct. “How about we not get involved in this particular nonsense,” he’d said when Louise suggested they look into treating their headaches with the transfer of a specific type of energy called Reiki from practitioner to patient. He’d sighed and smiled, as though bargaining with a wayward child. “All I ask, my dear,” he’d concluded, “is that we remain rational together and that you retain proper respect for the scientific method.”
Although she continued to immerse herself in what spoke to her so fully, confident she had discovered her true self, Louise was careful not to become a caricature of a New Age woman. She didn’t wear peasant skirts, move ethereally, gaze blank-eyed, or converse in a free-associative way that left the listener feeling confused or even stranded. Such women had spirit guides who assisted them on their journey, or at least consulted with spirits through the bodies and voices of other New Age women and men, whom they referred to as their channels. She joined her husband in poking fun at these people.
When Louise started seeing the homeopathic physician, Aubrey was disdainful as would be expected, especially when she showed him her remedy. This one was not like the tiny, white, sweet-tasting pellets she’d taken when she had the flu, which at least looked like medicine, like regular pills put through some kind of chopping machine that rendered them small and spherical. This remedy was a clear liquid in a dropper bottle.
“There could well be nothing at all in this bottle,” Aubrey pronounced. “It could simply be water, laced with a bit of alcohol, added no doubt to make it seem as though there’s something in there to preserve!” He knew the theory behind homeopathy---the energetic content of the diluted remedy, working on the energy system of the body in some roundabout paradoxical way---and he was having none of it.
“Such an energy system has not even been proved to exist!” he exclaimed. “If anyone feels better when they take these so-called tonics---I won’t say snake oil, in fact snake oil was at least a physical substance---it is because of the power of suggestion, the placebo effect.”
A few months after beginning her homeopathic remedy, Louise was indeed feeling better, having fewer and less severe headaches, but Aubrey was improving as well. All the more evidence, Aubrey held, that Louise’s remission was due to the placebo effect. But he didn’t continue to berate her, seeming content for the moment to let her think whatever she wanted to think.
With their health partially restored, the couple decided it was an auspicious time to give a dinner party, something they hadn’t done in a while. They invited two couples, both from the college, as Aubrey preferred entertaining people who knew each other in order to avoid awkward silences owing to lack of common ground. Louise didn’t mind since she was fond of one of the guests they had invited, a down-to-earth woman with wispy steel-gray bangs named Cynthia, who had once, several years before, bravely challenged Aubrey when he was holding court against a new theory of history they’d all read about in the Sunday Times.
It was after the main course that the subject of health arose. Louise was back at the table after fetching the coffeemaker from the kitchen. Cynthia mentioned an article she’d read that reported an association between coffee drinking and Parkinson’s disease. It seemed people who drank coffee were less likely to be afflicted with Parkinson’s.
“Bad news for me,” Louise said, placing a selection of herbal teas in small colorful boxes at the center of the table. “I can’t drink coffee because of my migraine.” She looked down at her slender right hand as if to check for the start of a tremor.
“But you have migraine, too, Aubrey,” Cynthia said, turning to the host, who was by now pouring coffee from the sleek white percolator.
“I don’t believe that caffeine either causes or triggers migraine,” Aubrey said simply. “In my case, it relieves the headaches a bit.”
“Actually we’re both much better now…” Louise started, but she stopped when she noticed a funny, almost sly, look emerging on her husband’s face, his blue eyes twinkling. He was making gravelly sounds as though clearing his throat. Everyone looked his way.
“Speaking of our joint improvement, my dear,” he said, looking at Louise. “I don’t want to embarrass you, but having our good friends here seems like a proper setting for me to tell you this. You might become upset, but I feel I must take the chance.” He sounded like a boy caught in some minor mischief.
He turned toward the guests. “Not only am I feeling a great deal better without taking that homeopathic remedy---that placebopathic medication, I should say---that Louise has been taking, but I have performed, shall we say, my own little scientific trial. Although admittedly there are only two subjects, it does seem rather compelling in its own way.”
Louise smiled reassuringly at Cynthia, who looked uncomfortable, her coffee cup halted midway to her mouth.
“I have in the past two or three months emptied each homeopathic dropper bottle that you brought home and left on the counter”---he glanced at his wife---“and replaced whatever substance was or was not in it with plain water and a drop of alcohol, my best brandy, in fact.”
Cynthia gasped, and the other guests appeared either amused or confused. Louise continued to look poised.
“Louise got better---proof beyond question that homeopathy is a joke,” Aubrey informed the group. “I’m better too, yet I’ve been taking less of the drug we got from the doc, and about the only change I’ve made recently is that we’ve ordered bottled spring water, and now that it’s so hot, I’m drinking plenty of it.”
He walked the few steps to the kitchen and retrieved from the refrigerator a glass pitcher filled halfway with water. “Well, we all know water doesn’t cure migraine, so I guess we’ll have to say that the two of us have experienced a dual … a joint … a marital placebo effect!”
He looked at his wife. “I didn’t intend to tell you during a dinner party, my love, but I couldn’t think of any better way to get all this finally through your head---to make my case for a rational outlook---than to have our dear friends as witnesses!”
Cynthia patted Louise’s hand sympathetically. Louise was silent for a moment and then began to speak.
“Darling, I also had wondered when I should tell you some news, so I’m pleased that you’ve made it easy for me to decide on the best time.”
All eyes rested on Louise. “Aubrey, I knew you were doing that. I saw you from the dining alcove one day when you were in the kitchen. I wasn’t mad or anything. I knew you had my best interests in mind.”
“You saw? Why didn’t you tell me?” Aubrey asked, frowning.
“Well, I realized you wanted a scientific test of my migraine remedy, so I had an idea for a further investigation!”
“How? What further investigation?”
“Let me finish, dear. I went back to the doctor and got two new vials of the remedy. I kept one of them in my purse to use as my medication, and I added the other, twenty drops at a time, to that water jug you like to drink from.” She motioned with her hand toward the shining crystal pitcher that now sat at the center of the table. “The alcohol was so diluted by then that you couldn’t have noticed it.
“Then I filled an empty vial with water for you to spill out and refill, or whatever. I did this each time I got back from the doctor with more of my remedy.
“After the first time,” she went on, “I let the doctor in on what I was doing---after all, I was buying double remedies---and she told me you might need a different remedy from mine, depending on your exact symptoms and personality. So I thought, who better than I, married to you all these thirty years, to describe you to a T? After that, it was your own personal homeopathic medication that I added to your water pitcher, drop by drop. But really, dear, I’m glad you’re feeling better. And don’t we make a wonderful research team?”