BY ROGER LEY
Copyright is held by the author.
One of the things Mary liked best about the ancient Suffolk town of Halesworth was the “Thoroughfare” with its shops, cafes and the well-run library at one end. There was a solicitor’s practice, a health centre and even a dental surgery. Since she’d retired from the Royal Air Force and moved to a bungalow on the outskirts of town, she went there practically every day.
“The first in a new range of beauty products” read the sign in the Chemist. “Doctor Riley’s Natural, Luxury, Anti-ageing Bath and Hand soap.” Mary decided to give it a try, and over the next week, she was shocked to find that it really worked. Fine lines disappeared quite quickly from around her eyes, and by the time she’d finished the bar a couple of weeks later, she’d lost thirty years. The face that looked back at her from the bathroom mirror was that of a 25-year-old, so she went back to the Chemist’s to buy some more.
“I’m afraid we’re out of stock at the moment, madam. It’s a marketing trial, restricted to this area,” the assistant said. “Dr. Riley’s soap has been ever so popular.”
Over the next two weeks Mary’s skin began to return to its original middle-aged, state, but a month later, the soap was back in stock. When Mary arrived, she found there was a queue and a notice on the counter that read, “One bar per customer.” There were more women than men waiting in line but the soap was obviously of interest to both sexes. When Mary finally secured her prize, she took it straight back home and ran a bath.
The weeks passed, and as she visited the shops on the Thoroughfare, Mary began to notice that many of the townspeople were looking noticeably more youthful. When the new line, “Dr. Riley’s Fat Burner, Weight Loss Tablets” went on sale, the Chemist was practically overrun.
Summer came and people started wearing their shorts and tees. Mary smiled to herself, the shopping centre’s youthful looking population wouldn’t look out of place on a university campus.
In September, the next item in the range appeared, “Dr. Riley’s Repair, Protect and Regrow, Tooth Serum,” and soon after, “Dr. Riley’s Dermatological Hair Loss Shampoo.”
“Dr. Riley’s Circulation Booster, to control blood pressure, sugar levels and repair the blood vessels,” followed and then, most popular of all, “Dr. Riley’s Libido Enhancing Supplement for both Men and Women.”
By the time October came, everybody had a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eye, apart from the few diehards Mary saw going into the health centre. She noticed that the dental surgery had a “For Sale” sign outside.
It was towards the end of December that the behavioural problems began to manifest themselves. Mary noticed that people seemed to have developed very short fuses and lost their tempers at the slightest thing. She witnessed several fights on the Thoroughfare and heard some loud arguments in shops as she walked past. She had a flaming row herself, in the library of all places, over a book she’d reserved. There were numerous arrests, and on local television a police spokesperson blamed this unfortunate turn of events on the increased consumption of alcohol during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
But things were no better after the holidays, and at the end of January, the health centre management committee called in a team of government scientists to investigate. They quickly decided that the culprit was probably Dr. Riley’s fat burner tablets. Apparently, people were eating too much, and keeping their weight down by exceeding the recommended dose. The Dr. Riley company cancelled the marketing trial and withdrew the whole range pending further investigation.
Over the following weeks, Mary and the rest of the townsfolk began to return to their original appearances. There were those that had managed to stockpile a few weeks’ supply, but by the time February came, wrinkles were reappearing, peoples body weights were rising, and male pattern baldness was reasserting itself. Mary tried to avoid mirrors, convinced that she looked older than she had before she started using Dr. Riley’s preparations. There were community meetings at the Drill Hall, there were protests outside the Council Offices, the Chemist was broken into and the pharmacy ransacked, but it was all to no avail, Dr. Riley’s beauty products were no longer available.
Now, people moved slowly and quietly as they shopped on the Thoroughfare. The winter was hard and much was concealed under coats, hats and scarves, the atmosphere was a far cry from that of the carefree days of Summer.
The suicides began in March, but in April, fortunately, a new product became available at the Chemist, “Dr. Riley’s Anxiety, Depression and Sleep Disorder Remedy.” It proved very popular.