In the airport lost and found,

a janitor discovered a small vial,

tightly corked, with a label 

handwritten in red ink:


to remove a curse

to reverse a course

to restore a chance


She thought of her constant debt

and deprivation. Long night hours

cleaning floors. Her headaches

etching a trough in her brain for years.

And a man she knew when the band

played Harvest Moon; the slippery

dress she wore, how he twirled her.


Turning the vial in her stiff fingers,

another label:


Take three drops on the third hour

of the third day of the third month.

(Today was March 3!  Soon,

it would be 3 a.m.)

Shake well.  Warning: do not use if--  


Here, the script was muddled

in a red stain, like wine or beets

or blood.  The barrier of if--

unknown, inevitable.



First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine