The Linctus, The Liniment and The Mixture

June 23, 2014

The bathroom in the rented house where I spent part of my childhood and early teens was on the north side of the house; freezing in winter and not much better in midsummer. It was a small room, but still contained a full length bath, a sink, and a toilet. Over the sink was a frosted glass window with a red tiled sill perhaps eighteen inches wide. On this shiny surface lived all of the family toothbrushes, my Father’s safety razor, a packet of Seven O’clock razor blades, and several mysterious dark glass bottles; never less than two; which held liquid prescriptions or remedies for whatever ailment my Father was enjoying at the time or in the recent past. They were dark brown or deepest blue, sometimes ribbed and oval in cross section. Most often sealed with a cork their labels gave little away, if they had a label. The Linctus, The Liniment and The Mixture were the three most frequent names worn by the liquids waiting there.  bottle

The Liniment was well known to me and my two Brothers. It stunk. My Father called it Horse Oil and claimed that although it had been originally developed for treating inflamed horse tendons it was perfectly good for humans. My poor Mother had to rub it into his shoulders and back and then he would sit with his back to an electric fire and smoke another Senior Service unfiltered cigarette.

It was an unlabeled bottle that intrigued me most. It was plain glass and lighter brown than the other bottles and contained three separate layers of different colored liquids. The lower layer was dark and took up about a third of the bottle. The middle layer was light tan and oily. The top layer was clear. I never dared to remove the cork and take a sniff.

My Father never told me what symptoms it was designed to alleviate. But I did see him shaking the bottle fiercely, presumably to mix the contents, before he would close the bathroom door and so prevent me from witnessing the dosing, which may have been internal or external.

In summer, when the sun would set in the North West and illuminate the back of our house and the frosted window of the bathroom, the low red rays shone through the brown glass of the bottle and reflected off the shimmering interface between two layers showing it as a mysterious silver surface. I thought of it as an ocean on a distant planet lit by a strange darkening sun.

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