Her face will be all over the news: concealer hastily dabbed around black-hole eyes, caffeine patch glue curling leg- and arm-hairs like pill bugs, fingerprints scorched fuzzy-soft from years of volatile chemical reactions.
The reporters crowding her wildling lawn will say words like base metals. Sublimation, they will say. Universal solvent.
Inside her head the alchemist will try to remember the tune of her late mother’s lullaby. The memory easily recalled, yet hard to retain. She was humming, the headlines will say later. Perhaps, they’ll speculate, it was the music of the spheres, the cosmos whispering to her its long-held secrets through the thrum of event horizons, the stringed chorus of planetary rings. So surly! talk shows will discuss. And so young. To think she was the first one to discover the cure for all ills!
The alchemist will remember being called young at her mother’s funeral. Only thirteen, the relatives saying to one another, ignoring the alchemist in her itchy wool dress and pinching shoes. So young. The alchemist running her fingers over the dark-stained wood of the coffin, wondering what it would take to breathe life back inside it. Replace the residual reek of illness, the astringence of embalming fluids–a marriage of chemistry and magic.
She didn’t yet know the meaning of necromancy. Had not read about forbidden discipline, they don’t come back the same. Only remembered her mother’s favorite poet. How he said: unbeing dead isn’t being alive.
The alchemist will step back inside her house on wooden legs, liquid knees. She will close the door behind her, but the voices of reporters and camera crews will still slink through the cracks like toxic fumes and poison vapors.
“Well?” her girlfriend will ask from the living room. Expectant, excited. In her eyes, mockingbird shine. Her girlfriend, the first to witness the alchemist’s discovery early that morning. The one to phone the press, too, while the alchemist gazed wide-eyed at the immortal liquor she’d created.
The phone will ring, ring–keep ringing. Insurance companies and patent agents, idea and invention buyers. The alchemist will anticipate this, yet she will find herself unable to unplug the ancient landline. She will always pick up, longing for a familiar metronomic breath, her mother’s melodious voice on the other end of the line, through the other side of the veil.
She will listen to pompous-sounding people without hearing a word. Time drip-fed, distilled like liquid sulfur through her beakers and alembics; whirling fervent-fast like her most mercurial centrifuge.
“Well?” the alchemist’s girlfriend will ask a second time. Impatient, unimpressed.
She will say things like panacea. Resistant quicksilver, she will say. Dissolving substances without destroying their fundamental components.
“We could be rich,” the alchemist’s girlfriend will continue. “You could finally move out, start over. Your mother’s house has been dying for years. Moribund–you’d know the word if you read anything other than moldy old grimoires.”
The alchemist will look down at her scarred, scorched hands and wonder what it would take to transmogrify herself into an animal unable to process human speech; transmute her numbness, like lead into gold.
The precious metals produced in her quest for Alkahest, used for grocery shopping, house repairs. The rest, given away; newfound Alkahest recipe, soon to follow the same patentless path. She will try to say this, but the words will stopper her throat, a wax seal.
While her girlfriend keeps talking, the alchemist will replay the interview questions in her head. Delayed time-lapse, as heard through some viscid, treacly substance. Answers thought of, yet never uttered.
How does it feel to discover the universal solvent despite your upbringing?
No matter how much time passes, how many recipes and equations I concoct, will I always be, deep down where I draw my magic from, a child in mourning?
Do you think you’ve made your mother proud?
I can never know, can I? I have a girlfriend now, but would my mother have approved, or think me disgusting for it? Would she dislike my partner because she never listens to me, or because my partner is a woman?
Will you ever forgive yourself for discovering the cure to all ills one decade too late?
What if I told you I discovered Alkahest out of selfishness, fearing my own cells mutating, cancer passed down the generations, catching up to me at last? That I worry my deepest drive was not helping people like my mother, but my future self?
What would you say to your mother if she was here?
I miss you so much, sometimes it feels like I pulled the Alkahest from inside my own body, my quintessential tears.
The alchemist will remember the white hospital lights, white hospital sheets, white hospital smell. Antiseptic, the stench of disease lying dormouse-dormant underneath.
She will remember darkness. A dim-lit room, thunder rumbling outside the windows of her mother’s house, lightning taking out the power. The alchemist’s mother singing her toddler to sleep. Alkahest lullaby: the song to heal all fear.
The alchemist, waking up next to her girlfriend earlier that morning with the taste of her dream still in her mouth. Her mother’s lullaby possessing her tongue as she snapped on her protective gloves and goggles. As she got to work in her makeshift lab: elements and principles, planets and metals. The alchemist, singing the last missing ingredient into lachrymose existence.