Morris Collins

The Alchemist’s Daughter

When I dated the alchemist’s daughter we lived in a stone cottage by the sea. At dawn white crabs the size of basketballs scuttled down to the white shore. At dusk we gutted fish under palm fronds, swam in the phosphorescent bay. We shuttered all the windows and, like any perfect love, she wanted to be a stone polished under my hands. Everything, she said, given enough friction, can be smoothed, can be other than it was.

When I dated the alchemist’s daughter fires burned in the far hills and deer no bigger than dogs came out of the forest to die on the shore. She cut off their legs with her stone saw and fashioned wind chimes from their femurs. When the tides changed and the new wind whistled up the strand we could hear them clattering together outside the window.

When I dated the alchemist’s daughter I’d wake in the mornings with amethyst flaking from my lips, my tongue blued by tourmaline. I’d roll over to her and scrape skins of azure from her cheeks. She’d leave by day and bring back by dusk the dust of lightning. Then she’d fashion a powder of it and watch it burn. She said, Under enough heat, anything can be beautiful.

When I dated the alchemist’s daughter I used to swim in the bioluminescent bay. I’d come back inside still caked with salt and she’d lick it off me and paint my skin with the minerals on her tongue. Alexandrite, chrysoberyl, topaz. In the way of stones, their color changed under flame. The ionized heart, sulfur’s chemical flare, phosphorescence. Look to the sea, she said. The motion of the body brings light.

When I dated the alchemist’s daughter I learned that we find metal at our core. The body buffed down beyond its bones leaves purity. Blood to iron, iron to quicksilver, quicksilver to azoth. What we mix we know will change. You are the crucible, said the alchemist’s daughter, and I will be rendered.

When I dated the alchemist’s daughter she’d leave at dawn and then return with her bags filled by what she found: saltpeter, sea glass frozen in ice, the marrow from a bluebird’s beak. But the last time she didn’t come home for days, and when she did, her bags were empty and by the way she stood in our doorway, changing under my eyes, her shadow already uncertain which way to bend, I knew she would not stay.

So on our last night I came to bed and cracked a mercury thermometer over her belly and tried to smear my reflection into her skin, only to watch it break away, in the manner of everything else, into a thousand smaller possibilities. Outside, then, the turning world. Stars in ascent. Hoarfrost on the window. Methane bursts in the distant swamp. There was so much still too sharp to touch. Metal beads to metal on your belly. Take my numb hands to the cold neon of your heart. Wait. Array your compounds, find a match, strike anywhere. There must be one thing, my love, that a flame cannot distill.