Fiction: Alchemy by Mattias Monde
by Mattias Monde
John Rylands Library, Manchester, England
The corner oak table tucked away to one side of the large Neo-Gothic reading room suited my purpose. While others may prefer bright white sunlight flowing over their research, I prefer the ambient glow found spilling through the small stained glass windows of the cozy side nooks lining the ambulatory of this library-cum-chapel of knowledge. On my way inside two wanton rooks perched high up the sanguine stone battlements admonished me in their own loud, seemingly cruel, manner.
I had been plodding for hours through an obscure fifteenth century heretical tome by Pietro Pomponazzi arguing the natural causes behind miracles when my concentration was interrupted ever so slightly by a woman taking a seat at an adjacent table. Nothing about her appearance set her apart; nothing that is except an odd, wanton gaze seemingly out of place in front of the
august, leather-bound volumes lining the richly polished shelving surrounding us; a gaze firmly locked on the ancient oversize book cradled gently in her arms.
As my eyes drifted back to Pomponazzi’s argument they discerned something truly astonishing. The woman slowly opened her volume’s leather binding, thumbed a few pages, gently raised it to her face, and licked the page! Not a quick taste either, but a saliva-filled noisy slurp! As I watched she softly ran her tongue over her lips, savoring the moment, before raising the ancient book again and tasting the opposing page. Her face seemed to smolder in the golden light, emanating a serenity belied by her wild green eyes and gentle curve of her mouth.
At this point, anxious to save the venerable tome from further depredation, but not exactly confident how to go about it, I stood up and said, “Pardon me, but why are you licking that book?” Upon hearing my voice her wild look departed, replaced by one bordering on annoyance, as if she had just spotted me. It seemed like five minutes passed before she whispered; “It’s my hobby.”
“Your hobby? Your hobby is damaging ancient books?” I asked incredulously.
“Please keep your voice down,” she implored, after which her face became calm, almost serene. “Yes, but a hobby I take very seriously. The only works I taste are ancient alchemical texts, those fraught with possibilities hidden within their illustrated pages. Tasting the images transfers their magic to my person, enabling me to continue their line of inquiry in a more potent and direct way than is possible through mere observation.”
It took all my self-control to keep from laughing. Instead I asked, “What happens if you are caught?”
She gathered herself, gave me an indignant look, and replied: “I spít it out, of course.”
About the author
Mattias Monde attended and/or taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northeastern University, and the University of Kentucky, attaining degrees in Anthropology and English. His writing has appeared in Pavement Saw, Poetry Motel, Unirod, Limestone, and Chance, among others. After traveling for the past five years through Africa, Asia, and Europe he may be found in Bangkok, Thailand.
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