Pb – Au


It begins with a bloody nose most times. Other times a nail will pop out, or maybe a tooth. Suddenly in agony, I will fall to the ground, sobbing as I pull free clumps of my hair like an irradiated cancer patient. My bones shriek and part, splintering into fragments that realign under the writhing mass of my flesh as it transforms itself, sloughing off in putrid gobs onto the tiled floor, or the grass of my front lawn, or the cushions of my friend’s couch.
As I am engulfed by my writhing anguish, I will recall that I fear death over all else. Whether by drowning in the abyss of a black sea, or in the throws of this new torment, the immutable end of nonexistence terrifies me. Still, some shred of my battered sanity will embrace this wretched rebirth. I am a rotted phoenix that will molt into a sodden pile of ash from which I may hope to be reforged.
In the end, even my own fear of suffering and finality will not prevent me from submitting to this fiery catharsis. Rending the very substance that is my body into its essential components whilst I am still alive seems a small price to pay, and one that I realize I would pay gladly, again and again, until I burst forth like a flower bud from the devastation of disaster.
Raw and bloody, hovering on that tantalizing edge of unconsciousness, I will retreat into my psyche as my body is distilled from the mucus of corruption into something immaculate. Confined to this final bastion, I will wonder what sort of fiendish craftsman could be capable of wringing me through various strainers and condensers, a modern Frankenstein or Jekyll flensing the substance of atoms from my being until it is purified.
It has been done before, this arcane science of turning trash into treasure or mutating lead into gold. The alchemist’s dream of transmutation was realized by the modern juggernaut of science. Through immense expenditure of energy, protons can be stripped from the stable structure of lead, leaving naught but gold in their wake. Even the Soviet physicists in their nuclear research bunkers by lake Baikal couldn’t have imagined this miracle when they inadvertently transformed the lead shielding of their experimental reactor into gold.
Turning atomic number eighty-two into atomic number seventy-nine cannot be done through chemical means. Physics holds the key to such marvels of transmutation, and it is through this metamorphosis that I will find myself reborn. Science demands that the end results of such a transmutation are not worth the requisite amount of energy that would be required to complete it. I have thought the same many a time, though perhaps some great thinker among mortals could conceive of a fair exchange, a product worth the cost.
While still riding out the storm of my metamorphosis, I will beseech those heroic architects of history for a solution to this nightmarish conundrum of cost versus benefit. Perhaps Daedalus could channel my essence through his labyrinth on Crete and collect the drippings from the other side, setting that sacred stew to boil in one of his contraptions until a new being is born from the murk. Daedalus may have been an engineer rather than an alchemist, but if anyone could fathom a means of reassembling the building blocks of life into something useful, it would be he.
Despite my secluded musings of alchemical perfection in the cloisters of my thoughts, I will inevitably wake from my stupor, no longer passed out from the pain of this refinement process. I will be lying on my bathroom floor, nude and shivering, left to wonder if I have been reincarnated as some sentient automaton born in the fevered sea of Daedalus’ mind. As if to dispel that notion, the remains of my transfiguration will still be there, the horrid afterbirth of my fleshy pupa of a body strewn around me like an offering or a sacrifice. Somehow, I always manage to stand after enduring such trauma, both mentally and physically, and I will look into the mirror and see a face that isn’t mine.
She will be beautiful. Her eyes will be either be a tempestuous teal as the sea or such a deep brown that they are almost black. This foreign image usually vacillates between the rosy blonde tresses and braids of a long forgotten shieldmaiden, or the raven hair of a vampire breaking from her crypt. She can never seem to make up her mind which.
Where I am round, she is cut like a whip. She works out, clearly, and I fantasize about being obliterated in her heavy, golden embrace. She is taller than I am. Not much, but enough that I must crane my neck slightly just to gaze on her beauty, as it should be when a subject admires her queen. I stare unabashedly at her firm but smallish breasts, shaped more naturally than mine ever were. She has thick hips though, what a male writer might call childbearing if he was ever to look on this Frankenstein’s creation that I have concocted from the mental scrapheap of all the beautiful people I have known in my life.
Shocked by this mutation from lead into gold, an alchemist’s wet dream, I will draw thin fingers across my new skin, feel the hollow between my narrow shoulder blades, caress the curve of my waist where it meets my hips. No matter how much I wish to avoid it, I will find myself drawn inward like a dazed moth to an electric light, running smooth hands over the blushing lips between my inner thighs, marveling at the novelty of not bearing the false brand of masculinity that I was cursed with at birth.
When at last I have inhabited every inch of my new self, smelled the juniper and honey scent of my natural musk, blinked in bemused confusion at the image before me, I will call my mother, or my friend, babbling incoherently that I need to see them. I will tell them that they won’t believe what’s happened, that I might not be recognizable when they lay eyes on me. When we meet, I imagine them casually asking me who I am, not knowing that this new body is me.
I will tell them all the things that only I would know, my voice no longer my own but sweeter, saltier, like a smoker’s warm lilt. In my more desperate moments, she will sound Irish or Norwegian, maybe Icelandic or French depending on the mood.
My companions will marvel at this miraculous transformation, this complete shattering and reforming of myself. We will laugh, mine a husky chuckle inspired by the woman who first gave me gender envy even though she was a fictitious character in a movie I saw so long ago. How I longed to speak with the power and grace of a Lady Eboshi, a woman for whom the earth bent itself into prostration at her will.
All of this fantasizing happens in the clockwork of my mind, perpetually in motion like the Newton’s Cradle I imagine Daedalus would have had on his workbench had he been born at that time rather than his own. There it would clatter back and forth while the wizened inventor poured over his sketches and diagrams, shapes like moth’s wings covering the pages as he frantically worked at divining the means of his escape from the gilded prison of his own successes.
Like him, I too will have crafted a marvel, an impossible amalgamation of the self that I desperately seek in my internal eye. We share something in that regard, I suppose. Carrying on with this thought, this hypothetical construct, I will stand with Daedalus at his desk, our fevered visions keeping us long into the night, the saccharine bite of lamp oil clogging our nostrils as we bend over a parchment covered in the mad scribblings of deranged genius.
From time to time, I will indulge my curiosity and look up at him and watch as he toils about in his labors, see his dark, curly hair bobbing as he chews on the nib of a worn quill made from a hawk feather. At other times, I like when I can feel his eyes on me, not salacious or prying, but curious, a gaze that seeks to understand the workings of the creature crouched before him muttering at her own work like a feral cat.
I like to think he would be drawn in by curiosity or some sense of intellectual vanity, a burning need in his stomach for the chance to unravel the mystery, the puzzle that is my being. I think these things when he has fallen to the clutches of sleep, and I sometimes venture to peer at his sketches to see the wonders he has wrought. The feathered birds and fuzzy moths of his imagination make way, and I am sometimes surprised when I see etched versions of myself, drawn and quartered by a master’s eye as he dissects this specimen and attempts to recreate it as it was intended.
For many moons we will grow closer through this silent, if intangible, comradery. Then one night Daedalus will be gone, flown off on his latest creation with his son so that they may escape the prison in which we found ourselves trapped, together. That final night in my fantasy land, I too will weep as I put on my own feathers and flee back to a world where I know this is all a flight of fancy, a mirage cooked up by an injured mind that seeks to paper over the devastation of regret.
Somewhere along the line I will suddenly realize the error of my ways, and more like the son than the father, I too will probably fall to my doom among the roiling waves. My reentry into reality always feels much like this, a body blasted into pieces by the hubris of thinking I could escape my true self. With one last cry, I will vanish into the abyss, wondering at how I could make such a grave miscalculation.
They call such penchant for errors in navigation among moths Positive Photoaxis, and scientists observing my demise might draw the comparison as I pitch wildly off course. These sad butterflies, my kin in some spiritual way, had charted their course by the moon and the stars for as long as any of us could remember. Which feeler twitching augur among their kind could have anticipated the modern electrical light that would scramble their flight path and encourage them to disaster as did the sirens to Homer?
The advent of continuous illumination was a death knell for countless millions of the mournful aviators. Unable to distinguish their true moon from the artificial pretenders, many a moth pitched headfirst into the fiery oblivion of a candle or the searing agony of an electrical current in an open light. Is my fatally framed image in the mirror one such light, the true connection that I feel with these lonesome wanderers? Even the lucky ones were more likely to careen into the glassy orb of a lightbulb and then flop about like an injured bird who had brained itself on the invisible planes of a kitchen window.
Neither alchemy, nor Daedalus could solve this conundrum of misguided sojourns and I too feel battered about the head like a wounded bird or charred moth as I feverishly conjure this image over and over again, flagellating myself with the false prophet of perfection that I see in the mirror of my waking dreams. It does me no good, however, and often I am returned to the land of the living, mind and heart bruised, tears on my face as I wonder why the universe made such a horrid mistake. Neither I nor the moths seem capable of righting our wayward course, and we are left to flounder along until some gross incandescence renders our doom.
In this way, I am always shocked at the brutality that I possess in this matter. Who but the faded few like me would knowingly wish for or even crave the kinds of pain that I wish on myself if only it would make me the woman I wished I was? Not even the most anguished of souls would consent to such depraved suffering willingly, yet week after week this same set of waking dreams haunts me.
In the end it is a hopeless lie, an illusion of what shall never be. I cannot snap my fingers or wave a wand or plead to the likes of Daedalus or Kafka to miraculously change me into who I wish to be. My willingness to die to become whole again, my greatest fear in this life, is for naught, as such offerings left on the sacrificial alter are meaningless with no one sitting in the thrones of the gods to hear my beseeching cries. On my good days, I realize the fallacy in this and know that I am not an alchemist, nor Daedalus, nor even a forlorn moth guided by artificial stars. I am the one and only version of myself, bent, slightly warped as if left out in the rain.