“Your head smells like a bowl of guacamole.”
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Reading time: 4 minutes
Recommended for: Alchemists
Over time it had become increasingly difficult to qualify our desires outside of the paintings. Thus, scarcely after we’d mentioned the child, there came the Father.

On that auspicious day, I’d masked my hair with an avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice mixture I read about on the internet to give it that extra shine, after letting it grow out for months. You appeared in the mirror behind me, leaning against the bathroom doorway and peeling cheap latex monster gloves off your fingers, fresh from the Halloween store. You stretched one of the rubbery red fingernails out and let it snap back. “I feel like a trick-or-treater.”

“Pieter van Laer invented the concept of the monster glove before anyone else had even fathomed the technology,” I said. “He was a revolutionary.”

“More like a Rosemary.” You took in the sight of me luxuriously dragging a comb through my wavy locks, smooth as butter, while simultaneously contorting my face into grimaces of terror. “Your head smells like a bowl of guacamole.”

At length, we moved to the gloomy tableau downstairs, its vessels and vials arranged (with an almost floral panache) to suggest the height of spookiness, an aesthetic to which you remain wholly opposed. The occultism of the Dutch-born van Laer’s low-genre scene, with its array of conspicuous and fairly predictable arcana, wasn’t fine-tuned enough for your tastes, nor as sophisticated as that of his Golden Age contemporaries.

You flipped through the various Evil Tomes I’d assembled in the way you’d look at the art projects of someone else’s child: vaguely appreciative of the effort and muscle control it took to create them, but plainly unimpressed. “This isn’t even competent hexery,” you said, dangling the most prominent volume by its delicate cover (which I’d wetted and then dried by the furnace to get that “weathered” look). “A pentagram? A heart with a knife in it? This is some hokey fourth-grade shit.”

You ripped out the illustrated folio with a savage enthusiasm and cast the pages across the room like heretics from the altar, then brought out a new sheaf and set to working on their replacement.

Your brush hand, now gloveless, moved in quick, precise motions while the other, at intervals, rotated the page beneath it. I wanted to tell you that it was about faithfulness rather than integrity, especially where the Devil was concerned—like, just because late Matisse figures were basically emphatic junkless scribbles didn’t mean we could scientifically reduce our bodies to a couple of fluidly connected knobs and hack off our you-know-whats—but I stayed quiet; I lit a thick candle and watched it steadily burn down, guiding the wax dripoff with my fingers. 

Occasionally, I’d steal a glance at your progress—your concentration was beyond intense, and above your wrists nothing seemed to move. For a moment, I thought I saw a third hand, barely visible, operating among the rest.

You finally stood, knees cracking, and opened the book to me in the candlelight, your new pages stitched in. “Is that not the maddest heart you’ve ever seen? Does that not look blood-swelled and ripe for piercing?”

It did look fit to burst. “I didn’t know you spoke Latin.”

“I don’t speak Latin. Are we set here?”

“Almost.” I set the skull to smoking, adding a little of this and that. When I looked up, I caught you silently mouthing the words freshly inscribed into the book. 

Palms sweating, I examined the diabolical canon on the scroll of parchment elsewhere on the table before me, as if to verify its melody. I turned away from you and the book in the pretense of finding better light, tracing that crucial verse: Il diavolo no burla . . . I changed a single note.

I turned around again while tossing my hair back—it was a gesture I’d affected since growing it out—and it nearly caught on the embers of the hanging lantern.

Your voice dipped into the register reserved for those recently gravely wounded, or born: “Aw, Bamboccio.” You lovingly twirled one side of my mustache and tucked the book back into place among the other grimoires. Your hands flickered out of the frame. Beside me, the inverted skull smoldered in anticipation, as did the tips of my scented hair. The air in the room went slowly from Taco Tuesday to Human Barbeque.

I smoothed the amended canon out on the table in front of me and let out the most delicate of breaths. My index finger lingered for a second too long near the tip of the knife.

“Please.”

You put your hand over mine.

The fingernails were longer than I remembered.


Simon Jacobs 
is the author of SATURN, a collection of David Bowie stories, out now from Spork Press.

He may be found at 
simonajacobs.blogspot.com.
Previously:
Madonna and Child
Oedipus and the Sphinx
Adagio for Strings
"Doomed," Chris Burden, 1975
The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
Sarcophagus of Harkhebit
Witches' Flight
The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Death of Marat
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