Alchemy and Alchemist Gift –
Cesare Talks of the Experiment
Alchemy and Alchemist Gift continued: “Valentino pointed out that time passes in different ways for different people. When we wait for something we want to happen, time can’t pass quickly enough. If we are doing something we enjoy, why does time seem to slip away so quickly?”
“That’s the same for everybody, is it not?” Marcella picked up one of plums from the platter and turned it over in her hand. She tasted the fruit, it was bittersweet.
“I think each one of us has felt that way. But the bit of time spent waiting or doing whatever it is you might enjoy could be the same, could it not?”
“Yes, I suppose it could be.”
“We all feel time differently; the baker waiting for the bread to rise, the nun saying her prayers, the little baby sleeping, the soldier in battle, everyone in the world is living at that exact instant, and for each one of us time is stretched or compressed. The moment passes and time changes for all of us again.”
Marcella was out of her depth but she was enthralled. Cesare too enjoyed the moment. He was living his past, his present and he foresaw his future self, sitting at this very table teaching Marcella to read.
“Many of us think that time passes and it is something behind us, as you said earlier, but I think it merely spreads out, away from us as ripples do from the point where you toss a pebble into a pond. Time is all around us, it’s like the air we breathe or more, like a great ocean, and we are no more than, let’s say a bubble, floating along, sometimes under its waves and sometimes on the surface. Who knows where we might pop up?”
Marcella pondered this different view point. “What we did yesterday, happened then, and it can’t happen again.”
“In our memories it can.”
“Yes, we can remember what happened but it already happened, and it happened then, at that time.”
Cesare smiled, he knew Marcella was intelligent, but her inquisitiveness and perception were deeper than he dared hope.
“That is not the argument, when something first happened. Let us say, you do a kind deed for someone and they are ungrateful or disparage you because they feel your good deed is done for your self-aggrandizement, not out of love or concern as you meant it. You feel the sting of their words. You feel hurt and unappreciated and disappointed. For the rest of the day you wish the person received your kindness as you meant it.”
Marcella leaned back on the stool and crossed her arms. She could think of many times she felt that way taking care of Fausto.
Cesare went on. “That night lying there in your bed you are living in the present; you feel the pillow under your head, the bed clothes pulled up under your chin, you see the shadows of the fire light on the ceiling, but you are also living in the past at the same time when you hear the ungrateful remarks and you feel it in your continence and in your person. Your muscles stiffen, your heart beats fast; sometimes you may even speak the words out loud you wish you would have said. You are living in two times at once.”
Marcella could not hide the skeptical look in her eyes. Cesare asked, “You do dream?”
“Of course, everyone dreams.”
“When you dream, where are you?”
“In my bed.”
“Have you ever had such a vivid dream that you could feel the wind on your face or your heart beat fast?”
“I’ve dreamt I was flying a few times. I like those dreams.”
“Yes, they are wonderful. Those dreams are real. The things you do or the people you meet in dreams are real. You are living in two realities at once. You are asleep in your bed and you are also flying high above the earth at the same time. Your dream self can enter into a world of things you are familiar with or you can go to a world that does not yet exist and live there too at the same time.”
“What do mean, go to a world that does not yet exist?”
“I am sure you know what I mean. You have never imagined doing something you haven’t done yet? Of course it hasn’t happened yet but you see yourself doing things before you do them. I do. I imagine a stool I am going to make. I see my hands cutting and shaping the legs. I see myself scraping the seat to the shape I want it to be, I see the auger boring the holes to accept the legs, and I see myself pounding the wedges in to hold the legs fast to the seat. I am experiencing the future before it happens, am I not?”
“Maybe, but the stool isn’t made.”
“It is made. It exists and only needs to take on solid form. It needs to be something that we can touch and see or hear because that is what our fingers and eyes and ears are capable of. If we can find a way to the metaphysical plane where the stool exists we will be in both times at once.”
Marcella was trying very hard to keep pace with Cesare. She thought of her dream and she thought of her mother. “Do you think people who die are able to go back to when they were young?”
“Dear Marcella, how do we know they don’t? A man or woman may return to the prime of his or her life or go ahead in time and live a new life. Just because the body wearies and dies does not mean our soul has to die with it.”
“But when we die we go to heaven or purgatory or hell.” Marcella clung to something she knew was unarguable.
“If we choose to, how does either of us know if we have already passed through death’s door and come to this time and place? Who is to say we have not come together from another time and place to live this life. Both of us could be here from the past or the future, we could be the imaginings of you, well on in age, wanting to return to your young self. Or we could be here at my wish, or we could exist at the wish of anyone who has been able to combine both the physical and metaphysical.” Cesare sat back and savored his wine and his theory.
“Master Lippo, I’m sorry but I don’t understand.” Marcella had a note of disappointment in her voice.
“You have kept on with me longer then some of the most educated and wisest men I know.” Cesare drank the last bit of his wine and smiled at Marcella. “Now I am to bed.”
“But what of Valentino the Elder’s experiment?” Marcella sat up straight and was ready to hear the story.
“ Let’s see, twilight came and the clouds were quite low. Val and his father, Stefano, Turigli’s boy and I went onto the roof of the turret. The other scholars waited below. The ruby wand was a magnificent sight with its faint red glow. Our task was to connect the gold wire to the piece of copper rod that stuck up through the roof. Val made sure the crystal was still set firm in the bees’ wax. When he was satisfied that all was ready Valentino the Elder signaled to Stefano who picked up the gold wire and touched it to the copper rod.
It was a wonder to see. The crystal vibrated in the goblet; a thin
ribbon of ruby light went straight up, spread out and colored the underside of
the clouds red. That would be extraordinary just in itself. What
followed was beyond belief. Images appeared on the underside of the clouds and came to life. The things we saw were unbelievable. We saw a black road with yellow designs painted on it. We saw people, and carriages that moved without horses. We could see a young man in his green carriage looking back at us. I will never forget the astonishment in his eyes. And there were so many lights, red, yellow and green they came from a box on a pole.”
“People in the clouds? Is that possible?”
“More than possible, the living image only lasted for a few seconds
and faded when we took the gold wire from the copper plate. The clouds returned to their white color. It was fantastic.”
“What happened next?” All thought of sleep left Marcella.
“Everyone was in a state of amazement. Valentino the Elder had such a look of ecstasy on his face. He told Stefano to touch the gold wire to the copper rod again. He did. The ruby ribbon of light shot up faster than an arrow and the clouds turned red again. We saw the face of a beautiful woman. She had a strawberry birthmark on her neck. Her head was thrown back and she had a look of pleasure about her. Again the image lasted for a very, very short time. We took the gold wire away from the copper rod and the clouds faded back to white.
Antonio Turigli called up and begged Valentino the Elder to stop. He said, “Stop in the name of God or we will all be cast into hell.” “
“Did you stop?” Marcella drank another mouthful of wine.
“Heavens no. Valentino the Elder gave both Val and myself a boyish smile and nodded to Stefano to touch the wire to the rod again. This time the ruby ribbon flashed into the sky and lit the clouds red and I saw the picture of a place I later discovered is not far from here. It was the path just past Longo’s farm. A girl came upon a young man. They stopped and spoke and the young man took off his hat to her. That was all. The image faded.
Turigli angrily yelled at Stefano to fetch the glass wand and come down. Valentino the Elder told the boy to stand fast and that he needed to use it one more time. He told Val to touch the wire against the rod again and hold it there. Val did and the ruby ribbon shot through an opening in the clouds and disappeared into the sky. We were so busy looking up we did not notice the goblet was glowing hot and the crystal began to vibrate and the liquid rubies boiled in the glass rod. Val wanted to take the wire away but his father insisted he keep it pressed against the rod. The tar on the roof began to bubble and run. We heard the sound of thunder and looked up to see a black whirlpool in the sky. There was such a great shaking the roof became too unstable to stand on. As Turigli’s boy scurried across the roof to the ladder. He passed too close to the glowing rod. He was snared in a web of tiny red strands that wove themselves around his body. I remember the frightened look in his eyes. In a heartbeat the boy’s body became impossibly stretched out of shape and was drawn around the pulsing ribbon of light and he disappeared. He was gone.
The glass wand shattered and we were showered with liquid rubies and hot slivers of glass. Val pulled the wire away and we helped each other off the roof just before it caught fire.
Once on the ground all we could do was watch the roof burn and fall into itself.
Turigli held his head in his hands and silently paced back and forth. Da Farrara and Nicholas looked over the notes and drawings they made. All of us tried to make sense out of what just happened. We couldn’t.
Finally Turigli spoke. “May God forgive us. Poor Stefano, he was a good boy.” Turigli made the sign of the cross. “Thank God everything is destroyed by the fire. We have no right to do what we did. Valentino and Farrara we must destroy all records of this. All of us took a vow never to mention the experiment or talk about it again.”
“But you told me.” Marcella smiled.
“You are the only one. To tell anyone this story that was not there to see it, why, people would think you were mad, or worse possessed by the devil.”
Marcella finished her wine and collected the platter and tidied up the table. “As you must sleep, so must I. There is so much to think about, so much to learn. Sir, you will teach me to read?”
“Yes Marcella, we can start tomorrow after dinner.”
“Good night sir.”
“Good night Marcella.”
Marcella took the little oil lamp from the table and adjourned to her corner behind the four panel screen. She undressed to her underskirt and camisole and slipped under the blanket. Her head was swimming with wine and the most amazing story she had ever heard.
The dream she had nearly ten years earlier revisited her. She saw it just as clearly and felt just as excited now as she did then. She remembered that day very clearly; the gray dress and white blouse with the little lilies embroidered on the borders of the collar and cuffs her mama wore. It rained in the morning and by the late afternoon the air was delicious and warm.
That day floated in her subconscious like a golden leaf in a lazy clear stream, turning this way and that to expose another sparkling detail that made her that thirteen year old girl eagerly leaving the pond and rushing home to tell her mother about the wonderful dream. In her pre-sleep reverie she saw the shadows dancing on the path in front of her as the breeze pushed through the tree tops. She passed a smiling young man who nodded to her. He carried a pack on his back and a walking stick with a natural crook on the end. He tipped his hat to Marcella. She thought it odd that his clothes were dusty and worn but his hat was new and as she looked closer she recognized it as one of their hats.
Marcella nodded to the young man. “I see you wear an Adano hat.” She said with a smile.
“Yes, I do.” The young man took the hat off, turned it around in his hand admiring the fine stitching, tipped it to Marcella and put it back on his head.”
“My grandfather’s shop.” She said proudly.
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