by Tobu Ishi
"Of two waters make one water, if you understand these two words, all the Regimen will be under your feet."
At a distance, they are mirror images. Slim and golden and dangerously determined, theirs are the fevered eyes of dreamers, focused on a horizon they would pay in sweat and searing heat to reach.
With a closer look, the differences are painfully clear. There is a fire-eaten drive to him that steams the water from his marrow and would dry him to dust if she let it. He is the north star by which her compass is set, the goal that will continue to unfold for a lifetime, as she meets it again and again.
The self-paved paths along which they run are not quite parallel enough to avoid a constant on-and-off intersection. He longs for the futile chance to restore what is gone; she burns with the need to repair and replace. Neither of them knew how to let go of their own desires, when they began their journeys. She has learned. He has not, and burns his hands again and again on the firebrand of his own brilliance, grasping at an empty salvation. She stands beside him with her arms full of bandages, hoping the day he sees his own danger will come before the day he sets himself alight completely. She would stop him if she could.
He follows dead philosophers into their own dusty webs, and she cannot and will not do the same. She's willing to let him waste his time with cobalt and cinnabar, the perfect circles of artistic symbols and charts, chalk and ink and incantations and boiling beakers. Her work is the asymmetrical and the tangible. Her philosophy is simple; if she can dig her gloved fingers into it and feel it sparking hot against the layer of oily leather, she knows it to be real.
She sees what is missing, and makes it whole, and her solutions are drawn from the fertile field of her own mind, fertilized with the bright pages of digests on avant-garde technology. (She has no use for rotting yellowed tomes, their pages filled with forgotten allegorical poetry.) Her mind's eye overflows with theories on the binding of split ivory bone and wet flesh, too perfect to duplicate, to the shining steel and fine copper filament that must serve instead; and every theory is testable, waiting to be proven.
Sciatic and saphenous, radia and ulna and tibia, subcutaneous and microfibrous, hacksaw and hammer and wrench and the blue flare of the welding torch; these are her exotic mantra, her materials and her tools.
Her equivalent trade is the sweat of her face and the throb of crushed fingertips and sore muscles and the stink of singed hair. Her penance is black oil and blood ground perpetually under her fingernails, and the lingering memory of her patients' gasping wails, tempered by the sight of their redemption as they walk proudly through her front door on their sound new limbs to pay her with smiles worth far more than the gold in their hands.
Her arrays are mazes of circuits, pistons and gears, traced pale blue and spiderweb-fine on the charts that are tacked up to wallpaper her room. The smudgy end of a pencil and her own imagination are all she needs to create, to conceive an answer.
Let him drive himself to distraction with his lists and wanderings and aimless philosophy. She will be here, as always; anchored among her tools and blueprints, waiting to lend a listening ear and the business end of a wrench, applied to battered limbs or stubborn skull as necessary.
She cannot raise the dead, or make leaves into bread, or clap her hands and make a palace erupt from a faceless plain in one brilliant fiery instant. But with the right words and a few replacement parts, and perhaps a slice of homemade pie, she can mend a cracking set of convictions nearly as easily as a stripped set of gears, and lift the tarnish from his golden eyes...
Hers is the true alchemy.