The Doge’s Gold Statue

by Tim W. Burke

I write this testimony as provenance to the work of art before you. I write to proclaim that I am the superior alchemist of the ages, as I have supplanted even the Almighty with my greatest creation. But I must write quickly, for as dawn comes, my hands grow heavier.

Last summer, I fled Naples in mortal peril. My transmuted gold had crumbled into dust in the Doge’s vaults. Further my imperfect creations, my twisted children, had not drowned in the canals. Drooling, they had lifted claws and pointed out my name in the Cardinal’s court. Their resemblance to me sealed my sentence.

My cousin agreed to hide me on his estate near Verona in a cottage overrun with pigs and sheep, on my promise of riches. He invented an identity for me and took me to his pew in Saint Justine Cathedral for Sunday mass.

In the stink of sweat and ignorance, I had my epiphany.

For at the end of the mass, the castrato Folligno sang. His voice resounded like crystal and mathematics. My breath did not dare to stir lest it dispel his sound. My heart pounded against my ribs, seeking to burst and soar in the arches with his aria.

In that pew, I exulted in an unparalleled revelation: Since the times of the ancients, human natures had their corresponding minerals, planets, and mythic beings. But no corresponding sounds. What note of music corresponded to plumbum? What chord corresponded to the magisterial of gold, silver, mercury, and antimony?

What did the Philosopher’s Stone *sound* like?

The alchemists of old could create the Philosophers Stone, which transformed the base into gold and bring the pure to immortality and omniscience. The dust in the Doge’s vault showed how success still eluded me.

My own interest was in crafting life. Through Paracelsus’ formulae, I tried to create homunculi, sexless beings of magic. My failed attempts were what troubled the Church and the gondoliers.

Further it struck me: homunculi were sexless, as were angels.

Folligno possessed a man’s beginnings and a woman’s softness.

In Folligno was the lens of the heavens. Within his wattles was a tool of creation, and here he was entertaining fools. Singing Salieri and Handel while he had within him the key to usurping the Almighty!

Empowered by the divine voice of Folligno, purified by alchemy, I could create an angel that could with its song, transfigure all things just as the Stone.

Folligno had many admirers. The castrato earned much for his gift, and contributed much to help these supplicants and mendicants. My unwitting cousin’s introductions cut through the rabble. His fortune arranged for privacy. I arranged for the ether. I brought Folligno to the cottage, and released the perfect larynx from the mortal flesh.

Paracelsus’ formulae, yet again. I heated my crucible until it was as warm as the human body. Instead of my blood for the mixture, I added the castrato’s blood to the salts of gold and silver. Incantations, again. Sealed, to wait for nine months.

Through the summer all Verona speculated and grieved Folligno’s disappearance. My cousin suspected my treachery. Demanded answers but said nothing to the populace.

At the cottage, I kept the pigs and sheep and used their dung to keep the crucible warm. I placed my ear against the rough metal. The first few weeks, nothing, like the Great Void. On the fortieth day, unmistakable, faint. The breathing of the sea. Breathing through that glorious, supple larynx.

The only ones to witness were the simple, meek animals.

In Verona, emissaries from Venice inquired about me. Some of Verona society cast improvable aspersions.

My cousin nattered through my cottage door, “How will I placate the Doge? Will you have made gold soon? Answer me!”

I would have an answer for them all.

The twittering of birds. The growling of a lion. The sighs of a child. Under the ninth full moon, I had to observe results before I could be sure of safety. I gathered the animals and I stuffed my ears with beeswax.

I spoke the final incantations and chipped at the wax seal.

The lid slipped away onto the dung.

A pillar of white light pushed to the rafters.

Flawless arms swept up and above the rim.

Alabaster from curls to toenails. Folligno’s face and body yet perfected, symmetrical, as the angels are, the size of a newborn. It lofted above the coarse iron basin and opened its mouth, heaved its chest.

My ears were stopped with wax and so I heard nothing. Glass in the windows and the lanterns trembled.

The sheep and pigs heard. Their eyes opened in a marvel of comprehension. Springing to their hind legs, they pranced and bowed in minuets. Their faces! Their eyes and expressions were as sublime as saints. The animals swirled in ecstasies.

Above them in the light of the Divine was the angel, mouth opening to songs unheard since Eden.

I clawed the wax from my ears. Looked to the angel’s blissful face.

Something pounded into my soul.

I awoke.

The sky had lightened to grey. I called out, but heard nothing. My tongue felt like lead. I was deaf.

The angel and the animals had vanished. I held up a candle to look at myself in the mirror.

Within my ears, a faint gleam.

My tongue has a luster.

The innocence of animals. The success of Folligno’s blood. My failed homunculi created with my blood.

Blessed enough to discover truth, base enough in soul for the truth to destroy me.

My skin gleams. Only fingers able to move and write. I cough blood and a fortune in leaf.

By sunrise, I will be transformed as golden as the dawn.

My cousin will be pleased to give the Doge my statue and thus avoid his wrath. The Doge will be less pleased, as I bite my thumb at him.

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