Dissolution

Moose and I are standing in the kitchen of my father’s house as Looie lumbers in like a newborn giraffe, hitting his head on the big metal pot hanging from the ceiling, shooting a tin sound through the room, and filling the air with resonance. We turn our heads to him. His face-skin is pigmenting, his hand is on his forehead and he is staring at the tiles that are so white they hurt your eyes if you stare too long. This is a shit scene, he gripes. It isn’t like Loo to gripe, he is just hungry. Though it is a pretty shit scene.

Moose and I had gotten carried away. We’d spent an hour positioning our necessities atop the polished granite, until it all looked like a display in the center of the kitchen. We’d organized everything both alphabetically, by item-index, and sequentially, in the order that we would need it. Also, by size. Moose had come up with it. The x-axis deals with index while the y-axis deals with sequence and the z-axis deals with size. We set tweezers on the ground and dangled cauldrons from the ceiling. Moose stood on the counter and tied triple-knots around hooks and handles.

Dozens of pictures hang wontedly from the walls, with eyes set in placid faces and feigned expressions. I feel them staring at me through the entryway from the far-away wall of the living room, and catch myself gazing back at them across the counter and past our display; it was becoming abundantly apparent that they were my own eyes, staring at me—or rather, that they were the origin of my own eyes.

 

We are here inexplicably, apart from the fact that my father isn’t—he’s away, doing The Lord’s Work somewhere in a country that isn’t this one. At some point, either before my mother left or after he re-married, my father had been re-born, and now all he talked about were things like grace and wisdom and faith, and so I struggled to listen to him a lot of the time. My father, whose speech had always been poor, but authentic nonetheless, now spoke of things the origins of which confused me, adopting words that seemed impersonated, his tone sanctimonious, both imposed and imposing. Now, he keeps a bible in his attaché case. Now, he says grace before every dinner with an air of improvisation, but it is always with the same words. Those words, which we could only believe in our own strange, separate ways, illuminated a quality to my father that I hadn’t known existed: he was uncertain, and for more time than I’d known him, unaware that he was uncertain.

His new wife bears an uncanny resemblance to my mother. She is small-bodied and large-breasted, with dark hair and dark eyes and sharp cheekbones. She’s more intelligent than my father, her exalted speech requiring censorship with my own. She works as a midwife, and had strangely been a wet-nurse for my cousin, so that sometimes the word incesstual came to mind. She has three children of her own, two of which no longer live at home, and the other a boy whom I’d gone to school with, and, after the marriage, had been bound to by an awkward obligation to acknowledge in passing.

 

Moose grips the pot. The ringing stops.

The first step of an acid/base extraction is to steep the initial substance in an aqueous solution. We chop and blend the marc and let it boil in slightly acidic water, because the acidity increases the alkaloids’ solubility. Meanwhile, I slap Looie’s hand away each time he reaches for the lye or the hydrochloric acid. He doesn’t understand the implications.

I like Looie, you just have to keep an eye on him sometimes. The kid is like a puppy. He’s like our puppy. He’s a panicky wreck in a bad situation, all shakes, saying, this time we’d run out of luck, but we’d never ran out of luck, and things were typically okay, and when everything was okay, we’d left Loo to his own devices, and he’d entertain himself for hours, occasionally coming to show us a bone he’d dug up. We’re both sure he has some sort of issue, like some sort of condition, or like, that he oughta be on some sort of medication for something, but all that isn’t really our place. I just say, That’s Loo, but I don’t have to say it very often.

Moose and I take turns stirring the cauldron until our forearms begin to burn. I can feel the water boiling with my palm on the counter, it looks like a malevolent potion, like snot-green seafoam. The heat from the stove is soaking our shirts with sweat, and overhead, the fans are sucking or blowing or possibly just making a lot of noise. The kitchen had suddenly transformed: chlorophyll-green plasters the room in localized sections. A bitter, earthy smell permeates the air, and vapor rises violently from the stainless steel and condenses on the walls, becoming moist to the touch. We stand heavy in that jungle.

 

Last night, I went to my old high school and wrote my name in acid on the cement. I listened to it fizz like peroxide. Earlier, when my parents were still together, I’d spent a similar night high and unable to sleep, and at dawn, I’d stepped quietly out the front door and into the empty day. My body buzzed, feeling pleasantly rigid, and a slight breeze made my eyes water and my sinuses seize. I sat in the center of the street, noting my stillness, and the stillness of everything, as I watched the sun rise above those wide homogenous homes, trying to remember things I now realize hadn’t existed.

After about fifteen minutes, my garage door began to lift open. I saw my father, ducking at the waist under and through it, carrying his attaché case. On the driveway he met my eyes, and for a moment, we just looked at each other. Finally, he said, Would you like to come with me? And I said yes.

I stepped into the car with him and we drove highway 99 until we were out of town. My father occupied the driver’s seat, biting at the cuticles of his right hand and loosely gripping the wheel with his left. The horizon stayed the same and time was slowing down. I felt safe. At last, my eyes began to close.

When I woke we were pulled over in the middle of an abandoned parking lot. My father was looking down, still with one hand placed on the wheel, and I turned to him. There was an unfamiliar expression on his face, like he was vulnerable, like he had been exploited. He said something like grace and wisdom and faith, and finally, that he was going to move into his own place.

 

Moose filters the pulp from the liquid, which is now calm, green and opaque.

The second step is to remove the excess fat from the solution by combining it with a non-polar solvent. The solvent separates the solution into strata which can then be siphoned off using a separatory funnel. This process is called de-fatting, and allows for a more pure extraction.

The solvent we are using is clear and has only a mild odor. At first, it seems indistinguishable from water, but upon closer inspection, one notices light passing through it diffracting more conspicuously. It is very interesting to look at. I believe the molecular structure must be prismatic.

Moose and I wait for the emulsion to separate. It is as thick as paint. Looie has lost interest and is now snooping around the bedrooms upstairs. I can hear his footfalls, the opening and closing of wooden drawers, and something in me wants to join him.

 

Sometimes, I believed that Looie was my guardian angel. For instance, one night the three of us had been travelling South on the Pacific Coast Highway. Moonbeams shone in through the windows as we drove, and reflected off the Pacific ocean, painting the whole landscape blue. Moose had been driving indulgently, with a formal grip on the wheel, utilizing both lanes on the bends to avoid braking. I had been sitting in the passenger seat, watching Moose drive, counting to myself the number of times he overcorrected or undercorrected, overestimated or underestimated. Looie was lying down in the back seat.

All of a sudden, Looie jumped up in the middle of the back row, all wide-eyed and wide-mouthed, and slammed his hands up against the headrests like he was bracing himself for a collision. Pull over, he said in commandeering voice. Loo had never really been one to make orders like that, but Moose obliged, both of us thinking he was about to be sick.

The door was open while we were still moving along the narrow shoulder. Loo stumbled out just as we lurched to a stop and started crawling down these really treacherous-looking jagged gray stones, until he was down onto the sand and the shore. He stood there with his shoes in the water, facing the expanse, standing absolutely still. We could barely see him, and neither of us had any clue what the deal was. We stood there for awhile before calling to him, asking him to come back, complaining that he was wasting our time, and saying that we were going to leave him behind, but the crashing waves drowned our voices. Loo didn’t move and neither did we.

Twenty minutes passed while Moose and I leaned against the car. We kept looking to each other, as if to say, That’s Loo, but we both already knew it. We didn’t say a word.

Finally, Loo turned and began walking towards us. He climbed back up the break and I caught a glimpse of his eyes, red and swollen, like he’d been crying. He was shivering and his shoes were sloshing with each step. He dropped his body back into the car without a word and he was asleep again before we even got moving.

We didn’t think too much of it, frankly, but no more than two miles down the highway, some three or four cars had struck a boulder that had just fallen from the cliff-face onto the road, right at the apex of a hairpin turn. By the time we approached it, a woman was strobing a flashlight at us while another woman held a piece of torn cardboard with the words on it shouting: STOP. BOULDER. Looie stayed lying in the back seat the whole time, asleep or not.

 

Back in the kitchen, we hear Looie giggling as he hurries down the staircase. He gets half-way down and bends over the handrail, with his arm stretched out towards Moose and I. There’s something resting in the flat of his palm, a bone he’d dug up. I approach him. His face is working hard to contain his laughter. I smile back at him. His hand is trembling and presenting to me a ribbed glass rod he’d found in my father’s room. I look at it, then at Looie, then back at the toy and we both burst into laughter. He holds his hand up and waves the glass prick high over his head so Moose can see. His eyes are sparkling with pride. Moose is looking down, pouring something into something else, smiling sardonically to himself from behind the counter. I tell Loo to go put it back where he found it and wash his hands.

The solution has separated and Moose is pouring off the excess. The third step of the extraction is to add a strong base to the solution, turning the alkaloids into their free-base state, which is then soluble in water. We are using sodium hydroxide to accomplish this step, which is caustic and burns skin upon contact. You can’t stop a lye burn by rinsing it with water, you’d need an acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, to neutralize it. I’d assured Moose that those things were somewhere in the pantry, though I hadn’t checked, and they could just as well be in one of the the dozens of cabinets, or the fridge in the garage, or maybe neither.

Despite the danger, this is my favorite step of the procedure. As we add the lye, the pH of the solution will rise painstakingly slow until we hit the titration curve, at which point it will suddenly jump up several intervals. Seconds later, the entire solution will fade from green to blue, and a white precipitate will condense within the container, like watching snow fall from the sky at dusk.

*

I’m watching Moose work and I know exactly what is going to happen.

I think we died that night on the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m not sure exactly when, but I think Moose thinks so too—but Looie, Looie doesn’t understand a damn thing, and we know he is only here because of us. Everything is like one long dream here, and sometimes we are driving and sometimes we are in the kitchen. Sometimes I am with my father and others I am just alone, but I never know how I get there. I show up in myself for just a moment, and I almost get a chance to realize it, but then I am gone. Then I am somewhere else again, and everything is happening all at once.