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  • Writer's pictureSteph Shuff

the alchemist

He was shy at first, the way all sweet men are. Not nervous, but timid, non-imposing. His long, dark, curly hair was tied at the crown of his head and graying around the edges of his face. There was something childlike about him, innocent, like the way youth isn’t quite used to being seen. He wore a baggy black tee over slim-fit shorts and red sneakers. How was I to know that hiding underneath all that loose fabric was a tan, tall, muscular frame, a body that had worked and played and sweat, a body that would soon be working and playing and sweating with mine? We talked of film, and politics, and culture, and language. We searched our phones for the translations to words we couldn’t explain. We drank cold beer out of plastic cups set atop a wobbly table on the sidewalk. Flamengo pulsed all around us like a biodome, alive, breathing, feasting on the heartbeats of all the people who passed and sat and drank and laughed and lived. The night wore on and he inched closer, a hand on my arm, a knee pressed against my thigh. The beer calmed both our nerves and after hours he told me, I want to kiss you.


Well then, I responded. He leaned over the table and pressed his mouth on mine, somehow firm and soft, his beard tickling my face, his tongue warm and wet like a day on the beach. First kisses can be uncomfortable, two mouths fumbling for a rhythm, trying to find a dance that we must learn anew each time we attempt it with someone else. There was nothing fumbling in this kiss—from the first moment it was as if we’d been kissing all our lives. It was natural and new, where sparks fly and a rhythm springs forth, spontaneous and easy, inexplicable. The words don’t exist in any language, but we speak it fluently all the same. What a thing, to touch another’s soul, to breathe another’s breath, to taste all the lives they’ve lived, to create magic from nothing like an alchemist. And this is what we call chemistry. The effortless merging of mouths and minds and bodies and hearts, even if only for an instant, or a night, or a weekend, or a lifetime. And after you part they are there, lingering on your lips like a flavor you will never taste again.

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