Syrene the Scientist

I was looking for the antidote to love. Not, I hasten to add, because I myself needed that relief, although that came later, along with a great many other things. No, I directed my research to this pursuit because I recognized a need for such a cure in a great many of my fellow Townsfolk. The love-lost, lovelorn, bereaved, bewildered, abandoned, and alone, there were many suffering from the ailment of love.

I set to work. Science must begin with research so I turned to the medical, psychological and physiological literature to see what had been investigated. My scientist forebears had greatly neglected my chosen field of inquiry so that avenue proved futile. I turned to philosophy and poetry, reasoning that if the scientists of the past had ignored the medical ramifications of this affliction, the philosophers and poets had not. I read a great deal about the possible causes and effects of love but very little about its cure. Consensus seemed to be that, if the love was true (and what did they mean by true? I spared a moment to wonder), then it was eternal and all-consuming and its loss could only be endured in life or ended by death. Some poets went so far as to claim love’s perpetuation after death but I respectfully ignored these metaphysical claims. I was attempting to deal with the here and now and the necro-future was not my concern.

A challenging prospect nonetheless faced me. Aware of the great task I had set myself, even so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I drew from a pool of volunteers, gathering data about their symptoms, the progression of their disease, and the probable causes.      

“His smile.”

“I cry every morning when he’s not there to make breakfast.”   

“We never saw her grow up.”  

“That empty side of the bed.”   

“I can’t eat.”   

“I eat too much.”   

“I’m alone.” 

My notes filled books and then cabinets. Eventually I began, cautiously, to develop possible treatments. I enlisted the help of the local pharmacist, an antlered youth named Danid.   

Danid was invaluable, seemingly as invested in the work as I was. Together we stayed late into the night, refining formulas and comparing chemical compounds. Gradually we fell into a rhythm, a routine of work that ran smoothly from task to task. We hypothesized, tested, failed, revised, tested, revised, and tested again, each failure an improvement on the one before.   

Finally, after months of labour, we had a sample that we thought might work. But how to test it? Our development had involved tests with fruit flies and rats so we were certain that the elixir wasn’t poisonous. But how could we know whether it actually worked? Actually cured love?  

I contacted some of my previous volunteers, searching for test subjects. I explained the risks and potential benefits of the drug. We had observed few dangerous side effects in our lab rats so I conjectured there was little risk of physical harm. But the questions my volunteers asked, I could not answer.   

“Will I still remember her?”   

“Could I fall in love again?”   

“What will happen when I see them?” 

Despite their evident pain and willingness to talk about it, even the desire of some to share the burden with me, no one was willing to take the risk or the reward that I offered.       That night, after the last volunteer, with vague and unformed excuses, had refused the test drug, Danid and I sat together in the laboratory, sharing a commiserating bottle of whiskey. Normally I detested the stuff but tonight it felt like the only suitable option. Its searing fire and rich earthiness matched my own frustration and leaden disappointment.   

Danid was very quiet and I thought I perceived a different quality in it than expressed in my own moroseness.  

“Well, it looks like that’s it,” I sighed, “I’m sorry it’s all come to nothing.” My tongue was whiskey heavy but my thoughts darted and flashed in iridescent colours behind my eyes. “You’ve been invaluable. I don’t know where I would be without your help.” I suddenly wanted Danid to know that my failure was my own and unshared between us. I reached out a hand and, with the delicacy of inebriation, gently landed on a knee. Danid’s hand came to cover mine and when I looked up, our eyes locked. Despite what we’d had to drink, there was clarity, directness and a question in the look Danid gave me.    

Now, I wonder, at that moment, if I had any inkling. Did some slow befuddled thought cross my mind before extinguishing itself in the muck of my consciousness? Perhaps. Perhaps not.   

How the night ended, I cannot say. I awoke still in the laboratory, although one of the spare lab coats had been draped over me. The trial dose was gone. Danid was gone. I began then to understand what the question in Danid’s eyes had been.  

As the day wore on and I searched fruitlessly, I began to understand what had happened in the past few months, quietly, under my nose, as we had worked so closely for so long. As I returned to the lab at sundown, I began to understand the pain and fear I’d heard about and recorded so many times before. But I truly understood when I opened the door to the lab and Danid was there. I understood the pangs of love. I understood the drug had worked. I understood all that I had lost and why I would never replicate the ‘cure’ we had succeeded in finding.

I was looking for the antidote for love because I thought that would cure people. I now knew what we needed was the antidote for grief. Despite my belief in the endless possibilities of science, I do not think it shall be found.

by Adena Brons

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