As I stared at the unopened letter, I thought of the ways my life had shrunken since the departure of my father ten years ago. I didn’t dream of many things anymore, of traveling to distant countries, even with the rare—though ever-declining—freedom I could claim as a woman doctor. As we say in Venetia, the world comes to us to beg favor, and I consoled myself with this. Still I could see even now my father’s kindly yet remote ash-brown eyes, his raven and carmine robes, and as I held his letter a small voice that had long been silent within me, spoke. Let me accompany you, Papà. Don’t leave me behind.
His previous letter had arrived from Scotia last year, where he expressed his vague intention of traveling even further north to collect the powdered horn of the unicorn-fish, a cure against lethargy. Or perhaps south to the torrid clime of Mauritania or Barbaria, where he might find the rare bezoar stone that takes all sadness into its density and renders lunacy its wisdom. As with the arrival of all his letters over the years, I had marveled at these cures, at the riches his medicine chest must contain by now-and wished deeply to see them for myself, to acquire them for my own. But his words hid something I couldn’t quite name though they crept like sighs under my breath. Words like lethargy, bezoar, sadness.
Horn of the Unicorn: for Loss of Desire
The pulverized horn, very rare and unstable in the light, must be retained in a dark bottle and used sparingly. While I question the origins of the so-called horn of the unicorn (who has ever seen such a creature?), I do not question its efficacy.
When preparing to administer the powder you must avoid disturbing the contents with any sound or motion such as speech or shaking the bottle for it will alter the pitch of the desires considerably. Remove the fine grains with a small spoon and sprinkle over the scalp or the palms of the hands and gently massage into the skin, taking care to wear gloves or else the physician may become inflamed. The patient must choose an object, such as a small portrait of the once beloved, or even an emblem of work such as a chisel if the person wishes to rekindle a passion for a vocation.
One caution—if too much powder is given, the patient may dwell upon the very thing itself rather than what it signifies, like that King who fell in love with the ring rather than the woman, and couldn’t release her even after she died (for the ring lay under her tongue). At last the Bishop discovered the ring and withdrew it from her cold mouth. But then the King fell in love with the Bishop! Whereupon the cleric wisely tossed the ring into Lake Costentz. The King, poor man, sat in a small boat for the rest of his days, lovesick over the water.
The powder should be given in the evening, for sleep is advisable thereafter. The course of the dreams will indicate success or failure. The object of desire will appear along with those hidden imperatives that dreams offer us. Hunting scenes, and cardoons promise success. The appearance of scissors-grinders and women with black teeth warn against intemperance.