Tabula Rasa

chapter 3.

Their first time together is—sadly and predictably—awkward.

Night is relieving for both of them; they're bereft of the suffocating clothing which sometimes makes it so difficult to breathe and even think. The bedroom is as lacking in area as any other location within the house, probably more so, seeming to suggest—or demand—that the new spouses engage in a sexual encounter. This is its titular role in Hohenheim's mind: "a sexual encounter".

He's had them before, though they are mostly reserved for nights when he has drunk too much—evenings when his research yielded no results nor answers and frustration provoked him to seek the comfort of liquor. He dealt out money for ladies, sometimes. Sometimes, that was not necessary. Often, he awoke with the niggling suspicion that he had wasted valuable time which could have been given to some more important endeavor.

A residual bad taste from his previous experiences is still with him as he watches Mary remove her clothing. She is bare in a surprisingly short amount of minutes.

Layers of clothing drop to the floor, peeled away like the skin of an orange. Blonde hair. Freckles. On her shoulders, too. Bright eyes. Her hair is mainly straight, but it curls a little around her face; baby fine hairs caress her forehead and ears, tickling her neck. Mary's curves are underdeveloped; her breasts are high and small, with nipples like pale pink sidalcea. Her body is lily white, and for the first time, Hohenheim realizes that she reminds him of so many florets and wildflowers. She is sunshine, sky, dandelion and cornflower, and when she is dressed, all the colours of nature go with her.

Now, the wildflowers are gone, and she is only Mary. Short, or average height for a woman. Slender. The freckles barely go lower than her long, beautiful neck; there are none on her breasts or further down.

Her eyes are lowered, but not in shame.

She looks solemn, but the pace of her movements is quick; Hohenheim might have allowed himself to believe she is eager, but why would she be? The act will be more painful than pleasurable to her, this first time. She is too tiny, too raw; she has her hair and she's undoubtedly undergone her first cycle already, but she'll likely still leave spots of blood on the clean white sheets.

Virgins, Hohenheim knows, are not so pleasurable to be with as many men might suppose. They are not often prone to critiquing you, true enough, but being with them is typically a teaching experience, and the bedroom is an unfortunate location to be giving anyone lessons on anything.

And then Hohenheim finds her in bed with him, nude and fair and small enough to be crushed if he's not careful.

She hardly looks at him. Instead, she kicks the sheets aside, pats them down with her hands, and throws her body weight down, landing her head on the pillow so hard that the meeting of cloth and flesh is audible. Springs creak. She never says a word, but her body language tells him that she's waiting; she lays back with her hair trailing off the bed and her elbows supporting her shoulders as she sits up a little.

Then, she lays back, supine and pliant. Hands come together on her stomach, fingers against fingers—as though she is praying, but she twiddles her thumbs.

A tight, secret smile brushes her lips like the fingernail of a ghost.

You don't have to prove yourself. You don't have to prove your willingness, or your strength, or your stamina, or anything, Hohenheim wants to tell her, because that's what this is about, isn't it? She isn't looking forward to this, but she's not going to show any fear or discomfort or anxiety. Tonight she hopes to acquire her badge of honour. Her husband can see it in her eyes, and when he at last eases over to where she is, she laughs.

One leg wraps around the small of his back, and Mary whispers, "I want to be a woman."

Hohenheim considers putting out the candle, but when he makes a move to do so, Mary halts him. "Don't you think I'm pretty enough to look at it?" she asks with a giggle, and Hohenheim merely smiles to affirm that yes, yes, she is. She is pretty, perhaps beautiful, and he cannot shake the feeling that he may be a sinner, but no...that's not a logical manner of looking at things at all, is it?

Her parents have given her away. She has come with a dowry, and she has come willingly.

Ivory and buttercup, sky and freckles, youth and optimism; her eyes close to blissful slits as her husband leans downwards. She arches up to meet his lips in a kiss, laughing a little as his scruffy beard scrubs her chin; slim fingers stroke Hohenheim's shoulder, and Mary tosses her hair over her own. Shadows like cool lead darkness run the length of her frame, pooling at her navel, and Hohenheim hears her words—her command, as it is—echoing over and over, time after time in the dead night.

Candlelight flickers.

Rivers of shadows course over the room and its inhabitants, carving the way for the arduous journey into morning.

Roughly one and a half months into the marriage, Mary announced that her blood had not arrived at its expected time. Her mother, she claimed, had always educated her as to what that meant, and she imparted the news with pride and a hint of mirth.

Hohenheim had been in his basement, sitting at his desk and idly going over the writings of Nicolas Flamel and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Long ago, he had deemed that both men were either blinded or fools—perhaps both—and in order to properly combat their brand of ignorance, he felt he had to understand their theories inside and out.

Truthfully, Hohenheim was beginning to tire of the indolence he had acquired since coming to Reuestadt; he was doing no one any real good, least of all himself. Amestris was a land of potential, a heaven where alchemy consisted of something more than alembics, athanors, and ephemerides. Aqua vitae and cadmia were well and good, but Hohenheim felt as though he ought to have been achieving more in the way of—


He didn't know.

He didn't know, and he was growing frustrated by that fact.

The man spent every evening poring over tomes and measuring substances. His studies were progressing, but not at the rate they should have been, and Mary was both his comfort and his strife during this trying time. She kept him company. She gave him someone intelligent to hold discourse with, and really, he needed that. Her mind was open; she was eager for knowledge, and she was inquisitive. Hohenheim taught her whenever he had a moment to spare, educating her on mandalas, on chemical compounds, on the domination of gold by Sol, silver by Luna, and quicksilver by Mercury.

Mary could remember the symbols more easily than she could remember the names, but Hohenheim informed her that both were essentially an alchemist's code. Glauber's salt was naught more than sodium sulfate, but the scientific name risked an identification of the substance. Reuestadt's laws were such that an alchemist had to cover his or her tracks, and what better way to do that than with language which was highly specific to alchemists?

Hohenheim's medical advice was still met with much success in the town, but a status quo was no longer satisfying for him. Success, success, and more success, but no breakthroughs. Oh, certainly, the church fathers appreciated his wisdom, and the parents of children he treated were fond of his "miracle cures", but he could not help feeling that he was making little progress towards the panacea or the Philosopher's Stone.

No matter the consternation it gave his wife, Hohenheim frequently took to illustrating numerous versions of the Gnostic circle.

Trimsamsa. Dvadasima. Navasima. Decanate.

Once the arrays were activated, Hohenheim could always feel the Gate. Close. So very close. Truth and knowledge—

"I'm pregnant," Mary repeated, still lounging in the doorway. She took a step forward, placing her hands on her hips. A strange smile played upon her lips, but when Hohenheim looked at her, he saw something not unlike caution within her eyes. Gauging, he thought. She's gauging me. "Is this a problem?"

"No, of course not." Hohenheim closed the book he had been reading and regarded his wife calmly. "I am inclined to wonder about the veracity of your claim, though. Are you certain?"

A pregnancy. Strange, so very strange. Not unexpected exactly, because Hohenheim knew that pregnancy was the natural and predictable result of intermittent coitus, and while he had logically known this, and while he had even assumed it would happen...there was something in the revelation that he felt his mind had not accounted for. A weight, so to speak. Now that this knowledge was sitting here before him, he did not know the proper emotional value to give it.

A child...a child...what would that mean for him? For them? He couldn't lie and say he thought it was definitely a blessing, because it might prove to be just the opposite. Children could be expensive and time-consuming, though Hohenheim generally liked them. He conceptualized the idea of a son or daughter by focusing on fond memories of children such as Rodrick. This thought won a smile.

"Yes, I'm certain," Mary was saying. "I know my cycle. It's very regular, and this month, I missed it. I never miss a month. As sure as the sun rises, I'm pregnant." She shrugged. "Do you not want the child? If so, tell me and I'll find a way to get rid of it, but tell me now or else you'll miss your opportunity. If I keep it until I start to show, then I'm going to keep it altogether."

"I do want you to keep the child. Don't be silly. I just don't know what to make of this news. I haven't made the right preparations, although I suppose I can go about doing that now. My focus has been—"

"—elsewhere. On your studies. Yes. I know."

"You're not bitter, are you? I never meant to suggest that this was a problem. I don't see it as a wrench in my plans or anything of the like. I'll have to change my schedule and my life and well, I'm willing to accommodate these alterations. I like children and I'm excited by the prospect of meeting this one, but if you wish for me to show the enthusiasm of one who planned for an heir and struggled after it for many years, then...well...I can't offer you that."

"Nor did I expect it." She wrung her hands. The smile had begun to ebb; in its place, the seeds of anxiety were sprouting, and even though Hohenheim caught himself and did not remark upon what he saw, he took immediate notice of his wife's expression. "But lately, husband, it has come to my attention that..."

She faltered. A word faded, then died, and Mary looked away, touching her chin with her fingertips.

With his curiosity having been piqued, Hohenheim felt an urge to nudge her into further conversation, but experience told him he needed to take his time. Mary was still so young, hardly more than a child in her own right. She was allowed confusion and displeasure, even if the latter proved to be over something that was not worth her concern. The girl was not given to frowns; even when she was unsure, she held a smile as her shield. Plainly, as Hohenheim had already discovered, Mary was a master of protecting her heart and herself.

"I clean your house. I cook. I perform the chores that ladies are taught to perform. I do everything my mother taught me. I am a wife, a housekeeper, and now a mother."

"And are these three titles, or three curses? Be honest, Mary, but I will remind you that you were the one who asked for marriage." He resisted a sigh. Sighing would have been far too puerile. "For my part in the matter, I am a husband, a physician, and now a father. I work and I study. I teach you. I earn most of the money and I handle finances. We each have our roles. We each accepted the tasks of wedlock."

What do you want? he wished to ask her, but he didn't have to, because all at once, she turned on him, eyes wide and frantic.

"You once asked me if I enjoyed living as a simpleton. I don't. I want more out of life." She paced back and forth, head shaking furiously, and for a time, Hohenheim thought she meant to begin stomping. "I wanted you...I always wanted you because I fancied that you wanted more out life, too. Physician. Alchemist. Scientist. Seeker. What are you, Paracelsus?"

"All of the things you say."

"Are you really?" The final word was shrill. Childish, Hohenheim thought, unable to keep from shaking his head a little at her outburst. "I wanted you to take me to Earth! You said you were on a quest for knowledge and you told me I'd find my petticoat stained, and I have, but not by the road! If anything, it's been stained by the dust that I've swept away so that your home would remain clean!"

Hohenheim felt somewhat bewildered; why was it, he wondered, that their fights always seemed to consist of Mary accusing him of wronging her in some way that he could've never conceived of anyone taking offense over?

He didn't understand his wife at all, he realized suddenly.

A sense of sadness or loss should have accompanied the acknowledgment of this fact, but for whatever reason, Hohenheim felt neither. If anything, the foremost emotion in his mind was a nagging grain of frustration which he attempted to suppress; anger on display was never graceful, never lovely. On Earth, Paracelsus had earned infamy by slighting his fellow scholars and burning their works. He had been scorned, and he had been an exile. He had no wish to acquire similar resentment from anyone else, so he bit back any contempt that ever came to him.

"I'll not entertain your petulance, Mary." He looked away from her and opened his novel, resuming his rereading. The literary quest felt fruitless in its own right, but even the writings of fools and charlatans made for a more worthy pursuit than an argument with a girl who didn't seem willing to be sensible. "Begone with you until your mood improves."

He didn't begrudge her for wanting more, not as such. He wanted more as well.

He didn't appreciate the sluggishness with which his studies were progressing, and he despised that moving around on Amestris seemed to be more difficult than he had anticipated. Even if the weather permitted travel—and lately, either the heat had been far too much to stand or the rains had fallen hot and violent—suspicions ran rampant, and Hohenheim often found himself justifying his life and discussing matters with people he had no interest in dealing with. He had his own religious beliefs, to an extent, and he did want to study religions in greater depth, but he didn't endorse all this superstitious nonsense which inhibited his intellectual journey.

All the same, Hohenheim knew this to be no fault of his own.

He was hindered, but it was not his wish to be hindered, and he was not going to abide Mary behaving as though he was doing something wrong. He was not. She was being irrational, and that was simply the end of the story.

"So you're just...dismissing me?" Through his peripheral vision, Hohenheim saw the rage simmering throughout his wife's body; her features betrayed her true feelings: facial muscles tightened in the manner reserved for grinding teeth, eyes narrowed, shoulders stiffened.

She was just aching to lunge forward and hit him, or perhaps smash his alembics, and Hohenheim knew it.

"I am telling you to leave my presence until you are ready to discuss this situation rationally. I will not abide your accusations and your...vituperation." He gave a slight shrug to demonstrate his nonchalance. "Your tone merits an argument. I'm not going to argue with you."

"I don't want an argument, but I don't want—!" The next thing Hohenheim knew, Mary had covered her face with one of her hands, and all at once, she emitted a loud, high, thin sound. He returned his full attention to her, startled to see that her face had reddened, and—to his amazement—she began to shake with sobs.

A better release for her emotions than the alternative, he supposed.

"—I don't want to be ordinary! You promised me something more! That's why I wanted to be with you so badly. I thought...I thought..." The rest of her words perished in the storm of hysterical crying which followed. Soon, both hands enshrouded her face; she wept hard against them, trembling and mewling like an agitated kitten.

Hohenheim could not have been more stunned if the Gate itself had suddenly opened before the both of them. In all the time he had known the girl, Mary had never once given herself over to tears. To sarcasm, yes, and to harsh words, but outright crying?

He had never imagined that he might see this; as far as he had known, Mary simply did not cry.

"You're not ordinary," Hohenheim said, taking care to moderate his tone; he wanted—no, needed—to sound as gentle as possible. Irritation or apathy or even shock would have done little to soothe the girl and much to upset her further.

And he did care for her. He liked her. He might have even loved her, tiresome though she could be at times. For whatever the man lacked in natural comforting instincts, something innate told him that he needed to be soft-spoken, amicable, and patient.

"You're not ordinary," he repeated, more loudly. "If you were, I would have never given you so much of my time, my fascination, and my adoration. I talk to many people great and small, but only a select few hold my interest. You've held it splendidly. Mary..."

The man arose and strode to where his wife stood, caught in a tangle of shivers. You've seen men do this before, he told himself. Simply wrap your arms around her and pull her close. That's what one is supposed to do. But he felt awkward; clumsy. His hands seemed several sizes too large and careless, yet he managed—ungracefully—to lock them together behind Mary's shoulder blades. Very inelegant, he noted as he eased her closer.

Mary responded to the embrace, albeit slowly. She wiped her eyes with her knuckles and tentatively stepped forward, pressing one wet cheek to her husband's chest.

"I've seen the effect that pregnancy has on some women," she said in a fevered whisper, and when Hohenheim looked down, he saw that her eyes had reddened. "They become...I...I don't know how to put it. They become domestic. Interested in only their hearth and home. I don't want to be a stupid cow. I don't want to be ruled by my hormones. Please, husband. Please don't let that come to pass."

"Don't be silly, Mary." This was coming to be a common phrase for him, Hohenheim observed. But no matter; Mary was still young. "What about your own mother? I've met the woman and heard your stories of her. She's quite the character, homemaker or not."

"And you don't know the arguments my parents had. You don't know how my father resented my mother at times. He even hit her, if he was hopped up on liquor. I was there. I saw it. All of it. And what for? Because she was not quite a typical wife, an ideal wife. I shan't be one either, and—"

"—and I'd never hit you, Mary. Have I ever? Don't be nonsensical. You are my ideal wife." And my ideal student, as well. "You look. You inspect. You question. You analyze. You're smart and odd and I do respect you in so long as you're not carrying on like a girl in need of a pop to the rear." He sighed softly. "We'll be fine. All three of us..."

"I suppose," Mary conceded at length. A hint of mulishness lined the words, but as quickly as her tears had begun to flow, the crying ceased; she reached a hand up and stroked her face, massaging her eyelids and sodden cheeks. "But don't forget that I want to go to Earth someday. I want to travel...somewhere. Anywhere."

"So do I, my dear wife. So do I." Hohenheim touched his chin to Mary's brow. The two of them stood together, arms around one another, countenances solemn, and all the while, alembics and crucibles watched them; candlelight threw lengthening shadows along the walls, and fire reflected off of Hohenheim's spectacles.

In that moment, the man's sanctuary seemed to transform into a cathedral large enough for his wife's soul as well as his own, with arches and buttresses, vaulted ceilings and infinite space to house all of their many dreams. The darkness was warm, fragrant with chemicals and potions, and despite their mutual anxiety over what the days of their futures might hold in store for them, Hohenheim assured himself that everything would be all right for himself and Mary.

Living was science, and all science was logic. What was logic, if not the answer to existence?

Fine, Hohenheim reiterated to himself. We'll be fine.

And why not?

It was only logical, after all.