Mughal style, "Girl luring quicksilver from a mine with her beauty," mid-18th century
The Hsin Hsiu Pen Tsao laid the groundwork— silver and tin—but it wasn’t until alchemists turned the flame up on cinnabar, condensing its exhalation into Shui Yin, quicksilver, that the formulary for amalgam changed. And it wasn’t until I was seven that I’d chase those mercurial fascinations around with my finger. They were slick as tiny fish, hatchling minnows schooling on a desk in my dad’s dental office, some so small they could hide behind a fallen eyelash. I didn’t know they were poison, but neither did the Chinese alchemists, who had no one to scold them when they tipped their treatises with quicksilver, having chased the bright liquid metal into its glass bedchamber.