Maggiormente laughed. "Now, now—you mustn't give in to despair. You've only just begun."
Gustave grinned weakly.
"Have you written down the eyes yet?"
Dutifully the poet scribbled away. "I added limpid, too. That's a good word."
The alchemist found his grasp of French struggling against its limits. "What does that mean?"
"Pellucid," the poet said, a far away look in his eyes.
Maggiormente raised one eyebrow. "I am no closer to understanding. It must be something different in Italian."
"Clear, undimmed, without obstruction. Her eyes were green and limpid."
The alchemist coughed. "Well, I suppose ocular health is important."
The poet winced. "It's not about her health, it's about the clarity of her eye colour. Its perfection."
"Ah." Maggiormente considered this for a moment. "At least you consider something of hers to be without imperfections."
"I am doing my best to remain on a flattering path. But what more about her eyes?"
"Perhaps you should move on from eyes. What's next?"
"Off the top of my head, I'd guess perhaps lips."
Maggiormente frowned. "Haven't you written love poems before?"
"Well—" Gustave looked sheepish. "I have…for other people."
"But not for yourself."
Maggiormente grinned at his friend, who looked suddenly pink. "That makes this so much more important, amico mio. You must go with the truth. From here," he added, thumping his chest with a fist.
The poet rubbed his chin. "Hmmmm."
"So what did you notice first?"
Gustave closed his eyes. Maggiormente supposed he was remembering every detail of the encounter. At least the poet's face showed a flickering montage of expressions as his eyes moved under their lids. At last they flicked open and he stared at his friend.
"Perfect. Her hair was red, yes?"
"Fiery." He wrote the word down in his notebook, then frowned at it. "Perhaps that's too strong." Gustave looked up at the alchemist. "She could take that the wrong way."
Maggiormente considered the issue. "Is there another word that conveys the excitement of the flame yet sounds less…combative?"
The poet mused, tapping the pencil against his teeth. "Incendiary?"
The alchemist nodded encouragement. "A word for the colour? Red? It seems too mundane. Is there something more, ah, poetic?"
"Crimson? No, inaccurate." The poet looked skyward as if he might pluck a word from above. "Not red, not brown, in between. There's a word for that…"
"Burnt sienna?" Maggiormente suggested, remembering his encounter with the painters.
"No, auburn, that's it!" He wrote the word down hastily as if it might escape before he did so. "What's this 'burnt sienna'?"
"I just learned it recently, in fact I was thinking of making my own range of burnt colours but it took so long to find someone who knew what the sienna was that could be burnt, so I got distracted because there was this linseed business that I was hoping would prove a useful fuel source but so far it has not provided more than explosions which I'm afraid have not been easy to control."
Gustave blinked at him. "Perhaps I should go with auburn."
The alchemist frowned. "But she is an artist. Perhaps she would appreciate the knowledgeable reference to her expertise. That would be a good thought, surely."
The poet grimaced and ran a hand through his hair again. The wild tumble suggested confusion. "This love is a perishingly difficult business, my friend."