A bloom of love and the smell of deathby Kevin Kling, Minnesota Public Radio
Kevin Kling is a writer, performer and storyteller. He currently holds an Original Works Residency with MPR.
There is a wonderful Italian saying: Dio li Fa, poi li Accoppia. "God makes them, then he mates them." It's usually said of an eccentric couple who seem destined to be together.
I entered college as a pre-med student and I looked like it: thick black glasses and a calculator on each hip like Wyatt Einstein or Albert Earp. I actually loved science. Some of the theorems are very suggestive — like the piz theory of joining midpoints — and proving a difficult syllogism has a release all its own. But I was in college, I wanted to meet real girls. I looked on lone isotopes and fields of inertia with a heavy sigh.
I finally hit the wall while a security guard in the science building. At night I had to guard an exhibit that housed a rare tropical plant, Amorphophallus titanum, which means exactly what you think. It's also called the corpse flower. It blooms every 17 years. This one was flowering, and true to its name it smelled like a corpse. This attracted flies that then carried its pollen hopefully to another corpse plant. It really smelled bad but even so there were long lines of spectators during the day. I thought, OK, if this plant that smells like a dead body can find a date, I'm not giving up.
As any good field scientist knows, you gotta go where they are, so that left nursing and the theater department. Given what I was after, theater seemed the best choice.
There was only one girl who caught my interest. We were in modern dance together. Her name was Stephanie and she wore large glasses that kept flying from her face during pirouettes. In plays, she was mostly cast as a maid or a member of the chorus. I loved seeing her in Greek plays or medieval romances. The thick glasses made her look like she was from the future.
At the time I was in a playwriting class. We had to write a one-act for our project. So I asked Stephanie, if she could play anyone, who would it be? She knew exactly.
And that's how I wrote my Madame Curie musical tragedy.
In my research I came to love Madam Curie. She was passionate, loved her husband almost as much as science, and was everything a good hero should be — powerful as Desdemona, beguiling as Cleopatra and mad as mad Ophelia. And I was certain that with every discovery she must have burst into song. What else could one do?
Stephanie glowed like the radium she sang about. The play, however, was horrible. A friend who reviewed it said, "Go see 'Madam, That's an Atom' if you want to hear the sound of one hand clapping."
I was devastated.
The next day I wanted to skip dance class but our grade was partly determined on attendance. I walked in and Stephanie gave me a huge hug. She said her friends were so jealous — someone had written a play for her. She didn't care that people thought it was terrible.
I learned then that love thrives in audacity.
I asked if she'd seen the corpse flower. She said she wanted to, but the lines were so long.
I took out the Science keys. "There might be a way around that."
At midnight we were in front of the laminated Amorphophallus titanum sign. As our glasses smashed into each other, she whispered in my ear: "Dio li Fa, poi li Accoppia."