Novels

The Muse

August 24, 2015

surfbrd shark

The Muse

 

The flashing cursor continued to blink at him, mocking him for his lack of imagination and inventiveness, the screen empty of text, no title or any suggestion of one. If the electronic device could speak to him, it would encourage him to give up writing and become a waiter or some other profession not requiring a great deal of creativity beyond choosing the correct wine for the meal. Bad in this instance, he knew nothing about wine.

Dry spells happened or so he was told; this particular one had been with him for a solid three months, his agent breathing down his neck for pages of copy. Every morning was the same; turn on the computer and open a blank screen. Now what he needed was an idea; any idea would do, even a crappy one. He could always fix something that was bad; revisions remedied sloppy initial drafts, though one had to start with something of substance.

A familiar musical theme played on his phone, the tune relegated to his agent, also girlfriend. He knew what it was about; she wanted results, the same call every week for many weeks. He debated whether not to answer, a stall tactic while he vacillated over whether to lie to her and claim a breakthrough. She would know; he was a terrible liar. Putting it on speaker he listened to the message, making no attempt to answer.

“Leon, I know you’re there,” said Sara. “My boss is chewing on his cigar, making a disgusting mess of it and waiting to get your latest stuff; he needs to see some text, black and white with clever lines and huge potential sales attached to them. We need to strike while you’re hot, Leon; your name is still on the shelves in the bookstores. That won’t last forever. Now where the fuck is it? And don’t give me this ‘I’m in a slump’ shit; crank out something soon or I’ll have to drop you. Click!”

Leon turned off his computer running his hands through his thinning hair and coughing, yesterdays stale coffee cold, the cream separating by the side of his desk. There were other things cluttering his workspace, negligence hand in hand with writers’ block. On one side of his desk, a wine glass tipped on its side, formed a red stain on the old maple desk, rapidly becoming permanent. Empty bags of potato chips and candy bar wrappers spilled onto the floor on the other side, his feet making a static noise from the plastic material.

“Why did I ever want to be a writer?” he said. “What happened to writing for fun and taking my time? When am I going to produce the great American novel? Now all I do is this shit, pulp fantasy, fiction crap.”

 

Leon Shore was riding the rails of minor success after his first of three published fictions for Lorenzo-Schutz Publishing House. It was the kind of thing new writers dreamt of and fewer realized, though the content could hardly be called literature. It began when his girlfriend, Meg had a friend named Sara at the publishing house and mentioned Leon during a friendly luncheon. Meg summarized one of his playful fantasy stories, which showed promise, given the hunger the public had for such material. Sara agreed to see what kind of stories Leon wrote, though making no promises. In the end, she liked what she saw and the publishing snowball began rolling downhill gathering momentum until Leon’s first book was on the shelves making money for everyone concerned.

It wasn’t all fun and games; Leon had to eat a lot of editing crap by people who thought they knew better. He didn’t always agree; but the essential story remained if slightly altered by the editing barracudas. Luckily for him, he had two other novels in various stages of completion. He didn’t consider them serious writing, only something to kill time while working on his one big novel. To his surprise the first fantasy sold well, the publisher wanting to see more. That was four years ago, when ambition was replaced by production.

Meg moved on, a career opportunity she could not pass up, no longer his girlfriend. Sara filled the vacancy after a year, their relationship blossoming on his success. She could be a bitch sometimes, personal and professional relationships confusing, Sara pushing him hard to produce; the woman knew how to work him. Good copy brought amazing sex with Sara, who was eager to please. At first, that was enough, his adventure fantasies feeding his ego along with Sara’s unrelenting pressure.

Even so, Leon lamented over Meg departure; she had a sweet disposition and charm few women possessed, including Sara. Meg traveling a lot of the time put too much stress on the relationship, limited time together taking its toll. Both agreed to end the frustrating meetings but retain a distant friendship. Remaining friends did not lessen his affection for her; that was a constant throughout their time together; marriage had been contemplated, though neither spoke of it.

It was counterproductive to bemoan something that could not be. Sara was helpful with his writing; good in bed too, not the same as Meg, who had a magic Leon could not understand. What was the missing element in Sara; did it matter at this point? Sara was there and Meg was not, end of story.

 

There is an idea I almost forgot, he mulled over, rifling through the bits of yellow paper. Too short though, I’d have to find a way to develop it or I won’t be able to make the required three hundred pages.

 

“Fuck it!” he yelled, throwing the post-its in the air.

The temptation to run his hand across the table, knocking everything on the floor sounded like some crappy movie without a plot; he’d seen enough of those. Why was that; film writers couldn’t write decent lines with interesting stories attached? They relied on visual stimulation to fill the two hours. It was all about blowing up things and fucking. But wasn’t that also the kinds of things Leon wrote, succumbing to the almighty dollar, the carrot dangling under his nose. Fantasy was about action, weird creatures and sex.

His problem was really simple, when one took the time to analyze it. For two years he’d been shut up in his apartment going nowhere, no new experiences, writing total crap, fabricating when there was a hole in the story, something mystical or strange, appealing to those who saw it as exciting.

Looking back, his stories had been about things that happened to him or people he knew; now, there was nothing to write about except some other inane nonsense about wizards and mythical creatures, not unlike the Harry Potter stories. It wasn’t in his nature to be a copycat writer but his theme leaned toward teens and young adults.

Good and evil, most readers preferred good to triumph over evil but not in an easy way. Evil had to be really nasty and prove difficult to remove. Dragons were slayed; evildoers were killed or locked away by some unimaginable mystical force. Something new and different had to be out there. Leon’s problem was stagnation and lack of external inspiration.

 

Bare chested, dressed in pajama bottoms he examined a mole next to his left nipple, realizing to his chagrin he hadn’t showered in a couple day, personal hygiene suffering along with inventiveness. The mole appeared bulkier than it had been a few weeks before; it could be just his imagination, one does not always pay strict attention to little things.

 

Cancer, he thought. I got fucking cancer, a perfect ending to a shitty life. I better go to the doctor and see how many months I’ve got to live, six months, weeks, or maybe days. Wouldn’t that solve everything.

 

Leon didn’t really want to know whether he had cancer but it would gnaw at him until he had it checked out. Tomorrow he’d make the appointment.

 

Just Dropped In

He scratched at his crotch discovering he needed to pee, maybe the discomfort preventing him from concentrating, a good excuse for being temporarily unproductive. Excuse or not, he needed to get up and attend to his bodily functions, though he felt stuck to his chair, lethargy preventing him to move. Had he slept the night before or fallen asleep at his desk? What did it matter; he hadn’t written a word last night or this morning.

“You better get up before you bladder explodes,” said a woman’s voice.

It surprised him since he hadn’t heard the front door open, the squeaky hinges in need of oil. It had to be Sara though she had been at the office moments before, a good forty-five minutes from there; no way she could make it that fast. And the voice didn’t sound like her, different in a lot of ways, sweeter. The confusion intensified when there was no one in the apartment to be seen. Whoever it had been would have to be in the same room or at least in the doorway; yet, there was no one there.

“Now I know I’m ready for the nuthouse,” declared Leon swiveling in his office chair. “There’s no one here except me. Get it together, Leon; you’re going off the deep end. More coffee, that’s what I need.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” returned the strange voice. “Is this the same man who wrote about all the supernatural stuff in his books yet can’t imagine a voice without a body?”

Leon started to laugh. “Well it would help if I could see something.”

“Do me a favor then,” requested the voice. “Close your eyes and count to five. Then you can open them and see what happens.”

“You got to be kidding, only to five? I thought people were supposed to count to ten,” said Leon, now shaken up by this invisible phenomenon.

“Do it Leon!” insisted the voice.

“Okay, honey if that’s what you want. One-two-three-four-five, ready or not, here I come.”

He opened his eyes expecting to see nothing; the door was still locked and chained. At this point he was prepared to call his doctor about commitment papers. Almost falling out of his chair, Leon saw a woman standing a few feet away from him dressed in a madras shirt and pair of jeans, her long blonde hair cascading over her shoulders. Her hands were on her hips in a mocking gesture, the corner of her mouth turned up in a half smile.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked irritated by the obvious game.

“Oh, how rude! I don’t know if I want to talk to you after all this fuss about needing to see a materialized body,” she answered. “But if you must know, I am your muse.”

“Huh? My muse?”

“I didn’t stutter, Leon. I am your muse and also the muse of others over the past few centuries.”

“Oh I see,” he returned. “I suppose you’ve worked with people like Tolstoy and Mark Twain?”

“Mm, not writers exclusively, Leon; a few composers and artists were part of my doing too, though I prefer writers as a rule.”

“Listen I really appreciate this hilarious joke, honey but I have to get something on this screen soon or my career as a writer will turn to shit. Who put you up to this, Sara? Very clever of her.’’

The woman pulled up a chair next to Leon and stared at him, her dark brown eyes boring into his face. She was really beautiful if not a little ridiculously dressed, like some country girl on the farm. Norman Rockwell would have had a ball with a subject like her, so earthy, so Americana.

“Norman was one of mine,” she offered. “Only seventeen. He was really a nice fellow though very corny when it came to art. I had to veto several of his dumb ideas. All those kittens, puppies and little gangly children were so syrupy but I guess people liked it.”

“How did you know I was thinking of Norman Rockwell?” asked Leon. “And who the hell are you, really?”

“To start off, my name is Miriam,” she began. “I didn’t pick the name but it is what I am called. Like I said before, I am your muse; that’s how I knew what you were thinking. And if you work with me I can help you with ideas, yours, not mine.”

Leon pushed himself up, taking a step or two away from his surprise visitor. He wondering how this nutty person got into his apartment; he also wondered if he could get to his cell phone and call the police before this woman did something bad to him; she might be some kind of serial murderer, stalking writers. It wouldn’t surprise him.

“I would have preferred another name, one like Samantha or Isabella but the other muses got those names first. If you want you can call me Mia, which is much sexier; I like the sound of that better. And for you information I’m not a serial killer nor am I going to hurt you. You can call the police; they won’t see me because I am your muse; you’re the only one who can. I’d be careful; the police will think you are crazy. Then what? Three months in the county hospital, that’s what.”

After months of boredom this little surprise was more than Leon could mentally fathom. Cautiously he walked around his chair observing his guest with skepticism, doubting a muse existed, wondering what this woman’s game was. Mia or whatever she was called did not appear to be dangerous but wasn’t that exactly the people to watch out for?

“If we both agree you are a muse, which I highly doubt, then what do you do?” he ventured. “Tell me what to write?”

“Oh, really Leon. If you were rattling away on your computer, creating the next best seller, I wouldn’t be here. If you think this is a joke, go ahead and call Sara; she’s the only one who would do this kind of thing. I know that’s what you think.”

“I will,” he replied, grabbing cell phone.

 

“Sara are you trying to be funny?” said Leon after she answered her phone. “A muse? Getting someone to pretend being a muse, what kind of crazy stunt is that?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about, Leon. Have you been eating regularly? Why would I do anything to distract you when I need pages from you? I need those now, by the way.”

“You sure you haven’t sent this woman to mess with my head?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered. “What woman? Are you fooling around with another woman? Because if you are, you can kiss our good times goodbye.”

“There is no other woman, Sara. I mean, I don’t know who this one is.”

“Then get rid of her,” she snapped. “I didn’t send anybody and I really can’t talk about this now. I’ll be there after work and please get something on paper for me or your name is mud with the publisher.”

The conversation ended abruptly, Sara sounding very irritated. There wasn’t much he looked forward to except for sex with Sara, which was being jeopardized by the strange woman in his apartment.

“Alright this is beginning to freak me out,” announced Leon watching Mia rock back and forth in the chair. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do and I want you to listen carefully. I’m going to take a shower and get dressed. When I get out of the bedroom I want you out of here. Understand?”

Mia tilted her head to the side more amused than threatened.

“Do whatever you want,” she answered. “A shower will definitely do everyone concerned a favor.”

 

Imagination

Shaking off his blurry brain, Leon felt energized after his shower, the funk of his dry spell relieved for a few minutes. He attributed his morning muse vision to being overly tired and depressed. Maybe he was asleep in the chair and dreaming all of this, which would explain what he saw and heard. It had to be a dream since her outfit was so ridiculous for the city, nothing growing except weeds in the cracks of the sidewalk. How he managed to conjure up this specific woman was a complete mystery, a woman he had never seen before but had very distinct characteristics. He had dreamt about his girlfriend or some celebrity he knew but never a total stranger.

Laughing, he spotted the bedroom chair propped against the door to keep uninvited guests out. This was paranoid for a person who scoffed at people believing in paranormal experiences. Interesting idea; he might write a silly kids fiction about it. However, his feet were well planted in reality, not drifting off into illogical bad movie type plots.

He stood naked beside the bed he pausing for a few minutes to let the dampness on his skin dry, the breeze from the desk fan, helping. The steam in the shower didn’t get him completely dry and he hated putting on clothes while wet. With the chair wedged against the front door, he felt confident no one could enter.

“Aren’t you glad you never got that tattoo of Meg on your arm?” said Mia standing by the window. “Imagine how embarrassing it will be when you finally settle down with a wife?”

“Huh?”

“You know, the woman you will eventually marry; it surely isn’t Sara. I really don’t like her and neither will you after a while.”

He looked at the door, the chair still propped up against the knob.

“How did you get in?” he asked, holding his hands over his crotch. “Climb through the window?”

“Relax, Leon. No one can come through that window; its four stories up, remember, no ledge. Besides, that window hasn’t been opened in years; its painted shut, right?”

“Okay, now I’m starting to worry,” he mumbled.

“I can go anywhere, even if the doors are closed or on the top of Mt. Everest. I wouldn’t do that by the way; there’s no oxygen there and it so cold. Dressed like that would definitely be uncomfortable.”

“Would you turn around while I get dressed,” he demanded. “I have to get to the bottom of how you managed to get into my apartment.”

“Don’t worry about me,” she returned. “You, being naked, doesn’t bother me. As a muse we have strict rules about sexual misconduct; I’m immune to it as are the other muses. Nudity doesn’t have any effect on us at all. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin liked to stand by his window in the nude? He claimed he was taking an air bath.”

“Please?”

“If it makes you happy, sure,” she replied.

Without a lot of ceremony he pulled on his pants and T-shirt, careless to tuck everything in neatly. His bare feet had crumbs stuck to them left over from the crackers he ate before retiring the night before. He would have put on socks except he didn’t have any clean ones. Turing around to face Mia, he was curious to find out how she pulled off her Houdini trick.

“It’s no trick Leon,” she said before he could ask. “I could explain it but I doubt you’d understand since your world is one of solid things that can’t rearrange themselves.”

“Damn right I won’t understand!” he confirmed noticing a change in her attire. Mia had a lacey blouse with a pair of designer jeans instead of her farm girl outfit.

“How do you like it?” she said twirling around to give him a good look. “I got your message about my former attire being a little on the hayseed side. Like I said, I know what you’re thinking.”

Leon scanned Mia noting how well she was put together, not that it was something he was willing to pursue. It still had to be an elaborate gag of some sort; he was sure of it.

“Okay if you are really my muse, then you can help by cleaning up the place. Laundry would be good; I haven’t had clean socks for three days.”

She raised her eyebrows, amused with the request.

“The word is muse, not maid, Leon. That’s not part of my job description according to the Handbook of Muse International. We don’t clean or do windows, we inspire.”

Whatever this game was, Leon decided to play along until the prank was revealed. It was a pretty elaborate joke but he was not so easily taken in.

“How about giving me an idea then? Anything would help. I can’t think of a title or storyline. My ideas are total crap, repeats of stories I’ve read. Things will start sounding a little too familiar and that would be plagiarism. I need something new and different.”

“My feelings tell me you need to get organized before you type a word,” she announced. “Stale coffee, candy, chips and four day old pizza, they are not brain food, Leon. Make something healthy; drag yourself out of this human funk you live in.”

“Isn’t funk a colloquial expression, Miss, whatever your name is? I thought you were supposed to know something about writing.”

“Who do you think coined the expression?” she answered. “Everybody uses that word anyhow unless you’re some high-brow snob of a writer.”

Leon was still too baffled by this whole situation. He couldn’t come back with something clever, the cobwebs not vacating his overtaxed brain.

“Even though your Sara satisfies your primal sexual needs, I find it surprising she would deem to enter this armpit of an apartment,” added Mia. “Of course, I also know she hasn’t been here in several weeks, which is a small blessing for her; the place smells.”

“She’s been busy, that’s all,” he protested.

Busy, my foot! She’s putting you off, you know. It’s only a matter of time before she dumps you.”

“I beg your pardon,” responded Leon. “Sara thinks I’m brilliant and the hottest guy she has ever known.”

“Give me a break,” returned Mia. “Women say that to men all the time; don’t you read any women’s magazines? You men are just as bad if not worst. But I’m not going to waste our valuable time talking about trivial things. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I wouldn’t start thinking about a house in the suburbs with the pitter-patter of little feet. She is not the one who will provide that kind of life for you, Leon. For your information Sara is having sex this very moment with Larry Schutz the co-owner of the publishing house; you might say she’s feathering her bed in the business. Ooo! I like that. I’ll have to get you to put it in your next book, feathering her bed.”

 

First, There is Denial

After a morning of straightening up his apartment, minus assistance from his muse, who disappeared as soon as he began, he began to think about what she said regarding Sara. It made more sense than he wanted it to; Sara was ambitious, probably stooping to something like sleeping with her boss to get ahead. When she and Leon had sex, he always felt her heart wasn’t in it. Was the muse a trick a test of sorts?

 

Muse, ha, he thought! Pretty clever game Sara is playing, though I don’t understand why the blonde woman would put Sara down if she were part of the gag; doesn’t make any sense. Maybe she’s trying reverse psychology. Get me jealous so she will look better.

 

The counters and the refrigerator were clean, the smell of the apartment replaced with incense that magically appeared out of nowhere. The floor in the kitchenette still looked disastrous. His building superintendent had promised to replace the linoleum months ago but seemed to have forgotten or just blew him off. There was the possibility his late rent played a part in the oversight, another task to add to his list before he was thrown into the streets.

Rent was a continuing problem being a writer. His focus went to his stories; things like bills got forgotten. Sporadic royalty payments didn’t help matters; chunks of money came and went but never in a regular pattern. Paying his bills and keeping better track of them would be his immediate priority, since he had no inspiration for a book. So much for this make-believe muse helping him out.

Curiosity led Leon to take the Red, White and Blue Transit crosstown to his publisher’s building, where he would confront Sara about the muse joke. It was a little funny but not enough to justify the intrusion into his apartment, people wandering in and out at will, disturbing.

The bus was one of those eco friendly vehicles, efficient but slow lumbering down the main avenue. This part of town was congested, bumper-to-bumper traffic with the smell of exhaust from the other vehicles. The tall buildings escaped the obnoxious fragrance only because it hung low on the streets below, exposing the pedestrians to the less friendly environment.

Leon disembarked at his stop staring up at Brenner Towers, a twelve story building. Lorenzo-Schutz Publishing House took up three floors starting on the fifth through seventh, which was fortunate since the elevators didn’t always work.

“Is Sara around,” he asked the receptionist who had half a muffin in her mouth.

“Minute,” she mumbled chomping away at the pastry. Her small placard on her desk had her name, Eloise and by the look of her she had consumed many muffins in her few young years. She swallowed downing a gulp of Mountain Dew for good measure.

“Sara who?” asked Eloise.

“Is there more than one?” asked Leon.

Eloise smiled. “I guess there really isn’t, is there,” she answered. “Just a habit, when people ask for anyone. Sorry.”

Leon smiled though he really didn’t see the humor in the mindless receptionist asking such a dumbass question. Eloise pick up the phone, punching several numbers until she got the person in question.

“Who shall I say is calling?” she added impatient to finish the muffin.

“It’s whom,” corrected Leon. “Leon’s the name.”

“Sure Sara, some man named Hume, Leon Hume,” related Eloise through her headset.

He found it hard to believe that the publishing house hired people who couldn’t speak the language correctly but it wasn’t really necessary he supposed.

“Sara said she’s tied up in a meeting with Mr. Schutz, Mr. Hume,” answered Eloise. “She says to leave a number and she’ll get back to you later today.”

“That won’t be necessary; she has my number,” replied Leon. “I just need to ask her a question. It’ll be quick.”

Eloise dutifully delivered the message to Sara, punching in one of the phone lines and handing Leon the receiver.

“I don’t know who you are Mr. Hume,” said Sara, out of breath, a hint of a moan in her voice. “Can’t this wait?”

“Sara! It’s me, Leon,” he replied.

“Why did you tell Eloise your name was Hume?” asked Sara.

“I didn’t and it’s a long story, perhaps longer than what I’ve written to date. All I want to know is who this woman is that you sent to my apartment.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” declared Sara, her breath slowing.

“The one you sent me, the blonde woman,” he added.

“I haven’t sent anyone to you. Now unless it is vital I have to finish up with Mr. Schutz, our business strategy meetings require deep undisturbed concentration.”

Just before she hung up, Leon could hear a man’s voice saying, ‘come on baby.’ Deep undisturbed concentration was beginning to sound like something else. Mia must have been right unless Mr. Schutz was watching a ballgame on television, highly unlike since there were no ballgames being played.

The mystery of Mia’s arrival still linger, though there was little mystery in what Sara was up to in Schutz’s office. Leon wandered toward the elevator, deciding to sit for a minute in the lobby. He wanted to feel betrayed but Sara had let it be known at the beginning that it was strictly a physical thing they had. With that, one had to assume it could shift to another person should she see it to her advantage.

“I told you,” came a woman’s voice.

Leon turned to the side seeing Mia sitting on the bench next to him. There was something different about her but he couldn’t quite tell what it was.

“It’s the hair,” she said. “I decided you would feel more comfortable if I wasn’t a blonde like Sara. Actually she isn’t really a blonde, just has her hair done. Very tacky if you ask me, especially since her complexion confirms that she is not a blonde.”

“You dyed your hair?”

“No, silly,” answered Mia. “I can change anything I want. I don’t have to dye or do anything like that.”

“Okay, that’s weird!”

“Nice job in the kitchen, by the way,” she added. “Tidy up the office next and then we can get to work.”

He noticed a small tattoo at the base of her neck, a tattoo or perhaps birthmark when he considered it, an eight-point star in perfect proportions in a subtle shade of pink. He was going to ask her about it but decided not to buy into the whole muse charade. Maybe the woman was a mental case, crazy as a loon; that would make complete sense. Sara was undoubtedly not the perpetrator of this so-called joke since she claimed she knew nothing about the woman.

There were two options facing him; he could tell her to get lost or play along with her fantasy, hoping a hint of sanity would prevail in the end. She was kind of cute even though she claimed not to be interested in sex. Besides, his office did need to be cleaned up and it wouldn’t hurt to humor the woman.

“It’s really not an office,” he answered. “Just a corner next to the window with a desk and cabinet. I can do that but that won’t get me anywhere near a start on my next book.”

“The story is there Leon; you just haven’t looked deep enough yet,” she replied. “All this clutter is jumbling your brain; that’s why we have to get things in order.”

“You mean I have to get in order. You’re not a maid, if I remember correctly.”

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