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by David Rollow

The Muse came knocking at the writer’s window on a night of wild weather. Her skin seen through the windowpanes was luminous and pale, except for her flushed cheeks. Her green eyes glistened. Never had she looked more beautiful. Gladdened by this unexpected visit--for the page lay empty on his table and the pen lay untouched by the page--the writer stood and unlocked the window, his heart surging against his ribs as if they, too, somehow, were to be unlocked and his heart set free.

The Muse tumbled in and fell in a heap on the floor, her legs trapped in the folds of her gossamer gown. She hummed to herself with her eyes closed, as if she heard a tune inaudible to mortal ears--as was so, since she sang off key--and she plucked distractedly on her lyre.

The writer heard her humming and strumming as discordant noise, since her lyre strings were out of tune as usual. She was a little drunk, as she often was when she came to visit. Sober, she had perfect pitch.
So she always presented herself, in a state of disarray, as if just before visiting him she had been to a wild party—her breath short as if from recent exertion, her color high, her eyes lit with a kind of excitement that raised the hairs on the back of the writer’s neck and sent a tremor up his spine. She’d come from dancing merrily in some bright green place, or from a lover’s passionate embrace. What difference did it make, so long as she favored him with her visits? The writer loved her. He realized there was something dull and earthbound about his thinking, and that she herself would have no patience with his petty misgivings.

How like you to take the dark view, she’d say. Of course it’s only a false spring, but why should you be so blue? Why be reminded of winter’s inevitable return, just because it’s inevitable? Even a false spring should give you new hope of the real spring, the renewal of the world. Be positive! Have some hope!
Of course he hoped against hope for her visits, so it couldn’t be said that he was a total pessimist. And he kept right on working when she didn’t show up. And sometimes she didn’t come for weeks, even months at a time. But she was right about his basic nature. He looked on the dark side.

Craftsman! she called him. Wordsmith! Drudge! But never—the more praised she!—Poet! Writer, she called him. Because he was her writer, not because he was generic.

“Get up off the floor, will you?” the writer said. “Let me get you a towel. You’ll catch your death.”
Her eyes opened wide again, as bright as before.

“Well, writer,” said she, “I’ve found you at your work. Things don’t seem to be going so well with you.”
“We’ll talk about that after I get you a towel.”

“Never mind, never mind. I’m immortal, I can’t catch cold.”

“Of course you can. You’ve got a fever already. You may not be able to die, but you can always get sick.” Besides, she was a demigoddess and had a moral part.

“If I have a fever it’s only because I’m excited. What a night!”

The writer wrapped her in a towel and sat down in his Morris chair, an old desolation wrapped like a blanket around his heart. He had deadlines to meet and bills to pay, which left him no time for interruptions, and he hadn’t written a word in ten days. It wasn’t the fault of his Muse—she was faultless—but just the same the sight of her filled him with shame and despair. His life had been miserable without her.

“What are you working on?” she asked.


“Come on, I know better. Tell.”

“You don’t want to hear. You’d only be bored.”

“Not on a night like this! I feel so glorious, so exalted, nothing could spoil my mood! Come on, what are you working on?”

“A story about a childless couple whose marriage stagnates and falls apart because they have nothing to do but be together.”

“You’re right, it’s boring.”

“You asked. I have a living to make, you know.”

“And you think that’s going to make your living? I’ll never understand why you waste yourself on junk like that.”

“I want to write a best-seller. A potboiler that will make me a pile of money so I can spend a few years working on the real stuff in financial security.”

“Pish tosh. You don’t want security, you want fame. You want sudden fame. Your vision has been dulled by glamour. The kind of fame that can be yours is the kind that comes slowly or else not at all. Listen. Do you have any ideas for potboilers? I mean, anything that gets the kettle on the fire and bubbling on page one?”
“I’ve been sitting here trying to think of one.”

“Lovely. And in the meantime, the fairy host is out in the night, and the lower regions are-—for this night, and possibly never again!—as wide open as the grave on Judgment Day.”

The writer cast a long, melancholy look at his beautiful Muse. He could suck melancholy out of a stone, as a weasel sucked eggs.

In her two worlds met, the real world of every day and the world of imagination. His imagination. The real world of every day was a suburb on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, just out of the city. The embossed metal sign at the border read, “HELICON, A VILLAGE OF PARNASSUS.”

“I don’t know anything about stuff like that—”

“Phooey! It’s your stuff!”

“I have no experience with such things. It’s not in my nature, either. I deal in the hosts of ordinary things that make life real, the dust and clay of daily life, the grit and grime, not fairy routs and dances. You should find someone else, someone who would be more receptive to your inspirations.”

“Oh, just listen to yourself, already old and decrepit. The way you talk, you’d think there was only one Muse.”

“Isn’t there? You said there was only one, for me. Aren’t you--I mean, aren’t you it, her?”

“There’s a potboiler Muse. There’s a soap-opera Muse, poor girl—a lifetime assignment. There’s a serious fiction Muse. Of course, in the end, we’re all one . . . facets of a single reality . . . but I’m your Muse. What I bring you is yours alone and no one else’s.”

“ . . . no secondhand ideas?”

“Good lord, no!”

“. . . not stuff another writer would be better equipped to write?”

“Again, no, goofball!”

The Muse giggled. Then she looked at him reproachfully, as if it offended her that he would make her giggle at such a moment, as if he thought of her as nothing but a flirt, and then, unable to help herself since it was part of her nature to be a flirt, she giggled again.

“I’m your Muse,” she said.

“What should I do?

“Come along with me.”

Metaphysical Times
Volume XIII number 1
Spring 2018


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