note: as thuddingly obvious as this whole thing is, I have written on occasion; this little site only has the scraps and excerpts, and not the bigger things I am working on since then, so it’s not actually quite as literarily literal as that
Maybe the Muses were dead. They had stopped coming a while ago.
Once upon a time, she had used to write stories. The ideas came to her. The Little Muses, for that is what she called them, tapped on her windows. They peeped under the closet door, sallied forth from under the bed, crept in from the hallway when she was trying to sleep. She had used to be annoyed, sometimes, that she would need to get out of bed and pad after one as though she’d been roused by an overactive bladder, pen scritching or keyboard clacking until the Muse was satisfied and she could drift off again. It had been long enough now that she just missed them. They had used to bring her ideas. Some round and pearlized, presented just so that they would catch the light, the sheen dazzle her eyes. Some ragged and jagged and frightening that she was afraid to touch, that they might catch her skin and tear. Some like a breath, a bit of dandelion fluff, a wisp. Once, one of those had been caught in an air current and danced around her head, brushing against her hair, until she had been able to grab it and pin it down, long enough to trace it out on a piece of paper and get it to stop tickling the curve of her neck. She had a couple of those old ideas still, all used up, kept desiccated and pale on the shelf where she could see them. They didn’t do her any good now, of course.
She had used to wonder if the Muses were real. Maybe they were the intrusion of magical into realism, a bit of story in her life. Other times, they could have been a hallucination, an edging of her fevered brain past what was really there. She might have been just a little bit crazy. Later one, sometimes she would wonder if they ever really had been there in the first place, or maybe it was just her frantic imagination needing to describe itself somehow. That would mean, now, that her imagination had abandoned her, but then she already knew that.
They didn’t haunt her. She couldn’t summon even an echo.
At first it had seemed like a blip. They didn’t show up for a few days, which was normal. Then a week, which had happened before. Finally it was clear that this was unprecedented. Perhaps there had been a time once before they had started coming to her, but she couldn’t remember it. In any case, they had stopped now. She imagined for a while that it was an interlude, a period of quiet, and eventually things would get back to normal. For a time it was peaceful, a relief even. Eventually they would come slinking back. Eventually they didn’t, though. The interlude stretched long enough that it was the only real thing now, and she wasn’t sure they had been there. Maybe the husks on her shelf were just objects after all, a wiry leaf she had picked up from the sidewalk, a crooked bit of metal that may have fallen off of something, the cracked edge of a seashell she had brought home and washed of sand.
She goes about the rest of her life just as she always had. Groceries, work, feeding the dog, calling her mom, doing the laundry, drinking one too many beers with her friends, using pen on the crossword and then cursing when she needed to scribble letters out, going on a tentative date that turned tempestuous far too soon, crying in the movie theater surreptitiously when the fictional father finally came home, trying rock climbing for the first time and watching a beautiful young man at the gym propose still in harness, standing at the outskirts of a New Year’s Eve party and feeling content to be listening to the chatter and laughter and joy of others. Events keep unfolding whether you chronicle them or not, after all.
After all that, and still going about the rest of her life, the muses had not come back. The ideas were not coming anymore. She had circled round to the inevitable conclusion that probably they never would. She did not know how to entice them back. The early days of leaving a little saucer of milk at the windowsill as though the muses were fairies hadn’t brought them. Whispering into the corners never tempted them forth. Drinking a coffee before bed, hoping insomnia would summon them. Nothing.
Eventually, the interlude had become her life. Realism with nothing magical about it. That’s how it was. Nothing to expect.
Now it has been so long that she can’t remember the muses, if they had ever come at all. She can’t remember if they were real or not, imagination or fancy, delusion or dream. She tries not to think about. Because here it is, the reality of it: some people are lucky to have the muses visit them. They are few and far between. For the rest of us, we don’t have the gift of a gleaming idea that materializes out of the gloom. We can find our own beauty: wiry leaf picked up from the sidewalk, a crooked bit of metal that may have fallen off of something, the cracked edge of a seashell brought home and washed of sand. Eventually we have to decide whether to keep waiting, or to watch for the beauty on our own terms. Eventually she sits down, and doesn’t whisper into the corners or check the windowsills. She just takes a breath, and looks at her little shelf of forgotten beauties, and sharpens a pencil
Oh I love this so much <3 <3 <3