My muse is cross-eyed and I have never liked her.
She sits on the edge of my desk as I write. When she slides off the corner with a surprised yelp – and she does, believe me – she tells me it’s because she’s cross-eyed. All I’ve got is her voice to go on, but I’m sure it’s because she’s drunk. She thinks I can’t tell, but I’ve read enough Bukowski to know.
I sometimes wonder why she drew me in the creative job lottery. I think I might be a punishment for some random sin she committed; her heart’s just not in it. She said once that she chose me, based purely on a red pair of high heels I’d just bought. They were patent leather with a four inch heel. She said, a woman in those shoes is a writer after my own heart. I was somewhat disappointed; I had hoped she’d been drawn to my narrative tension.
I haven’t been able to tell her the shoes are still in their box.
One recent morning she was late. I was already 400 words into a short story, and looked up when I heard her stumble in. If the sour waft of booze didn’t tell me, her hiccupping did.
My voice was terse. I was struggling with exposition in the second person, and could have done with her help.
She told me that my neighbour was a scriptwriter, and she’d been out with his muse, painting the town red. They’d hit a few martini bars, played some pool. Then they’d run into a couple of songwriting muses and well, it had all got a little hazy from there.
Music muses…you know what they’re like!
All she could remember after that was a karaoke bar in Little Korea, downing shots of soju and fighting over the microphone. I wasn’t sure how I felt about a muse who was partial to belting out ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ at 4am.
I thought about applying for a new muse, but I didn’t know who to address the email to.
I’m not much of a drinker, which is why it took me a while to realise the effect she was having. She’d just finished counting up the rums from the night before when I looked down in surprise at the story I’d just finished. I put my pen on the desk, and frowned.
There was an elephant in my story.
I don’t write elephants. They aren’t really my strength. No, this didn’t sound like me at all. The verbs were simple and direct, the syntax uncluttered. In fact, the more I read it, the more it sounded like…well, someone heavily influenced by Hemingway.
And my muse hiccupped, carrying the faintest waft of rum.
The week after, a poem poured itself from my fingertips onto the page. I could feel her peering over my shoulder as I reread it, eyes no doubt straining to focus. I heard the clink as she spat an olive pip into her martini glass, then whispered in my ear It’s a touch anguished, don’t you think?
It was. There was a broken hand mirror, and blood dripping down a heaving bosom. To my astonishment, I saw that I’d even rhymed womb with tomb. To my horror, I saw that I’d actually used the word bosom. I stared at the page, and then strode to my bookcase, pulling a spine from the upper shelf. Yep, there it was, on page 47: Anne Sexton’s drink of choice.
Hey, you – that martini you’re drinking.
Yesh? She slurred her answer.
I slammed the book closed.
Is it a dirty martini, by any chance?
She tumbled off the corner of my desk and hit the ground with a squeal.
Only way to drink ‘em, darling! came from somewhere near the carpet.
Whatever my muse drank seemed to pour itself into my ink, until I was churning out short stories led by Raymond Carver (Bloody Marys), plays influenced by Tennessee Williams (Gin Fizz) and novellas inspired by Oscar Wilde (Absinthe). I must say though, I quite enjoyed my Carson McCullers period (Long Island Iced Tea), even mixing up a few myself. At one point my muse let me take a break around the 15,000 word count, and the neighbours weren’t too smitten with our fervent version of ‘Love Shack’ in the early hours.
But I don’t like where this is leading. Last night, she told me she’d switched to bourbon. Said it was smoother on her voice, which made for more rewarding karaoke sessions. Now, I’ve scanned the writers I know, and come up empty handed, until the search engine spilled over into songwriters. And there, the first name on the list, sent chills down my spine.
It’s only a matter of time. I can try and fight it, but I know it’s going to happen. Sooner or later, I’m going to start writing in the spirit of Axl Rose.
I should’ve bought those black ballet flats. Everyone knows red heels are trouble.
Last night I finished two stories in time for a deadline, polished one more and wrote another.
Whatever my muse is doing, here’s a toast to her.
With black coffee, that is.