A short story of a Muse with an attitude
I was watching The Price Is Right this morning when he finally decided to come home. I heard the back door open and close, and when he walked in the living room I noticed he didn't look much different from the last time I saw him: green skin, ears way too big for his misshapen head, and eyes that were that deep cerulean blue that most women swoon over. Except the one in the middle was cobwebbed with red lines and he was carrying a bottle-shaped brown paper bag, so it was obvious what he'd been up to.
"Whassup?" he slurred, plopping his 300 pound frame down on the couch and stretching his legs out on the coffee table.
I just kept staring at the television; I didn't even want to look at him. He knew I was pissed, and here he was pretending like it was just another day. I wanted to wring his long scrawny neck. I tried to give him the silent treatment, you know, just to make him feel uncomfortable, but after about ten seconds I couldn't take it anymore.
"Where the hell have you been for the last six days? And get your damn feet off my coffee table!"
"Aw, shit," he mumbled, dropping his feet to the floor. "Here we go again." He reached in the front pocket of the wrinkled Hawaiian shirt he was wearing and pulled out a pack of Camels. He fired one up and took a drag. "I was on vacation, if it's any of your business. I can't stay around here 24/7. I do have a life, you know."
This wasn't the first time he'd done something like this. Every two or three months he'd sneak out for a day or so, but he always came back. Usually I never said anything about it. But this last little stunt had me seething, and I wanted some answers.
"First of all, Quex, I never said you had to stay here 24/7. But you were gone for six days this time. Six days! I've been sitting here staring at a blank screen trying to come up with something while you're out doing God knows what!"
"What? Your little leprechaun friend there on the wall doesn't help you any?"
I looked at the poster of Seumas with a shovel in one hand and holding an oversized mushroom over his shoulder with the other. He wasn't really a leprechaun. He was more like a cross between an elf and an Irish troll.
"You know he's just here for the food," I said. "And that's not his job, anyway."
Quex arched his three eyebrows and gave me a look of 'And you're saying that's my job?', which is exactly what he said.
I shook my head and sat back in my recliner. I was fuddled. Was he going to try to argue his way out of this, I wondered?
"Of course it's your job. Why else would I have you here?"
Quex tapped his ashes in the ashtray and with a sardonic smile, said, "Let me get this straight. You're saying that the only reason I'm here is to give you ideas?"
Suddenly I didn't like how this was going. He was turning the tables around on me.
"And you haven't written anything for the last six days?"
"Look, I'm not the one on trial here."
"Yes or no?"
He took another drag off his cigarette and blew the smoke out of the side of his mouth. His left eye went from me to my open laptop on the coffee table, then back to me. The screen saver showed a growing array of three dimensional pipes of varying colors randomly zigzagging in all directions against a black background.
"I'll bet you've been writing something," Quex said with a smug little smile. I hated that smug little smile. He tapped one of his bony fingers on the mouse and the screen instantly filled with a myriad of words.
"Well, well. What have we got here?"
Now all three of his eyes were on my computer.
"Hmmm...'Quex', huh? Nice title. Let's see...'I was watching The Price Is Right this morning when he finally decided to come home.' That's a pretty crappy first line."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"'That most women would swoon over'? Ah, it gets better...'wring his long scrawny neck?' What? What's this about?" he demanded.
"I just started writing it when you walked in," I explained. "You're not even supposed to be reading it."
He ignored me and kept on reading. About 30 seconds later he asked, "Is this all about me?"
"Could be. I don't know yet."
"How far have you got?"
"Right up to where you are."
"Here? You mean this very word? Right here, where it says, 'Here? You mean this very word?'"
"That very word."
With that said, it was Quex's turn to shake his head and be fuddled.
"That's impossible. That means that you'd have to be typing this right now."
"Use your imagination," I said. "It's fiction. Anything's possible."
"Man, this is too weird," he said, crushing his cigarette out. "I gotta go lay down."
As I watched him stand up and stumble back to his bedroom, I realized something:
I could never let him read any more of this.
* * *
Two hours later and he was back in the living room, sitting on the couch. One of his big elephant ears was stuck to the side of his head, but at least all three of his eyes were the same color. The laptop was still on the coffee table, and once again he tapped the mouse.
"Where's that story you were trying to write?"
"It's gone. I deleted it."
(Actually, I didn't. I transferred it to my flash drive, just in case...)
"Good. Because if you didn't, I would have."
(See? Told ya!)
Reaching into his shirt pocket, he pulled out his Camels and a folded up piece of paper. After lighting the cigarette, he handed me the paper.
"What's this?" I asked.
"It's a contract."
"You heard me. You say you need me for ideas, right? Well, I got to thinking about it, and I realized that you've been taking advantage of me. I think it's about time I get some compensation."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Rest assured, Mr. 'Writer', that I most definitely am not kidding. This is a very serious matter. Does the word 'plagiarism' mean anything to you?"
This was too much. Quex had come up with some pretty strange ideas in his day; some good, some bad, some completely absurd. This one fell under the latter.
"Are you threatening me?"
"'Threatening' is such an ugly word, Angus. I merely want what is rightfully mine."
Now he was trying to sound like a lawyer. That scrawny neck was looking more tempting with each word that came out of his mouth.
"And just what would that be?"
"For one thing, have you ever been paid for any of your literary works?"
"Well, I worked for that newspaper for a while back in—wait a minute! You want money? What could you possibly do with money?"
He seriously considered this for a moment. Sometimes I worried about our—sorry—his sanity.
"Yeah, I guess you have a point there," he said. "Alright. Have you got anything copyrighted?"
"I've got a few pieces, yes. And there's that novel I've been working on, but you know about that."
"That's it, then." He swallowed what was left of his cigarette, cherry and all (something I'd rarely seen him do), folded his arms across his chest, and settled back on the couch.
"I want my name on that book when it gets published, and on all those other pieces, as well. And of course, on anything else you write in the future, published or not."
My jaw almost dropped to the floor. Even when I wrote this, I couldn't think of the words to convey the feelings of utter astonishment, anger, contempt, bewilderment, hatred, confusion, resentment, asperity and virulence that I had at the words he'd just spoken. So instead, I just said, "No way."
And he said, "Then I guess I'll see you in court."
This was beginning to feel like a long, drawn out tennis point, with the ball going back and forth, back and forth, but I thought I finally had his back against the wall.
"Perhaps you will," I said. "But the problem is the court won't see you. You're just a Muse, a spirit, a source of inspiration for an artist, like Melpomene or Thalia."
"Then you leave me no other choice," he said, standing up and heading for the back door. The last words I heard just before it slammed shut were: "I am officially on strike! Good day, Angus!"
* * *
That was three weeks ago. We still haven't talked, but I see them out there in front of my house every day with their signs. All of them: Calliope, Terpsichore, Polymnia, Erato, Urania, Euterpe, Clio, Melpomene, Thalia and Quex.
I don't care. He'll give up sooner or later. He needs me more than I need him. At least I think so.
I hope so.
I really, really hope so...
TO BE CONTINUED?