“I’m a devotee of the muse.” I stated, looking down at my thin pale fingers upon the bar. They were too thin. Too blue white, even under the stained light and smoke. They were fingers that would scuttle into your pocket when you weren’t looking. Fingers that would page through your life and walk away with your memories on their backs.
I swooned in the haze of cigar smoke but stood strong against the jarring clatter of dishes behind me. I watched the runner in the once white jacket brush ivory shards into a rusty dust pan and saw the meaning of life in his tired movements.
“I don’t muse much ma’self” the old man was bereft of stout and wisdom in equal measure. “Too busy workin’ and takin’ care of the wife. She’s sick ya know.”
I knew the story. Everyone did. Roberta had escaped a world of abuse packed into a three hundred square foot box of metal that could barely be called a home. The children at school had complained about her smell and eventually child services was brought in. I imagine that she stank of cigarettes and bottom shelf rye. And blood.
The police extracted her from her mess of a family. Her mother was slashed, bruised and with a tenuous connection to reality. Her father was soaked in drink, regret and his own urine. Roberta was freed that day. And released to a more robust and complex world that however, continued to proffer the sane dark traits her former life had.
She did not thrive, but for a time she survived. She began crudely shaping her life into one that could potentially be worth living. The diner was paying her enough to rent her own studio apartment, but not quite enough to prevent her from having to cruise the towns dump for furniture. The bartender had once told me that he had watched her rolling a discarded crib through the center of town, after her mysterious pregnancy had begun to be noticed. But she had something to live for. And now someone to live for.
That was the last time she was seen. Speeches were given in downtrodden community centers. Searches were organized for after the factories let out. But they consisted of so few participants with even fewer resources. And finally the townspeople returned to their own worries.
Three years passed before she shambled back into town. I cannot tell you where she had been except to speculate upon her condition. Her body was a latticework of pain, but it was nothing compared to the fact that she had returned alone. Her child was never found. Other than I have no idea what had befallen her. As far as I know, no one else did either, except perhaps the person responsible.
She had come back sick. Sick, twisted and wrong. Her eyes were something to avoid. Her small voice only spoke of horror and pain. And that one side of her face, the one that seemed to buckle beneath the weight of her life, demanded it’s guilty attention. Somehow the man beside me had found love and hope in that broken woman and had cared for her since.
I know what that kind of love could cost. I am plagued by that kind of love. I’m a devotee of the muse, as I’ve said. She is everything. Has given me everything. Not only material comfort, but meaning. She flows through my words and carries me like a diving bird of prey. Full of purpose and exactitude.
But like a bird of prey she hungers with each expenditure and must be sated. She clamors for more and more as each novel is completed, published and bank deposits are made. And she feeds on just what she inspires. True to herself like no human in existence.
She will be fed tonight. We will.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” My hand upon his back. His head upon the bar.
My muse will be fed tonight. She will dine on the rich story that Roberta has kept locked away in the tangle of her mind for decades. The story that no one knows but everyone hungers for. That secret story.
It will be ours, tonight.
Delivered on spotted wings of crimson. Blooming from the torn flesh and sung from severed cords. It will be my slender fingers that crawl beneath her skin and lure the letters of her story from her. And it will be ours.
You can rail at me, and question how I could be so monstrous. But you, my dear reader, are complicit. You are every bit as monstrous as I. It is your need, your hunger that necessitates the feeding of the muse.
You’ve enjoyed my stories.
Now I wish you to know their cost.