PROSE. From the Journals of a Muse by Jeremiah Matthews Part IV

Once Shel’s words had time to fall upon my head and soak into my brain, the hunt for Flo was on. I assumed she would be at her desk preparing for this all-important meeting, but her empty chair readjusted my compass. She wasn’t making rounds with new Assignments or throwing her flirt at the new intern (but I did notice that dimple and a half on his face that she’d be talking about for weeks).

I found her down at the Punching Bag, our piano bar and mess hall that sat one floor above ours. I admit sometimes we toot away on those Muse horns of ours, but I must toot about the Punching Bag—building a soundproof room in the back of the bar in which a punching bag dangled from the ceiling was truly, well, inspired. The Bag was open to all, regardless of motivation. Yes, even Muses need to punch and scream and kick…as long as our frustrations remain silent.

Flo was sitting at the piano, swaying as Davis played and sang “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home.” The Bag was empty aside from the two of them and Rose, who was reading behind the bar. As I slid onto the second piano stool, Flo shifted a little and looked over at the wall in the opposite direction. “She told me there was nothing to prep,” she sighed, sensing my curiosity and confusion as to why she was there. I glanced at Davis with the hope of a comforting second or two, but all he could do was sing:

“There’s a voice in the lonesome wind that keeps whispering ‘roam.’ I’m goin’ where the welcome mat is, no matter where that is.”

I stared at the back of Flo’s head and muttered, “So if I asked you what was going on, would you tell me, or do I need to fill that tray with drinks first?” She glanced at me sideways and handed me the tray that was sitting on the piano top. I went to the bar where Rose had already put her book down and started to fix three Honey Mints, a Muse favorite of peppermint tea and honey. A mug filled with half of each tickled us beyond the lightest shade of pink.

“Give that third to Davis, would ya, hon,” Rose asked me, putting the mugs onto the tray.  “He’s been on this Garland kick for awhile, and his throat’s gotta be close to raw by now.” I smiled at her and nodded as I headed back towards the piano. “He’s, he’s gonna sing ‘em all, and we’ll stay all night,” Rose’s voice winked at me as I walked away.  Either she was complaining or looking forward to it; probably both, knowing her.

“I pick up too when the spirit moves me,” sang Davis as I got back to piano. I put the mugs on their coasters and sat down.  Flo took two sips as she sang the next line along with Davis, “Sweetin’ water, cherry wine. Thank you kindly suits me fine,” and exhaled slowly, nodding her head for no apparent reason. “Okay, I don’t know too much, but it seems like that problem in the Artist world that you all’ve been trying to ignore is getting bigger.”

The bulb that had been swinging in my mind all day started to flicker.  I’d seen this coming for awhile, but yes I had aimed for the “ignore it and it will go away” philosophy that, over the years, I had encouraged so many to avoid.

As my career in this Business slowly began to blossom, the Boss would call me to her office to go over upcoming Assignments. That evolved into my staying late and sitting with her on the office floor, designing and outlining potential Assignments for the Narrative Department. As Taffy purred on the Boss’s lap and Fanny on mine, we’d talk about reorganizing the Motif Index or combining chapters of the Tale Type Index to create a new type, that sort of thing. Decisions in this Business weren’t made in meetings, at least not for Narrative; they were made on the floor of that office with two cats purring, stacks of papers threatening to fall over, and empty bottles of Yoo Hoo and Dr. Pepper swirling between us.

If that hamburger phone of hers ever rang, the Boss would just ignore it…if she even heard it at all. Flo would pop in every now and then to yank us out of a dry brainstorm, usually with a one-liner of perfection that was far too obvious for us to see. One night, I was on the couch with Fanny sitting above my shoulder and my own growing stack of papers. Flo came in and grabbed the burger off the Boss’s desk, all but throwing it to her on the floor where she was sitting.

“It’s upstairs,” Flo said, one eye in my direction. Something both in her voice and eye told me to stand up leisurely and pretend to fetch something that I absolutely could not be without at that moment. It was pure instinct at the time, and I really didn’t give it a second or third thought. I had little, if anything, to do with “Upstairs,” and that two-way street remained motionless on both sides. As the number of late phone calls to the Boss increased as our late night sessions become fewer, I stuck blazingly to slaying the inevitable dragon by ignoring it.

Until now.

“Bottom line, if you want it,” Flo said, returning to the piano with another tray of Honey Mints, “the demand in the Artist world has been pulling a downwards gopher for too long. If the days of the Muse are numbered, they’re numbered in single digits.”

There it was. Unfortunate and Unamusing Truth. Just how un-Musing it was going to be, neither of us knew.

“Any place I hang my hat…”

I ran out before Davis could finish.

Jeremiah Matthews’ Past Works:
From the Journals of a Muse Part III
From the Journals of a Muse Part II
From the Journals of a Muse Part I