Jo sat alone at a small round table with two steaming coffee cups and a tiny ceramic ashtray. So very Bohemian cool. She was my cigar-smoking muse, my twist-this-stick-up-your-ass literary kick-start. She’d just swallowed me into the deep green depths of her eyes and spit me out her ears onto the walls saying, “That’s how I inspired Pollock.”
I really hated it when she got into these trips, but I never doubted that I needed this.
She puffed on her cigar and crossed her leg in a long arc that started in a bowl of poi somewhere in Maui and settled gently over a perfectly sculpted knee right before my Jackson Pollock eyes.
Today was going to be especially painful.
She wore the TBD―the Tiny Black Dress. It squeezed out the essence of thighs and breasts and permeated the air around her with enough visual pheromone to drive every man within ten feet crazy beyond words. I was already crazy beyond words, but that didn’t make me any less immune. She was wearing pink…
“Do you want to rip my pink panties off with your Jackson Pollock teeth?” she said.
“I…uh…” said I from this part of the wall and that part of the wall.
“Answer me, pointillist punctuator.”
“I was thinking…”
“That’s your problem.”
She raised an eyebrow over the color green and sucked me off the walls, right into the emerald pits of her eyes and spit me back into my chair through one very erect nipple. She loved tormenting me.
“Tormented writer suits you better than tormented art,” she said as she flipped a few threads of TBD over a perfect nipple.
“There’s a difference?” I asked.
“Now you’re beginning to learn, pretentious noun nudger,” she scoffed. “What have you learned?”
“Art hurts?” I chanced.
I drew back fearfully. Muses are not beings to displease.
“I was creating an answer,” I said.
We sat downstairs, by the door, in the darkness of two very large picture windows. I’d long stopped wondering about these things.
“Create when you’re alone,” she said. “You’re with me now, verb vermin. Talk.”
“About what?” I asked.
“About the tit I shot you out of. Did you enjoy it?”
Ha. I wasn’t going to fall into this trap. “I’ve been hearing conversations in my kitchen.”
“You mean, you’ve been having conversations in your kitchen.”
“No. Hearing them.”
“And who’s talking?”
“You mean knives and forks and spoons?”
I nodded yes. “And spatulas.”
She puffed on her cigar and blew out the story of my life. It evaporated into the air before I had a chance to read the first word.
“What do they talk about?” she said.
“They talk about life, about how they’ve been deprived of it.”
“Your cutlery is becoming like you. Now, how about that tit, period pusher?”
“How is my cutlery becoming like me?” I said.
“They’re trying to not be cutlery,” she said. “Which do you fear more, me or my nipple?”
Why does she do this to me? I wasn’t falling for it. I said, “I’m writing again.”
“Oh, that,” she said. “About time.”
“I’m writing more than ever. A whole page a day.”
“Short days?” she said.
“Long days,” I said. “Painful days. The words keep coming, but they don’t make any sense. I don’t understand anything I write.”
“I inspired a story,” she said, “about a man who was happy all his life and then one day he asked what the purpose of his life was.”
“Nobody gave him an answer that made him happy.”
“He realized that just being happy was purpose enough and stopped asking stupid questions.”
This thought traveled through the picture windows and caught the attention of three raindrops just two seconds away from becoming wet ground. They stopped in mid-fall and shivered around it. Several thousand raindrops falling behind them decided this was very unraindropish of them and pummeled them so hard they splattered onto the ground without any true appreciation of that first instant of becoming mud.
“The greatest temptation is to look for things until we lose them,” she said. “You look sad and confused, noun hound. Do you need help?”
“I had help,” I said. “It didn’t help.” I felt a pang of cliché and changed the subject. “There’s no music in Molly’s today.”
We listened to the silence for a moment. A long moment. I thought how nice it would be to become a TBD if I ever grew up and spend my days wrapped around a muse. We were the only ones in the place. There had been others, but as their relevance had diminished, they’d left. I looked into Jo’s eyes. Thousands of eyes peered back at me through the green, all of them screaming ecstasy.
“Have you had any interesting waking experiences lately?” she said.
“I don’t think I’ve been awake in a long time,” I said. “Everything seems like a dream to me. Yesterday―at least, I think it was yesterday―I cut my finger while I was slicing cat food. It felt like being awake, but I have too little to compare to be really sure.”
“So, you have a cat,” she said.
“No, I was just slicing cat food,” I said.
“When you cut your finger,” she said, “did you think of me?”
Damn. Another trick question. But I was on to her. I had an answer. I slurped down my coffee and ate the cup. Her eyes narrowed. I ate the ashtray. Her brows furrowed. I ate my spoon. She leaned slowly forward like a fountain of liquid alabaster wrapped in black with oceans of green eyes. She blew a tsunami of cigar smoke into my face and all the citadels of my life evaporated.
“Wrong answer, paragraph parser.”
She absorbed me into her eyes and I was a fresco on the surface of her retina. “I can see you better now,” said the green of her iris.
I said, “I think of you when I run screaming and scratching the flesh off my bones in the void.” This was a total lie, but I knew it was what she wanted to hear. I hoped.
She thought about this for a moment. Being inside her head, I could feel the thought. It was doubtful at first, but gave into a seed of initial plausibility. She shot me out one very elegant nostril off one very firm breast and back into my seat. She leaned forward. I visualized car jacks under my eyes to lift my gaze above those very firm breasts and into the sprawling green pastures of her eyes. “Don’t eat anything else on the table,” she said. “It annoys me when you do that. It also annoys me when you visualize car jacks under your eyes.”
Blushing deeper, I changed the subject. I was running out of strategies. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’ve been tripping over metaphors, drowning in symbols, sinking in structure, ship-wrecking in un-modulated literary constructions.” I had no idea what I was talking about.
“And it really annoys me,” she said, “listening to you spout off at the mouth when you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Time to shut up and listen.
“That’s right, clause crawler. Now listen.” She leaned forward spilling infinite cleavage across the expanse of my vision. “The story is in the telling.”
For about a minute.
A minute with a silent muse is like a lifetime in a country song. “Are you equating my cleavage with the telling?” she said.
Reams of cleavage stories rushed past my eyes. I snapped them upwards into the green fields of my torment―whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. “But…where’s the art in that?” I said.
Wrong question. I was on the wall again. Point of entry: left ear. Point of exit: the other nipple.
“You’re missing the point, meta-moron. The telling is the art.” She flicked ashes onto the tabletop as she regarded me with a look that carved the word distain into my psyche, a look that scoured about twenty-five square feet of wall space. “Troubadours mesmerized their audiences, but they didn’t concern themselves with art. They focused on one thing: a compelling story. The story doesn’t come out of the art; the art comes out of the story.”
I thought about this for a moment―not an easy task when your brain is interspersed with body parts dripping over twenty-five square feet of wall. I’d never heard her go into this much detail before, explaining things to me instead of just tormenting me, torment after torment, on a painful ladder to self-realization. Maybe I’d be off the hook today.
“Now, tell me what that means, ellipse licker.”
“Um…jimmy jumbo jack-a-doo.”
Jo’s eyes lit up like green fire. She smiled as she sucked me through a deep drag on her cigar and threw me back into my chair with a wink of her left eye. “Now, you’re getting it, quote mote.”
I pushed the table aside and stood up, staring into Jo’s eyes, bathing myself in the green fire of her irises. “Jack-a-doo kalamazoo!” I said.
Jo stood up, long legs rising forever, hips pressing the meaning of hips against the TBD, and said, “Kalam-a-lani combo too.”
We were dancing in the absence of light from the two giant picture windows. “Toobity roobity flippity boo!”
“Boobilly woobilly flippitty poo!”
Arms flailing, heads rolling, fingers snapping out the tune, we danced like monkeys on amphetamine highs.
“Poola-monga, poola-monga poola-monga, bop!”
“Bop biddily be-bop-a-loo!”
From around the corner leading to the kitchen, Molly stuck her head out and said, “You two sit down and stop the racket. And you…” Pointing at me. “…stop eating the cups and utensils.”
Let me tell you something about Molly: Even muses don’t mess with her. We sat in our chairs facing each other, the table still to the side. Nothing between us.
“The river that argues with itself becomes a bog,” said Jo.
Something about this made sense to me. Don’t ask me what, but I felt that it summed up my life.
“Just flow,” she said.
The space between us was just a few feet. Jo looked like she could burst out of the TBD in an explosion of musaphor that was making my body vibrate to rhythmic variations that resonated somewhere in the back of my head under a thin shred of right-side thinking.
“Just flow,” she said.
The space between us was just a few inches. Under those deep olive eyes Jo’s lips parted and the rhythms flooded my head, breaking past barriers of judgment and smashing through roadblocks of editorializing self-expectations. I wasn’t sure I knew what this meant, but I wanted more of it. Much more.
“Just flow,” she said.
And, just as my lips were about to touch hers, she disappeared.