The Day She Left
Short Story, 2014
I wake up to the sound of birds cawing. My hands fumble around my bed for my phone and I let out a pained moan as the bright light invades my crusted eyes. It’s 8AM and I distinctly remember drifting off at about 6.
“Shit,” I mutter in a creaky voice. My head feels like it’s about to implode or explode, I can’t decide. Either one would be a blessed reprieve. After twenty minutes of staring at the crescent shaped crack in the ceiling, I force my body into motion.
I am an artist, and it is day 99 of my sacred quest to hunt my muse down.
“Maybe it’s auspicious that today is the 99th day,” I think to myself as I brush my teeth with a four month old brush.
“Yes, today must be the day because I saw three red cars in a row drive past the window,” I quirk my mouth up as I munch on some not-quite-stale toast and jam.
“Please let me find her today,” I beg internally as I sigh at my dusty worktable.
After what passes for my morning routine is over, I look in the mirror just next to my front door. I am pale, and my large glasses do nothing to hide my tired eyes. My hair is a mess and my lips are chapped. I slap myself in the face. It is time to hunt her down and I must be ready. I am armed with my sketchbook, pencils, ink brush pens and most importantly, a thermos full of very Irish coffee.
It’s a morning of humming nervously while walking past groups of teenagers and threatening to kick small yappy dogs that make my head spark with pain. I am usually a good person, but recently I’ve decided being ‘good’ or ‘nice’ does not help me with paying bills or filling my belly with food.
And there’s the question of finding her. The presence whose energy my body absorbs and then makes wonderful, mad things. It has been too long and I need her now more than ever. I need to create.
I have spent weeks making trips to tourist attractions and then quaint cafes and the nightclubs and shisha bars. I have spent my time talking to the very rich and very poor and very eccentric and I realise that perhaps everyone is a little bit mad or mundane. I am exhausted from very unscientific experiments where I have imbibed too much caffeine or alcohol then too little. I have stepped tentatively into churches, mosques, synonagogues and temples and feeling like a fraud I have crossed a palm or two with silver. Despite the gauntlet that I have put this mortal body through, I have yet to see her.
Well, I lie, I have seen her here and there. Sometimes I have made the mistake of looking too directly at her only for her to shy away. I can hear her laughs in cafe crowds that fade as soon as I hurry in her direction. I’ve seen her waving from impossible heights. I’ve seen her make rude gestures at me from the river bed when I have peered over the bridge. She is not the ethereally beautiful muse I remember from romantic Grecian myths, but the things she can do are beyond written description.
I still need her. Instead I am stuck with her evil twin, artistic constipation.
I tried ignoring her absence at first. My pride carried me a long way but eventually I succumbed to material needs. Then I realised, with a pang in my chest, how much I missed making things I truly loved.
I’m still getting by of course. I’ve done shitty murals for equally shitty kids. I’ve drawn and illustrated some small commissions here and there.
But I’m not creating. I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to have my body positively hum with energy, being unable to stop myself from frantically drawing whatever my hand can physically manage. To have her hand on my shoulder watching as I am possessed by incredible inspiration.
I’ve lost myself in thought again as I look around, faintly worried that I may have wandered off into unfamiliar territory again.
The muse is not the only thing lost to me at this point but she is the only thing I care to get back. My friends have stopped calling and I have never been too close to my overly rational family.
For some reason, my feet have brought me to the outskirts of the city. Then my head whips as I hear an airy, teasing laugh.
“You-” I whisper as I rush towards the sound, with my mouth dry. A beckoning here and light footsteps there and finally I am at an alley with a dead end. It’s stopped, and no wonder. I fall for this every time. Something at the end of the alley catches my attention and what I thought were rags was a man. I can hear him speaking excitedly. I blink and I see her on one knee smiling at him as I remember her smiling at me a very long time ago. He’s talking and gesturing wildly with one arm and holding a spray can in the other, starting on something magnificent, no doubt, with the brick wall as his canvas. He is animated with a vigour I ache for.
I feel… hurt. She doesn’t even look at me. She doesn’t even notice I’m there.
This is the first time I realise that she is not even my muse. She is a muse and I am just one of the many sites in the city she goes to visit when she is bored.
I walk quietly away, dejected. I know better than anyone that the artist should not be interrupted when touched by her presence.
I am tired. I suppose I should be blessed that I am savvy with computers, unlike the luddites that leap on me at my workplace with inane questions. It’s an income and I need it, and that’s what counts. I’ve made new friends at my new job and I’ve fallen into the routine of working and eating and sleeping, maybe doing other things on the weekend. It’s comfortable and safe and I no longer have bags under my eyes or fluctuations in my weight.
I’m still hurt though, but the pain is getting better day by day. It’s hard to get over knowing that the universe doesn’t revolve around you. I was selfish and prideful and I’m starting to realise that perhaps I deserved it.
My walks home from work are reserved for reflection now. It’s good to feel the pavement under my feet and to look forward to the warmth of my home, now clean and not smelling like a depressed artist blew up in it.
I unlock the door and look at myself in the mirror and remember that day. I feel a dull ache but I frown at myself chastisingly, remembering that I’ve got other things to worry about.
With a small sigh, I allow the small admission that I miss her and perhaps she will be back someday. I close my eyes and imagine when that day comes I will smile at her and embrace her. I will sit down at my desk and look up at her, wide-eyed and full of joy. Then, I will take the knife out of my boot and cut out her black heart once and for all.