Diana Peach at Myths Of The Mirror has prompted us to write about our muse. But what if…
It had been a heck of a day. So many interruptions, but finally I’d settled down to write. That’s when the door bell went.
Mumbling ‘not another bloody parcel,’ I opened the door.
Two men, vaguely familiar in so far as the ski slope nose on one and the beetled brows on the other seemed to chime with some memory, stood, hands lightly clasped in front like mourners at a funeral.
‘Hello? Can I…?’
‘…‘Elp? I should think so, wouldn’t you Johnson?’
‘Hindeed, Johnston I would think so.’
Not sure where this was going I thought I’d wait. They could have been brothers, similar builds, and round faces. Or it might have been the matching dark suits, white shirts and sober ties. There was something rather creepy about…’
‘’E don’t know, do he, Johnson?’
‘Looks that way, Johnston.’
‘If he looked that way, Johnson…’
‘He wouldn’t need them glasses…’
It was like listening to a 1970s radio programme. ‘My dad used to tell a joke like that. Walk this way…’
‘We know all about your dad. He’s very familiar to us.’
‘One might say intimately.’
This was getting to be a little more than creepy. ‘I’m not sure who you are but…’
‘’E doesn’t recognise us.’
‘Look, this is beyond…’
‘A joke. Ho yes. No humour in this, is there.’ The man, the first one to speak, Mr Nose, tugged his lapels. ‘I’m Johnston.’
‘And I’m Johnson.’
‘With a ‘t’.’
‘He’s always had that ‘t’. ‘Elps ‘im to stand out.’
‘Like the Thompson T…’
‘…wins. Yes, hindeed, very Tintin. That’s your default setting, isn’t it? Your security blanket.’
‘How do you know so much about me?’
‘Ho, it’s our job. Isn’t it Johnston?’
‘Indubitably, Johnson. Our job.’
‘…do we represent? Well that depends. Doesn’t it Johnston?’
‘Naturally, Johnson. You’d expect it to. Depend that is.’
They’d gone back to their mourners-for-hire pose. I tried to see behind them, half-expecting to spot a hearse. Okay, I thought, if you want to be Delphic, I can play along. ‘Twenty questions, is it?’
‘Ho, he thinks it’s a game, Johnston.’
‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he, Johnston. He’d not see it from their perspective. Not hempathetic, is he?’
‘They never are, Johnston.’
‘So I’ve ‘eard. See,’ he sort of leant forward, which may have meant to be intimidating but was a little too camp to carry the necessary menace, ‘them what we represent, they are worried about how they’re meant to live, see?’
‘No, not really. What do I have to…’
‘…do? You need to make it right. Don’t ‘e…’
‘No, I was going to say what do I have to do with these people you represent.’ I shouldn’t have enjoyed my small victory, but they did look slightly dumbfounded they’d not second-guessed what I was going to say. They did rally though.
‘You’re responsible for them!’ They looked genuinely affronted that I might not realise.
‘Me? How do you work that out? I have a wife, two kids, umpteen pets, a mother in law I’d prefer…’ I stopped. Both of them had gone pale. It looked for a moment like they were about to experience coincidental strokes. ‘Do you want to come in and sit? Have a glass of water?’
They looked ridiculously grateful. ‘If that ain’t too much trouble. That would be mighty fine, wouldn’t it, Johnston?’
I led them into the kitchen. My laptop sat by my seat, a cooling coffee next to it. It took me a moment to realise they had both stopped by the door; they were goggling at the computer.
There was a long pause before they said together in something between a gasp and a whisper, ‘…write?’
‘Yes, it is actually. It’s getting a bit battered. I might have to trade it in and…’
They’d begun some sort of synchronised head shaking thing. Both sat with a thump.
The silence lingered while I sorted out glasses of water and some cake. Maybe they needed a sugar boost. When I sat, they both stared at me. It felt like they could see inside my mind. I shivered slightly. ‘So…’
They nodded, looking hopeful.
‘You represent some people who say I’m responsible for them?’
‘For their living.’
‘For their livings? I have a gardener but I don’t employ…’
That head choreography again.
‘Not livings, living. They live when you let them.’
As one they leant forward. ‘In there.’ For the first time they didn’t coordinate. One, Johnston I think pointed at the laptop while the other, Johnson I suppose, pointed at my head. It didn’t take them long to realise and so began a strange dance where they swapped the direction of their pointing. It would have gone on all night if I’d not held my hands up and asked them to stop.
A light, still faint and probably not going to last long was glimmering in the back of my head. ‘These clients of yours. Are they characters?’
One shake. ‘Not exactly.’
‘Who are you?’
As one they slipped their right hands inside their jackets. I’ve seen too many bad thrillers not to pull back slightly but they each extracted business cards and laid them in front of me. ‘The Muse Men.’
‘Right. I see.’ I didn’t of course.
The first one – who knows who – took a breath. ‘Your muse are upset that you seem to be ignoring them.’
‘And they can help…’
‘…if you let them.’
‘… and of course, your characters…’
‘… can’t live if you don’t write them a life…’
‘Do you know what character limbo is like?’
‘Rejection. One minute you’re sharing your innermosts with them…’
‘…part of the golden circle…’
… providing you with gold dust dialogue…’
‘…unique plot twists…’
‘…bad sex scenes…’
There was a pause. Did they really know about them? I thought that was a protected file?
‘… and the next…’
‘…they’re relegated to a line in Dropbox. Saved.’
‘Hang on, that’s a bit harsh… they’re never forgotten.’
‘How do they know? You don’t open them, edit them, give them that attention they need to thrive. And they’re not in there are they?’
This time they both pointed at my head.
‘My muse sent you?’
‘They were worried about some of your characters. Some have been built up, have been part of the furniture for a long time and then…’
‘Hang on. Are you really representatives or are you my muse?’
They smiled. For the first time. ‘Oh we aren’t fit to blot the ink of your muse. Let’s just say, it’s in everyone’s interest that you realise what your responsibilities are. You need to be more considerate.’
I took in these two strange serious men, sure they were more than they were prepared to admit. Finally I patted my thighs and stood. ‘Gentlemen, it’s good of you to turn up and while I’d love to say I can help, I really must insist that my right to an artist’s freedom of expression has to take precedence over any loyalty I might feel towards my characters. I will try and give each and every one some attention but I can’t make any promises.’
I tried a smile.
Both sighed deeply. Both looked sombre. As I watched, feeling more and more anxious, they each helped the other off with their jackets. Underneath they wore matching red braces. Slowly and methodically they rolled up their sleeves.
‘What are you doing?’
From somewhere a toolbag appeared, out of which they each extracted a large spanner. ‘If you’d step aside.’
They eyed my laptop. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Providing a little incentive.’
Before I could react, they pushed me aside. They were very strong. And they reached through the screen and into the documents folder. I barely had time to squeal before they stood back to let me see what they’d done. Every single work in progress had a little lock symbol next to it.
I gawped at them. ‘What have you done?’ I could hardly breathe.
Johnston, or maybe Johnson picked up his jacket, brushed away some imaginary lint and sniffed. ‘It’s writer’s block. It will disappear as soon as you begin a new story with your characters in it. If you need guidance…’ he pointed at the business cards. There was a number in it. ‘It’s a mutual support group. They’ll understand.’
‘But I’ve thousands of characters. I can’t possibly….’
‘Of course you can. It’s the one thing your not short of.’