The Muse

By Emily Murphy

He first visited her in high school. Senior year. Study hall.

He sat there, shoulders hunched, head hanging forward, long legs stretched out into the aisle. He drummed the fingers of his right hand on the desk before him.

He had penetrating eyes, probably blue, the kind that made a girl’s heart jump before she glanced away. His gaze overwhelmed her. She tried not to look.

Even though she could not see them, she knew those eyes.

Over time she met his hair: tousled, not long, but not too short either. Dirty blond. Eventually, she discerned the outline of his face. She knew he was tall and lean. Still, she never saw him.

He attended every study hall, probably even when she was home sick, though she could not be sure. Over the weeks, she came to know a little more about him. Not the whole story, but some of his details.

She learned his taste in music, though she never heard it. She found he liked to read, though he never suggested a book. She discovered his denim jeans and cotton T-shirt.

She admired his casual good looks.

By graduation, she knew about his best friend, and how that friend had changed his life forever.

Over the summer, he left her alone. She was free, for a time. If she thought of him at all, she thought he had released her.

* * *

In college, his visits were sporadic. He waited a semester before he appeared. Then one night, as she brushed her teeth, he came into the women’s bathroom. Ignoring the other girls, he looked directly at her. She turned away, returned to her room, and locked the door.

The next time he visited, he brought another. It was late at night as she sat alone. He sat with his mother at their kitchen table. His mother was young and beautiful, with long, straight, brown hair.

The next semester, she heard his voice for the first time.

He was talking to his mother. He warned her about his brother’s problem. Maybe they were at the kitchen table again. She couldn’t see. She combed her hair and listened to his mother finally admit he was right.

Junior year, he joined her in the shower. He was shouting at his alcoholic father. Someone threw a glass. She was not sure who. She only heard it shatter.

Most of his visits were less dramatic. Each time he appeared, she learned more. Sometimes he brought friends. Mostly, he came alone.

He disappeared for a while, but she had other visits: the girl from heaven, the wrinkled old grandfather, that unusual tree. Each had its own story to tell.

They came to her one at a time. Never together. Never staying long.

He returned the night before her biggest final, senior year. The final was early, and she was studying late. She knew she needed sleep. As she closed her textbook, he joined her at her desk.

His eyes, definitely blue, held hers. His sadness washed over her. She could not turn away.

“I need you to tell people about me.” The words were as real as if he had spoken.

“What do you mean?” The question flowed through her.

“You alone hear my story.” He held out his hands. “Write it down, so people will know.”

She shook her head, reaching for her textbook. “You’re not real. Why should I listen to you?”

He smiled. His teeth were straight and perfect. “What is real? Of course, I’m real. I’m right here. I’m talking to you. You know me. I must be real. But I’m small.” She felt him sigh. “If you don’t write my story, I’ll stay small, but you can make me great. You can make me real for everyone.”

“I’m tired,” she whimpered, resting her forehead on the desk. “I have to go to bed. My exam is tomorrow morning.”

His eyes, those eyes she knew so well, pleaded with her.

“If you don’t write it down, my story will fade away. Please.”

She could feel him reaching out to her. She could not refuse. He was too dear to her now. She pulled out a pad of paper and started to write. She recorded his features, his eyes, his hair, and the smile that she had just discovered.

She transcribed his conversation with his mother and his fight with his father. She made notes on each of his friends. Who they were to him, how they belonged in the story. No names. She never learned their names. Not even his.

She wrote about his all-important friend—the one who had changed his life. And she wrote how his story ended.

She tore the page off the pad of paper, opened a drawer, pulled out an empty folder, and placed the page inside.

“Well?” she asked him.

“You didn’t write it all.” His eyebrows drew together in concern.

“I can’t write it all.” She yawned. “Not right now.”

“But you’ll forget.” He shook his head.

“I won’t forget, and if I do, I have these notes.” She flipped through the pages in the folder.

“You’ll come back for me?” He looked at the pages in her hands.

“Of course.”

He hesitated, his eyes searching for the promise. Exhaling, she closed the cover on his gaze.

* * *

Years have passed. She still has the folder. She cannot throw it away. She knows that inside, he waits. He waits for her to return to him, to sit down, to write. He waits for her to release him into the world.

Emily Murphy
Emily Murphy

Emily P. W. Murphy is a writer, freelance editor, and professional photographer. Her short stories appear in A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales, Once Around the Sun: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Seasons, A Readable Feast: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for Every Taste, Once Upon a Time: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Ages, Untethered: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of the Paranormal, and Fur, Feathers, and Scales: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Animal Tales, among other publications. After growing up in Pennsylvania, she has relocated to the Baltimore, MD area with her husband Adam, their two children, and their three cats. Visit Emily’s website here.

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