He’s been staring at the empty screen for three days when the muse arrives.
She is a drift of smoke, the pressure of her presence faintly warm. She coils around his
hands – they’re knobby, massive. His hands look far older than he is.
She shows him her own. There are too few fingers, or too many. He smiles for the first
time in days trying to count them.
‘It is all in the hands, the heart, and the mind,’ she says, ‘nothing else matters.’
Byron is fine with this – his apartment is too big, too empty. There are divots in the carpet
from the hasty removal of someone else’s furniture, blank spaces on the walls. He’s worn
the same shirt for three days.
‘You don’t need anyone else,’ she says, ‘now that I’m here.’
“How do you work?” Byron asks.
She shrugs. The gesture ripples down her arms.
‘I take away what is not worthy of you. I edit. I perfect.’
He sits down and waits.
She doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t disturb his thoughts. They’re his thoughts, his stories. She’s
just the help.
When he writes, she waits for him to pause and reflect on a sentence, a plot point. Then
she snakes through his fingers with a wake of shivering warmth and adjusts. Some she
tweaks, some she leaves be, some she devours. There is no explanation.
The first book takes almost two years. He’s not shocked – she eats more than she leaves.
But after weeks of swearing – over coffee, over the keyboard, over her – it’s done. Even with
the muse soothingly stirring his hair, Bryon wrestles with terror at its quality. He can’t trust
himself to believe how beautiful it is.
‘It is the worst of your best,’ she says, ‘and it is wonderful.’
The first agent doesn’t accept it – not in her wheelhouse – but she forwards it with all
insistence to a colleague, who does.
The book deal has many zeros, as does the sales numbers, then his bank account.
He gets a chair for her, so she can curl up by the patio doors and look outside while he
noodles on the sequel. When a young man with large hands walks by, her tail twitches.
Byron, angry and knowing he shouldn’t say anything about it, cracks his knuckles and turns
back to the words.
The next book takes four months.
His agent insists that a successful author tours and gives interviews. Byron refuses. He has
groceries delivered when he remembers. Mostly they moulder in the fridge. Everything can
be delivered. Everyone but them can stay outside. Interviewers, other women, those other
‘Nothing to focus on but you,’ he thinks to the muse.
The awards go into the double digits.
Every day, he awakens, kisses the air, lives on coffee and the hammering of his fingers.
He buys the building he lives in, but doesn’t get any more furniture. She likes it empty, likes
it dusty and quiet.
The third book takes two months. The fourth, six weeks. Reception is mixed. He doesn’t
make the lists, which is… odd. He’s writing better than he ever has, knows it like he knows
his own bones. Where is the best of him going?
She rarely leaves his side, has him pull her chair over by his, rests her chin on his shoulder
as he types. She’s grown thicker, more opaque. Every swirl of her grips his breath, waits for
During the fifth book, he’s had enough.
For weeks, she’s eaten almost everything he writes. Byron turns on her, punches a hole
through the drywall.
“That was an amazing passage,” he said, “what was wrong with it?”
‘It could be better.’
“You’re leaving me with crap.”
‘You know I only eat your worst.’
“Do you? I don’t know shit about you.”
His sore knuckles tremble. Her face crumples and she turns away, silent.
“I need this. You know I need this. I haven’t had a bestseller in years. I work my goddamn
fingers to the bone and you’re leaving me with garbage. If this one doesn’t move, my agent
is going to fire me.”
His sneer makes her flail.
“What do you want me to write instead?” he asks, “what would you approve of?”
‘I can’t tell you what to write. I just want what’s best for you,’ she says, and collapses on the
The guilt fills him from the bottom up, like drowning. He kneels, reaches for her hand. It
twitches through his grasp. She feels barely cool, almost nothing.
“What’s best for me? I mean it, please tell me.”
‘More than that.’
‘There’s no buts.’
Her chest heaves as she surges around him, once again warm.
‘Trust me. Without question.’
He chews his mustache.
“I can’t just sit here with a blank page. It hurts.”
‘Sometimes it will hurt,’ she says, ‘consider them growing pains. You find the words. Trust
When he hesitates, she glances towards the patio doors. He knows what she’s doing,
convinces himself that knowing makes it okay. He swallows what he thinks is his pride.
“Do you…promise to stay?”
He can barely see through her.
* * * * *
She fills the room, her tails coiled around each other. He leans against her, eyes dark,
fingertips cracked and bleeding.
He types and nothing appears on the screen. He feels the rumble of her satisfaction, of her
fullness. He feels her skin as his, feels no thirst or hunger. He thinks she loves him. She
loves him. She loves.