The words wouldn’t come. I’m sure every writer, whatever the genre, has experienced it at some time or another. We might say, ‘my muse has gone on holiday’, or something similar. As if the ability to write comes from outside us. Of course, sometimes a writer’s muse is outside him – or her, mustn’t upset the PC police, must I? – we’ve all read about famous writers, or composers, or sculptors, or whatever, who have fallen in love (usually unrequited, of course) and have produced prodigiously to channel the emotions. I had a wry chuckle to myself. Finding a muse that way isn’t something you can do intentionally. Besides, who wants to be separated from someone you love?
So I did what I always do. I resorted to coffee. That’s a dangerous course. Coffee doesn’t intoxicate, but it is addictive. Some years previously I’d gone to my doctor with a number of physical symptoms which turned out to be caused by my excessive consumption of what I call ‘the elixir of life’.
Merely walking in the park is relaxing, and from time to time I’ve been inspired just by the place, or the people I see day by day. But I walked, and watched the ducks, coot, moorhen and gulls on the old mill-ponds, before calling in at the cafe. I was served by a pretty, plump girl with hair dyed dark red. That sort of dark red which is definitely not natural.
I took my coffee, and a biscuit, to a table and sat there, frowning. I got out my little laptop, but didn’t open it. As I sat there, a woman maybe my own age – thirty-five – with startling, fiery red hair, and a toddler daughter with slightly lighter, but also fiery, red hair, came in. She spoke quietly to the girls behind the counter, with a lot of laughter, especially as she lifted the little girl so she could feel part of the conversation. She collected a cup of tea and a small chocolate milk-shake, and walked over to my table.
“Mind if we join you?”
I looked around. The cafe wasn’t packed, but there weren’t many empty tables. “Feel free.”
She put the drinks on the table and fetched a high-chair for the little girl, whom she lifted into it. The little one promptly slurped at the treat as her mother sat opposite me. “Thank you.” She held out a hand. “I’m Kat. I used to work here. This is Aibhilin,” she pronounced it ‘Aveleen’. I’ve always been fascinated by names and their origins.
“Is that Irish, spelt A I B H I L I N?” I asked, and she smiled warmly.
“Well, hello. I’m Graham,” I said, squeezing the extended hand gently.
The little girl slurped her milkshake. “Grame,” she pronounced. “Wri’er.”
I raised an eyebrow at her mother, who was shaking her head. “Aibhilin, manners.”
Slurp. “He goo’.”
“Sorry,” Kat said, with a resigned smile, “my daughter doesn’t have much restraint.”
Kat chuckled. “Oh, yes. Very restrained. Sorry, Graham.”
“No need. She’s brightened my day.”
“Were you feeling down?” Her expression was odd, and she glanced at the little girl.
“A bit. Aibhilin’s right. I’m a writer. At least, I’m supposed to be. Nothing there right now.”
“Ah. I see. Muse on strike?”
“Something like that.”
“If you can spare a few minutes, we can probably help.”
Well, I wasn’t averse to seeing more of this attractive woman. I was aware she was married – the ring obvious – and had a daughter, but she – and the daughter – were fascinating. “I’m in no hurry.”
I finished the last of my coffee, rather cool, and waited as they finished their drinks. We left together, and sat not far away on a picnic bench. Kat sat opposite me, Aibhilin next to her.
The little girl held out her hand to me, and when I reached out to her, she grasped my index finger and closed her eyes. Kat sat, watching, and smiling. My finger was released, and Aibhilin held her mother’s hand. A small figure appeared in front of them and held an incomprehensible conversation with them, then turned to face me. She – unmistakably female – was about a foot tall. Exquisitely pretty, with a dark complexion, she had an oval face, with full lips, a large nose (but which matched her features perfectly) and large, dark eyes. Glossy dark hair was piled neatly on her head, exposing a long, elegant neck. She was dressed in a long, flowing gown in shades of green and yellow.
“Graham,” Kat said with a smile, “let me introduce Eupheme. She has been overseeing your writing. You understand, there are only nine muses, and they can’t keep up with the plethora of would-be artists of every stripe. She answers to Calliope, who inspired Homer.”
How should I respond to this? I mean, how often does one come face to face with an immortal, especially a foot-tall one standing on a picnic table in a city park? I dug deep. I bent my head in a bow. “I am honoured, beautiful one.”
When I looked at her, her complexion was several shades darker. She spoke, and her voice was as one might expect from such a tiny figure, high and piping, but none the less sweet and mellifluous. “I thank you for your compliment, Graham, though I do not think I am beautiful. I thought you wished to ask about my absence.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, but after a moment, decided that a discussion of the presumed ‘mythical’ nature of muses was not indicated. “You are here now, and I think you are very beautiful. I am interested in why I have been unable to write recently.”
Her head dipped. “I apologise. I ... I ... was ... I’m sorry ... I was ... bored. You write of things I do not understand. I have been walking the slopes of Olympus, trying to understand.”
“My dear, it is I who should apologise.”
“Graham,” Kat interjected, “perhaps you should get to know Eupheme better? Would you be willing to have her accompany you?”
“I thought she was with me most of the time anyway?”
“Well ... not exactly. Besides, we’re talking about a corporeal presence. I think it would be good for both of you to know each other better.”
I wasn’t at all sure about this. I mean, how was I to have a one-foot tall ... whatever, accompany me?
There was another incomprehensible exchange, this time between Eupheme and Aibhilin. I say incomprehensible. I caught the odd word. They were talking in Greek. Archaic Greek. That... kid... how old was she? And she was conversing in Greek. The tiny figure turned back to me. “Graham, do not worry. I will be the appropriate size for you.”
“Oh...” I took a deep breath. “This is all taking a bit of getting used to. But I’ll be glad to have your company for as long as you like.” I thought that was safe enough. I mean, how long would you expect an immortal to hang around? And, of course, she was very beautiful, if small. A further Grecian colloquy.
“Eupheme is barefoot, and her gown is a little ... outre ... for an English city. Just go home, and when you get there, call her name. I’ll make sure she has the basic necessities of a woman in our world.”
“Well. Thank you, Kat, and Aibhilin. It’s been, um, interesting. An eye-opener, in fact.”
Kat giggled. “And, no. It’s not a trick. It’s magic.” She handed me a card with her name and address. “Call me if you need to.”
I went home to my little two-bedroom house, put my laptop on the dining-room table and went into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. After that, I fired up the laptop and sat looking at it. Since I had no idea where to go with what I was supposedly writing, I opened a new document and wrote a description of my morning, including a glowing description of Eupheme. I confess, I went overboard a bit on that.
I sat back, looking at the screen and sighed. “Oh, Eupheme...”
And a foot-tall pixie, not in a gown, but in t-shirt and jeans, materialised on the table in front of me. “I was wondering when you’d get around to calling! What’re you doin’?” She didn’t wait for and answer, but walked round and peered at the screen.
The t-shirt was stretched over what looked like a very nice pair, and the jeans fitted snugly over wide hips and tapered legs. She read what I’d done so far, fidgeting with the jeans.
“I don’t know how girls live with clothes like these,” she muttered. “Oh, my. Is that what you think?”
I’d written a fanciful description, not having seen her body. I’d said she was slim, with smallish breasts.
“I am not boyish,” she announced, peeling off the t-shirt to reveal bra-less breasts. They weren’t large in proportion to her body, but they certainly weren’t small. She had some difficulty with the jeans, and muttered something under her breath as she skinned them down. Her hips were wide, and she had a nice – not small, but very nice – waist. Everything was in proportion and, human sized, she’d have been perfect for the nose of a wartime bomber. There was a distinct gap between her thighs, topped by a black bush, and when she spun in front of me, I could only gasp at the perfection of her back view.
“Wow...” I sighed, and reached for the keyboard to amend my account.
“Much better,” she announced, watching. “Of course, I could look skinny, if you’d prefer? I can be any shape you like.” As I watched, she changed through a bewildering selection of shapes, skin and hair colours.
“Stop! Please, Eupheme. Just be yourself. Your gorgeous, delightful, self.”
She paused in the progression, at which point she was oriental. “You think?”
“I do. Just be yourself.”
“Oh. Lift me down, please?”
That was an invitation I was delighted to accept. I’d been itching to touch her, but was terrified of offending or hurting her. She was warm, and her skin silky smooth as I carefully picked her up and placed her on the floor. My eyes couldn’t follow what happened and I don’t have the right words anyway, but suddenly she was about five feet and six inches tall, with olive skin, very dark hair, and that perfect figure.
Now, up to that point I’d been responding to her, of course, but I’d been a bit distracted, so hadn’t noticed a growing discomfort in my chinos. But then, she reached past me to pick up the miniature jeans and t-shirt and, in the process, brushed a firm tit against my shoulder.
I was relieved of the embarrassment of having to adjust myself while she watched, as she glanced at the under-sized clothes, and disappeared. I seized the opportunity.
Suddenly, my head was buzzing with ideas, so I closed the file I labelled ‘Eupheme’ opened the original project, and began, frantically, to type. I worked, as it turned out, for nearly four hours, and when I surfaced I ached from being in more or less the same position for that time. I stretched, as you do, and worked my head on my neck. Soft hands massaged my shoulders and neck and my prick, which had calmed down, suddenly sat up and took notice again. What was left of my coffee was long cold.
“Welcome back,” that sweet voice said. “Isn’t it time you stopped to eat?”
A rumble from my mid-section reinforced that idea.
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“So, where are you going to take me?”
I spun round in my office chair so that I was facing her; her hands, in the process, slid round, remaining on my shoulders. She was wearing another dress, gown, whatever. It was less ... I don’t know. Archaic? I mean, I don’t understand dress design. I have no idea why one long dress looks contemporary, while another looks like something out of a history book. It was spring green, reached below her calves but revealed her ankles and feet, and was in some soft material which followed her curves. She had on sandals.
“You’re gorgeous,” I sighed.
She coloured darkly. “You keep saying that.”
“Because I can’t believe I’m here, like this, with a beautiful woman. A woman who has shown herself to me naked.” I stood, and I was just six inches or so taller than her. “What would you like to eat? We’ve got food from all over the world nowadays.”
“Something with olives, and feta cheese?”
“We can do that.” A mile or so from my house is a Greek restaurant, the ‘Greedy Greek’. I’d never actually been in there, but it seemed the right time to try it.
It was good. I had meat – Gyros – and my companion fish – Glossa. We followed our main course with Baklava. I paid the bill, with a substantial tip – both food and service had been excellent, though Eupheme’s company may have enhanced the experience considerably.
We weren’t far from the park where Eupheme and I had met for the first time, and I needed to walk that lunch off. “Would you mind walking with me?”
“I’d love to walk with you! Among the trees?”
We passed the cafe, which was packed and every outside table was occupied, and past the mill pond, which had more black-headed gulls on it than ducks or coot. We passed the top pond, and crossed Rustlings Road into Bingham Park. In time past, the brook had fed mill ponds, which had supplied water for the wheels that drove machinery. Some had silted up and been grassed over, but others remain, with only traces of their original function, but at the top the Shepherd Wheel has been restored and is open to visitors at weekends. The wheel has been rebuilt and works. I explained to Eupheme, who understood. It made much better sense to her than the later machinery which is part of my everyday life. As we walked, I described the progression of the technology and some of the history and we ended up at Forge Dam, about three miles up the valley, and had ice-cream from the cafe there.
The walk was more than I was used to, but Eupheme was bouncing with energy when we got home and insisted on being shown the kitchen and larder. She then shooed me off to work. Somewhat to my surprise, I was able to get a lot done before she called me to sit down to a salad supper. There was lettuce, and she’d been artistic with tomatoes, cucumber and radishes. She’d steamed new potatoes, and warmed pitta bread. She’d got out cheese – red Leicester – and told me to get some feta, and worked out that there was fish in several tins; I showed her how to open a tin of tuna and drain it before serving. I had to make tea while Eupheme drank fruit juice, having grimaced at the taste of the tap water.
Afterwards, I could only say, “You’re incredible, Eupheme. Quite incredible.”
“Is that good?”
“Oh, yes. That’s very good.”
“Do you know what I am?”
“I suppose you’re a demi-goddess?”
She smiled, “Perhaps a semi-demi-goddess.”
“A very beautiful one, anyway.”
“Thank you.” There was a long pause. I suppose, as a writer, I might say a ‘pregnant pause’ since I could tell there was more to come. “I am an immortal.”
“I supposed so.”
“It is dangerous for an immortal to fall in love with a mortal.”
“That makes sense. It shows in the legends.”
A much longer pause. “I was not entirely honest with you earlier.”
I just raised an eyebrow. She was blushing, rather. “I didn’t leave because I didn’t understand what you were writing. I mean, I didn’t understand, but that’s not why I left.”
I had no idea where she was going with this, but waited for her to continue.
“I went to talk to Calliope. I thought of visiting the Sybil, but that’s fraught with danger too.”
That made sense. In the myths, I couldn’t think of anyone who benefited from consulting the Oracle of Delphi.
“Walking on the slopes of Olympus, there were so many people. Modern people.” She sighed. “It’s almost more peaceful in your parks here.”
“I should take you to visit some of our ancient woodland.”
“I’d like that.” She took a deep breath. “I left because I was falling in love with you.”
It took a few seconds for that to register, then, I don’t know, several minutes to assimilate. This beautiful woman was falling in love with me?
“Is this bad?”
“It could be.” She looked downcast. “You see, I feel sure I could ... seduce you. But if I did, you would never be able to form a complete relationship with a human woman afterwards.”
“Would I want to? Need to? Would you leave me?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t leave you. But you would get old and die. You’d live longer than usual, but you’d die.”
“And you? You would go on?”
“I ... I wouldn’t want to. I think, I think, like others, I would also die.”
I didn’t say that I thought it was already too late for me, that I was already head-over-heels in love with her. The idea that such a lovely creature could lose centuries – even millennia of her life because of me was abhorrent. Perhaps, if we didn’t consummate the relationship she would get over it when I died. “I don’t know about you,” I said, “but there’s been rather a lot of today, and I think I need to sleep. Do you sleep?”
“Well, I’m going to bed. The spare room bed is made up if you want it. There’re books, there’s the t/v and a computer, and I suppose you can take yourself all over the place by magic?”
“I could. But I think I will stay here and probably avail myself of your spare bed. After washing up.”
“Oh ... no need. I usually wash up by hand, since I don’t use much crockery and so on, but I do have a dishwasher.” I showed her how to open and load the machine. We only half-filled it, so I just said we’d wait until after breakfast to run it, resisted a strong temptation to kiss her good-night, and went to bed.
I was tired, physically and mentally, and dropped off quickly. But, as sometimes happens, I woke at about three in the morning with my head buzzing, and got up, went downstairs, and fired up my laptop. I didn’t even consider making coffee. Four hours later, I surfaced to the scent of coffee and the soft pressure of breasts on my back – I hadn’t dressed, so was just wearing the old t-shirt and boxers I usually wear in bed – and Eupheme had somehow got one of my old t-shirts and was wearing that. It did cover her delicate parts, just.
“How is it progressing?”
“Almost finished, thank you.” I thought about that. “Yes. Definitely thank you. I was at a dead end until you turned up. I just need to polish the last chapter a bit, then it can go to my publisher for editing and so on. I’m pretty sure he’ll like it.”
“Good. I’m glad I’m doing my job.”
I took the cup. Sipped. “This is good.”
“I am glad. I wasn’t sure how the machine worked, but there were other things with the coffee.”
“You used the filter paper? That’s perfect. I much prefer that way.”
She coloured up again, darkening her olive complexion. “I’ve made a Greek breakfast,” she said. “You had yoghurt in the ... re-frig-er-ator. And there was fruit, and nuts. I hope you like it.”
I did. There was warmed pitta bread, too, and honey. Normally I prefer marmalade in the morning, but I didn’t say anything and it all seemed to work together.
I went and dressed, then worked for another couple of hours. When I finish a piece of work, there’s always a mixture of emotion. Satisfaction, certainly. Perhaps sadness, in a way. Some trepidation – would my publisher, then my readers, like what I’d produced? And, of course, ‘okay, that’s done. What comes next?’
Somehow, though, I was sure that what I’d done, thanks to Eupheme, was good. So there was satisfaction. Anything negative was muted by thoughts of her. And I knew what came next. I attached the file and sent it off into cyber-space.
I got out my little Fiat Cinquecento and took Eupheme to Kelham Island Industrial Museum. We didn’t stay there long, though. She didn’t like the smell or, when some of the machinery was running, the noise. Instead, I drove out to Longshaw, and we walked down the woodland above the gorge. I should probably not have been surprised that Eupheme was greeted by some somewhat odd characters, who seemed familiar with her, and with the Greek language. I was introduced, too, though the names meant little to me. Betula, Quercus, Clio, Rowan, Aileen, others. And one who I thought at first was punk, with springy, electric blue hair. Phoebe. All of them seemed in awe of my companion, though she was friendly and warm toward them.
She was happy when we left them to return home, though I think she’d have quite liked to stay longer. However, I, or we, needed to shop. For things like Feta cheese, Greek yoghurt and olive oil.
I think you’d be bored if I tried to describe the next few weeks, as little happened any different to what I’ve already mentioned. We did visit Kat and met her husband, Harry, who was rather older than her. We made return visits to Padley Gorge and the woodland folk. I enjoyed those visits, but always felt something of an outsider. I would not have gone had it not been for my companion. She didn’t accompany me when I needed to go into town. Too crowded, too noisy, too smelly, but we walked together in the park, or the Botanical Gardens.
After a month, it felt as though I’d known her forever, and I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life without her, but I was still reluctant to make a move which would advance our intimacy to the next level. What changed things was an encounter during an evening walk among the parkland trees. Our path was blocked by two unkempt young men. I might have retreated with Eupheme, but when I glanced round, there were two more behind us.
The correlation of forces was unsatisfactory, as one might say.
“Girly, come with us, and we’ll let your boyfriend go.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, feeling for my phone – not that I expected to get help in time to prevent damage to my person.
The speaker stepped forward, and a knife appeared in his hand.
Eupheme stepped slightly ahead of me and ignored my hand on her arm. “You do not want to do this,” she said in her soft, mellow voice.
“The hell you say.” He reached out with his left hand and grabbed her arm above the elbow. But suddenly, he wasn’t there any more. The knife fell to the ground, and there was a scruffy rat at our feet.