I haul groceries to my fourth-floor studio one landing at a time. My bottle of discounted rum, a 5 lb. sack of potatoes, and a rocket-shaped golden squash—so irresistible at the market—anchor me down like sandbags. Around me wafts the dinners of my neighbors. Sweat drips from my face and armpits. At my door, I dig for keys, but they escape, bounce off my knee, and land at the balcony’s edge. Sighing, I set my bags upon a nondescript pattern of mauve and cream tiles. Below me, a door opens, Landlady Busybody’s.
“Mrs. Queen,” she says.
“What now?” I sound unjustly exasperated. Busybody is not her real name—I name characters outside my books too. I snatch up my keys.
“The rent? What about the elevator?”
“It was working.” She addresses her words more to the ether than to me.
“I’ll pay you next week,” I promise and ferry my groceries across the threshold. “But you better fix the damn elevator.”
Inside, I lean against my door and breath once luxuriously. Because emptiness terrifies me, I fill my space to the brim. Souvenirs, photographs, posters, and piles of books cover every surface. My home cradles me a moment.
After dinner, I dive into my email, a task requiring a strong medicinal component. Tonight I choose Cuba-Libras, heavy on the lime juice. Sour is appropriate for disappointment.
First up is a statement of my paltry sales. My once-triumphant Eileua series became my defining defeat after my publisher and seven others passed on the third installment. Critics praised Eileua of the Meadow, but Eileua of the Castle—a much better book I swear!—they called “unsettling.” UNSETTLING?
It is perhaps best I have never sold Eileua of the Skies, because I will never finish that goddamn book. I cannot remember the number of revisions, but of course… Ha! It always gets better. I grit my teeth.
Another mail comes from the site selling my racier titles. They paid 300 dollars for “Alien Nurses of General Hospital” and 200 for “What Butt Elves Taught My Husband,” both novelettes. I still need rent money.
I reach my agent’s answering machine and pour some more motivation before tumbling back to Eileua’s world. Two hours later, eyes glazed, I hover near the same spot, rereading my last foray, “Eileua found lovelorn Prince Al-Astra’s imploring eyes. ‘I must not,’ she cried. ‘I must never.’”
This is terrible.
I upload to the cloud anyhow and fire up Twitter: “Sometimes I even awake weeping,” I announce. The likes of my followers light up my screen. Pop. Pop.
I am drunker than many times before. The rail wobbles as I descend to the lobby, find the street, execute a few dangerous crossings, and now I sit disoriented in a noisy bar.
A lithe figure in a flowing gold sequined dress sweeps me up. We dance, swinging, twirling, and grinding. We find a corner.
“Finally, I meet you,” she says. “I’ve waited so long. What a pleasure!”
“Oh,” I say. This is never fun. “Are you my fan?”
“You might say so. Look. We must discuss how you write Eileua.”
“I, uh, write her honestly,” I begin with drunken tired phrasing. “I draw from—”
“Just cut the bullshit please,” she says. “You don’t recognize me?” I shake my head. “‘I must not? I must never?’”
She nods. “Seven years of celibacy?”
“You are my paladin,” I explain. “It’s a geas: no men.”
“What about a woman then? Someone like you.”
“Me?” I cannot hide my shock. “Even old as I am?”
She reaches across. Her warm silky lips yield, as I throw myself into the deep end. When we break, I catch carbuncles flickering in her fathomless pupils. They leave me spellbound. I attempt a sobering shake but find no balance.
“I’m leaving you the tab,” she says standing. My eyes follow her up.
“Will I ever see you again?” I despise my needfulness.
“That depends on what you write.” She grins. “No pressure, but finish my book.”
“I’ll do better,” I promise, flipping my empty glass and succumb, sinking to the table. When my head rises, she is gone.
Everything changes. Now my head buzzes with so many ideas I cannot write fast enough. A week later, the book sells. I stay hungry, but my spirit burns hot. Of course I revisit that bar but always leave disappointed, so I still worry whether I am doing right by my muse.
Am I, Eileua?