The Muse – a short story

Even though Brad had been failing at work before his official retirement, his entire office went to his funeral. He was too young to die, and to go in such an accident seemed a cruel twist of fate to one who had already endured much. Even as they arrived at the church each of them looked at the handicapped spaces with an additional twinge of remorse. They reminded so poignantly of this man who had had three unlucky episodes in his life.

For yes, Brad had a handicapped sticker on his car although he seldom parked in handicapped spaces rationalizing that he was ambulatory and needed exercise. He was right on both scores. However, no one begrudged him a close-in parking space for, surely, missing one hand needed some compensation. He had managed to overcome his handicap with remarkable stoicism and could drive, type, draw and complete his daily duties as quickly as people with two hands.

He lost his right hand in a freak accident when he was four years old. An inquisitive child, sitting on a butcher’s counter assisting his grandfather make sausages, he put his little right hand into the meat grinder along with the meat. Those were the days before elaborate prostheses and so Brad learned to cope with a stump on his right. He did well, passing through school with honors and then on to university to become an architect. He was successful in his profession and eventually fell in love with, and married, a colleague interior designer. At that point in his life things looked rosy.

His second blow of bad luck was his wife’s inability to conceive and their joint sadness. Brad faced his sorrow with nicotine and alcohol, which drove his wife to ask for a divorce. After the divorce he threw himself into a bachelor life, revolving around architecture, cigarettes, and alcohol. The three worked together like waves in the ocean. At times one eclipsed the others, at times they worked in unison. Unfortunately the waves were part of a spiraling eddy, and as they whirled around each other, they became increasingly intense until Brad, caught in their action, began to suffer.

He entered the ‘black” phase of his life. Each night he drank enough to dull his pain and took to his bed thinking about the futility of life. Sometimes he saw dark shadows looming over him. Sometimes the shadows were his own thoughts channeled into alternate ways of ending his misery. There were so many options: a high place, a gun, a gas oven, a bath and razor, starvation. At these times he admitted to himself that his present self-destructive path, laced with cigarettes and alcohol, was probably on the right track. Gradually the alcohol eclipsed architecture and Brad took what he euphemistically called an ‘early retirement’.

His lack of employment had many side effects. With less to live on he moved into a slummy apartment, but with decreased obligations he could concentrate more seriously on drinking himself into oblivion. His dark shadows were frequent nocturnal visitors whom he greeted with mixed emotion.

One night when he retired to bed sad and sodden, just as he finished his last cigarette of the day he heard a soft female voice call his name. He drowsily turned towards the voice and saw her shadow moving across the room. Her movement was so smooth that he wondered if she was floating. He took a deep breath and pondered who his beautiful visitor could be. She didn’t scowl, as his demons of earlier nights had menaced, she simply smiled at him. Then she was standing beside his bed and her cold hand touched his. He felt a wave of desire like an electric shock. He swung his feet to the ground and sat up. He stared into her face and noticed that her eyes were so dark that he couldn’t distinguish her pupils. He shifted his gaze to behold the rest of her face. The moonlight gave the room light and shadow; he saw her countenance to be pale and very beautiful while her dark hair was braided into an elaborate seeping style to expose her long, Modigliani, white neck.

She gently, very gently, drew him onto his feet. That was when the music started. The Blue Danube floated through the open window on soft night air and they were dancing. He was in perfect control; his right hand held her back and guided her movements, his left touched hers. Her flowing black dress, which hung from her shoulders, floated and swayed as they danced.

They danced on a highly polished wood floor in a room of mirrors. He kept catching glimpses of themselves; a flawless matched pair moving as one across the floor. Fred and Ginger could not have been more perfect. Their harmonious movements were synchronized with the music. They waltzed until he felt dizzy and his right hand on her back was beginning to throb with the heat of contact. Then she led him back to his bed and kissed him; a soft brush of her lips on his. Trembling, he lit a cigarette. She shook her head to indicate that, no, she didn’t smoke, and was gone.

The next morning he arose earlier than his norm and ate food. His encounter of the previous night haunted him; he could see her, feel her body, and his every movement was set to the Blue Danube. He went to the mall, still floating on his cloud of content. Uncharacteristically, he parked in the best handicapped spot. As he walked inside he stared at that nonexistent hand which had throbbed so much the previous night. He went to a men’s department and bought himself the most elegant black silk pajamas that he could find.

That evening he drank less and, instead of collapsing into bed, he bathed and dressed in his new pajamas before retiring. He lay in bed reading and smoking until drowsiness began to overtake him, then he turned off the light and smoked in the moonlight. No sooner had he extinguished his last cigarette than she appeared. She was wearing a short low-cut silk dress which swished as she moved. Again she touched him and he rose. Vito Disalvo’s “Tango in the Park” began to play and they tangoed.

They danced on a decorated mosaic floor in a tall rotunda. She matched his every motion, or was he matching hers? He swung her around with both hands as they looped, curled, and swayed to the music. His whole body tingled with pleasure at the excitement of their exotic dance. At each extraordinary step he heard applause from the balconies above. It reinforced his exquisite joy. Just when he thought that exhaustion would overtake him, she led him back to his bed and kissed him with the same brush of soft lips. Trembling, he lit a cigarette, again she shook her head indicating that she didn’t smoke, and was gone.

He greeted dawn with only one thought on how fast he could make the day pass; how quickly he could trick night into coming. He drowned his anticipation in alcohol but not so much that he couldn’t still prepare meticulously for bed. On this night he stumbled a little for he was drunk both with alcohol and anticipation. Just as on the previous nights, she came to him as he finished his cigarette. Even in the moonlight he could see that her dress was fiery red. She had one strap over her left shoulder and wore matching long red gloves. Her touch was soft, so very soft. As he rose he dropped his lighted cigarette on the bedding, which began to smolder. He didn’t notice for the music was a foxtrot, and he was already lulled into her aura.

They were on the beach, the warm sand was hard enough for dancing and a mist enveloped them. They were the couple in the Jack Vettriano’s painting ‘The Singing Butler”. All movement centered on them and oh, how they danced. His right hand guided her on her bare skin exposed by her backless dress; slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. The tempo gradually increased as they danced in unison. His ecstasy amplified until he blended into her essence and was gone.