I often wonder why my muse appears when she does. Rarely does she drop by while my rump is flat in my chair and my fingers are poised over the keyboard. She wouldn't have as much fun then, I suppose.
Actually, I think it's so she can get my attention. And keep it. You see, getting my attention isn't difficult. Keeping it is. That's why she likes it when I'm cornered. Trapped in traffic. Slumbering on the sofa. All buff in the shower with suds of Irish Spring streaming down my skin and Prell lathered in my hair. But seldom at my desk.
She doesn't like to spark a thought and watch me run away with it before she's finished. She likes to take her time and give me little hints. She likes to lure me into a forest's edge and wait as I ponder what she's up to now. She knows I want to write, not stroll through oaks and evergreens. But she insists.
"What do you think is in there?" she'll ask. It doesn't matter how I answer. I'm wrong. And she proceeds to show me why. "No dragons in there," she says. "No trolls, no fawns, no hares."
I squint and try to verify. "You sure?"
"Look," the muse whispers. "Nothing's been in this forest for years. Nothing. Why?"
The possibilities are endless. So this is my story? Write the why of it all? I don't have to speak to her aloud. She hears my thoughts. A smile stretches across her face.
"Not just the why, Jeff. Write the who, the when, the how. Show the reader how this came to be. Show them who lived here once and where they are now.
"So they're still alive?" I ask.
Her smile widens. "Walk with me, Jeff."
Why can't she just answer when I ask? It's a simple question. I'm not looking for a dissertation or a history lesson, just an answer. She nurses her secrets sometimes. So I follow her deeper into the shade. She leads for a while and pauses, turning to see if I'm noticing what I should be noticing. She'll wait until I do. She's patient like that.
"What do you smell?"
I take a deep breath, flaring my nostrils for good measure. "The forest," I finally answer.
Her beautiful smile fades. "Just the forest? No whiffs of honeysuckle? No aroma from the pines? No mildew from last night's rain?"
Again I try. "Yes, I think I can smell that."
"You'd better," she answers sternly. "And what do you hear?"
"Not much," I say through a grin that utterly fails at hiding my disappointment.
"Listen. The pines are whispering. You can't hear that? The chatter of leaves rustling in the wind? The rush of the brook? Over there behind the rise. Hear it?"
"Ah, yes, now I hear it." She accompanies me as I go for a closer look. The water runs clear revealing the rocks and mud, pebbles and leaves that lie serenely beneath the gentle current.
"How does it feel? Taste?"
I cup my hands and dip them beneath its surface. "Feels cold," I answer. "And wet." Bringing it to my lips, I drink. "Not bad."
"Well it's, I mean, it's water, you know?"
"Water? It's snow that melted last week on peaks beyond the horizon. Ice that fell from the barren limbs of maples when the winter sun finally warmed them just enough to shake it free. Does your tongue tell you none of this?"
I stand and brush my hands against the legs of my jeans. Not dry, but drier. I remind her, "You still haven't answered my question."
"I can't answer them all, Jeff. I can bring you here. Show you what there is to see, make sure you hear what there is to be heard. I can make you stop and smell the aromas, taste what can be tasted, and feel what can be felt. But I'm not yours alone, Jeff. Others need me too."
"I need you," I say, "more than you know. Before you, I just saw the forest."
"Then you lingered," she replies. "Remember that the next time you're in the shower. It's the imagination that excites me, Jeff. Not the soap.