My favorite short story – "Madam and Mr. Muse" – is an imaginative tale only a few close friends, countless publishing assistants, and fairytale maven Jack Zipes have read. Four brief excerpts:
Mr. Muse and Madam meet at the Lily Pad Cafe:
“ Ohhhhh,” she cooed. “Please join me while I dine on rind and wine. It’s the sparkling kind. You may have generous portions and tender white seeds. Eat as much as you please, but you mustn’t ever touch my vessel or feast on my ebony seeds.”
All conversation stopped. Antennae turned at the mention of the vessel. For resting on the table, within claw reach of her glass sat the most alluring and exquisite neodymium little vase. A bulbous turquoise stopper with an abalone lock wasn’t common to the region, but neither was this flock.
All fly eyes focused on the cocky crocodile as he surveyed the scene. Who was this mysterious lady lizard holding court here like a queen? Muse would find out since he had time to spare. He’d spend it convincing Madam her glistening black seeds and ancient vial to share.
Muse has a gift delivered to Madam:
Muse rolled his eyes, snapped his jaw, and licked his fourth tooth twice, and looking straight at Buzz, he said, “ I want to give you something verrry nice. Here are two droplets of fruit nectar of the rarest kind, one for you, one for the lady lizard most divine. Along with this brief message, please deliver it for me. Tell Madam, my driver will come for her tomorrow at a quarter half past three. And not to worry, we’ll feast on delicacies so fine she’ll lose her craving for seeds and watermelon rind.”
Madam dines at the Muse Estate:
Muse sang. He danced. He strummed his instrument. He liked this lady lizard and thought he’d take a chance. He steered the conversation to the topic of her seeds, and had the chef open a tin of rare guttae and dandelion weeds. He was almost certain he saw the glistening seeds in the rim of her soil sack, and thought he could charm her into giving them to him while she ate his fancy snacks.
Dew guttae and weeds. Before she caught herself, Muse was admiring her shapely seeds. He asked to touch her vessel. This she flatly refused. He had meant no harm or so he told her, and continued to woo her with his charm to squelch her growing alarm. The awkward moment passed, and Madam began to relax at last.
Thoroughly enjoying the amusement of her muse, Madam made another crucial mistake. At his persistent urging, she allowed him one ebony seed to partake. He swore one would be his limit. At the time he spoke, he thought he actually meant it.
Muse and Madam vie for the vial:
Waiting in the courtyard for Muse’s shedding driver to return, she gasped in disbelief. How could this have happened? What would be their fate? She’d left her precious vessel inside beside her leafy plate. Madam leapt toward the door. Muse blocked her with his tail. Little did he realize that better ones had failed. She pleaded to go back inside. Then Muse puffed up with pride. He assured her he’d handle this with care. "What? You don’t trust him after all that we have shared. I’d never consider opening it. No, I wouldn’t dare."
He left her in the care of his hissing driver and slithered back inside to retrieve her precious vial.
Why is Madam and Mr. Muse my favorite short story? Because it came through me in a rare moment, in a buoyant and effortless way. Streams of verse and passages flowed to me at the most inopportune times – driving on Interstate 80, on a long run in the hills, squeezing produce at the Berkeley Bowl, washing dishes, in luridly colorful dreams. But the first snatch of conversation came to me on a bright, blissful day at the Emeryville Marine while comfortably perched on a jumble of weathered boulders with the bay lapping at my sun drenched feet. I was happy sitting there watching the Bay Bridge, the boaters and wind surfers, and the soaring seagulls, when I leaned back, letting the ray's tickle my face and suddenly I decided I wanted a refreshing, no fuss meal, something not requiring a trip anywhere other than to my refrigerator, which was a few minutes stroll from where I sat. Watermelon and champagne came to mind. Not my usual fare, but I liked the thought of it. "Tonight, Madam will dine on watermelon and sparkling wine." Not the usual way of addressing myself either, but I kind of liked the sound of it too. So I put on my flip flops, and on my way home Mr. Muse, a cunning crocodile, showed up at the Lily Pad Café, sat down at Madam's table and struck up a conversation. I could barely get to my apartment fast enough to write down the torrent of words rushing at me in verse. I was intrigued since I don't usually think or write in rhyme, but I trusted what I was hearing and for the next three months wrote it down as it struck me, at times urgently exiting the freeway and parking, transcribing conversations and scenes in my little notebook or rummaging in my orange VW fastback for scraps of paper to capture the words on – a receipt, a discarded napkin, the border of a newspaper, the side of a shopping bag, an envelope – any slip of paper would do. I took to carrying a portable tape recorder in the car and sleeping with a notebook and flashlight by the bed. Madam and Mr. Muse were engaged in a game of intrigue and lust that would end in betrayal. Their quirky tale, an intuitive (and fortuitous) glimpse at my then current unraveling romantic entanglement.
Alas, to find out Muse's fate, a wise and lovelorn editorial assistant with free time on her off hours will have to pull it from the slush pile and enthusiastically recommend it to a receptive editor. In the meantime, if you're interesting in reading more, I will kindly post it here.