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  Maurice used to write best in his youth when he sat on the porch in front of his beach house, scribbling furiously on his notepad. That was before his life washed his passion away with a firm sweep of the tide. Now he sat on the porch and remembered things, remembered his wife’s sweet voice, her firm hands, and her incredible art, which now adorned the entire house. His son, Charles, hadn’t thought it healthy at first, setting up the whole house with memories of Claudia so soon after her funeral, after that blasted, damn lung cancer had taken her away from them. When Charles realized that looking at the paintings and contemplating them was the only thing that gave Maurice serenity, he left him alone.

 

        Maurice enjoyed sitting on his porch and looking at the sea. It was a soothing, joyful lullaby to his thoughts. Watching the animals scuttling about, leaving faint tracks that the setting sun made glorious in a carnation-red light; seeing the tourists and their kids frolicking in the waves, spattering droplets of seawater that glittered like diamonds before falling back into the surf. He could see such enthusiasm, such joy in those people. That contentment seemed so intense, probably because the summer was the only time they could go to the beach and afford it. It was amazing how some people, like Maurice, who’d spent his whole life at the beach, grew so tired of the ocean. Maurice had childhood friends who’d grown up with him in Coconut Grove, in their comfy, beautiful houses neighboring his, who had decided enough was enough and moved out to the city, far from the chattering tourists, far from the tropical storms, far from the wildlife. Maurice had never felt such an exasperation. For him, the ocean was a graceful muse, sometimes tempestuous, sometimes docile, that had accompanied him all his life.

 

        “Dad,” Charles said, snapping Maurice out of his reverie. “I want to talk to you.”

 

        “Okay,” Maurice replied with a grin.

 

        There followed an awkward pause, where Charles sat down next to Maurice and twiddled his thumbs. Maurice hadn’t

seen him twiddle his thumbs in years. Something was up.

 

        “Dad, remember when you used to tell Mom she should follow her passion?”

 

        Maurice cocked his head.

 

        “You need to take your own advice!” Charles burst out.

 

        Maurice stared at him. Where had that popped up from?

 

        “Dad, you’re always sitting on this porch. You’re always in your thoughts. It’s like you’re on a different plane of reality than I am.”

 

        Maurice looked down at his knees. He couldn’t disagree.

 

        “You barely talk to me, you’re always here, in this spot. Remembering. Thinking. Contemplating.”

 

        Maurice sighed. Charles was right. He didn’t really interact with his own family, and he ghosted the place; not austerely,

but nevertheless, he floated aimlessly through the reality and the memories of his home.

 

        Charles shook his hands, his brow furrowed. He spoke again, gently. “Do you think Mom would be happy to see you like this? She’d want you to do what makes you happy, Dad. Not pine away.”

 

        Maurice bit his lip and stood up. He paced on the patio, past the wicker furniture, the glass table, the ceramic starfishes  

      Claudia had painted in neon colors which hung crookedly on the soft pink-slatted walls.  

 

        “Dad, what I’m trying to say is, pursue what you always wanted. Live your dream, write. Don’t you want to write? You’d tell us these awesome stories when I was a kid. I remember them, Dad. You stopped telling them when I grew up.”

Maurice stopped and looked out at the sea. The skies were darkening, a slate gray barrage of clouds piled up near the horizon. The waves shivered, unfurling deceptively calmly. A storm would come in a few hours. The beach looked like a veil of cobwebs had suddenly fallen on it.

 

        “I stopped telling them because there were more important things. It’s easy to lose your way. Doesn’t mean I forgot about them. You’re right to call me a slacker, though,” Maurice said, grinning a little. “I don’t spend all my time just remembering things, son. I try to find her. My muse. She is quite elusive.”

 

        Charles grinned. “Don’t force your way to her. Like all women, she needs a gentle touch. Find what inspires you. It can be little things, or small things. Anything. Try to find it, Dad. She’s in there somewhere.”

 

        “My muse is always waiting. It’s time I let her out. It won’t be easy, you know.”

 

        “I know it won’t, Dad. You know I’ve got your back for this.”

 

        “She may never come out,” Maurice half-joked.

 

        Charles gave him a hug.

 

        “Please write.”

 

        “I’ll try.”

***

 

        When Claudia died, Charles came to live with him and help out in the house. Maurice had all the time in the world to write then, and now. But he couldn’t connect with his muse. She teased him and beckoned him, but with fingers too weak and bent to reach him. He wished he could get over his apathy and embrace the imaginary woman he’d ignored for so long. It was as if the memory of Claudia drove his muse away. It was a silly notion; his muse and Claudia weren’t competitors, they never had been, but his muse had always been exclusive. When Claudia came into his life, his fevered nights of writing and writing until his hands cramped and his fingers were stained blue from his flagging but obstinate pen, his mania of going from poem to story to novel to story to poem again stopped. His mind had quieted, his muse had slunk away, timid and angry about it, it seemed. Ideas sometimes wriggled in his mind, but his hand was cold and numb, as was his muse.        

 

        Claudia never tried to stop him from writing. On the contrary, she had tried through various ways to stir his inspiration: she tried giving him space, going out on girl’s nights hoping he would get inspired in her absence; she tried reading stories to him that might trigger a memory, or had a theme in common with the things he used to write; she tried having him talk to writer friends, having him go to workshops, but his muse stayed recalcitrant and silent. There were always excuses. At first, it was newly-wed life, then Claudia’s pregnancy, then Maurice thinking he didn’t want to write after all, then years of taking care of Charles’s Crohn's disease, years of making ends meet, years of working as an elementary school teacher, years of putting everybody else’s needs ahead of his own. Maurice had effectively banished his muse into a creaky, dusty box of writer’s block.       

 

        Maurice shook his head, his mind jumping forward. He remembered having to fight with Claudia to keep the house and continue living on the beach, before he’d known she was sick. This house was their nest. Her complaint with the house had, in truth, been complaints about her life. She had been stuck in a rut; Charles graduated with his Doctorate, she retired and didn’t know what to do with herself, and the marriage was flagging. Maurice insisted that a change of setting wouldn’t fix the problem. They both had to work together. They’d learned to start loving the little things again, start seeing themselves with new eyes. He’d romanced her, as fervently as he’d used to romance her at the very beginning—and it felt like their sixty years of life took an invigorating breath. She started to come around to his way of thinking, to keep the house, to stay happy. Then, her diagnosis came. Lung cancer, she had maybe five years, maximum, with full treatment.

 

        Maurice would have gladly given in to her desire to move then, to do anything she wanted. But she decided to stay, and make something of herself in the time she had left. She started painting, a hobby she’d neglected for years because she never felt she could make it, despite his encouragements, despite his advice that she should do it because it made her happy. Screw fame. She took some art classes, and started learning, experimenting, and creating her own art. He loved watching her, supporting her, thriving on the smile she gave him when she held up a freshly painted canvas, glistening like the sweat on her temples. She encouraged him to pursue his writing to make things fair. Yet, it hadn’t worked.

 

***

Six years ago

 

        “Wouldst thou do more than take and slay me?” Claudia said, dressed in a ripped, burlap-like dress, adjusting her dark wig.

 

        Maurice stared at her, noting how beautiful she looked, despite the bad costume, despite the wig that wouldn’t stay on her head.

 

        “Maurice, come on,” Claudia said. “Concentrate! Be Creon, feel the role, feel the power struggle he is feeling as Antigone challenges him. If you try hard enough, you should be able to reach into yourself and pluck at your muse. All these emotions, all this acting, feel it, Maurice.”

 

        Maurice sighed and tried to focus on the feelings inspired by the text in front of him, as opposed to just reciting the lines. He honestly wasn’t sure it would work. This was attempt number twelve from Claudia to resuscitate his muse. She was stubborn, but so was his muse. He felt a stirring of sorts in his heart, but he had no idea if it would be a prelude to a breakthrough. For all he knew, it could be a cruel prank from his muse, like she had done too many times before: he’d feel her stirring, he’d feel inspired, and he’d stare at a blank page, time grinding by until he gave up, the page as blank as it had ever been. He hoped Claudia’s reenactment of Antigone, inspired by a performance of Sophocles’s plays a few days ago at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, would be the key.

 

        “No more, indeed; having that, I have all,” he said, closing his eyes.

 

        “Why then dost thou delay? In thy discourse there is nought that pleases me,—never may there be!—and so my words must needs be unpleasing to thee. And yet, for glory-whence could I have won a nobler, than by giving burial to mine own brother? All here would own that they thought it well, were not their lips sealed by fear. But royalty, blest in so much besides, hath the power to do and say what it will,” Claudia said passionately, her hands clenched, frowning at him.

 

        Maurice shook his hands, protesting:

 

        “Thou differest from all these Thebans in that view.”

 

        “These also share it; but they curb their tongues for thee,” Claudia said, her eyes flashing.

 

        “And art thou not ashamed to act apart from them?” Maurice asked, more to himself than to Claudia. He was aiming his frustration at his muse. Wasn’t she ashamed to be treating him like this, like a sulking teenager? She was supposed to be his guide, not a jilted lover. He was meant to work with his muse in peaceful cooperation, not fight with her. It was as if Claudia’s presence offended her. He wondered when his muse would stop feeling so intimidated. The two women in his life were so different: he had sturdy, statuesque Claudia, with her short, copper-gold hair streaked with silver, her watery hazel eyes, and her mouth that never closed completely, even in sleep; and he had his muse, a younger woman, but with foam white hair, tumbling down to a flat chest, eyes a Marengo gray and a mouth eternally pursed into a pout. Both women were so different, there should have been no competition.

 

        Maurice realized with a start that he didn’t know his muse’s name. He’d always just referred to her as Her, or the Muse. Maybe that was why she didn’t come to him. She felt like he hadn’t taken the time to properly know her. What is your name? he asked himself apologetically.

 

        Lux Impii, the answer came back in a sibilant whisper.

 

        Lux, my darling, please come to me. Claudia is just trying to help. I’m going crazy here trying to get you to come out. I miss you.

 

        In his mind’s eye, as Claudia replied with “No; there is nothing shameful in piety to a brother,” he saw Lux fold her marble white arms and shake her head.

***

Present Day

 

        It took Maurice a few walks on the beach and hours of staring at a blank notepad, hours of starting sentences and scribbling them out furiously, some occasional bouts of beating his hands on his knees in frustration, to even get through to Lux. He couldn’t think of anything decent to write. Poetry was out of the question. He’d been rather good at it in his youth, but not anymore. Besides, it didn’t resonate with him. Vague, nebulous ideas for novels crowded in on him when he slept, when he daydreamed, but once he got in front of his notebook, they receded back into his mind. He needed a push, he needed something to happen, something…

 

        One morning, when the sun hadn’t yet come up, he walked along the beach, with his notebook in his knapsack, his toes squishing on the washed-up seaweed that clung like damp hair to his feet. The foam left ghostly residue up his legs, basking him in a cool feeling that traveled up his limbs. Every so often he felt silverfish scurrying hurriedly across his feet, sea shell particles stabbing him, little pockets in the sand making him stumble. He was looking for something. He wished he knew what would inspire him. He might have better luck looking for women. Writing was infinitely more finicky and complex than women.

 

        No one would ever replace Claudia. She had been his mate. She couldn’t be replaced. Besides, he was too old to dive into the dating crowd again. He had time left, but only time left to accomplish a dream to come; not a dream he had already lived.

 

        Maurice felt a chill and walked up the beach, away from the water. The sun started to come up, gently pushing aside the gray haze of Maurice’s surroundings with thin tongues of blinding orange, vibrant pink. He kept walking, skirting around crumbled sand castles, crab holes, turtle nests and empty beer bottles. The latter he picked up and carried with him until he found a trash can to dump them in. The clinking of the bottles stayed with him as he walked on, until finally, something he saw in the sands drove away the almost musical sound from his mind.

 

        He stopped and regarded the sand mermaid that sprawled out in front of him, her arms and tail falling apart into clumps of damp sand. Her smile was crumbling too; but she looked beautiful. Whoever had done this was someone who had taken art classes, someone who loved art beyond the superficial. This mermaid had texturing and shadowing that went beyond an amateur. In her hair dozens of coquina clams glittered, giving a rainbow-hued radiance to her tresses. Maurice squatted down and brushed his hands over the shells. So smooth, so perfect. So small, but so beautiful. Like a woman’s heart.

 

        His mind was barraged by an image of a young man; a young, shy, insecure redhead who pined after girls but never had any luck. Yes, the young man would try to date, try to talk to girls, but he could never understand them, too concerned was he with his own self. He couldn’t understand women’s hearts. In the end, Maurice knew, his character would end up losing his sanity. The difference between real women and his perception of the perfect woman would merge, and drive him insane.

        Maurice sat down next to the mermaid, smiling at her, and took out his notepad. He could feel it. Actual sentences that made him thrum poured into him. He opened his notebook past the scribbles of the first few pages, and started writing, his hands shaking. They couldn’t quite keep up, but he was getting there. The words were finally unleashed from his mind, primitive, unsnarling forth onto his page.

        I could not sleep. I strode past the 9th Avenue sign above me, which seemed to drip green droplets of rain. My black loafers squished against the wet cement, and I figured maybe I should have brought my umbrella. But I did not want to turn back to my empty apartment, to the solitude and permanently unmade bed. I walked on, not searching for anything, just walking off this feeling, this restlessness inside of me, which could have been the inner manifestation of the sound of cars rushing past, of tires squealing against water, of the quiet hum of the billboard ad signs, or the general underlying purring always present in Times Square even in the middle of the night.

 

        He had no idea how this related to the mermaid. All he knew was that she made him think of his own relationship with his muse, of the ongoing endeavor of Man finding a Woman, of a man trying to understand the heart of women, and never quite succeeding.

 

        When Maurice came home that night, Charles burst into the living room, looking haggard. Maurice stared at him quizzically.

 

        “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

 

        “Dad, I was just about to call the cops! Where were you? You didn’t take your cell phone with you. I woke up this morning and you were gone. I know you go for your walks in the morning, but after not seeing you all day, I got worried. You sure you’re okay?”

 

        Maurice passed a hand over his flushed face, wiping off sand and seaweed bits from his skin and short, bristly hair. He grinned.

 

        “Yes, I’m better than ok. I wrote. It actually came.”

 

        Charles clapped his hands together, a strange tremor around his lips. “About time,” he croaked, and Maurice read the first line to him.

 

***

 

        In the following days, Maurice kept writing, now almost at the end of his notebook. It was like someone had turned on a button and now the creative flow ran nonstop in him. His hands cramped at the end of the day, but he felt invigorated, accomplished, like he hadn’t felt since Claudia’s death. His brain exhausted him around five p.m., usually. He started writing at the crack of dawn, he started projects he had thought of but had never gone through with. He started painting the walls of the house and adding wallpaper that matched the furniture. He polished up a decade-old dresser that had been falling apart. He started learning how to make sailor’s knots and began a collection. One day, Maurice plucked up the courage to start a new recipe: crab cakes with spicy remoulade.

 

        Before he married Claudia, he used to cook, but she loved cooking even more than he did, so he’d let her monopolize the kitchen over the years. He hadn’t tried his hand at cooking in quite a while. It felt good to rediscover something from his youth. He spent the next hour piling together ingredients and improvising. He realized he was missing a few things, like the Creole mustard and the Panko breadcrumbs. Even as he browned the crab patties, even as he prepared the remoulade, making quite a mess, his mind raced with dialogue that his character, Everett, would say in the scene he was working on. He’d have to remember and jot down a few notes after dinner so he could flesh out the scene in the morning.

 

        When Charles came home from work, he stared in astonishment at Maurice as he put the steaming crab cakes on the dining table. He’d even taken the time to decorate the table a bit, he folded the napkins in fleur-de-lis style and arranged some glossy horse conch shells around the wine glasses.

 

        “Wine glasses?” Charles asked, not seeming to believe his eyes. “I thought you didn’t drink anymore.”

 

        “Ah, a little wine won’t kill me. We still had some Faustino in the rack. Sit, sit, before it gets cold.”

 

        Maurice smiled as he watched his son sit down, looking alternatively pleased and surprised. Maurice picked up his wine glass and drank. Oh, how good it felt to taste those subtle tannins. He should have done something like this a long time ago. How thrilling it was to not be passive anymore!

 

        “Dad, this is excellent,” Charles said, smacking his lips.

Maurice concurred with him; he had done a surprisingly good job with the crab cakes. It took some willpower not to take more from the dish.

 

        “Geez, if I’d known writing would give you such a boost, I’d have pushed you in that direction years ago. You’re a different man, Dad.”

 

        “I certainly feel different. Better. I feel better,” Maurice confessed, wiping his mouth. Everett was talking again in his mind, exclaiming an ode to the woman of his dreams.

 

        “You know, Dad, I think you should maybe try out writing on the computer. Dad. Hey, Dad? Earth to Dad!”

Maurice started. “Oh. Maybe. You know I’m not very good with electronics.”

 

“I know,” Charles said wryly. “Remember the time you dropped the phone in the toilet? Or when you corrupted the VCR? Or when you–”

 

 

        At Maurice’s embarrassed expression, he stopped for a moment, then continued. “Seriously, though, Dad, I think it will help you write faster. And it will be much easier for you to edit and undo things on a computer. You can keep as many multiple drafts as you want. I think you’d really like it.”

 

        “I’ll have to think about it,” Maurice said, feeling content with the wine, warm and smooth in his belly. “I know it’s a little late, but let’s have a toast.”

 

        “A toast to… new beginnings,” Charles said.

 

        Maurice raised his voice, outshouting him. “Yes, to new beginnings, and the creative muse.” To Lux.

***

        Maurice reluctantly sat down at Charles’s computer a few days after that meal. It was true, his son hadn’t exaggerated. Electronics and he had never been best friends. But if Charles was sure it would help him write better and faster, he was willing to give it a try.

 

        Maurice transcribed what he’d written so far in his notebook and saved in the program. He was surprised to see that it reached thirty pages on the computer. He hadn’t realized he’d written so much. Inspired, seeing the ghostly vision of a bestseller novel in his head, Maurice kept typing, his fingers losing their awkwardness, getting nimbler, until finally he could write without looking down at the keys. Everett had finally gotten the courage to approach the girl of his dreams, but she wouldn’t look at him. No, she wouldn’t even notice that he was there. All he could do was speculate. It had always been easier for him to observe than actually act.

 

        People bustled past her, and she did not look up once. She seemed to be looking down at the ground. Maybe she was looking at the small puddles of rain, which would reflect her frame and the lights around her. Maybe she was looking at fissures in the cement, small ones like the deltas of the Nile, or big and long ones, like the Chinese Yellow River. Maybe she was looking at ghostly halos of spittoons, or equally white pigeon droppings. Maybe she was looking at crushed cigarette butts. Or maybe she was simply looking at nothing. It was an art form, looking at nothing, yet pretending to be—

 

        The computer flickered, and the screen went black. Maurice tapped the keyboard, feeling panic well into his being. No. No, no, no! What was going on with the computer? The computer made a strange bleeping noise, and restarted. Maurice leaned forward in his chair, hoping fervently that when the program started up again it would have his story saved. He couldn’t bear to think if he’d lost everything. Maurice waited, his feet tapping nervously on the floor, as the program started up, and popped up with a window. Maurice sighed in relief. His document was there. He scrolled to the bottom of it, and did a double take. No. He scrolled back up, and scrolled back down again. This document stopped right when he’d finished transcribing the writing from his notepad. Everything he’d written after that was gone. Maurice combed through the program, trying to find if it had auto-saved a different copy of the document, but to no avail. He groaned and threw the computer mouse away from him. No, no, no! This was his worst nightmare. Were his thoughts, those precious, hard-earned thoughts, guided by his muse gone, just like that? He would never be able to write exactly what he’d written again. It was impossible. This computer had taken all his efforts and thrown them in some virtual garbage, some abyss from where his writing would never come back. He knew it. He should never have trusted electronics. If he’d just kept writing in his notepad, this wouldn’t have happened.

 

        Maurice got out of the chair and turned the air blue with expletives, colored with Portuguese expressions he’d picked up from his seafaring days in Europe twenty years ago. After a few minutes of that, he stopped pacing and looked out the arched window. It wasn’t the end of the world. He had to calm down. It was frustrating as hell, but it wasn’t the end of the world. He could still remember the essence of what he’d written. Some turns of expression he still had in his mind. If he could master his anger and exasperation, he might be able to rewrite closely to what he’d originally written.

Maurice took a deep breath, and sat down at the desk and started typing again. In the end, he was satisfied with what he had, although he knew he’d forgotten a few things. Some sentences flowed better, some flowed less. But he thought he’d kept the essence.

 

        People bustled past the woman, and she did not look up. I thought she was looking down at the ground. Maybe she was looking at the small puddles of rain. They’d reflect her frame and the lights around her. Maybe she was looking at fissures in the cement, small, like the deltas of the Nile, or big and long ones, like the Chinese Yellow River. Maybe she was looking at halos of spittoons, or pigeon droppings. Maybe she was looking at crushed cigarette butts. Or maybe she was simply looking at nothing. It was an art form, looking at nothing.

 

        Lux seemed to smile, leaning against the walls of Maurice’s mind, lean and willowy as an elegant spider.

 

***

 

        After that episode, Maurice made sure to save his work on the computer as regularly as possible. After a while, he started playing tug of war with writer’s block. He could feel it creeping around his vision, but by writing every day, he tenuously staved it off. He could sense the words flowing under his fingers bucking and quaking, trying to fight his slippery control. He wrote a passage, but wasn’t quite satisfied with it. He let it be, and distracted himself by going to the store, much to Charles’s surprise. When he came back, he tried again, but the writing still felt clunky. He cracked his knuckles and decided to take out his notepad instead, and try writing in his bedroom. The words seemed to come more easily to him then. When he’d finished, he came back to the living room and compared his writing on the computer and his notepad. He liked both. They each had an essence he liked, but some sentences he liked from the computer version, some he preferred in his notepad. He couldn’t make up his mind.

 

        Computer: Still, she did not look up. Maybe she was ignoring me. Or maybe she really didn’t see me. Either way, I wanted to know more, imprint her face and form in my mind. To do what exactly, I did not know. I was no artist, I could not draw or paint her afterwards. I was no writer, I could not describe what she looked like or how she made me feel. I could not share in any way this one-way communication, but by god, I wanted to remember. Remember her. Maybe it was because it was four in the morning and I needed sleep, my brain functioning on crazy impulses. But I hadn’t felt this alive in a long time.  

        Notepad: I hadn’t felt alive in such a long time, even though she still didn’t look up, even though she blatantly ignored me. For all I knew, she couldn’t see me. But I wanted to know her more, keep her face and figure in my mind. I was no artist; I couldn’t quite describe how she looked like or how she made my innards quake. I couldn’t describe this one-sided communication, but I wanted to remember her. I needed sleep. It was four a.m., I needed sleep. But I couldn’t stop.

 

***

 

        After that day, Maurice had a theory. It might have seemed crazy, but he had evidence proving it. His writing changed, in minuscule or enormous proportions, depending on if he wrote in the living room, the bedroom, the porch, or even on the beach. He alternated using his notepad and the computer. Depending on the times of day, his writing also changed. Maurice experimented with writing the same passage in one room or another, at several hours’ intervals, sometimes at minutes’ intervals, flying from computer to notepad, from room to room, until he finally settled on a piece of writing he liked. He avoided doing it around Charles. He wouldn’t have understood. He would have thought Maurice was crazy. But Maurice knew it made a difference, his hundreds of papers with multiple versions of the same scenes were a testimony to his theory. Writing hinged on infinite variations of mood, setting, time. He had to find the best combination, the best one where his writing shone, even if took him hours of running around, hunting around, wringing his brain dry. He had to find the Holy Grail of writing at any cost. That was the only way he could stave off writer’s block. Maybe that was why he’d never succeeded at writing in his youth. He hadn’t tried all these combinations! That was why Lux hadn’t been able to be coaxed out until now.

 

        He hid his behavior from Charles, keeping his now thousands of sheaves of paper in his bedroom, not including the documents on the computer. He hadn’t really progressed in his novel as of yet. Everett was stuck in a cycle of the same scenes which Maurice re-wrote and re-wrote at every hour of the day. Maurice still hadn’t found a version of a scene that worked. It was driving him mad.

 

        He looked up at the clock. He hadn’t eaten yet, and his son would be coming home any minute. He’d freak out if he knew Maurice hadn’t eaten at all today. His hands were sore. His body throbbed from running from room to room. He hadn’t showered in a few days, and even he was starting to feel it. But what if right now, this very minute, was the prodigal hour, the very moment and where he was sitting right then, was the optimal place for him to write the best scene possible? What if he delayed even a minute longer, would he lose a certain style, a certain train of ideas that would give him that magnificent scene? Everett couldn’t wait much longer. He’d asphyxiate in a mountain of imperfect papers that were meant to bring him to life. The cruel irony of it made Maurice grumpy. He went downstairs and retrieved his notepad, and raced back upstairs to his bedroom and started writing. But he thought it was rubbish and panicked, he thought, What if the best time is in two minutes from now, on the porch? Or no, maybe it was the bedroom in ten minutes? Maybe he could squeeze in a shower in that case. Maybe he could sneak in a bite to eat. He sure was hungry. But again, what if Lux needed to have her say right now?

 

        Maurice dragged a hand through his hair, so angry and lost he could feel his nails raking against his scalp. Just then, he heard Charles come home. Oh, he just wished his son could disappear off the face of the planet for a while. Having people in the house was distracting. They cut into his precious time.

 

        “Dad? Are you okay?” he heard Charles call from the front door.

 

        Maurice didn’t answer, jumping on his notepad and re-writing yet again the very first scene of the novel. He pressed his fists against his eyes. It wouldn’t do, it wouldn’t do!

 

        I could not sleep. I couldn’t sleep. Sleep evaded me. Sleep couldn’t come. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t sleep, sleep, sleep.

 

        “Dad?” Charles asked again, sounding more concerned.

 

        “Oh, piss off! I’m busy,” Maurice shouted.

 

        He kept writing, trying variations upon variations on phrases.

 

        I strode. I walked. I strolled. I strode past the 9th Avenue sign, hanging above me. Situated above me. Jeering at me. Hanging there, dripping green droplets of rain. Green rain. Rain. Green. Neon, abrasive green. The 9th Avenue sign laughed at me as I strode past, dripping, leaking, crying, tears, green.

 

        Maurice saw from the corner of his vision, his bedroom door opening.

 

        “Back off!” he yelled, kicking a stack of papers towards the door.

 

        “Okay, okay. But you need to eat, Dad. You haven’t been yourself recently. Are you sure you’re all right?”

 

        Maurice didn’t answer. Finally, Charles walked away. Maurice rubbed his eyes again. God damn it, his writing didn’t seem to make sense. It didn’t sing. It didn’t thrum with energy. Everett would have to wait another day for that perfect moment of inspiration, if Maurice could find it. Lux felt like a horrible hag now, nagging him with promise and potential. She was going to kill him if it kept on like this. Maurice didn’t know if he could keep up at this pace. He was a fit man, but this was going too far. He couldn’t run as fast as he could, his hands couldn’t jump from his notepad to his computer at breakneck speed. And his brain had limits, too. Constantly being on the hunt for the perfect time and situation took so much out of him. His eyes were grainy from looking from screen to paper to clocks. Tick tock. Which time would be right for him? At what time would his writing come out perfect? Lux would be angry with him for not keeping up. She was demanding, much more than Claudia had ever been. He’d always been able to satisfy Claudia’s needs, her heart. But Lux, she wanted more of him than he thought he had in him.

 

***

 

        One night, Maurice waited until Charles went to bed so he could sneak down to the living room and use the computer. He was still re-writing that first scene of his novel. If he didn’t find the perfect sentences, he’d go mad. He was running out of combinations. He’d written in every room of the house, at every time of the day, while making himself listen to a certain music or eating certain foods, or focusing on specific memories. But he hadn’t tried writing late at night, at exactly 3:04 in the morning, wearing his satin bottoms and having a midnight snack. Maybe tonight would be the key to finding those perfect phrases. He started typing.

 

        I thought I should have brought my umbrella. I should have brought my umbrella. The cement was wet. I should have. Umbrella. I didn’t want to go back. Back to an empty apartment, to solitude. I didn’t desire to come back to an apartment. Empty. Alone. Solitude and unmade beds. An unmade bed. I felt restless, and searched not for anything, restless, aimless. What was I looking for? Looking for? Searching for?

 

        Maurice squeezed his eyes shut, feeling a sudden wave of nausea course through him. He opened his eyes again and kept typing. The nausea still churned, but he could keep it under control somewhat.

Cars rushed past, tires squealing against water. I heard them, those sounds. The cars and their tires, and the hum of billboard ad signs. The purring underlying Times Square. Times Square purred. A lean panther purring in the night. Purr…

 

        Maurice swayed in his seat as he felt his vision swim. Was the computer purring? No, it was his heart. No, it wasn’t that either. It was Lux, yes, she seemed to be purring in his mind’s eye, her pale lips quirked in a mysterious smile. He started sweating. The room spun, the screen spun. He gripped his seat. The dizziness remained. All at once, he felt a headache. It crashed into his brain like an oncoming bull. He moaned and slid off the chair. His head… It felt like somebody was spearing his skull from the inside. He didn’t know how long he remained there. Finally, as he was slumping into a coma, he thought he heard Charles come to him, felt Charles pick him up and call somebody. Then after that, jumbled voices, sirens, crying, tires squealing. Claudia seemed to call to him, extending her arms to him. He shook his head in relief, pain lancing through him, strangely intense and numb at the same time. No, it wasn’t Claudia, it was Lux, her foam white hair floating and washing over him, curling up next to him and cupping his head. Her touch both relieved and agitated him. The pain in his head ebbed and flowed sharply, making him pitch backward into a void where memories and women and time blurred and exploded.

 

        He was Everett, walking in Times Square. He thought he should have brought his umbrella, but he couldn’t turn back now. His home was empty now. Claudia was gone. He’d been alone now for years. He could walk on and fight off that feeling of restlessness. From the corner of his perception, Maurice thought he heard brain aneurysm floating in and receding like the light drizzle in Times Square. Maurice let himself slip into the vertigo of his mind, the vertigo of his muse’s words. He’d found a woman after all, after Claudia. His muse. She had guided him, inspired him, and driven him to his sickening, fantastic, bizarre demise. A jealous but patient dame who had waited for him all these years as he ignored her. She finally let her voice be heard through him. She indulged him, seeming to forgive him even as he had spurned her years before. But he was hers now. He belonged to Lux Impii. She’d made sure of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

French-Venezuelan Sophie Jupillat studied writing and music at Rollins College. Sophie's diverse works have been featured in magazines such as The Halcyon ('Mellow Raccoon', 'Fleet Deer'), Festival Writer, ('The Folly of Red and Black'), Art Saves Lives International ('Redoutable'), Perspectives ('Once Upon a Time,' 'Nature'), and the Mulberry Fork Review ('Forgive Me'). When she isn't writing or composing music, she teaches French and Piano to students in Central Florida.

Lux Impii

by Sophie Paulette Jupillat

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