So you all remember the challenge, right? I had to write a story using the words you gave me last Friday. They were: pleasure, flogging, hard, quintessence, buttercup, persnickety, cello, calliope, and forlorn. Surprisingly, I did not write erotica.
More surprisingly, I'm going to keep this intro short. When I do these things for my blog, I try to keep them under one thousand words for the sake of people who don't have all damn day to read my blog. This time around, I was...unable. This quickie rounds out at 1,400 words.
As such, I'll just say thank you to Skye for the gift of the word calliope, and get to it.
My mom once told me that my name was one of those where-you-were-conceived types. I like to think that she and my father were at a hotel near a carnival or something, not mashing the keys on some poor, innocent steam organ. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely. When people ask, and they always do, I tell them, "I was named Calliope after the Greek muse of epic poetry." It sounds more impressive than, "My parents did it to circus music."
Mr. Graham in two thirty-seven got a huge kick out of it -- my name, I mean. Every time I walked into the room, he sang Manfred Mann at me, much to the dismay of Mr. Eno, one of our more persnickety residents. Mr. Eno favored classical music, heavy on the cello. I don't know whose idea it was to pair our oldest resident with our youngest, but whoever it was clearly didn't like Mr. Eno.
I backed into two thirty-seven that afternoon carrying fresh sheets and towing the laundry cart. Ingrid had pulled Mr. Eno's exercise duty and I was taking advantage of his absence to change his bed. I pushed the door open with my rear-end and immediately heard Mr. Graham sing, "With a boulder on my shoulder, feelin' kinda older, I tripped the merry-go-round."
"Afternoon, Mr. Graham," I said, giving him the long-suffering look I'd perfected for just such occasions. He didn't see it. His attention was buried in his notebook, as it usually was this time of day, but his normally hurried pen was still. "How are you feeling today?"
"Good, good." He threw me a smile without diverting his attention from his notebooks. "Even better now that my muse has arrived. Thou hast a disposition sunnier than a buttercup in a golden glade. The very quintessence of jocundity."
I used to roll my eyes at these proclamations of his, but I stopped that a long time ago. Truth be told, I liked them. They were sweet and always kind, and lord knows you don't get a whole lot of that in a place like this. Mr. Graham was more pleasant by far than the rest of the residents. Most of the staff chalked it up to his being here on a volunteer basis while the others residents had either been shelved by their families or were simply too old and sick to know better.
I didn't buy it. I couldn't think of anything that would make me happy about having so many physical disabilities and illnesses that I'd have to check myself into an assisted-living facility in my forties. That had to be hard, no matter what your attitude. So when he sang that tired old song at me for the thirteen-millionth time and waxed poetic about my sunny disposition, I smiled and did my best to make it sunnier. I didn't want to be the one to turn Mr. Graham as forlorn as the poor potted daisy Mr. Eno's granddaughter had brought last month.
I finished Mr. Eno's bed and watered the drooping daisy from the tap, missing the usual scritch-scratching of Mr. Graham's pen. "Is there anything you need before I leave, Mr. Graham?" I asked as I gathered the stale linens.
"Yes, Calliope," he said, and his tone struck me as odd. The smile had left his voice. When I glanced up, he was regarding me with a seriousness I'd never seen in him before.
"What is it, Mr. Graham?"
"Would you come sit by me?" he asked. I checked his face for signs of his usual teasing, but there were none.
"Are you all right? Would you like me to page the doctor?"
"No, no. I'm fine," he said. A dim ghost of his smile settled on his face. "I just...I just hoped for a few minutes of my muse's time."
I hesitated. Every ounce of my training and experience cried out for me to call the doctor. Weariness had suffused his face, and that alarmed me. Also, I'll admit, a smaller, more shameful part of me got hung up on the verbal flogging I was sure to receive if I didn't get the other beds finished before their occupants returned to them. So, yeah, I hesitated. But only for a second.
I dropped the linens into the rolling canvas bin that should have been visiting other rooms by now, and pulled up a chair. He held his hand out to me, palm up. "Would you mind?"
This time, I didn't hesitate. "It would be my pleasure," I said, and slipped my hand into his.
And it was. It was an intense pleasure. Because the instant his hand closed around mine, my mind, my psyche, my entire being swelled and expanded. I filled like an empty jug with thoughts that were both so profound that I felt truly enlightened for the first time in my life, and so simple that the weight and truth of them made me want to weep with the sweetness of it. Idea and emotion joined to flow like liquid energy through the synapse of our clasped hands and into Mr. Graham. David. His name was David. A cruel joke by a mother who knew at his birth how little he'd ever resemble Michelangelo's creation.
He tipped his head back against his pillow, his eyes closed, his mouth opened in a rapturous sigh. Or so it seemed, for a moment. Then the moment was gone. And I was just Calliope -- Nurse Thayer to everyone but him -- and he was just Mr. Graham. A very tired, very sick looking Mr. Graham.
I pulled my hand from his slowly, not wanting to insult him. "You're not looking so hot, Mr. Graham. I think I'd better page the doctor."
He allowed himself a weak laugh. "You can't go by that. I've never looked hot in my life."
"Stop it, Mr. Graham. You know what I mean." Ingrid chose that moment to lead Mr. Eno back into two thirty-seven. "I'll go page the doctor," I said, hustling from the room. Behind me, I heard him whisper, "My muse."
Over the next few days, Mr. Graham buried himself in his notebooks despite all the tests the doctor had us drag him through. I tried to get him to leave them in his room, but he wouldn't have it. "Final edits," he said. I didn't fight with him. I was too tired from having lay awake each night, attempting to recapture just one of those weighty truths.
Two weeks later, the notebooks went out with the morning parcels. I was relieved to see them go. He wouldn't take the pain medications while he was still working, but it was clear he needed them. I was always his nurse during the afternoon, so it fell to me to put in his IV. I lingered on his hand, searching for a vein, searching for that lost connection. It came to nothing. Mr. Graham slipped into a morphine imposed stupor and, no matter how many times I snuck in to hold his hand, the revelations of that afternoon eluded me.
After a few days, Mr. Eno complained that I was disturbing him. A week after that, Mr. Graham was gone. I cried that night, something I hadn't done in ages. It felt like the world had lost something special with Mr. Graham. Or maybe it was just that I had. Either way, I found myself thinking of him at odd times, praying for some sign from him as I drifted off to sleep.
Then, one day, there he was. His name shone from the book displayed on the 'Local Authors' table at the book store. It's cover bore a portrait of Calliope in her golden crown, which was obviously meant to look classical, but didn't. She took her repose on the glowing gold-foil letters of the title: MUSE.
I'd be lying if I said my hands didn't tremble when I opened the book. I believe it was more excitement than nervousness, though. I flipped through the pages, intent on finding the beginning of chapter one, when the dedication caught my eye. It read, "For Calliope, My Muse."
It doesn't mean anything, I thought. The book is obviously about her, it's just a coincidence. I flipped to the next page and read.
The one time Calliope had bothered to ask, her mother had told her that her name was of the where-you-were-conceived variety.
So that was it, folks. I hope you enjoyed. And if any of you take this challenge, I want to know about it so I can go drool over your awesome writing. Have a fantastic weekend, all!