You should have been suspicious that first night when you stood in the parking lot: glowing warm all over in the falling snow while everyone else shivered, hurrying to their cars through the deepening dark.
Sure, it was flattering to have someone write a poem about you, but not flattering enough to make you sweaty. The smile that threatened to wing its way from your face into the dark sky, the paper crushed to your thin chest, your thrill that someone had noticed you in the choir and written a rather sweet poem about it�it was fun.
But did you stop to think about why you felt so warm in January? Fuck no.
It was the first time, after all, and the poem was nice but not earth shattering. And you thought your writer’s block was temporary.
Now, though�now. (No, it’s not your imagination. It is getting hot in here.) Now, it’s the same shit only better and better and you’re fucking sick of it.
You’re sick of going to a show to get away from that blank page and standing, sweating profusely, in the back under the stairs, and then a few months later hearing an interview with the suddenly wildly popular lead singer of the mediocre band that had played that night�during which he explains that the runaway hit single that catapulted him to stardom was prompted by the amazing expression he saw on a girl way back in the audience almost too far for him to see. Glowing with misery, he’d said.
Or�riding the bus to work, sunglasses on, headphones on high to avoid any possible interaction with any human being (you’ll find out later that the bus driver, an amateur silversmith, noticed the way you held your coins and dropped them into the box and came up with his award-winning bracelet design) and seeing an ad on the back of the newspaper the man is holding across the aisle for the new photography exhibit the nearly washed-up photographer, L’Bran, has on display about isolation and loneliness, with its feature photo a brilliant moment of daily agony: the silhouette of a young woman gazing listlessly out of the window on the 14A, oblivious to the passengers around her. Sweating.
You’re sick (yes, it really is very, very hot in here, even stripped down to the waist the way you are) of sitting night after night after night glowing like a jewel but thick thick thick between the ears like a half-cooked potato while your every movement inspires friend, foe, and stranger to the pinnacles of artistic expression and fulfillment.
You’re glad your boyfriend finally got inspired to sit down and finish the novel he’s been pretending to work on for years, because now he’s down at the coffee shop, and it’s too hot in this tiny little shitbox of an apartment for two people hogging the air.
Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, but you swear you see a heat mirage from the palm of your hand as you reach into the cabinet for a glass, and it couldn’t be your imagination that the paint you touched is blistered. When you touch the notebook, little wisps of smoke rise from its pages.
As you guzzle water straight from the tap and let it run down your steaming neck and breasts, the pen you are still holding stubbornly in your hand sizzles.
You look up to see your pervert neighbor watching you, openmouthed, from his kitchen window on the alley that faces yours.
Whip it out, you asshole prick, you want to scream at him, but you see that instead he’s set up an easel on the cracked red-and-black linoleum of his kitchen floor and his expression is�for once�not lewd but ecstatic; he is frantically dropping paint on canvas.
And even though the stretcher bars of the canvas face you, you can still see from the other side, because the heat has opened a door in the back of your head and you have fallen through. You see everything: the painter, the old woman three houses down at her loom, the little girl across the block with her sidewalk paints, pausing before she places down her first thumbprint.
On the canvas, instead of your long, dark hair, your neighbor has painted a nimbus of orange, red, and yellow arcing wildly in all directions and licking down your shoulders and back. In the painting, you don’t even resemble yourself. You are stunning. You are beautiful.
You aren’t angry in the slightest.
You remain very still for one last moment, leaning on the edge of the sink, before you drop the pen and embrace flame: roaring, soaring out into the night sky, burning brightly for all the world to see.
Haddayr Copley-Woods is a copywriter and graphic designer with fiction in Rabid Transit, Strange Horizons, and Flytrap, and stories forthcoming in Polyphony and Say . . . What’s the Combination? She is a columnist for the Minnesota Women’s Press and lives with her husband and two sons in Minneapolis, Minnesota. More at her website.
Several years ago, I inspired a stranger to write a poem based on my performance in the soprano section of Bach’s Magnificat. I was mortified, flattered, intrigued, and repulsed by the idea of a writer becoming a muse.