My Muse hands me a gift wrapped in sea-green tissue paper. "Here. For all your hard work."
I stare at her, wondering if this is MY muse and not some other muse shape-shifted to look like mine. My muse does not give gifts. She brings insults and demands, but never gifts. "What's this?"
"A present. What do you think?"
"Why are you giving me a present?"
"Suspicious little thing. Fine. Give it back." She reaches for the package but I hold it tight against my chest.
"No way. It's mine."
"Then open it and stop staring at me like I've just handed you a bomb."
I gently tear the tissue paper and pull out a paper-back book. How to become a famous writer before you're dead, by Ariel Gore. "Wow. I've been wanting this."
My muse smiles, looking very pleased with herself. "I know."
"This is supposed to be great! Thank you so much." I hug her tightly, startling all the snakes who are too surprised to bite me.
"You're welcome." She squeezes me quickly before pushing me away. "I want to make sure you don't give up on your own writing by spending so much time publishing other people's. I still expect a great book out of you."
"I know. And you'll get it." I flip the book over and examine Ariel's picture. "She was the first person to ever publish me. Hip Mama magazine, about 6 years ago. She's so great. She's like my first muse, you know"
"You're first muse?" My muse purses her lips and squints. All the snakes shiver.
"In a way. I never met her or anything, and she's never visited, but she really inspired me back then. Single mom, writer, put out her own zine, worked her butt off to write novels. .. I mean, she's the kind of person I admire. She's a real, living muse."
My muse snatches the book from my hand. "Fine. Then tell her to come here and sit by your side and encourage you to write for God knows how many endless hours. Maybe she'll put up with your weak prose and inane plot lines, because I'm bored with it."
"Whoa. Hold on. I didn't say I wanted her to be my muse now. She was my first muse, but you're my muse today. Even when you treat me like crap and tell me I can't write, you're still my muse."
She folds her arms and looks away. "I don't treat you like crap."
I try not to laugh. It is very dangerous to laugh in the face of your muse. They are prone to disappear for weeks and only return when you're on your knees, clutching sheets of blank paper, begging them to come back.
"You have nothing to worry about. You're my muse now, snakes and all." I gently slide the book out of her hand and she lets it go without looking at me.
"No maybes. And this gift...," I hold up the book. "This gift proves how much of a wonderful muse you are."
"I'm just trying to be more encouraging."
"You say I'm too hard on you, so I'm trying to be nicer."
"I appreciate that."
"You can keep the gift, but only if you promise to put it to good use, and that includes writing me another book."
We look at each other for a moment and slowly my muse begins to smile. The snakes relax and curl around each other in peaceful loops.
Then she puts her hands on her hips and says, "But I don't want to hear you talk about any other muses ever again, got it?"
I hold up one hand. "I swear.
After she leaves the room, I add How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead to the Medusa College Reading List. Hopefully she won't take it as a sign that I'm still thinking of Ariel Gore as a muse. I am, but my current muse doesn't have to know.