Calliope speaks

In which we go down to the woods

Pencil sketch of a hare by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

*No muses were invoked in the writing of this piece

I find her in a shed. The directions I’d been given back in the town had been about as useful as a raw sausage with no fire, but it turns out endless ambling has won the day. 

The shed stands beneath a slumping holly tree, its walls scarcely visible beneath a mass of determined ivy in mortal combat with a trumpeting morning glory.

I left the footpath over an hour ago, giving in to an unwise spurt of hanger-born bravado, and I’ve been regretting the decision with every thorn/sting/mud-slide/spider-ridden step. 

Glimpsing the shed hadn’t exactly raised my spirits (I think my thoughts may have run along the lines of, if I see one more bloody shepherding hut, I’m digging out the matches). But beleaguered hope is restored when I see the sign hammered out front.

It reads:

Stop thinking so loudly.’

After ten minutes of tentative knocking that I tactfully escalate to a crescendo of hammering, I hear her voice for the first time. With the dulcet tones of a rusted car door, melodious as a corvid, Calliope speaks: 

“Can you not take a hint?”

The door shudders open. She stands taller than me, arms folded into taut cords across a wiry body, all angles and lines. Her skin is a papery brown and hangs loose around the strong bones of her face, the long arch of her neck. Old she may seem, but weak she is not. Power is writ into every inch.

It takes over fifteen minutes to convince her that I’m not a) a salesperson, b) an Instagrammer intent on advertising her location, or c) a desperate writer. She pointedly drags the door closed and leans back against it, standing in silence for a long moment, one leathered hand tapping against an elbow.

“Back in the day, we took our pick of the desperate idiots clamouring for attention, all of them with too much money and time on their hands. ‘O Calliope, make me the world’s greatest poet!’, ‘O Calliope, do not forsake me!’” Her simpering falsetto rings with contempt.

“I’d spend a month, maybe a year with one, and find another when the spark dampened. They all made a bit of a racket, sure, but there weren’t too many overall so it was doable. Sometimes I’d hear someone so full of fire and raw talent that we’d end up working together for a lifetime: mutual inspiration, joy, creation.”

Her mouth twists.

“And then times changed. You know what it’s like to have millions of writers out there screaming for inspiration? The journalists, now, ha! Multiple articles each day and it never stops! I haven’t been able to hear myself think since the birth of the bloody internet!”

She stops. Forces her shoulders to relax. Huffs out a breath.

“It’s the same for all of us, of course. Well, except for Urania, she’s got a manageable flock of astronomers with the sense to use a bit of elbow grease rather than cry out for divine inspiration. She can actually live near people, just avoids the ones with telescopes. Me, I’m stuck out here in the bloody woods so I don’t get woken up at 2am by next door’s teenage daughter writing werewolf fan-fiction. Or her dad when he writes his Mills and Boon books while his wife is asleep.”

She gives a hoarse sigh.

“Gods, I miss the old days.”

Her gaze moves back to me. Hardens.

“And you. You come here with your I-was-just-curious line. But you’re just going to go home and bloody well write something, aren’t you? You can’t just keep it in your own measly skull, you have to go and get it all out there.” Her arms uncross to wave in exasperation. “You’re all the same! Wanting something for nothing, no effort, no learning, no time spent on the craft. Gods forbid you actually think before flinging wishes into the aether.”

Dark eyes bore into me.

I drop mine to the mud-splattered toes of my boots. 

The door scrapes open.

Slams shut.


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