The Muse never accepts an invitation, but Resistance doesn’t need one. She plops down on the sofa with all the perfect self-assurance of a spoiled six-year-old breaking in a new babysitter. Her hair is wet and plastered to her forehead and she smells like my borrowed shampoo. I don’t ask how long she’s been here. I don’t want to know. I watch her out of the corner of my eye as she fidgets with her sleeves, tugging them over wrists and palms unmarked by the press of the keyboard. There’s an irritating, agitated grace to her movements, an eternal readiness to seize on anything, anything, except That.
She’s on her phone, too. She’s always on her phone.
I clear my throat. She reaches into her pocket without looking, pulls out something small and crinkly, and tosses it in my direction. It sails past me and lands on the desk. A cough drop, mostly unwrapped, covered in lint, crystalized like amber. Probably at least a decade old.
“Thanks.” I don’t need honey for my tea; the sarcasm is thick enough. She doesn’t notice.
“No problem. Ooo. Look! Look at this!” She leans forward to show me something on the screen.
“I don’t want to see it. I want to write.”
“You can write tomorrow. You can always write tomorrow. This is important now.”
“It’s a picture of a cat with words on it.”
“See? I knew you were looking. And this! Watch this video! Really, it’ll just take a second, it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever—”
She freezes and looks up, thumb still poised above the screen, innocent as the blank page. It’s moments like this that I wish she didn’t look so much like me. I stand and shove back my chair. It strikes the edge of the desk and swivels hard into my knees, ruining the ominousness of the gesture, but still. Still. I have her attention.
“I’m done. I’m done with you, with your distractions, with this stupid block you’ve put in my brain. Writing is my job. I don’t do it because I’ve got nothing better to do, or because I’m bored, or even because I want to. I—”
“Ha!” Gone is the wide-eyed innocence. She’s grinning now, vicious, victorious. She sees the opening and dives in, probing the bone-deep wound of crippled creativity with doubt and fear and unwashed hands, just because she can. “You admit it! You admit it!”
I sit. Anger won’t work against Resistance; she understands it too well. “All right. Yes, I admit. I don’t want to write. It’s hard, and I’m drawing from a dry well right now. But even when I wasn’t, I never wrote because I wanted to. I write because I must. Because somewhere inside me there’s a person who fell in love with the power of story a long time ago and, despite your best efforts, she loves it still. Not because it’s easy, or because it comes naturally, or because it feels right all the time, but because she chooses to.”
She looks at me then, really looks at me. Her bottom lip is trembling. She’s not smiling anymore. “But . . . but . . . it’s so much work!”
I turn back to the keyboard. “Yeah, I know. So is love.”
She doesn’t answer. I type a sentence, erase a sentence, type another. Two more follow. When I look over my shoulder, the couch is empty. I smile, turn off my phone, put it in the desk drawer, and finish the paragraph.
I’d watch the video again later. It was pretty funny after all.
A textbook introvert who likes to throw out the textbook every once in a while just to see what happens, ELLE KATHARINE WHITE grew up in Buffalo, NY, where she learned valuable life skills like how to shovel a driveway in under twenty minutes and how to cheer for the perennial underdog. She now lives in Pennsylvania, where she drinks entirely too much tea and dreams of traveling the world.