By David Daniel
In graduate school I had a little Royal manual typewriter with a carrying case. A high school commencement gift, it had seen me through my undergrad years, and on it I’d written a lot of letters, papers, and short stories. Now I was on the trail of a l-o-n-g story, my fingers tap tap tapping like the tip of a blind person’s white cane, finding the way to what might lie ahead.
Two floors up in the apartment building where I was living was a woman, likewise a grad student, studying literature. We were in a class together. She was super bright and she had a cute figure, almost like a fashion model for pajamas and robes maybe, in a Sears catalogue. We began mingling our time, and minds, and then bodies—all but our record collections (Donna Summer and Spandau Ballet were never going to dance a pas de deux). Before long I realized I’d mingled myself into a typewriter upgrade.
She had an IBM Selectric, but since she barely used it, preferring to handwrite papers, she said why didn’t I? It had a feather-light touch and was quiet as a cat’s snore. Evenings I would go up to her apartment, we’d unscrew a bottle of wine, and while she lay on the couch reading and hi-lighting dense books on literary theory, I’d sit at her desk, tap tap tapping away on my story.
She wrote, also. Haiku, one or two a week, in green ink in a small notebook with a blue paisley-pattern cover. She wouldn’t let me see them. “Want me to type ’em up for you?” I asked.
“I won’t read ’em, just type ’em.”
“No, thank you.”
I worked away on my novel (for that’s what it was becoming). Night and day I was at it, skipping classes when the energy was flowing to stay there in her apartment and type on the Selectric, my Royal in its carrying case collecting dust two floors down in my own apartment.
One afternoon, when I was momentarily stalled on my novel (which it had definitely become), I grew curious about her poems. The blue notebook was in a desk drawer. I looked at the cover for a long moment, the swirl of the paisley shapes like paramecia viewed under a microscope; then I closed the drawer and went back to my novel.
It couldn’t last. (What does?)
“Sometimes I think you just use me for my typewriter,” she said one day.
“That’s how it feels.”
“No,” I insisted. “It’s for your disco records.”
“Ha ha. You can tell me. I want you to be honest.”
“I am. Seriously, it’s not true.”
“Well, then, I’ve grown jealous of your muse.”
“You’re my muse. The Selectric is just the means.”
I offered to read my novel to her. I wanted to tell her I thought she could be a Sears fashion model, but I worried she’d suspect my motive. Anyway, it didn’t matter. She was deaf to my pleas—which were exaggerations. She wasn’t my muse, really. No person was. Muse is just a word, a spirit invented by the ancients to give form to the ineffable. The simple reality was that the writing pre-dated her and would exist with or without her; as she would without it. I liked her for her. We had a good thing. I promised to start listening to her records and learn to like to disco. I offered again to type her poems.
But that was the beginning of the end for us.
The next semester, taking her furniture and her music and her paisley notebook with the haikus I never saw, and don’t forget the Selectric, she moved across town. I later heard from mutual friends that she was living with a guy who had a KayPro word processor and a good job. I never did finish the novel. Maybe she was the muse after all. Maybe I wasn’t really a writer. Maybe I just couldn’t go back to the Royal.