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the muse and the beguiled

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We meet on the street during a funeral. the hearse blocks the road, and I make small talk with her waiting for it to clear.

"You're an artist." She holds my hand up to better see the stains of paint left on the wrist. "So was he." It takes me a minute to realize she's looking at the hearse. It takes longer to realize she never let go of my hand.

She drapes herself in silks, in linen, in sunlight. I trace her with charcoal, with water, with oils, until the shadows dancing over her skin make me look away.

"You offer inspiration in return for devotion?"
She whispers in my ear, "So much more."

I paint and paint and paint until the trembling in my fingers threatens the swooping colors of the canvas. I look at her and all I see is red, red, red.

"Have you ever fallen in love?"
"Once."

She never stays the night, and I never see her leave. She drapes over the back of the couch, and I follow her gaze out to the window to the stars. A star falls over the horizon and my vision blurs.

"What was it like?"
She gazes back, brushing her thumb over the corner of my lip. "Like touching the sun." She does not look at the smear of color she leaves on my hand, and all I can see is red, red, red.

The winter settles into my bones. The silence becomes brittle, sometimes, and her eyes are bottle green like glass already broken in every sketch. When she opens her arms, I fall towards her, and she stops leaving.

"Oh darling, what have you done to yourself?" Her voice is as soft as I have ever heard it. If I heard it.
What choice was there, really?

The cold doesn't leave. My wrists ache always, but when she clasps them the way she did (didn't she?) when we met, I don't mind.

"Aren't you going to nurse me back to health?" I tease.
Her smile tastes of the oncoming fog. "It wouldn't help."

All stars were suns, once. All suns were stars. She looks sad now in each painting. When she asks why, I tell her I only paint from life. She taps on each paper that contradicts me, each sad smile, each touch of red, red, red.

"What happened to him?"
"Who?"
I don't remember.

We dance as if in a dream. I feel the damp earth underneath my feet welcoming me, until my knees hit the carpet and I realize we never left.

"Have you ever fallen in love?"
She hesitates.
"Once."

The paint spills. It's everywhere: the floor, my hands, her hair. Red, red, red.

"What was it like?"
I can hear her crying.

Her hands dripping red stroke my hair back, my head in her lap as I lie on the earth. The soil soaks my back, and my blood soaks the soil. I can see the stars framing her face like a wreath.

"Like touching the sun."

Beyond her, a star falls.