Strange Muses
by Cerridwen Storms

Meg took another drag from her cigarette, cutting it down to the filter and exhaled the smoke through flared nostrils. With her elongated and tense fingers, she skillfully flicked the butt into her ashcan. With her other hand, she whipped a box cutter out of the back pocket of her torn jeans and released the blade. She dragged the blade through splashes of red and yellow brushstrokes. Meg drew back her arm and stabbed the blade in again. Three, four, five, she made violent slashes, again and again. In her final fit of frustration, the young artist threw the canvas off the easel, causing the frame to splinter and shatter.

The spiky haired, English punk boy sat across the studio, his eyes wide at Meg's violence against her painting.

"Bloody hell, mate! I kinda liked that one. Sure'd pay 'round two-hundred quid for that," Jack told his roommate as he crossed the room to help her dispose of the mess she had made.

"That, Mr. Wylde (Jack flinched at the formal reference), is because you lack taste. Besides, where you get that kind of money? Your band hardly plays enough gigs for you to afford luxuries," the half-Japanese painter stung back.

The punk East End Londoner put up his hands in mock defense. "Well, you know how it is with me and Captain Kirk."

Meg popped another cigarette in her mouth and started lighting up, glaring at her roommate again. "For God's sake, just say "work"! Why do you still use Cockney so much? You're in America now; you're going to confuse too many

people."

"Well, isn't that the point? Besides, you try to change your cultural habits. It's bloody hard," said

Jack as he tied up the garbage bag which now contained the ruined pieces of artwork.

"I know that. I was raised in three different countries, one of them being England, incase you forgot," the painter defended while she took her normally unkempt hair out of her pony loop and untied her apron, tossing it aside.

Jack slung the garbage bag over his shoulder. "I haven't, love. But, you're still more of a Yank than a Brit."

"And you sound like a bloody Listerine," Meg replied while grabbing her glasses.

"Ho, who's using Cockney now?" Jack shot back with a smug look.

Meg just looked away coldly, flicked some ash off her cigarette and announced, "I'm going for a walk. Need air from all of the oil paint and terps." She headed down the brick path of their old Philadelphia flat to the gate. Where does he bloody get off, she started to think before she felt a hand grab her, gently, by the arm. Meg spun around and was looked through by stormy gray eyes.

Jack reached out to her cheek and rubbed a thumb over it, wiping away something damp there. "You almost got some vermilion paint on your specks, Megumi. So, 'sit ok if I come?"

Meg casually cocked her eye brow and said, with a smile, "Only if you never call me by my full first name again."

"Sure thing, Miss Miyahiro," the punk boy said, a grin illuminating his face as he dropped the

destroyed painting on the pile of garbage bags on the side walk.

Meg lightly elbowed him in the stomach before taking his arm and laughed as they walked towards Pine Street.

Antique Alley was not a particularly common place to see a punk boy and a sloppy bohemian girl walking about, but this was actually one of Meg's favorite places to go through as a teen. It held a lot of sentimental value for her and was part of her daily routine in high school. After much prodding, she had convinced Jack to come with her, and he was beginning to see why she loved it so much himself.

Meg met him in a pub during her last year of university in London, and immediately felt as if they were kindred spirits. They were both hot-headed, creative slackers, and they quickly became an inseparable pair, causing chaos through out the East End, until Meg decided to move back to the states. Jack was quite willing to follow her, which took Meg by surprise at first. She knew that he loathed "English propriety" and wanted a change of scenery, but he never seemed to take much interest in America, mocking it as a "Puritan nation." He also called American punks of whores and poseurs, a thought that Meg had to agree on. Not that Jack hated all Americans, of course. Otherwise, he'd never even consider speaking to Meg. He was right about her being a "Yank"; the better part of her adolescence was spent in the States. But, on a very general level, Jack didn't like many Americans.

With all these sentiments, it surprised Meg that Jack moved to Philly with her. Having spent most of her life moving between America, England and Japan, Meg had a lot of difficulties making lasting friends. This kind of loyalty was completely foreign to her, and for a while, it raised suspicion.

Suspicion of what, though, Meg was not certain.

"So, what's on your mind?"

Meg looked up, startled. Jack had snapped her out of her reverie.

"Huh?"

"You looked really distracted all of a sudden," he repeated. There was a slight look of concern on his face.

"Oh. . . Um, well I was just thinking about this creative slump we're in," Meg lied. Bringing up the subject of her suspicion over his moving did not bode well with Jack.

"We?" Jack raised an eyebrow at this. "You're the one who tears up every piece of work when it doesn't suit your fancy."

"And you haven't touched your music book for months," Meg reminded him as they stopped in front of a shop, the Old Rose Annex. "That thing was practically glued to you, before. But now, you hardly ever even talk about music, much less try to make your own. All I ever see you doing are those bad covers for that club on South Street."

"Well, nothing's coming to me, so there's little in my trying. If I've got nothing real to work on, then it feels forced, fake. . .Like those silly American groups they cater in that Hot Topic place in the mall.

Where's your excuse, though? You crank out pretty nice stuff, but if you don't 'feel' it, then you whip out that blade and murder it." Meg scoffed, but Jack went on, "If you'd just keep some of them, you could still easily get at least two fat ladies off a drawing, maybe a ton or two for your paintings."

"I'd rather make something worth while for a good gallery for my satisfaction and keep it than sell

those shitty scratching to some tasteless yuppie up town. You might think that you're avoiding selling out by not writing, but by emptily playing those covers, you're still heading down that path."

Jack had an impassive look on his face, and Meg took that as a sign that she got her point across. She smiled inwardly.

A voice by the door interrupted their silence. "Are you two going to just stand there, staring each other down, or are my two favorite window shoppers going to come in and talk to me?"

Meg turned to the old man. "Just trying to get a point across to the Listerine, Old Henry."

"I am not a Listerine," she could her Jack mutter to the old shop keeper as they walked in.

Old Henry chuckled. "Sometimes, you're still like teenagers, I swear."

"Was she always this cheeky little thing, Henry?"

"Worse," he and Meg answered in unison. All of them laughed at this, walking into the back room for tea.

"So, what were you two bickering about out there?"

Jack answered Henry first as he sat down. "Miss Miyahiro here thinks I'm selling out."

Meg rolled her eyes, took her tea from her old friend, and corrected him. "We're going through a

creative slump and we were arguing over how we're dealing with it."

"Creative slump, huh?" Henry handed a cup of tea to Jack and took away the cigarette that Meg was lighting up. "You know how I feel about you smoking in the store, Megumi," he said, snuffing it out on her saucer.

Jack smirked at her from across the table. Meg flipped him off in return.

"Children. . ." Henry chided them. "Now, for your problem. . . What have you two been working on, lately?"

"Well, Jack's been doing covers down on South Street. He hasn't really written anything since we moved here. Doesn't talk about music much either."

"And what of your work Meg?"

"Well, I've been trying to do some more subjective self-portraits. I'm incorporating a lot of clippings and influences from artists like Pollo--"

"Stop, stop, stop," Old Henry interrupted. "There's you're problem. It's nothing like what you used to do when you were a kid; satires, drawings of people with character, doing things based on your day-to-day influences."

"But, I've grown out of all that," Meg defended, but she knew she sounded uncharacteristically weak. "I need to make my work more…you know, mature."

"Who ever said that art was about being mature?" Henry scoffed rather loudly. "You have to work with who you are. Work with what you know. None of this hogwash about "mature" art."

Meg and Jack sat there, staring at the old man, dumbfounded.

". . .It seems so obvious, now that you put it that way," Meg said when his words sank in.

The sky was starting to turn pink and violet when the two of them left Old Henry and the Old Rose Annex for South Street. It was always very busy, very noisy at this time of day. High schoolers and UArts

students were flooding the street, pouring in and out of the shops. This was the real shopping district for

locals, not the skeevie mall by the hotel going up town. There were record stores, fetish clothing boutiques, novelty shops, comic shops, occultists and psychics, cafes, bistros and take out places littering every where. Jack was nodding his head to the rhythm made by a street performer banging on some pickle tubs while Meg lit a fresh cigarette

"Back to what we know, huh?" Meg said. "So, here we are. . .But I still don't know where to begin."

"Oy, what about o'er here?" Jack asked, pointing at a path of blue-painted sperm swimming up to a store with a crown-spangled, neon logo over its entrance. Meg slapped his shoulder.

"Condom Kingdom?! You bloody mad?"

"Well, Old Henry did say you did a lot of satirical paintings when you were younger. What's more comical than human sexuality?"

Meg actually said nothing for a while. He's got a good point, she thought. Resolved, she dropped her cigarette on the sidewalk, announced, "Alright, I'm up for it, then!" and grabbed him by the arm, entering the comical sex shop with many people noticeably staring at the odd couple.

Jack laughed loudly beside Meg. "Hey, we really look like we're in a hurry for a quick shag like this."

Meg slowed down and felt heat flood to her cheeks. Odd as it seemed, she never before thought

about Jack sexually, and was embarrassed to realize that it didn't disgust her in the least. The fact that she hadn't had sex since before graduation wasn't helping any, either.

Jack didn't seem to notice her blushing, though. He just went off giddily toward the sex toys to joke around.

"Yes, my friend," he chuckled observing the vibrators. "Sexuality is definitely a good subject for a painting."

"Are those condoms in that display case?" Meg asked.

The two of them walked over to the glass case, which was set up like a museum exhibit, but was indeed filled with condoms. One was the "Sphinx Brand" condom, kept in a box that looked like it came out of Tut's tomb.

Meg cracked up. "Oh, I am definitely getting some of these condoms and putting them in a piece. It's too priceless an opportunity to pass up."

They made a purchase of novelty condoms, some for Meg's paintings and some for Jack's sad hopes, and left the shop.

"Hey, Zipper is near by. It'd be a good stop for you," Meg suggested to Jack, and they headed

towards a shop with a giant zipper going down between its record shop and clothing store.

They sat for dinner a rough two hours after their shopping in a little Italian restaurant. It was a quaint and slightly unknown little place, but seemed a little bit busier than the two were used to seeing it.

The waitress was taking Jack's order while Meg sketched some customers in the next booth in a little sketch book she just bought on the way there, another cigarette dangling dangerously off her lip.

"I think I'll just have a slice of plain Omar, miss," she heard Jack finally tell the waitress. Meg looked up and saw that the poor girl was confused.

"He means a slice of plain pizza," she explained to the waitress. "And I'll have a slice of pepperoni with extra cheese and onions. Oh, and two colas, please."

After the waitress left with the order and menus, Meg gave Jack a stern look.

"What?"

"I told you you'd confuse someone sooner or later."

Jack just ignored this and looked over at her drawing. "Hey, you know this is probably the first time I've ever seen you draw something realistic?"

Meg was surprised at this. "Really? I could have sworn I was keeping up with figure drawing."

Jack laughed, "Wow, Old Henry's right; you really do have to return to what you know, if you didn't even realize that." He started to watch with great interest, as Meg loosely put down lines, looking back and forth between her book and the customers behind Jack.

"Hey, why don't you draw me?" Jack suddenly suggested.

"Huh?"

"Yeah, why not? Henry said you should be geared towards you're everyday influences. I'm the most every day thing you've got, Meg."

Meg pondered it. Drawing him would be different. He's kinda always there but I've never done it before.

She saw the people behind Jack get up, apparently finished with their meal, so Meg turned to a fresh page and said, "Ok, then." She extinguished her cigarette in the ash tray next to her and instructed Jack on what to do. "Just look at me, choose whatever pose fancies you, and don't move."

Jack leaned towards her a little and rested his elbow on the table, propping up his head with his palm. Meg started working on the drawing, trying to capture her friend as best as possible.

It's a little strange, Meg thought. Did Jack always look this charming?

He really was, in the end, in spite of the safety pin going through this eye brow, which was chained to an ear piercing, and the red and brown spikes he had styled his hair into. Looking through it, Meg found that Jack had a very elegant face, and she caught herself admiring it for the first time. His skin was clear and very pale, with a fine dusting of freckles, bringing out his boyishness. His cheeks were high and accentuated, like David Bowies, and he had a strong jaw line. Jack's stormy gray eyes were particularly hard for Meg to capture; the light seemed to dance in them, like lightning was flashing in those tempests.

Meg started to feel herself blush, and cursed herself for her thoughts at Condom Kingdom. When she noticed that Jack was staring at her, she quickly looked down at her drawing, to avoid him noticing the redness of her face. It was actually coming out pretty good. There was only one place that she had to finish defining. She looked back up to her room mate, hoping that her face wasn't still red. Jack was still staring a little.

"Almost done, I just have to get your lips done."

"Huh?" Jack looked a little startled. "Oh! Right." He went back to his pose, evidently trying his best to not go back to staring.

Meg was starting to think that maybe she shouldn't have agreed to draw him, or at the very least, have gotten his lips into the drawing earlier, before she started having these feelings awaken. His lips were a little thin, but looked very soft and were rather pink against his complexion. And, to Meg, they suddenly started to look like they were getting closer. Before she could move, Jack's lips were pressing firmly on her own mouth.

His lips were much softer than Meg thought they would be, and were quite warm. Right when the shock had subsided and she was about to part her own lips, Jack parted and stared at Meg in shock of what he did. Before Meg could say anything, Jack picked up his things and quickly left her sitting alone in the booth, absolutely dumbfounded.

Meg bolted up, almost forgetting her own things, and started heading towards the door herself.

"Miss, your order!" she heard the waitress call from behind.

"Oh shit," Meg muttered to herself, as she turned to the girl. "Um…Bag it quick? We're in a hurry. Sorry." When the waitress returned, she grabbed the food impatiently and slapped a twenty on the counter. "Thanks! Keep the change." And with that, she rushed out the door.

"JACK!" she shouted, running, knocking into UArts students and lost tourists, trying to find any sign of him. She finally caught sight of his red spikes over the crowed and ploughed through everything in her path.

"Jack!" Meg heaved after finally reaching him.

Jack turned, blushing a lot himself, apologizing. "God, I'm sorry 'bout that Meg. I just got caught up, you were looking so serious and. . . Bloody hell I could do well with a lager right now."

She looked at him, shocked at first, then just laughed. "Yeah, a bevy does sound good right now. Look, let's just forget about it and get pissed tonight? We really need to unwind."

Jack bellowed with laughter. "Hell, let's get zonked 'til we can't even walk to the door!"

"Good God, man, I forgot how much you can't hold your liquor," Meg complained, trying to sling

Jack over her shoulders. Meg did not get drunk as easily as her room mate, and she seldom ever got too smashed to help her less fortunate friends. She suddenly felt his hand grope her.

"JACK!" she shouted.

"Hehe, Meg, you know you've got a pretty nice set of east and west," Jack giggled.

"Well, I'm about to kick you east and west, if you don't stop it, you berk!" Meg was gritting through her teeth. Truth be told, she might not have been very drunk, but she definitely wasn't sober, and the alcohol was proving to be dangerous with her earlier emotions. Though, with Jack it seemed even more so.

"Oh, the drink be damned," she muttered.

"Oh, not another drink. . . " Jack groaned under her arm.

"Shh, shh, Jackie, we're almost home, just got to open the gate," Meg told him as she unlocked it

and got them inside the flat.

Groaning, she got Jack into his room and dropped their bags unceremoniously, carefully letting him down on his bed, then collapsing next to him. Meg took a deep breath, relieved to finally be back home.

"Hey, Megumi?"

"Hmmm?"

"I think my loly lick's up."

Meg, shocked at his announcement of arousal, sat up quicker than her head could handle at the time. She grabbed her temple in pain and leaned back down a bit. "Ow!. . . Bloody. . . Jack why in God's name are you telling me this, now?"

Jack rolled over and looked her straight in the eye. His eyes looked very dark and serious all of a sudden, almost the color of the sea. It almost frightened Meg, but at the same time, intrigued her. The two of them sat there in silence, staring for what seemed like forever.

"Because," Jack finally said. "No one seems to have ever told you how amazingly sexy you are."

"Jack," Meg exhaled. Jack got up a little bit and leaned in close to her, pressing his finger to her lips.

"I mean it. You're a real Calvin Klein girl. I've always known it, I just didn't do anything about it."

The liquor finally got to Meg, and she found her self on top of him, ripping away his clothing in a passionate fervor.

Making love with Jack was an amazing new experience. In spite of everything, all the tension and bickering that had been going on between them the last two years, this moment was very soft and tender, passionate but hesitant, like the first kiss in the pizzeria. Meg felt the storm in Jack's eyes pass into her body, crashing in a wave of ecstasy. Exhausted from the release, she drifted to sleep beside him, momentarily freed from all of her worries.

Meg woke up alone the next morning. She popped another cigarette into her mouth, and found that it was the last one in the carton.

"Fuck." She couldn't tell if she was cursing herself, or the empty cardboard box she had just thrown across the room.

Meg decided to get up and shower, then leave the apartment as quickly as possible for a new pack.

She didn't see much of him for about a week. At first, she didn't know if she should care, either. Meg chose to distract herself from the fact of that night by immersing herself in her work.

Although it was a little difficult to get started, considering the stressful memory of the night before she started working on it, the condom piece worked out great. In a splash of dramatic color, a spiky-haired clown kissed a girl, wrapping them in a news paper blanket and reaching out for the chocolate torte- flavored condom that was embedded in the paint. A few of the other joke condoms were strewn about in the

layers of color.

Meg didn't know if it would quite make it to an art gallery, considering how the press and "moral" public love to criticize anything inventive and taboo, but she did know that it wouldn't end up in shreds anytime soon.

There were a few more pieces that Meg was trying to work on, some more serious, some not. But, she was uncertain of them and was starting to leave most of them as wash sketches. They weren't bad in the least to Meg, even though they were still in the most preliminary stage of a painting. There was just something missing, she decided.

She tossed aside her sketch book, which she has been doodling some ideas in, and sank into the couch. Jack was out, as he seemed to be more often now. Although Meg was getting some work done, it was really getting dull and quiet without her loud and obnoxious roommate.

Think it's time for some companionship, Meg thought. Henry could probably help me out with. . . Everything.

"You slept with Jack?!"

"SHHH!" Meg hissed at the old man. "Blimey, Henry! You know how easily people can hear you outside on this street!"

Henry raised an eyebrow at her. "Child, you know very well that the majority of people who come through here are either too deaf in their old age to hear you or too gay to care."

"Never the less, I'd rather you not say such things that loudly."

"Hmph, fine. So, you think this is effecting your art, huh?" Old Henry was paging through Meg's sketch book, which she had brought for him to look through. "Well, visually, you definitely are improving. Seems like my advice from last time was of good use. But the way you tell it, it seems that your current problem is that your feelings are. . . Well, distracted, I guess you would say."

Meg took a sip of her tea and set the cup down. "Distracted?" she parroted.

"Yes, distracted. This first piece you worked on looks amazing--" He tapped on the digital photo she taped in the sketch book. "You really let out your frustration over that night with Jack with it. But the rest of these, while nice, are lacking a focus, and I think it might have something to do with your feelings over this issue with Jack. Maybe you really ought to talk to him."

Meg stared into her cup, letting Henry's words sink in. "Maybe."

"Megumi, ever since you were a girl, I could tell you had a lot of passion that was just waiting to burst out of your shy shell, but that you'd be needing the right person to help you do that; you'd need some muse, or something. I tried to be that person for you, but I knew I'd never be it. Then you got back from London, dragging that boy in here, kickin' 'n screamin', and right then I knew you found your muse." Henry chuckled lightly at the memory and added, "Though, he really is a strange muse."

Meg stayed silent for a bit, then asked a question that had been in her mind for a long time: "Henry, why did you stop writing?"

Henry leaned back in his seat and sighed. "Writing was an outlet for me. I could express myself and my thoughts by weaving those tales onto paper. Then I started to loose my focus. Next, I lost my inspiration, my readers. . .my wife. Writing no longer had the ability to free me. So, I ended up here, with all of these other abandoned old things."

"Do you regret it?" Meg looked at him intently.

Henry sighed again, taking a moment before saying, "Not as much as I could. Not as much as not telling my wife how important she was to me. I'd probably regret not seeing you work things out with Jack, too."

Meg gave him a smile. "Now Henry, you know I wouldn't dream of ever causing you regret."

The setting sun was casting a pink glow through the studio, where Meg was working again, this time with a focus and David Bowie blasting through her radio.

Jack, to her disappointment, was not home when she got back from the Old Rose Annex.

She was trying to pass the time by working on her new idea, but after sorting things out with Henry, the silence that had built up in the flat was killing her, so Meg made use of her old discman and the Thin White Duke as she worked.

Meg turned off the music and stepped back, looking at the wash sketch she had been working out. Jack was staring out of the canvas in a blue monochrome, laughter in his cheeks and the suggestion of an actual storm brewing in his slate-colored eyes. Decidedly satisfied with what was going on in the painting, Meg smiled before noticing the faint sound of a song.

Jack must be home, she thought, a little bit happy and quite nervous.

Meg flicked some ash off her cigarette into her ashcan and slowly walked towards his room. The song was different from anything else she heard him play before. She smiled and leaned in his door way, waiting for him to notice her.

Jack paused his playing to write something down on his music sheet before he finally looked up.

"Meg!"

"You're writing music again, I see."

Jack blushed. "Um, yeah. The band's been working on it together a lot, lately. Going to have a gig soon. Listen, I'm sorry about the shag--"

Meg held up a hand to shut him up. "Don't be. And don't regret it. It's more than fine."

"Meg?"

"Look, simply put, I think it was a good thing that it happened. I mean, yes, it was rather awkward to deal with afterwards, and yes, it's bad we haven't seen much of each other for the past week. . . But that whole day got me thinking, and got us working."

Jack sat there in silence, watching Meg, letting what she said sink in.

"Yeah, we are working, aren't we?" He finally said.

"Yeah. Henry said we're probably each other's muses, or something like that."

Jack snorted. "Strange muses we make."

"That's what Old Henry said."

The two of them laughed over this.

"Oh Lord, it's good to be hearing you laugh again Jack."

Jack sobered up. "Meg, that painting with the condoms. . ."

She smiled at this. "Oh, you saw it?"

"Yeah. It's great, but um. . . The clown; he kinda looks like me, don't he?"

Meg paused and thought about this. She never realized that about the painting before.

"A little, I guess."

Jack made a slightly nervous-looking face. "You don't think I'm a clown, do you?"

She resisted the urge to laugh again and just smirked. "Only on occasion."

"Hey, Megumi?"

"Hmmm?"

"I think my loly's up."

Meg tossed her apron at Jack and laughed, snuffing out her cigarette and joined him on the bed, laughing loudly. They decided to forget about work for a couple of hours after that.