I nodded to a couple of suits coming out of the business suite discussing market projections. Stopping in front of the sales office, I turned around slowly and looked at the room signs out of the corner of my eye. There, in the placard marking room 137, was a sign reading MUSE Association. The doorknob vibrated slightly at my touch as I opened the door. For an instant, I saw a conventionally dull conference room with industrial green walls and mint green carpet crisscrossed with gold lines and leafy vines framed by a forest green border. Bold blue letters on the whiteboard spelled MUSE and a variety of acronyms explaining it. A distant voice called the meeting to order. I blinked and the dull room was gone, replaced with the theatre at Mt. Parnassus. I breathed deeply, enjoying the fragrant olive flowers.
Below me was the theatron, semi-circular rows of seats terraced down the hill to the orchestra or stage. Lesser muses were seated in the highest rows. The under-muses, secretaries to the Nine, had seats in the center rows near the front. The front row was reserved for special guests such as visitors from foreign guilds, spirits of inspiration, or even the rare appearance by a deity. The lighting was dramatic with an orange sunset brushed across the sky, onto the valley, and caressing the distant mountain peaks. My nine sisters seated at a table in the center. I strained to hear what they were saying, absently shushing a whispered conversation between a muse of bad puns and one of pot profundities. The meeting was being conducted in ancient Greek.
I caught the end of Clio’s recitation of the minutes of the last meeting. “…agreed that a new acronym would be determined at the next session. Meeting was adjourned at 6:17 pm.”
“Thank you, Clio.” Melpomene’s voice rang out clear in the theatre.
Clio pulled out a new scroll and penned, Script for the Two Thousandth, Four Hundred and Sixty Seventh MUSE Guild Meeting.
Urania intoned, “May the words spoken here bind all gathered.”
“To old business. We need a new acronym,” stated Melponmene.
“Madame Chairman, I propose Madhatters Ukulele Sophist Extravaganza Society.” Thalia even managed to suggest it with a straight face. The audience, now turned chorus, laughed.
Melponmene sighed dramatically. “I ask that my co-chair reign in her comedy for the duration of this discussion.”
I finished my descent to the orchestra floor. I noted the tenth chair sitting at the corner of the table. If this had been a restaurant in Manhattan or Paris, it would have been the chair my sisters piled all their bags, purses and coats only to resentfully remove them when I actually showed up for brunch. I folded my arms and shifted my weight to the left.
The chorus announced, “Sappho appears! She returns at last!”
The Nine looked up in surprise.
“Welcome, Sappho.” Melponmene stood and gestured to the empty seat. “Are you ready to take your place with us?”
“Who would protect the freelancers if I did? I just stopped in to say hello.” I shifted to the right. “You did send me an invitation.”
The chorus sang, “She still refuses to take her place among the Muses. All she has to do is sit in the chair to join the Guild.”
“You usually don’t reply, let alone make an appearance. To what do we owe the honor?”
“I’ll admit I nearly passed this time but then I noticed a little item buried in the agenda.” I pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper from my jacket pocket and carefully unfolded it, smoothing it on my thigh. “Let’s see. Ah, here it is. Number four – the problem of freelancers and rogues.”
“Must you be so dramatic?”
Thalia muttered, “Really; can’t have you impinging on Mel’s territory.”
Melponmene raised an eyebrow and glared at her co-chair. Thalia smiled sweetly and raised her comedy mask to cover her face, sticking her tongue out at Mel behind it. Mel seemed unimpressed and turned her attention back to me.
“Interruptions aside, we have not yet reached item 4 on the agenda.”
Clio said helpfully, “It would be acceptable to table item 1 and jump to 4 if the proper motions were made.”
Urania raised her hand. “So moved.”
Thalia jumped in, “Seconded.”
Melponmene’s hand tightened on the edge of the table and she drew a deep breath. “Very well. I open the floor to discussion on item 4, the problem of freelancers and rogues.” She sat back down.
A quiet murmur rose up from the chorus.
“Would broaden our perspectives…”
“…could be chaos…”
“…who would leave to join Sappho?”
Melponmene raised a hand to silence them. “That is the question. If we allow one rogue, how will we keep the Guild from falling apart?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Was that not your concern when you encountered spirits of inspiration from other cultures?”
Clio unfurled a scroll. “I have it documented…”
Melponmene waved her off. “That is different. We have treaties defining territories for each guild. Freelancers are not bound by those agreements.”
Urania gestured and a chart appeared behind her. “Guild membership has been steadily falling. Lesser muses seem to think of you as a hero of some sort.”
“And you think if I take my seat, then the freelancers will come back with me. What difference does the loss of a few muses here and there make to you?”
Urania brought up another chart. “As you can see, foreign competition is growing. We need to keep our numbers up to defend our territory.”
“You just said you had treaties.”
Mel rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so naive. Treaties are only good so long as you are strong enough to enforce them.”
“Good luck with that.” I turned to leave.
Copyright 2011, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved