Gamache found himself keenly interested. And he was honest enough to know it wasn’t just for Peter.
“By offering a second chance. One last chance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in using your head. But not in spending too much time in there. Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.”
“And between the two is the lump in the throat,” said Gamache.
“Yes. Most people can’t get over that. Some are born to be brilliant. Peter was. But he just couldn’t get there. He got so close he could see it, smell it. He probably even believed he was there.”
“Wishful thinking,” said Gamache.
“Exactly. He was given a taste of brilliance, of true creativity, and then, like a jest of God, he had it taken away. But the gods weren’t finished with him yet. They gave him a wife who was truly gifted. So that he would have to see it every day. Witness it. And then the gods took even that away.”
She sounded as though she was telling a ghost story. A horrible, haunting tale, of the thing she herself most feared. Not that a monster would appear, but that what she loved would disappear.
Peter Morrow was living her nightmare. All their nightmares.
“But he was given one last chance?” said Gamache. “To find it again?”
“Not again,” said Ruth, her voice sharp. Making sure this ordinary man understood. “For the first time. Peter had to find something he never had.”
“And what was that?”
“His heart.” She paused before speaking again. “That’s what Peter was missing, all his life. He had the talent, the brains. But he was riddled with fear. And so he kept going over the same territory, over and over again. As though Lewis and Clark had gotten to Kansas, then turned back and started over. The same loop. Mistaking movement for progress.”
“Peter was doing that?” Gamache asked.
“All his life,” said Ruth. “Don’t you think? The subject of each painting might be different, but if you’d seen one Peter Morrow, you’d seen them all. Still, not everyone’s a Lewis and Clark. Not everyone’s an explorer, and not every explorer makes it back alive. That’s why it takes so much courage.”
“Noli timere,” said Gamache. “But supposing he found the courage, what next? Did he go to Toronto looking for help, for guidance? To continue your analogy, wouldn’t he need a map?”
“What’re you on about? Jeez, we’re talking about creative inspiration, not geography. Knucklehead,” she muttered. “And why’d you bring up something as confusing as Martin and Lewis?”
Gamache sighed. He was losing her. And getting a little lost himself.
“What was Peter looking for in Toronto?” Gamache asked, trying to keep it as clear, as simple as possible.
“He was looking for a map,” said Ruth, and Gamache shook his head and breathed in deeply. “And he went to the right place. But—”
“But what?” said Gamache.
“Peter would have to be careful not to fall under the wrong influence. Most people want to be led. But suppose they choose the wrong leader? They end up with the Donner party.”
“I think this analogy has run its course,” said Gamache.
Gamache thought about his friend Peter Morrow. Alone, afraid. Lost. And then at last Peter finds not one road, but two. One would lead him out of the wasteland, the other would lead him in circles. Mistaking movement for progress, as Ruth said. Professor Massey at one road, Professor Norman at another.
Ruth was right. Peter, for all his bluster, was a coward. And cowards almost always took the easy way.
And what could be easier than a magical tenth muse, who’d solve all your problems? Isn’t that what cults offered? Shelter from the storm? A clear answer. Unhindered progress.
“Do you believe in the tenth muse, Ruth?”
He braced himself for abuse, but none came. “I believe in inspiration, and I believe it’s divine. Whether it’s God, the angels, a tree, or a muse doesn’t seem to matter.”
“Myrna talked about the power of belief,” he said.
“She sounds wise. I’d like to meet her one day.”
Gamache smiled. This conversation was over.
“Merci, you drunken wretch,” he said, and heard her laugh. In the background Rosa was yelling, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You must have the wrong number.”
Ruth hung up and went off to sit with Rosa, her muse, who inspired her not to be a better poet, but to be a better person.