The Long Way Home

Page 88

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She wanted to say Peter. Would have said Peter a while ago, if only out of loyalty. It was the easy and obvious answer.

But not the truthful one.

Myrna spared her from having to answer.

“It’s Ruth.”

Clara smiled at her friend, and nodded.

Demented, drunken, delusional Ruth inspired Clara.

Ruth, with the lump in her throat.

“Only successful artists have muses?” Beauvoir asked.

“Oh no,” said Chartrand. “Many artists have one, or a series of them. A muse might inspire them, but it doesn’t make them great artists or guarantee success.”

“Sometimes the magic works?” Jean-Guy looked at Clara, and smiled. Leading her to wonder if he knew more, or understood more, than he let on.

“If the muse is a person,” said Beauvoir, thinking out loud, “what happens to the artist if their muse dies?”

Clara, Myrna, Chartrand, and Gamache looked at each other. What did happen if a muse died? A muse was a very powerful person in an artist’s life.

Take that away, and what do you have?

Beauvoir could see his question had stumped them. But far from feeling he’d scored a point, he felt a growing disquiet.

He thought about what he’d heard and what he knew about the art world. And artists. Most would sell their soul for a solo show. And they’d kill for recognition.

In Beauvoir’s experience, the only thing worse for an artist than not being celebrated was if someone they knew was.

It could be enough to drive an already unbalanced artist over the edge. Drive them to drink. To drugs. To kill.

Themselves. Or the other artist. Or, maybe, the muse.

TWENTY-SEVEN

Reine-Marie finished the email to Armand while waiting for Ruth at the airport in Montréal. Their flight had landed twenty minutes earlier, and Ruth had limped right over to the public washroom.

The old poet had refused to use the facilities on the plane, fearing if it crashed she’d be found dead in there.

“Are you really afraid of what people would think?” Reine-Marie had asked.

“Of course not. But where would I haunt? I have my afterlife mapped out. I die in my home in Three Pines and then haunt the village. If I die in a plane toilet, where would I go?”

“Good thinking,” said Reine-Marie.

And so Ruth had headed off to the facilities at Trudeau Airport, which apparently was worth the risk of eternity. Reine-Marie reread her email, detailing their visit to Professor Massey. She would call Armand when they got back to Three Pines, but she wanted him to have some of the details in writing.

She almost hit send, but then remembered something she’d left off the message. An attachment. She’d already attached one photo, but now she added another.

Reine-Marie opened the yearbook, found the section on the professors, and took a photo. Then she closed the book quickly, squashing the image inside like a bug.

No need to spend more time looking at it than necessary. She felt almost guilty sending it off to Armand. She hoped he read her email before opening the attachment. It would come as a shock otherwise.

She hit send just as Ruth reappeared.

“So, tell me about the tenth muse,” Reine-Marie said as they walked slowly through the airport to their car.

“It’s bullshit,” said Ruth. “The tenth muse doesn’t exist.”

“But the other nine do?”

Ruth grunted in laughter. “Touché.” She gathered her thoughts before speaking. “The Nine Muses were created by the Greeks. They’re goddesses of knowledge and inspiration. They represented poetry, history, science, drama.” Ruth searched her memory as they walked. “Dance.” She thought some more. “And a bunch of others. They’re the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Memory.”

“Ironic,” said Reine-Marie. “But none for art? Why not?”

“How the hell should I know? There’s at least one muse for poetry, that’s all I care about.”

“Do you have a muse?”

“Do I look like a lunatic?”

“Well, you have a duck. It seemed possible you also have a muse.”

Ruth smiled. “Fair play. But no, I have no muse.”

“Why not?”

“Too much power. Suppose it left? Where would I be then? No, I prefer to rely on my own meager talents.”

They walked in silence for a few paces, until Ruth gave a long, low guttural prompt.

“But, Ruth, your talent is legendary. Mammoth,” said Reine-Marie. “The only thing that’s meager is your ego.”

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