I read those books Seph left me, after all. In the middle of the nights, when I awoke now because it was time to administer another IV, I read them to the accompaniment of the drip/drip of the IV pump. The house was otherwise silent because my husband was only semi-conscious, being kept alive by the power of those drips, and I needed a book for company. Nothing too heavy, mind you. I didn't want to be too distracted in case the dripping stopped...or his heart did.
So I read away the nights: Johanna Lindsay, Bertrice Small, Laura Kinsale. There were too many others to name. They consumed my time and my mind, or what was left of it. In accordance with my husband's wishes, I had opted to pursue the euphemistically-termed "home death." The social worker warned this would take a terrible toll on me, but I knew that. I was a social worker, too. I told myself I was ready for it.
Dave's heart finally stopped early one evening in March. Dear friends sat with me as we played the classical music he loved and ate the pizza he loved, too. We told ourselves that he would have wanted it that way, and I knew he would. Dave wasn't into mourning. His little dog lay on the bed with him until the end, and I did too, and then it was over. Just before spring. Just as Seph had told me it would be.
I wondered if Seph would come to the funeral, but she didn't She had never been welcome in that house, only sneaking down the flue or through a crack in the window whenever she could get in, and I guess she decided if she wasn't good enough for Dave in life she surely wasn't good enough for him in death.
Now that I had the time for her, I had no muse.
I stayed busy. There were things to do, many things. And bills to pay, many bills. Oh, and I had surgery three times. Yeah, I had been pretty busy while my husband was dying, too busy to take care of my own health, and I paid the price. Big time.
Eventually things settled down. Way down. There was still no muse, my time was very much my own and I lost track of it. I lost track of a lot of things. When I looked in the mirror, I looked just like Seph the last time I had seen her. Burned.
A strangely haunting tune began whining away in the back of my mind, never quite getting to the front but always there just like those voices my mother had heard. Uh-oh. Those voices had nothing to do with Second Sight. There was a difference between The Sight and clinical depression or worse. Jeez Louise. Was I going to end up like my mother?
Well, apparently not if my Nana could help it. Years before, Nana had told me I would have a hard life. That wasn't difficult to predict, seeing that I had a mother with essentially untreated bipolar disorder. They really weren't into calling it that in those days. Then it was called Manic Depression and treated with Lithium, only Mom couldn't tolerate Lithium because it was hard on the kidneys and she had already damaged hers with heavy alcohol consumption. Then the doctor recommended shock therapy, but my father said if he wanted his wife electrocuted he could just give her a fork to stick in the toaster. No electro-shock, though from what I heard of it in later years I decided probably Dad was right.
In any case, Nana had told me when everything seemed to be lost to go to Ireland and I would find my way again. I was just enough my mother's daughter to listen. My father's genes protested furiously that I would be wasting my time--not to mention all that money!--but between the sage counsel of my grandmother and the psychotic delusions of my mother I was just wise enough and just crazy enough to get on a plane bound for Ireland, where I didn't know a soul. Or at least that's what I thought.
That music in the back of my head had been Celtic music, and I knew even before the plane touched down at Shannon that I was home.
Ireland saved my sanity, though at first it didn't seem that way. At first it was a matter of sitting in The Laurels Pub in Killarney, a wonderful place I remember with great fondness except that I nursed too-numerous mugs of Guinness stout there. My fault entirely. I didn't even like Guinness. Mom had liked rye and vodka. Oh, man, did she like vodka--which was probably why I avoided it. But the end result would be the same. I was avoiding mirrors again because I didn’t like the way I looked. Unlike my mother, though, I had an innate ability to “just say no.” So I did. I started drinking what the Irish call fizzy water--seltzer water--with lime. And Pepsi with lemon. And then because my mad escapade hadn't left me with enough money to buy a laptop, I bought a bunch of yellow legal pads a la J.K. Rowling and went to find Seph. I damn well knew she was in Ireland. She had to be. Why else had I come?
I found her in a peat bog. A peat bog? Oh, well, I guessed that was appropriate. And oddly enough--just like me, once I just said no--she looked healed. She looked...peaceful. No more drippy lava, no sparking eyeballs. She smiled and pointed to the yellow legal pad in my hand and then to a sheep pasture overlooking the Aran Islands and the Atlantic Ocean my grandmother had crossed to get to America. OK, maybe I would just sit there and try to write.
My pen hit the paper and I started:
"I was the King's daughter once, so many years ago that sometimes now it is hard to remember. Before the tide of time carried away so many things, so many people, it was worth something to be the daughter of a King.
"Our little island nation of Alcinia was not rich, except for tin mines honeycombing the south. It wasn't even hospitable. Summer was a brief affair and fall was only a short time of muted colors on the northernmost coast where my father sat his throne at the ancient Keep of Landsfel. Winter was the killing time and spring was hardly better, with frosts that could last into Fifth-Month. But from the south, where men cut thatch in a pattern like the bones of fish, to the north where rock roses spilled down cliffs to the sea, it was my own.
“One thinks such things will never change, yet all things do."
What the hell? That was no poem. I looked up, startled, and there was Persephone, black hair gleaming against her red gown. Still no lava although her nails were still bright red. With one of those gleaming, lacquered nails, she pointed imperiously to my paper and said one word. "Write."
I wrote until I had 130,000 words. And then I wrote another 103,000 words. The first book I called, "The King's Daughter." The second book, its sequel, I named "Heart of the Earth." And then, like my grandmother, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America.
I got on a plane and flew back to America, since unlike my muse's crow and my blackbird I had no other way to get there. Nana had come by steamer (first class, of course, with her mother's china), but those days were gone. Now Aer Lingus took me back to New York, where I can't say I was especially glad to be. The air pollution made my eyes as red as Wench … er … sorry … Persephone’s at her worst. I did get to spend time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hanging out with guys in mail, which almost made it all worthwhile.
I got a computer. I got an email address which I had to abbreviate from my friends' whimsically-inspired "Miriam's in Ireland." I tried to get a publisher. Or an agent. BUWAHAHA! We all know how easy THOSE are to get. I didn't know diddly. I especially didn't know if you tell them you're a poet they run screaming in the other direction. Our reputation precedes us.
Persephone was no help. Apparently she had stayed in Ireland. Finally, since I had concluded writing romance took a high degree of skill and maybe I was missing something, I joined Romance Writers of America and Valley Forge Romance Writers. Then I got online and an editor found me. Seriously. She read my first paragraphs, then my first chapters, then the whole bloody book--in one night--and then she wanted it.
That was The King's Daughter, presently available on my web site www.miriamnewman.com. The sequel is there, too.
Once I signed the contract, Seph came back. She really is a wench, but all is forgiven because she brought another nine books with her. Ten, if you count the one I'm writing now. It’s set in Norway. Now do you suppose if I went to Caithness, northernmost point in Scotland, from where a ferry leaves most days for Norway, and I took a yellow legal pad and…
”SEPH! COME ON! WE’RE LEAVING!”