A Postcard from the Muse
By Nandy Ekle
I pulled the package from the mailbox. I was so excited I nearly dropped it, and what a horrible tragedy that would have been. Especially after what happened to the first mug. I had been walking into the break room to get a cup of coffee. I raised my right arm, just like always (since I’m so hopelessly right handed). And, at that very moment, the old injury to my shoulder decided to groan, which caused my hand to open mid arc. My precious Stephen King autographed mug flew across the room and smashed on the floor into a million pieces. I was so stunned I could barely breathe. My. Stephenkingautographed. Mug. Smithereens.
Yes, it had become a very dark day indeed. Oh, I know the autograph was just a print on the side of a simple white coffee mug, but what it represented! All those shards of ceramic on the floor—some of them no more than white powder—looked like all the words I had ever written, ever would write, sitting in ground-up piles in my head. Nothing but trash, and dangerous to touch.
The morning crowd of zombies hunting for coffee looked at me and I could hear their thoughts. Did she just throw a coffee cup? Is she crazy? Why in the world would she do that? Look at that mess! Guess who’s going without their morning pot of black gold? Glad it wasn’t me. I fought the tears back from my eyes as I knelt and begin picking up the pieces that were still big enough to pick up. Carefully holding the remnants of my cup, I tried to turn myself invisible and tiptoe to the trash can. I was not to be allowed a moment of grief because I was holding up the traffic of bodies squashing around each other and my pile of Stephen King’s autograph. I closed my eyes and let the bigger pieces fall from my hands into the abyss of rubbish. A broom stood next to the trash can and I went back to my pile of smashed dreams and began sweeping. Another woman ran to get the dustpan to help sweep the rest of “my precious” into it.
I thanked her as I pretended to be aloof regarding the silliness of the situation. “I guess that’s a fitting end to a Stephen King autographed cup.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry. Well, there are the Styrofoam cups there.”
“Yes, I’ll just use one of those. As long as I get my coffee . . .” I trailed off.
“Yes! Must have the coffee! Well, if there’s anything else I can do, let me know.” She smiled and blended back into the crowd yawning and waiting in line for coffee.
You could conjure a new Stephen King autographed cup for me, I had cried out in my mind. My cup is broken. My dreams were in that cup. No one understands what that cup did for me.
That was six weeks ago. Today my new cup came in the mail. It’s still just a simple white ceramic mug with “Constant Reader” and his signature printed on the side. Same loops, same whirls, same angles, all the letters are exactly the same. And something else is the same. The spirit of the cup.
I’ve always loved Mr. King’s books, and stories. I was in high school when his first book, Carrie, hit the shelves. The story is about a girl in high school with no friends, and I identified with her in some ways.
In the 1970s, a lot of stories and movies came out about people with telekinesis. I enjoyed those stories because, for one thing, they were eerie. But also, I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to suddenly discover I could move things around with my mind. I would sit for hours alone in my bedroom at night, when I wasn’t working at the local Sonic Drive In, and try it. I would stare at the light switch next to my bed and concentrate until I couldn’t see anything else in the room but the light switch. “Flip off,” I would think in my head over and over. Of course, it never did. So I decided maybe I needed to say it out loud. “Flip off.” After repeating this command uncountable times, my mother would stick her head in the door thinking I was cursing at something.
“What are doing in here? And we do not say those words in this house!”
“I’m doing my homework, and I wasn’t saying bad words.”
She would look at me sideways with an I-really-don’t-believe-a-word-you-say look in her eyes. “Well, hold it down.” And she would leave.
So, Carrie. Carrie is one of those telekinesis stories. The other kids are cruel to her and her mother is crazy and she uses her powers to get back at everyone around her for their bullying all her life. Well, I didn’t have telekinesis, and I did have friends, but there were times when I felt alone and bullied. So Carrie was MY kind of story.
Then Mr. King’s Salem’s Lot came out and I was over the moon. Vampires! I had loved vampires since I was in elementary school, and now here was a book about a whole town of vampires.
The next book to hit the shelves was The Shining. By that time I had graduated from high school, married a mortician, and we lived in a duplex next door to the funeral home. The Shining was one of those books with so many layers that I didn’t even see half of them. Even now, as a writer in my own right, I still find new layers every time I read that book. Mountains in Colorado, snowstorms, a massive hotel, troubled parents, a child with ESP, and to top it all off, ghosts. Every single element I’ve craved in a good story since learning to read. And Mr. King added so many interesting layers that it would take the rest of my life to see the whole thing. Reading that book is like discovering a new cave, and the deeper I go, the more new rooms I find.
After that, his books came out so fast it was hard to keep up with them. I’ve read a lot of his stories, some I have not read. Some I’ve started but not finished because my life became so busy with motherhood and my own attempt at writing.
But I can truthfully say that even though I’ve never met Stephen King face to face, he’s taught me everything I know about writing.
So, my cup. One night I had wandered onto to his website. I realize it’s maintained by a staff he’s hired just for that purpose. But still, to put the pointer of my mouse over his site and read the King News is thrilling. And then I noticed he has merchandise other than his books. So I clicked. T-shirts, towels, dog bowls, liquor flasks, pillowcases, tote bags, silver trays, computer skins, shot glasses, tumblers, and coffee mugs. And not just generic stuff. Some of it is specific to certain books. But there’s also a line of merchandise labeled “Constant Reader”, what he affectionately calls his fans. And I definitely qualify to be Constant Reader.
I ordered my first cup.
When it came in the mail I danced circles around the house waving my new coffee mug, which declared to the world that I am a Constant Reader fan of Mr. Stephen King’s books. And I made sure to point out his printed signature to everyone who had been unable to avoid me. My. Stephenkingautographed coffee cup.
I took it to work and, after waiting in line, holding my version of the Holy Grail close to me to keep from being jostled, I filled it with coffee. In my opinion, that was the best cup of coffee I had ever had in my life. From that moment on, I knew I would never drink coffee from any other vessel while sitting at my desk reading contracts and assuring customers their retirement funds were in good hands.
The next morning the cup sat waiting for me on my desk where I left it the night before, and I noticed the lipstick mark on the rim. As an adult woman past a certain age, I make sure I look presentable each morning, which includes my favorite lip gloss. Now, looking at my autographed mug, I saw the symbolism of my lipstick mark on the brim and my heart danced again.
But something else happened during my lunch hour that day. I know that my most creative time of day is noon, so I use my lunch hour to write my own stories. However, I had been in a sort of stalemate with my current work-in-progress. Writer’s block, if you will. And I’ll just tell you, there is nothing more miserable in the whole world as a writer who can’t write. That’s like a breather who can’t breathe. I had writer’s block so bad I was on the brink of giving up and chucking the whole idea of story writing.
Until the second day of being a Constant Reader. That day I opened up my little laptop I brought to work tucked into my work computer bag. It booted up and I put my hand on the keys. The next thing I knew, my hour was up and I had written four thousand words without even realizing I was writing. I had gone into “THE ZONE” and words had shot out of my hands onto the computer screen. And I knew it was because of my fabulous cup.
And then the unspeakable had happened.
Needless to say, the words stopped pouring out of my hands again, the characters in my head lost their voices, the color went out of the world.