Athenian Muse of Music and Dance, Mother to The Sirens
By Molly Anderson | Posted 6/9/06 | 9/23/23
Terpsichore, Athenian Muse of Music and Dance, mother to The Sirens, is a tiny, fiery old woman. She calls to insist that we meet in a blues bar in downtown Chicago, and says she'll send a cab for me.
"But I live in Colorado. A cab? I'll be paying for that fare the rest of my natural life!"
"It's on me, doll," she laughs. "Walk outside your door he's already waiting for you."
She hangs up on me, and I have no choice but to grab a bag and walk out to the street. An ordinary, beat-up yellow cab is idling at the curb. A big brutish man gets out of the driver's seat and opens the back door for me.
"You the writer?" he growls. I nod, slightly terrified. "Get in, she's waitin' for you and she don't like to wait." I slide into the backseat, surprised to see that the interior of the cab is lush and huge it's like a stretch limo inside, complete with a wet bar, a disco ball, and blue velvet upholstery.
"Wow — this is a beauty!" The driver smiles, and pulls out onto the road. "Mind if I have a cocktail?"
"Help yourself. But you might want to wait a minute to mix your drink." He grins, then begins to drive faster and faster towards an intersection with a red light.
"What the heck are you doing?" I scream.
"Hang on," he says. He hits a button, pulls a lever, and the cab rises into the air, still gaining speed. "You're safe," he tells me. "I've been her chauffeur for three hundred years. Next stop, The Blue Moon Bar!"
I mix myself a double as we soar through the indigo night towards Chicago. I barely have time to finish it when I notice the city below us. The lights are getting closer and closer, neon rising to greet us in a sea of letters and designs.
Finally, we hang a left at a huge, blue neon moon with a smiling face and he pulls up short in front of the bar. I give him a large tip, because I'm frankly surprised and delighted that I have survived. I enter the bar, and there she is — she looks like Janis Joplin might have looked, had she lived to be a thousand years old. Wild, untamed curls, a fabulous laugh, and an ancient, sad face.
She is sitting alone, at the closest table to the stage, smoking a long black cigarette. "You're the writer?" she asks, looking at me frankly, sizing me up. I nod, sit down. There's a bottle of tequila on the table, and two shot glasses. It's already half-empty; she's been here awhile. But I see no dish of limes, no salt-shaker. Instead, there is a saucer of honey and a bowl of blueberries.
"Home sweet home," she sighs, looking around the dim and smoky bar. "I love this place more than Mount Olympus, more than Paradise itself. You see more life here than on those god-haunted hills. You know, I get so sick of the company of other immortals. Even the other Muses and the gods themselves bore me sometimes."
"Why is that?" I am curious, excited. She pauses, and dips the rim of each shot glass in honey, then fills them to the brim with golden tequila. She knocks hers back quickly, like medicine, then tosses a few berries into her mouth.
She smiles, "Immortal beings don't suffer; they are insulated from pain and sadness. They forget what it is to ache, and lose all capacity for kindness. There is a sweetness they never see, for it is the other side of the coin pain." Gesturing to my glass, she smiles. "Drink up!"
Sweet honey, the sting of tequila making my eyes water — then, luscious blueberries to chase it all down my throat. It's wonderful, much better than salt and lime. There's a band onstage, Dollar and The Dixieland Five. Dollar is an old, thin black man in a white slouch hat. He's got long bony fingers, a beat-up harmonica, and the saddest, sweetest voice I've ever heard. Though he's in a crowded bar, he sings like he's standing out in the rain, all alone in this world.
Terpsichore is laughing and weeping, all at once. Her eyes never stray from his face.
"His voice — something about his voice. It reminds me of the god Achelous, oh long years ago. I came upon him in the meadows of Mount Ida, singing a sad tune. I went to him, to comfort him — one thing led to another, and he had me to his bed. His seed was so powerful that I became pregnant with seven daughters immediately the Sirens. When they were born, he first tried to deny that they were of his seed. I proved him false, for any fool could see they were his daughters. They had inherited his powerful sad voice, and his lovely eyes. He turned out to be a real bastard.
"He left me with all those wailing girls; said he couldn't stand the noise! You think it's tough to be a single mother now? Ha! It was nearly impossible in my day only a Muse or a Goddess could have managed it! I barely survived it, but to take my revenge on lusty men and false heroes, I taught my girls to sing a song so sweet it caused men and gods both to lose their senses, and obey the Sirens' every word and whim." She grinned coldly. "And they are somewhere, singing still on that forgotten Isle, driving men mad, and dancing them to death with their sweet, sad songs."
We speak not, and the band plays on. Her fierce eyes shine with tears; she watches carefully as Dollar sings the blues. Her body absorbs and responds to each note; soon, her feet are tapping, her head nodding to the beat. She listens with every fibre of her being. She sighs, takes another shot, nibbles at a berry.
"You know, they call me The Whirler," Terpsichore says. "You should see me dance; the Sufis in exotic trance learnt all they know from me."
With a brilliant flash of teeth, smiling wide, she leaps onto the table-top, balancing lightly upon the rim of the nearly-empty bottle of tequila. A gasp from the crowd now everyone is watching as she does a neat back-flip onto the dance floor. She begins to dance, a slow, sensuous bump and grind to match the music. Then, her dancing feet pick up speed, and she begins to twirl and twirl, faster and faster. Dollar and The Dixieland Five are sweating, working hard to play fast enough for Terpsichore. As she whirls like a dervish, I notice she has begun to look younger and younger finally, she is a mere girl, swirling and twirling and laughing her fabulous laugh.
Couples hit the floor, jiving and jumping, not thinking of the morning to come, or their troubles at home; thinking only of the dance. I take another shot for courage, finishing the bottle. The little worm inside it seems to be dancing, too. Suddenly, I'm in the midst of a heave and pulse of writhing bodies, one and all, slaves to the driving beat of the drums. I dance and whirl with Terpsichore, laughing wildly, holding her hand.
And the next thing I know, I'm crawling out of bed with a wicked hangover. My feet ache, but I can't stop smiling. I stumble to the kitchen in search of coffee, and find my trusty notebook on the counter. The last, blueberry-stained words I wrote last night are barely legible, but I think I have translated them accurately here.
Drink tequila with a Muse every chance you get. Dance until you can't feel your feet aching anymore. And seek to find sweetness in the midst of pain.
©2006 Molly Anderson. All rights reserved.