Aaron Steinmetz

...be very still...the bird's angry...and I think he can see us.

Cocoa Tales: Episode Zero

The history of Shasta County and Redding, California (including its inhabitants) bears no significant resemblance to my depiction of it in this story. Consider that when engaging in water-cooler conversations regarding wacky, small towns north of San Francisco, and rest assured there is quite a bit of California north of the City Immediately Adjacent to the Bay. Continue reading after this project has ended–should you and I make it that far–for a list of the various improvements I have made to history.
— Aaron Steinmetz

I’m in a bar. It’s...chilled. I’m resting my elbows against the cold, highly polished wood with my face in my hands when he walks over to me, his lips barely visible beneath his moustache. "Another one?" he asks and I nod, not lifting my head from my hands.

"You look like you just lost someone," he states as he fills my glass with my beer of choice. A domestic beer, but not one of the lousy ones.

Removing my hands from my tear-stained face, I draw a deep breath through my nose. "I lost," I state, "my muse."

"No kidding," he replies. I watch the foam slowly climb to the top of the glass. With the skill of a lifelong tender of bars, he stops at just the right moment spilling only the slightest amount of beer and sets the glass in front of me. "You mean you lost your girl," he asks through the dancing moustache, "or do you mean..."

"I mean," I say, lifting the glass to my lips, "I lost my muse. My actual, Zeus-bred muse."

"Wow," he replies, his eyebrows raised. "Impressive that you actually had a muse."

I shrug. "I suppose."

"I mean, aren’t there only, like, a half a dozen of them?"

I shake my head. "A common misconception," I reply. "People think there’s only seven muses. There are actually seven types of muses. Main types for arts and science and business and stuff. Then there are subtypes for the various types of arts like writing and music and painting. Science has its own, so does business. All fields where creative arts are useful. There’s even a muse for accounting."


"Yeah, but they generally cause more problems than they solve."

He nods, says, "So there’s thousands of them."

"Hundreds of thousands of ‘em," I say. "If not millions. Mine found me when I was a kid. She stuck around for about twenty years or so. And now," I take a deep breath, "and now she’s gone."

"Well, it sounds like quite a story," the bartender says, glancing around his bar. "Care to tell it?"

"Friend, if I could do that, I wouldn’t need a muse." 

I’m only a little dizzy as I walk by an ATM with graffiti on the side. A chunk of the plastic has broken off where someone has attempted to break into it in the night. Not important. This ATM will never come up again. I bump into a light post, off, as it is the middle of the day. Insignificant detail, I think, this could just as easily be night. It could be cloudy. It could be rain, it could be snow. I pass a homeless man with a faded denim jacket and an overturned empty bucket he’s using as a drum and I say to him, "It could be hail."

"It is hell," he replies as I drop a quarter in his hat.

All the details, they flood in as I walk toward my apartment, but only one detail is significant: the apartment will be empty. The birds circling above the theater with the vertical sign reading "Cascade" are not important to me right now, but I see them all the same. Birds are meaningless, but there they are, all the same. The bar across the street with the clover on the glass has nothing to do with my life, but there it is.

This other world is filled with insignificant details that enter my mind and are gone mere seconds later.

I miss my world. In my world sights and sounds and smells and tastes are all important, are all germane to the world around them. Every word uttered, every punctuation punctuated has meaning, has been rehearsed, has been revised, has been perfected, has been divined.

There is nothing perfect about this world I live in, this chaos, this cacophony, this...hail.

I turn quickly into my empty apartment and lean on the door to shut it. I shut my eyes, and then with some force of will I convince myself to open them and scan our apartment. It remains the same, but for one missing muse.

She took nothing with her when she left because there was nothing to take. Muses conjure their own clothes from thin air using magic I can’t begin to understand. Muses don’t need to eat. They don’t age, they don’t sleep. They simply exist to inspire.

Seems my inspiration has run out.

All because of a cat.

A cat named Cocoa.

The Beginning...