The Dare-R.J. Fox

Illustration by Malaika Sujeet


On the bright side, he was writing again. And he had a muse. It is important to note that he was writing again because of the fact that he had a muse. Because without one, he didn’t write.

At some point, years ago on his journey into being the not-quite-successful writer that he was today, he somehow convinced himself that he needed to what amounted to a crush to write.

What a fucking pussy.

And what pompous, artsy bullshit.

As lame as it was, it worked for him. Or, at least he convinced itself it did, much like those who claim that prayer works, despite no concrete proof that their prayers are even heard at all.

Perhaps if his domestic situation weren’t the shit-storm that it now was, he wouldn’t need a crush – muse – to light his fire. Though still married, it was a marriage of convenience at this point.

More like a mirage than a marriage.

The writing (or, lack thereof) had been on the fucking wall for years. If their marriage could be described in a concise, concrete matter, it would be as follows: Two people who ran a fucking in-home daycare operation. Sadly, he assumed, like so many other marriages. But he didn’t give a shit. He was beginning to have serious doubts about the whole Blink 182 “Stay Together for the Kids” philosophy that they had somehow agreed to years before (he was also sure as fuck that if the kids never existed in the first place, neither would his marriage). A cynical It’s a Wonderful Life.

A philosophy he didn’t sign up for, however, was the withhold-sex-from-your husband for months at a time until he becomes so antsy and bitter, he ends up fantasizing about muses that traditionally had the sole purpose of inspiring his prose.

     As much as the lack of sex – or any other form of physical intimacy for that matter – fucking sucked, what sucked, even more, was her complete lack of interest and support for anything writing related. Though he didn’t blame her fully, nor did he expect her to read everything he wrote, her constant suggestions that he maybe just give up altogether was really fucking him up in the head. Mix that together with forced celibacy, it was no wonder why he felt like he was going to explode in all the ways a man can.

    Hence, his increasingly ever-so-desperate need for a muse. And his growing need for someone to fuck.

     Muses were usually not difficult to locate. They came in many forms and contexts: attractive co-workers who showed interest in his writing, the spouse of a friend who showed an interest in his writing, coffee shop baristas, customers in coffee shops, a woman seated next to him at the bar while he wrote, etc.

Some muses only lasted for a few hours. Some stuck with him for long periods of time. No matter what form or length of time, they were his fuel. And they took no effort on the part of the muse because, in all likelihood, they had no fucking clue he existed. Having a muse who knew nothing about him, or his dream was better than having a wife who didn’t give a fuck at all.

    Having a muse meant he was writing. And writing meant he could tolerate life without sex. Or, at least, it made this reality more tolerable. He got a high off writing that akin to a drug… or a good fuck. So as long as he kept that beast fed, he could function like a “normal” human being.

    Though he realized this, all sounded fucked up, and every writer had their quirks and rituals. For him, it was obsessing over an unobtainable female. Surely not the first writer to do so, right?

Now and then, he would stop to ask himself: what if a muse suddenly did become obtainable? What would become of his writing then? What would become of his marriage? He realized that the time he normally spent writing would be evaporated for fucking his muse. Though it would certainly solve one problem in his life, he saw how it had the potential to fuck up everything else (most significantly, his marriage). And though he knew deep down that he would probably be better off, what about the kids? He couldn’t let anything jeopardize the front he had to put up for their sake.

    He figured as long as he had a muse, that would be enough right?

    And then one day, he didn’t.

    It was no coincidence that the first serious bout of writer’s block he experienced coincided with the longest drought without a muse.

    He didn’t just have writer’s block. He apparently had muse block, too. The more desperate he was to find someone to reignite his drive, the more frustrated he got with every other component of his life.

    Sometimes a change in atmosphere would be all he needed. It got him out of plenty of slumps before. Then again, this wasn’t the average slump. He settled on a new coffee shop across town, so it wasn’t exactly logistically convenient.

After a couple of visits, not only did his writing start to emerge out of hibernation, but he had latched on to a new muse. A barista.


Though she had no idea, he was smitten the first time she took his order for a grande non-fact mocha. It was her eyes more than anything else, though her full arm tats were sexy as fuck, as was her blue-platinum colored hair. But those eyes. He noticed them right away. Like a Disney princess crossed with a silent screen star.

Bette Davis eyes.

    Before long, he started timing his writing sessions around her schedule, which he quickly figured out. And then she was gone. And so was his writing.

    He kept returning to the scene of the crime,  hopeful that she was perhaps out of town. But after a couple of weeks, he finally asked of one of her co-workers if she still worked there. She didn’t. And nobody knew where she had gone. Desperate, he asked for her last name. Though reluctant, he gave it to her.

And then he looked her up on Facebook.

This is how stalkers are made…

    He figured that she probably wouldn’t accept anyway. But then she did. And then he immediately wrote her a note to thank her for adding him. A quick scan of her profile made him realize that she was an artist! And it just so happened that he was seeking an artist to collaborate with. So in the guise of innocence, he asked if she would be willing to meet to discuss a possible partnership. She obliged, and he met her over drinks.

    They hit it off, and though she seemed genuinely interested in his project, she told him she had a lot on her plate and probably wouldn’t be able to get to it for quite a while, especially with the hours that she was pulling at the new distillery downtown.

    They remained in touch, sharing favorite music and movies and random thoughts (mostly his). His willingness to share his work inspired her to want to share hers. Whenever he hit a roadblock in his own work, he would ask her to send along some of arts to give him the creative boost he needed. Though she was highly guarded when it came to an exhibition of her work, she admitted that he was giving her the courage she needed to finally showcase her work to a broader audience. It was as symbiotic a relationship that a writer and artist could ask for. He went as far as to tell that she was his muse – something he had never told any other muse in life. He felt comfortable enough to share this because he got the sense she felt the same way about him (though, by no means did he expect her to refer to him as her muse).

    “You’re the reason I’ve been able to write these past few months.”

    She was flattered.

    After a few months had passed, the feeling didn’t fade like was so often the case with his muses. In fact, the feeling only intensified. He hadn’t felt this complete in ages, and even his domestic situation was more tolerable that he could remember.

    It certainly wasn’t the first time he had fallen for a muse. He had crushes on most. But had a muse ever fallen for him? He didn’t think so. And he wasn’t fully convinced she had fallen for him. But he liked to pretend that she did.

She occupied his every waking moment. And even infiltrated his dreams. Every goddamn thing was better. He writing was better. He jacked off better. He slept better. He woke up better.

Though he was well aware that he had already developed feelings that went beyond the superficial muse-crush, the tide really began to turn one particular night when, while writing under the influences of bourbon, she posted a new profile pic that sent his pathetic heart aflutter. Once again, it all came down to her eyes – like the twin beacons of a lighthouse, guiding a wayward sailor back to safety. Or, was it a siren, leading him to a rocky shore? Either way, he couldn’t resist the turning tide that this picture stirred within his soul.

    He tried to resist making a fool of himself, but the bourbon was clearly in charge.

    “That is a fucking amazing pic of you,” he wrote.

    He stared at the phone, waiting for a response. Several minutes had passed, and there was no response. And then a few minutes later:

    “You think so?” she replied back, following by three blushing emoticons.

    “It’s torture, quite actually,” he responded.

    “What do you mean?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Yes, you do. Say it scaredy cat! What do you mean by torture?”

    Stay cool. Don’t show all of your cards.

    “Figure it out,” he wrote back.

    “I think I got it,” she wrote with a wink.

    “As though you didn’t already know.”

    “You totally wanna snitch my face.”


    He quickly looked up ‘snitch’ in the Urban Dictionary, assuming that it was lingo that never made it onto his radar. They were 15 years apart, after all.

    Millenials and their hipster lingo…

    “Smooch,” she corrected.

    “You got me,” he wrote, then added: “Surprised? Disturbed?”

    “Not surprised and not disturbed either.”



    “You must get this a lot,” he said.

    “No. Not at all actually.”

    “Well, you should. And not from old, desperate men like this smitten douche.”

    “You’re not old and desperate. And I wish I did; then I wouldn’t be young and single.”

    “Embrace it. It won’t be that way forever. In the meantime, I will toil in misery when my muse posts such beautiful pics. A face I can’t snitch.”

    “Who says you can’t?”


    “You won’t try to snitch my face. You’re too scared.”

    “Dare me,” he said with a bravado he never felt before. One thing he knew, if she were here in person, he would not be so brave.

    “Dare,” she wrote.

    “Tonight,” he suggested.

    “I’m working.”

    “You can come out to my car. You get breaks, right? I dare YOU.”


    “Is that a yes?” he asked.

    “I don’t know yet…”

    “Then how can I prove that I can come through on your date? Or, are you… a scaredy cat yourself?”

    “I might be.”

    “Well, you can’t stop me from coming in for a drink.”

    “No, I definitely can’t stop you from getting a drink.”

    “What are you afraid of?


    “For the record, this conversation has already inspired a story in my head. It’s up to you to help me decide if it will be fiction. Or memoir.”

    “What would it be about?” she asked.


“You can’t just say what you’re thinking, can you?”


    “Scaredy cat.”

    “You don’t really want me to say what I am thinking, do you?

     “Kind of.”

    “Ok….you remind me of a Disney princess, but created by Tim Burton.”

    No response came. He must have totally freaked her out.

And that’s how one loses a muse…

But a minute later:

    “That is the most beautiful compliment in the entire world. I love that so much.”


    “See you tonight.”

    “We’ll see about that,” she wrote, followed by a wink emoticon.

“Now pretend that this conversation never happened,” he added.

    “Ok, conversation disappeared.”

    But the conversation did happen. And it didn’t disappear. Just like that, a dare beyond his scope of rational understanding was on. From the start, he knew it was less about proving her wrong, but more about proving himself right.

What he was most surprised about was his complete lack of guilt. A virtual muse is one thing. But his muse and reality were beginning to merge.

His lack of guilt probably had a lot to with the fact that his wife hadn’t let him  “snitch” her in three years. Nor, hug her. Nor, give a shit about his writing.

    The only obstacle? A mounting snowstorm. Staying off the roads would have been the smart thing to do. But his heart had become stronger than his intellect. This was nothing new. It was probably why he became a writer.

    En route, he decided to stop for a couple of shots of whiskey to calm his nerves. He forgot how much anxiety dating caused

    When the effect of the whiskey took root, he headed back out into the snow, which had intensified. Fortunately, he was less than a mile away.

    He parked in the lot behind the bar. A good snitching spot for sure. He debated whether he should message her so she could come out to him, or if he should just walk in. He decided to show up in person. It felt like the more gentlemanly thing to do.

    He entered the nearly empty bar (others were smart enough to stay in). A video of a burning fireplace was projected onto a giant screen, as a disinterested DJ spun trip-hop Christmas music.

    He headed to the bar, which was tended by a woman who clearly wasn’t his muse.

    “What can I get you?”

    “Is Elisa here?”

“She’s in the back. I can get her…”

“No rush. I can wait.”

“Can I get you a drink?”

“A gin and tonic, please.”

He knew that he really shouldn’t be drinking at all. Not with the treacherous drive looming ahead. Combined with the amount already consumed.

Halfway through his drink, Elisa appeared from the back – as though she had emerged right out of the pic that got this all started in the first place.

“You made it,” she said with a warm smile.


“Yes, actually. I thought for sure you’d chicken out. Especially with the weather.”

“Oh, is it bad?” he said with a sly grin, before adding: “So, do you have a break coming up?”

“Actually, yes.”

They both stared at one another awkwardly, which was punctuated when he proceeded to down the rest of his drink.

“Want another?” the bartender asked.

“I think I’m all set. Thank you.”

“Leaving so soon?” Elisa asked with a sly smile.

He paid, then turned to her and said:

“Just wanted to say hi,” he said. “Heading out to my car now.”

Elisa nodded. He couldn’t interpret what that nod conveyed exactly, but he hoped they were both on the same page.

He then headed out into a snowfall so dense; it was as though he were trapped in a snow globe.

    He started his car, then cranked up the heat to make sure that if she joined him, it would be warm enough for her. He put on the Christmas station, then stared at the gigantic snowflakes coating his windows.

      Five minutes passed, and he began to realize that he was probably just wasting his time. Just as hew as about to pull away, a figure emerged out of the back entrance of the distillery. He wasn’t certain, but as soon as the figure headed toward his car, he knew.

     She approached the passenger side door and entered, fully bundled up. Dean Martin’s cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” began to play, which was only fitting since Dean and Frank were who he listened to more than anything else when he wrote. His story was writing itself!

    “Hi,” she said with a nervous smile.

    “Hello,” he said, lacking the confidence that got him this far this evening.

    What would Deano do? He’d nail her in the backseat of his car, that’s what he would do.

    But whom was he kidding? He was no Deano.

    He nervously looked directly into her magical doe eyes and was surprised he didn’t look away. They remained locked in a gaze, amidst the silence of calm anticipation.

     He removed his gloves, put a finger under her chin, then proceeded to give her what he planned to be just a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth. He didn’t want to push it, but then he got the immediate sense that she wanted more. In fact, he didn’t have much of choice. When their lips withdrew, he continued staring into the Disney princess’s eyes of his muse, entombed in a snow-covered vault. A snowglobe within a snowglobe.

 “I gotta get back to work,” she said with a smile before she got out of the car.

“Goodnight,” she said, blowing him a kiss.

    She closed the door behind her and headed back inside. Midway, she stopped to wave one last time.

He stared out his snow-covered windshield. A streetlamp cast an orange, burning glow through it. At that moment, it was the beautiful thing he had ever seen.

But it was time to turn to reality.

He grabbed his scraper and headed outside to brush all the snow off.

    As he drove away, he felt a deep contentment he couldn’t recall ever feeling at any point in his adult life. For once, he didn’t care what the future would bring. Nor, did the past really matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was the present and a full awareness of what his next piece of writing would be about.

In the end, that’s it was all he ever really needed. And all that fucking mattered.

R.J. Fox is the award-winning writer of several short stories, plays, poems, a memoir, and 15 feature length screenplays. Two of his screenplays have been optioned to Hollywood. He has also been published in over 30 literary magazines.

His first book, Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine was recently published by Fish Out of Water Books.