Sûrah XVII
THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
"Whoso is blind here will be blind in the Hereafter, and yet further from the road."

17
CRUMBSNATCHERS

DENISE

Let's say we skip the quaint preliminaries and I come over.

 

DENISE

What's that ruckus? You at home? Sounds like you're phoning from the goddamn street.

 

 

 

DENISE

I don't need a cup of coffee. You come here, then.



DENISE

She'll just have to take a hike. Or she can watch; I don't much care, at this point. Franchone, come an' do me.



DENISE

My temperature's falling.



DENISE

I'm ovulating, damn-it.
 


DENISE

I called your cell, your home, your work—they said you quit; that true? Anyway, I'm past peak. You said you'd donate.

 



DENISE

You are a stud; don't fool yourself. Have you ever turned down nooky? Now, please, Franchone, I'm ripe—over-ripe; come do me.

 

 


FRANCHONE

Bad idea.

 

 


FRANCHONE

Market and Church. My digs are currently off limits; got some sewage backed up, big time. Could we maybe meet for coffee? I'm a little pressed for...

 


FRANCHONE

What about Jaymie?

 

 


FRANCHONE

What's your rush?



FRANCHONE

What?

 

FRANCHONE

So?

 

 


 

FRANCHONE

Hey, hold on. I said I'd help you out, not serve as an on-call stud.

 

 



FRANCHONE

Thanks; no thanks.

A resounding "CLICK" repels Franchone's left ear from the public phone receiver. He fishes change from his pocket and inserts fifty cents.

Well, aren't I noble! First it's abstinence with the Muslim, now integrity with Denise, whose Little Bo Peep routine has just turned off Bo Ram. Let Jaymie do the inseminating. I'd like to see her try. Dykes-on-Bikes may couple-up on their Hollywood-muffler Harleys but it sure won't get them pregnant. A guy is still required. And this guy's unavailable, as in 'otherwise engaged.' The question is, with whom. The answer is...

KATHRYN

De Johnson residence. How may I h'ep you?

 

 

KATHRYN

Yeah, it's me.

 

KATHRYN

Fine. Who dis?

 

KATHRYN

Franchone. Mama's out.

 

KATHRYN

I's watchin' my own se'f. She be back sho'tly.

 


KATHRYN

She be back sho'tly.

 


KATHRYN

She at de sto'e.

 

KATHRYN

At de sto'e is all I 'pose' to say.

 

KATHRYN

What dat noise?

 


KATHRYN

I is.

 

 

 


KATHRYN

Okay.

 

KATHRYN

Yeah.

 


KATHRYN

Okay.

 

KATHRYN

Loves you, too, Franchone.

 

 

FRANCHONE

"How may I help you?" Who's this highfalutin female? Can't be Chickpea.

 

FRANCHONE

How you doin', girl?

 

FRANCHONE

Who do you think it is?

 

FRANCHONE

So who's watchin' you?

 


FRANCHONE

As in a second, a minute, an hour?

 

FRANCHONE

So you say; so you say. She doin' laundry?

 

FRANCHONE

Uh, huh. At Safeway?

 

FRANCHONE

Good girl.

 

FRANCHONE

That's Mister Muni, the big ol' streetcar. Hey, girl, listen up.

 

FRANCHONE

Tell Mama: Franchone called and that he'll maybe see her later. On second thought, just tell her Franchone called. Okay?

 

FRANCHONE

You still like Cracker Jacks?

 

FRANCHONE

I'll bring you a box the next time I drop by. Okay?

 

FRANCHONE

I love you, Chickpea.

Two down, one to go. Tomorrow's Saturday. Could get tricky. Naja did say "rain or shine." With weather not a factor, things depend on Sleeping Beauty—who's welcome, if she wants, to spend the night. I might just cook, whip up some pasta, light some candles, play some Bach, uncork some wine—and take advantage of the confidence my restraint, thus far, has built? I think she trusts me, ought to trust me. Had her pretty much at my mercy. Had her bra undone, for starters; hardly fazed her, raised no fuss. In fact. she drifted off, eventually, took a catnap, forty winks—or took a powder; probably gone, long gone, by now.

Crossing Church at Market, Franchone angles to the left, ducking into a grocer's to bolster home supplies... while Z, in post-doze twilight, hazily reconnoiters, takes in sundry details of her makeshift refuge, sits—re-aligns her brassiere, refastens its errant strap—eyes alighting on masks that adorn the nearest wall, their vacant sockets staring as with tacit accusations.

1. There were children on Flight 405 from New York to San Francisco, the leg that carried him whose blood must spill, our fatwa clear, the man a menace, cavalier in naming names, indicting others, siccing agents of America on my comrades' blameless loved ones whom the Evildoers rendered, tortured, drove betimes insane in hopes of culling information few possessed. Unjust. Contemptible. Well-deserving of the fiery end my body held in store, had I fulfilled my hallowed covenant and accomplished detonation, sent the plane to a charred oblivion in that moonless, blue-black night, assured my passage into the "Garden underneath which rivers flow" and his—the accused and the accursed—into  Hell, "an evil resting place." Fie!

2. On me!

3. I heard them mewling; Western babies, infant miscreants, future enemies, saw their pinch-pink faces peeking out through posh designer swaddling, knew to spare them was to swell the wretched ranks of disbelievers who we warn "but it increaseth them in naught save gross impiety." Those allied with Allah are the only souls we save. This truth is fixed. Yet even Muslims must earn Paradise through self-sacrifice, worship, prayer, or through performing acts of irrefutable heroism—misnamed "terrorism." Is it terrible to expunge from Earth those pests devoid of Faith, those greedy vermin who exploit their poorer neighbors, corrupt and plunder? Death, implanted by Al-Qaeda in my requisitioned belly, guaranteed that none such scoundrel would survive. Had I proved worthy. Had the joys and sorrows, hopes and fears of those about to perish kept their distance; I was proud to bear the means of Allah's vengeance, scarcely troubled by the imminence of my own jejune demise, and optimistic I was poised to claim a martyr's "vast reward."

4. Instead, emotion interfered with my devotion, my resolve, and crippled my intent with a mawkish reservation. Weak. Ironical, that I, whence rendered barren then made pregnant with our cause, would balk, resist my womb's giving birth to life's extinguishment. This, the plan—devised to dull maternal instinct lest misgivings override my sending toddlers to their doom—made no provision for the Asian child who ducked behind her book, our game of peek-a-boo perverse in light of my objective.

5. Yet acts endorsed by Him are perfectly unassailable, even should they entail an incidental loss. In this case, losses. There were hundreds who would die, in fact; our flight was overbooked. Although the Asian child, alone, evoked my sympathy... mixed with dread upon imagining eyeballs bursting—the compartment breached, depressurized—toes and fingers strewn—like Homa's—with an eardrum-bursting blast, a red eruption spewing bloody bits of skull-and-bone turned shrapnel, plumes of viscera tainting clouds in the silent-witness stratosphere.

6. Could I? Would I? All it took was the quick insertion of my wristwatch to be armed, to become a muhtasseb who holds the vile accountable. Timer set, I then would stand and make my way toward the undefended cockpit.

7. "Up your cunt"; the words, less vulgar phrased in Arabic, nonetheless conveyed contempt; and it was Ahmed who imparted this instruction. Retribution? Was he jealous? Had he lusted after that which I, with Homa, shared in secret? Was this gadget meant to settle some schoolboy score? A chronic tinker, Ahmed forged our camp's whole arsenal of devices. Both ingenious and demonic were the traits of "Ahmed's toys"—which only once had proven suspect. Was it Allah's will or Ahmed's that ordained my self-destruction by such indecorous instruments?

8. Doubt arose, when doubt was least a trusty ally; I demurred. Determination, in proportion to my angst, abruptly fled. Could Immortality be awarded one so gullible, so manipulated as to lend herself to motives scarcely pure much less Divine?

9. I loved the Asian child—in lieu of my proceeding to destroy us—would have clutched her to my bosom—had the seatbelt not restrained—my rush of fellow-feeling stronger than regret about the target, who, by virtue of my broken Oath, escaped his just desserts, this bane, this fiend who was not worth the life of any hapless passenger. Why should all be made to suffer for the sins of one condemned? Though this objection had been raised and duly countered back at camp. How many deaths the West had dealt and dubbed "collateral"; rights reserved?

10. "Man prayeth for evil as he prayeth for good; for man was ever hasty." Am I blessed or have I kissed the cloven hoof?