Sûrah LI
"Accursed be the conjecturers."


Brrrrr, it's chilly.

Franchone tucks both hands in the armpits of his sports jacket, jogs in place, pretends to wait for an early-bird bus that he will not board. The street is empty... save for graveyard-shifters straggling home... a taxi or two... a patrol car... and some zombie-like leafleteers out littering windshields.

Had me a dream:

There was a woman in it. Eartha, probably—Eartha as an oddball sculptress. She was carving this life-size model of the crucifixion. I remember the cross conformed to the tortured arch of our Savior's spine as though the wood had warped in sympathy, shoring up His fortitude. Eartha wouldn't look at me; she was pissed or something. Furious. And so, for reasons stated, was her little girl.
"Hey, how ya doin', Chickpea?"
"You run off. Made Mama cry. Mama an' me don' need you no how anyway."
Looked right through me. It was awful seeing tears in those big brown eyes... much worse the enmity, which made me feel like a thief, like I'd stolen her mama's pride—this three-year-old determined to rebuke and utterly shame me.

Streetlights blink, as Franchone shivers on the doorstep of his outpost.

This is lame! Don't even know the woman and here I am at cock's crow, losing shut-eye, missing work to tail some scrawny babe who mentioned, was all, Z's name; because of what? My passing interest? My commitment to a phantom novel? Or has something about this immigrant wormed its way underneath my skin? I've got an itch, for sure, and it's more than carnal. More than curiosity. What I can't quite figure out is... how the hell to scratch it?

A garbage truck ROARS. Its churning jaws devour the urban trash in gulps; its wake is noxious; yet, for all its odious clamor, not a solitary soul protests, as if this scavenger ruled, top dog, in the city's primal food chain.

I said "our," "our Savior." Freudian slip; give credit to dear ol' Dad—those preachers sink their hooks in deeper than you'd think. A "crucifixion"? I'm not sold on psychoanalysis; dreams mean zilch compared to reality. What we say about our dreams, however, can prove telling. Except in this case:

After mom and daughter split—they either walked or disappeared—I stood in the artwork's sprawling shadow absolutely stunned; Christ, I noticed on looking up, was Black.

Another din, another crazed behemoth shatters the predawn hush as a monstrous street cleaner, ushered by a Go-4 squad, makes sleep-starved Franchone jump. Gigantic brushes scrub the asphalt with a sham of sanitation, spritzing curbstones, vacuuming refuse, sucking up everything in sight—aside from the hapless, ticketed vehicles owned by forgetful San Franciscans who will pay a hefty price for their parking place's plight.

Okay, where is she? Still inside or has the GRAY-HAIRED GIRL slipped past me? Ring-and-run; this calls for reveille; cock-a-doodle-doo, girls; rise and shine. My ass is NUMB. If I'm awake, it's only fair that you be, too.