Sûrah LVIII
SHE THAT DISPUTETH
"Thou wilt not find folk who believe in Allah and the Last Day loving those who oppose Allah and His messenger, even though they be their fathers or their sons or their brethren or their clan."

58
OBJECTION SUSTAINED

Three short rings, two long have gained the GRAY-HAIRED GIRL admittance—her shadow and her shadow's shadow lurking, locked outside—while she whose refuge has been ferreted greets her guest with quiet diffidence, unprepared to play the role of cloistered confidante.

AMY

I just freaked. I mean I flipped out totally. Things were going great; next minute WHAM. It's like that doorbell sent a shockwave through my conscience; really bugged me. It was Greer; I'm almost positive. Since we broke up, he's been weird. And even weirder since my getting-it-on with Phoebe.

Amy smokes, her Pall Mall glowing in the studio's semi-darkness like an ember, shedding red-complexioned highlights on the threesome: Amy, Zahra, and Zahra's decoy—its features painted on, limbs posed in a natural-seeming posture, an authentic-looking wig secured by a kerchief.

AMY

Am I queer? I mean, I did it with a woman and I liked it; Phoebe's sensual. She takes charge, lets me relax. Ordinarily, I'm high gear.

Amy hesitates, apprehensive about her listener's approbation.

AMY

Is this nasty? Should I clam up?

ZAHRA

What means "clam up"?

AMY

Shut my yap. Christ, you've got problems worse than mine; I should be lending you an ear instead of rambling on and on about my sex life.

ZAHRA

Please, continue. I have time enough alone—too much, too many thoughts unshared. A mind in solitude is the Devil's favorite playground.

Fighting tears, her eyes awash for no apparent reason, Amy looks askance, directs her somewhat bleary focus at the dummy.

AMY

How bizarre! I just mistook this silly manikin for your double; your alter ego? Like the way I feel with Phoebe. We're two halves who make one whole. Does that sound crazy?

Zahra reconsiders the static figure's semblance. Heretofore its lifeless presence has been pointedly ignored, as in disdained, as in avoided, something troubling or offensive having stirred associations she despises:

imagining straw in place of plaster
wooden sticks not metal struts
clothes rent by wind and rain and sun
in lieu of stylish holes and tears
envisioning umbrae cast as swooping crescents
ominous
sharp as sickles
raucous caws emitting ridicule
black-winged scythes forewarning doom
with the effrontery to alight
to peck
to claw at pseudo-flesh
whose human pretense hints at pathos
stirred by vulnerability...
 

AMY

Yoo-hoo; Z?

Yanked from her reverie, Zahra flinches.
 

AMY

Thought I'd lost you for a second. What I meant to say is maybe you and I are mirror images. Like we're toying with extremes so we can overcome our fears. I think I'm straight, then sleep with Phoebe; she convinces me I'm gay. You think you're gay, then sleep with what's-his-face—Franchone...

ZAHRA

False! I mean, I slept, but that cannot be called improper.

AMY

He massaged you, didn't he? 'Laid on hands'? Which made you wet, I'll bet.

Amy's imputation triggers Zahra's staunch denial—which she restrains lest innocence plead itself too loudly.

ZAHRA

It made me... calm. But...

AMY

Same as me. And you felt creepy afterward; right? I mean, I came—you know, had orgasms?—but that doorbell ringing... picturing Greer... anticipating what he'd think... was like my conscience tapped me on the shoulder with a sledgehammer. So I split. I hauled ass outta there, not one word of explanation, bee-lined home and took an extra-long hot shower then headed over here.

Zahra weighs the truth of Amy's pivotal allegation, citing Homa (more analogous) whose affections, sorely missed, compete with up-to-date sensations roused by touches unsolicited:

all too well revisited
through these days in isolation
through these sleepless nights of introspection
doubts and fervent prayers
his hands tattooed upon her consciousness like the sword that slay her sex drive
till the wound, obliquely palmed, showed signs of healing
numbness quickened
Zahra's privates serving notice of recovery
shedding qualms
reviving urges unfamiliar in their hetero guise and form
therefore upsetting
adding angst
to woes already ample...
 

AMY

Want a cig?

She holds the pack out; Zahra shakes her head, considers the habit odious—an opinion Amy ratifies with resolve.

AMY

You're right; I'll quit.

She stows the cigarettes in her purse, then notices Zahra's pre-packed luggage.

AMY

Oh, oh.

Zahra tracks the path of Amy's glance.

ZAHRA

I'm leaving, yes.

AMY

That bastard Pistol! You don't have to. Duke's in charge here. Pistol's mean. Well, maybe not mean but unsentimental. Duke would never throw you out.

ZAHRA

I have abused your hospitality. I have placed you all in danger. He who hunts me hates like ice on a broken tooth. His threat draws near.

AMY

The sooner he shows the sooner we trap him, call the cops, cue Immigration, who will haul his ass on back to wherever he's from, the Middle East. You get a brand new lease on life. Don't spoil things now. Give the plan a chance. Two, three days more; okay? Sit tight.

ZAHRA

With Duke's permission.

AMY

Hell, he gave you that already! Alright, fine. You just stay put. I'll go and ask. You'll see; Duke's cool. And DON'T YOU DARE go running off. I'll fetch him back; you'll wait. Agreed?...Agreed?

Zahra, disinclined to have her death-row stint protracted, views this heartfelt exhortation as superfluous. Why forestall? Her sentence just, her crime condemnable, to delay her execution is to compound dereliction with abject cowardice. Faith, though, defaults... and with Zahra's grudging nod, Amy takes her leave.