Lyn was in the cafe, accompanied by a cup of coffee and a book of stories by Borges. Steam from the coffee wafted up her cheek--the tiger’s hot breath. The image of the tiger emerged and shifted in her memory. The anthology was neglected in favor of her sketchbook.
"You like Borges?"
There was a certain familiarity to the legs standing in front of her and curiosity and courtesy got the better of her. She looked up. "Oh, the young Jesus-freak."
He was wearing a suit only instead of a dress shirt underneath he wore a T-shirt that read Reagan for Shah. He wore a dusty fedora.
She returned her eyes to the sketch. "I don't like your friend."
"Don't mind him, he's crazy."
"Did you come here to save me?" Lyn asked dryly. She focused on drawing the limbs, as segmented as the patient in a game of Operation.
"Right, I’m a stalker-convert."
"Isn't that the definition of a Jehovah's Witness?"
"Or maybe I came back here to do laundry." He held up a sack of clothes with one hand and a bottle of detergent with the other.
"Name's Peter," he said and sat backwards on the third chair at her little table.
"You didn't read our propaganda," he said.
"You caught me. Whatever gave it away?" She said.
"We're not Jehovah's Witnesses. You're Lyn, right?"
"That's creepy. I think my wash is done." Lyn walked to the laundry in the back. Peter followed.
"It's creepy that I have a good memory?"
She paused in front of a dryer labeled "Grace Jones."
"Yes," she said after consideration.
"What's your favorite Borges' story?"
She began piling everything from a washer named "Dr. Who" into Grace Jones, while she decided whether or not to answer his question. On the one hand, she was suspicious of him but on the other, she loved to discuss literature.
Finally: "You're very persistent."
"Mine's 'Three Versions of Judas'," he offered.
"Mine too," Lyn said. "What do you like about it?" She turned to really face him for the first time but now he was piling his dirty socks and shorts into "Shirley Maclaine." She was struck again by how young he was. His bowl haircut reminded her of an impertinent seven-year old.
He said, "I don't know, something about finding good in the ultimate bad."
Lyn said, "I love the concept that without the suffering and sin of Judas, Jesus's sacrifice would never have been possible. Why has no one ever thought of that before?"
"Who asked your opinion?" Peter asked, chastising her for accidentally showing an interest in the conversation.
Lyn gave Peter a nasty sneer and turned toward the cafe. He took her arm.
"Hey! I was only kidding. And you forgot your book." It was a worn black hardback with only the word "Ficciones" and the author's name on the cover.
Lyn snatched the book and the sound of the clothes spinning dulled an awkward silence. Lyn noticed her landlord Tyree emerge from a door marked “employees only.”
Lyn returned to her cheap round table.
Tyree shoved the bandanna in his pocket. He cowered before the half-disassembled washer with pliers and a hammer. “Well, if it isn't the Baby Jesus! Can you turn water into quarters?" He took the red bandanna off his shaven head to clean his thick aviator lenses.
"No," he said, "Can you spare some?"
"What good are you then?"
Tyree attempted to beat a bolt into submission.
Peter watched with amusement. To Lyn he said, “Did you look at the meditation Doc gave you?”
She sighed. What the hell. He wasn’t going to go away, and arguing with a religious zealot could be a way to relieve some of her stress. In preparation for a debate about the Bible quote in her hand, she read aloud in a monotone voice:
“In order for your journey to begin, you must know what it is that you seek. Close your eyes and visualize what you want. What’s the first thing to come into your mind?”
The young man stared at her expectantly. Whether it was the will in his eyes or the surprise that the Christians were offering something other than a Bible quote, she acquiesced. Her eyes closed. She thought of a field of grain. There was a river too, with rocky cliffs behind. Blue skies. Peace. Eesha, she whispered. It was her name for the girl in the dream.
The river. A gnarled tree there. She’d been there before. Where had she seen that tree before?
Some of the vines crumble away from the tree. No, not that tree, she’d been running, it was earlier. But where? The sound of breathing, wind moving through the trees, the ever-pulsing heartbeat. No, not a real place. A dream. But not the one at the Sit N Spin, the one from that morning.
The murmur of the rain is punctuated by the croaking of frogs and insects cawing loud as birds.
There's something coming toward me. Something with a heartbeat and fast, heavy breaths. Or is that my own heart beating? I climb to reach the top, climb because I can. I am not afraid. I don't know the meaning of fear.
“Who’s Eesha?” He asked.
She didn’t reply, but began scribbling in her sketchbook. Those eyes were trying to tell her something, but what?
He said, "Don’t be upset about Doc. People take things too seriously, especially when religion is concerned."
Without looking up, she said "I thought I took it quite well, thankyouverymuch."
"If some guy knocked on your door and started mumbling 'whore-pores' you might get creeped out but not insulted. But religion made you take it seriously. Dr. Montaña is a crazy. His words don't have anything to do with you.”
"What are you doing making company with a raving lunatic?" Lyn asked.
"Why are you making company with a drag queen?" Peter countered.
"What do you have against drag queens?" Lyn asked, her voice rising.
Peter remained calm. "Nothing. How's your judgment against the mentally ill any different than queer-bashing?"
"Because my drag queen didn’t call you names."
"Yeah, I’m sorry about that. Dr. Montaña can be …difficult. Some times."
Lyn scoffed. She returned to her sketch.
Peter continued, "But he's a brilliant man. If we shouldn't be friends and allies with the mentally ill, we may as well lay them down like sick horses—"
"Are you suggesting we shoot crazy people?" Lyn asked incredulously.
"—-Yes, because they need emotional support more than anyone else! To abandon them is torture."
Lyn curled her lip in a malicious smile: "Oh, I struck a nerve."