Finally all is quiet. Morning has broken and now the sun is just starting to rise over the Bay, painting touches of color on the ancient rooftops and modern towers of downtown San Francisco. It paints these colors self-consciously, as if it knows how many thousands of picture postcards it has to compete with. But as the sun climbs higher, its rays grow stronger and harsher and begin to illuminate the littered streets and filthy alleys South of Market where few choose to live. The sun is indifferent to the effects of color now for there are no competing picture postcards of this scene.
Al is sitting on his cot, looking out of the dirt-encrusted window of his tiny room at the back of The Last Resort, watching his first Earth sunrise. The hardest part, he feels, is over. Now all he has to do is to live here among the poor and the wretched, attract no attention, and bide his time. He has learned much, spoken and unspoken, from his new friends, and he feels ready to begin his role as a common working man. The thought gives him pleasure, a warm feeling inside, though he knows not why. Like an actor who finds a temporary respite from the cares of his real life through his life upon the stage, Al has all but forgotten his previous existence. How could he not? There is no frame of reference.
Suddenly his reverie is broken by a soft tapping at the alley door. Al shakes his head to try to clear away the effects of alcohol and lack of sleep and calls out softly, “Who’s there? What do you want?”
“It’s me, Al. ‘Queen Mab’. The ‘crazy old lady’. Let me in. I have to talk to you for a moment. Are you alone?”
“Yes, I’m quite alone. As far as I know, there’s no one else in the building. Just a moment and I’ll unlock the door.”
He does so and Queen Mab enters regally, wearing her rags like perfumed silks. “Promise me you’ll hear me out before you say anything,” she begins, putting a grimy finger to his lips.
“I will be quiet and listen to you for as long as you wish,” says Al, sitting down on the cot.
“First of all, I’m not mad. Maybe a little eccentric, but certainly not mad. And I’m not stupid, either. But I am, or think I may be at least, somewhat psychic. Look at me and tell me how old you think I am,” she demands suddenly.
“If you’re psychic,” he says, “you know I’d have no way of telling.”
“True enough! I knew I was right about you!” She claps her hands almost girlishly and sits down on the cot beside him. “You might be surprised to know that I’m only forty-nine years old. Forty-nine! Why your friend Duckworth is older than I am and yet he’s a dashing figure of a man and I’m a decrepit old woman and do you know why?” She shakes her finger at him menacingly and then thumps her chest. “Because I’ve been on the streets for the last ten years, that’s why! Ten years on the streets does things to a woman, you know.” She glares at him as if daring him to refute this statement, but he remains silent. “Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.” She collects herself and continues in a lower voice, almost confidingly. “I am—or was—a college-educated woman, one of those fancy schools back East, which one doesn’t matter. I had a good job, a nice apartment, even boyfriends, though I can’t remember why at the moment. Then little things started happening. Sometimes when I touched someone or he touched me, it seemed I could see right into his heart. I became aware of his most private dreams, hopes, fears. It began to happen more and more often until I couldn’t stop the images, visions, whatever they were. And the worst part about it is, I knew that what I was seeing was real and true. These visions crowded into my mind during the day and became my constant companions at night. Needless to say, I soon began to show the effects of this unfair burden and I lost my job, my friends, almost my mind. Now I live on the street and make a few dollars telling fortunes. Most of the time I act crazy in order to conceal my contempt for all the supposedly ‘good’ people out there who don’t give a damn about people like me.” She stands up and looks out the window. “Duckworth amuses himself by calling me Queen Mab and treating me like a tourist attraction, but I’ve never told anyone here my real name, except for the other street people who I know and respect, but I’m going to tell you. It’s Marjorie.”
The entire time she has been speaking, Al has been sitting quietly on the cot, listening intently. Now he stands up and joins her at the window. “I’m honored to make your acquaintance, Marjorie,” he says softly.
She gives him a look containing both ecstasy and terror and then continues. “So tonight, or this morning rather, you literally stumble into my life. Listen, Al, I know who you are. You’re the Savior, come back again after all these blood- and tear-stained centuries. I knew the minute I touched your hand. You’re not human, Al, but you’re good. And kind. So who else could you be?”
Al gives her a serious look and puts his finger to her lips. “Shh!” he says in a low voice. “Listen to me, Marjorie. At the moment I’m not completely sure who or what I am. There are gaps in my memory. But I know I’m not who you think I am.”
She touches his cheek with her hand as if to reassure him. “Don’t worry, Al. I know you can’t reveal yourself. But you have powers and abilities far beyond us. You must have! I can feel it! Help us, Al! This world, this earth, we’re all drowning in our own filth and excesses and we still call it progress. Do something to help us before it’s too late!”
They sit back down on the tiny cot. Marjorie starts sobbing into her hands. As the sun begins to stream weakly through the dirty window, Al puts his arm around her thin shoulders and says to her gently, “No, I’m not who you think I am. I can’t interfere with the destiny of these people and this world. But if there’s anything I can do for you, or for anyone else, I will do it. And that’s a promise.”
She gets up, dries her eyes and looks Al full in the face. “OK, Al, we’ll leave it at that for now. But if you remember, then you will know what to do. Until then, help the people in need. Not me, I’m too old and set in my ways.” She flashes him a smile. “Besides, it’s rather fun sometimes being mad. No one holds you responsible for your actions, and you can get away with a lot of shit nobody else can. I’m going back to my alley now, my domain. Time to make my rounds.”
She goes out the door. Al sits there watching the world from his window.
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022