There were millions of diners, but Grandma Dee only cared for three. They were the breakfast buffet at the Country Village Senior Center, a small commissary, and an old Mom & Pop’s which after a lengthy annulment was now just Pop’s. Dee would assemble an exact dish of eggs and sausage and toast, order a side of bacon, then fold the bacon into her napkin for the cats.
It was usually up to me to navigate the conversation unless she had a newspaper, in which she found the poor guy at 7/11 who slit his throat or the latest development in privatizing the lake. Dee blended superstition with the rituals of life. A day without the eggs, without sausage and bacon, without newspapers, was a day that would go poorly.
So we were drinking coffee and sitting by the dusty windows at Pop’s, a lot greasier and sadder now that Mom was gone, on the verge of delivering three cats to an animal shelter to be put down at $25 a piece. Neither of us liked the idea of a cat ceasing to exist on our own initiative, but Dee’s backyard had become a breeding ground for gingery longhairs and they were marking and leaving litters. If they got in, they’d chew through bread bags and piss in discrete places. This hadn’t stopped Dee from tossing them cat feed and giving them the garage and, as mentioned, bringing them leftovers, but now that a county retirement was becoming a reality and Grandpa was gone…
“Grandma, you have any superstitions?” I asked while we paid the check.
Could be a man or a six-armed cow or a twenty-headed sex goddess.
We can’t tell. There are too many Orders in the way. Too many black-and-white cloaks crinkling like choppy seas of newspaper.
The Orders go as follows: the Nine Apostles, the Elite Select, the Elite-Lite, the Demi-Elders, the Mystical Ring, the Phytes, and finally the endless serfs and smurfs and their bare-chested children and cattle. The Orders follow Kervani. We follow them. We, being Doug and Armani and myself, chafed and sun-scratched and willing to tour Hell just to get a snap of Satan.
They call us Iconoclasts but really we’re photographers, with every news outlet from here to Timbuktu willing to pay us the—eh? Doug just informed me that Timbuktu is two nations over. From here to Jakarta.
I’m thinking the sun’s fried their brains. If I said the world is flat, the earth is the center of the universe, sins build up in the pancreas, we should be bled from our livers to balance the humors, a little man operates the brain, animals compete to reincarnate into ghosts, blood makes the grass grow, I’d be locked in a padded closet. But the masses follow Kervani’s farts like they’re heralding a new age. They save his sweat in vials, listen to his speeches on audiobook.
Tourists, too, in faded green buses. Taking pictures of the shaking girls, skeptical, scandalized, complaining about the heat. The guides lead them in spiritual songs, trying to connect fanny-packed brains to the Order of Things. But mostly they can’t wait to return to five-star mattresses. Can’t blame them. Sometimes I’m tempted to follow along. Get a cheap hotel, a cheap girl.
Other times I have dreams of a different sort. I receive ‘the Cosmic Call.’ So does Doug. And the others. We all do. It’s like a whisper and an itch and a boner, and it’s supposed to be Kervani. The six-armed, twenty-headed sex cow.
We dwindle. I’ll find a camera, smashed, dust on the lens. Another convert. Those of us who remain hope to sneak the Vanguard, to rush the tent with the golden wool. An exclusive interview, a photo-op, a Q&A with Kervani looking like a mystic hobo in his sack robes (or her, lovely, in her coral pink scarf; or it, bleating sagely).
And maybe we have other reasons to make the hajj.
Instead, I take pictures, and wait, and wonder if God grew sick of Moses.