Alan P. Scott - Fictions

voces clamantes in deserto

Stuck in the semipermanent L.A. gridlock, Dave's Beemer burbled fretfully and spat diesel fumes. Cellphone jammed to his head, Dave tried mightily to ignore the derelict shouting outside and concentrate on his crosstown call from Bradley, stuck in his own traffic jam out in Santa Monica. The combined street noise from his environment and from the other lawyer's own cellular made it almost impossible to hear Bradley's eager pitch about DNA evidence.

"What was that again?" Dave asked. Bradley started in again on his great scheme, but suddenly the bum resumed his shouting.

"Okay? Okay?" the bum shouted.

Bradley nattered on... something about bloody gloves. Dave's concentration went wandering to the street noise behind Bradley. Some bum was shouting there too:

"You got a reading on that?" went the distant voice on the phone.

"Yeah, I got a reading, motherfucker. A DEFinite reading," came a voice from Dave's left. A conversation? From twenty miles away?

"Better get down to the square, then." the voice behind Bradley's instructed. Dave tuned Bradley's spiel out completely. He found it surprisingly easy to do; the impossible exchange compelled his attention. It seemed like proof of something... something he'd always known.

"The square? Now?" Dave's bum screamed.

"Now!" he heard over the cellphone. "They're waiting!"

In his peripheral vision, Dave saw the bum beside his car take off slowly, shuffling down the sidewalk swaying from side to side. Every now and then he'd shout some cryptic comment into the air.

Dave could no longer hear the other side of the bums' conversation, but he'd heard enough. He closed the flipphone on Bradley's yammering, shoved it in a pocket, and stepped out of the BMW, ignoring the honking and shocked obscenities coming from the cars behind him. In contrast, the throngs on the sidewalk paid no attention as he joined their ranks, just one more harried, hurried man in a suit.

The bum turned a corner up ahead and Dave sped up, afraid to lose him. His phone chirped. Dave pulled it out of his pocket and opened it up without slowing down; the bum was moving deceptively quickly and was already two entire blocks ahead. Fortunately, there was only one square they could be going to.

Pershing Square.

He became aware that Bradley was talking to him again. He raised the phone to his ear, not taking his eyes off the weaving, shuffling bum ahead.

"What's up, Dave? Why did you cut me off?"

Dave felt a strange reluctance to answer. Awash in the staticky background noise, he could hear Bradley's shouter screaming "The Square! Get to the Square!" It sounded like a good idea.

"Gotta get to the Square, Brad," Dave said dreamily. "Can't you hear it?"

"Hear what, Dave? Agh! Get offa there," Bradley barked. The shouter's voice came in much more loudly and clearly.

"Get to the Square! They're waiting now, but they won't wait long!"

The bum ahead was lost to sight, but Dave didn't need him now. He dropped the chittering cellphone on the pavement and shuffled towards the looming yellow-and-purple spire in the middle of the Square. Though he'd made jokes about it when the thing was first constructed, his eyes now locked on the pink ball in the top of the tower.

He tripped, fell, rolled, got up without stopping to brush himself off and kept walking. The crowds parted around him now, no longer accepting him as one of them. He had become invisible, another bum, and they made way for him without seeing him.

A steady stream of the homeless converged on all sides of the Square, coming from the alleys and box- littered side streets of downtown, rising from the dark mouth of the Metro station, entering the Square by hundreds, maybe thousands, dragging their feet through the cobbled fountain, staggering over the bricks and gathering at the base of the tower. Dave joined the flow without looking away from the globe embedded like a giant, benevolent eye at the top of the tower. Sometime in the last few minutes he'd lost his coat. His shirt untucked, his tie dusty, he fit right in with the other supplicants.

The stench of unwashed humanity was strong in Dave's upturned nostrils as he neared the base of the tower and pressed in close to the other people all trying to enter the small black doorway. They pressed against each other, crushed close, but there were no altercations, no grimaces, no more shouts. All would enter, in time.

Soon enough he was inside, awash in cool dim light from above. As his eyes adjusted, he began to make out forms floating above him. A soft rain of discarded rags pattered on huge piles of similar rags as the rapturous derelicts rising above him divested themselves of their garments. His own hands went to his shirt buttons as he started to rise.

He rose higher and higher, soon having to close his eyes against the brilliance beating upon them. Higher and higher, and when he opened them again he could see no one above him. The friendly radiance of the big pink globe enveloped him and, just before he disappeared entirely, his final thought: how very lucky he'd been.

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