Tea with the Brain-Dragon
In the pre-dawn, ninja homeschoolers sat in ambush of their public school peers, homemade smoke-bombs ready to count coup and earn their stars. The blood-seers sang their sad farewell to the night as they retreated in lines to their suburban hive-crypts, and trucks blew their horns as they passed the zebra crossings, heedless of the lights. Somewhere down by Holburn came a mournful howl, rising into a chorus: a Drachma girl was shedding her first coat, and all the lusty young werewolves could smell it.
On Greymont, up on the hill, the apartment faced the rising sun. Marne was on the patio, naked, doing her downward dog, rising into a salutation. Watching that ass rise, the shadow of sunlight creeping over her breasts, made Jaq’s dickache. But the night was done and paid for, so she pulled on jeans and jacket and left, shoes hanging down her neck.
The sidewalk was checkered with squares of moss, green and grey and purple turning to brown, little mounds that the Council had set in after the Verdevists had staged their polite coup, rushing the polls with promises of a renewed urban ecology. Jaq hopped from one to the other, feeling the springy earth beneath her bare feet, then landed in a squelch on one that an early-rising neighborhood dog had already marked. She wiped her feet on the dry concrete and turned down Hawthorne, wondering where the green money had run out.
A Bar was open early, in defiance of the blue laws; old Tim was laying down fresh sawdust and shredded newspaper, and nodded at Jaq as she passed. The thin and balding bar owner had once confided in her, the night they made the secret menu, that he had only named the bar that so it would be first in the Yellow Pages, back when there had been a book for phone numbers. It had given him an unearned reputation for cleverness he’d tried to live up to ever since.
The cafes at the bottom of the street already had their tables out, bright and early, though few were occupied. A steady flood of grey and black suits came and went to the counter, exchanging watches and chits for eggshells packed with coffee; Jaq watched with amusement as a black suit with blue hair handed over a Rolex and was rewarded with an ostrich egg mocha, the harried woman suck at the hole in the top as her heels clickety-clacked on the tiles down to the bus stop, her body and spirit both aimed at downtown.
A mangy lapinmade occupied one table, and Jaq tried not to stare. Hairless hares seemed stretched and frozen in grim outline of a humanoid form, as many as two hundred rabbits squeezed together in the shell of a man. He was sipping tea from little blue eggs, his too-close together brown eyes each from a separate rabbit, their heads smashed together as though stuck in an eternal French kiss. Each finger of his hand was a separate paw; one held an egg, the other thumbed carefully through a leather-clad tablet. Jaq hurried past, stomach rumbling at the smell of green tea and black coffee, but there were miles yet to go.
She turned the corner onto Twelth Street, only to see a passel of construction-monks, garbed in orange robes and white hardhats upon their shaven pates. Their scaffolding was all bamboo, and the cigar-chewing overseer was leading them through the morning meditation. Behind the workers jaw made out the red of old brick, densely covered with faded posters and scribbled artwork, the bare outlines of a building from the last century, up for teardown or renewal, she knew not which. Backtracking, Jaq walked another block and turned onto Thirteenth.
Memories came at her, for Thirteenth was the street of regrets, what some called the Street of Old Lovers, shadowed by three-story buildings north and south. A deep ley ran right beneath it, the subduction of two sleeping gods torn apart by tectonic forces. Jaq sweated cold in the morning heat as the mist took on familiar shapes, mostly women, the street suddenly crowded with ghosts: shortstacked Adele, whose tits were her pride before the Pink Ribboners had got to her; thin Candy, who only wore the clothes other people gave her and who lived too many secrets; Troy…Jaq pushed through his misty avatar, suddenly angry and the car dealer’s smile and bitchboi’s bod. She glanced down the cul-de-sac where Detective Bastard lived, but couldn’t see his step for the storm of half-shaped swirling around it; he was the only one she knew who could live among his regrets, but he claimed the rent was alright.
Thirteenth took her to Miracle Mile, the Street of Shrines, lit throughout the night by votives, the sidewalks so strewn with offerings and sacrifices that everyone walked in the street. It had taken years, but eventually the Council had given up on enforcing traffic, and just blocked motor vehicles altogether, setting up phallic stone tapu-markers on either end to ward off anything bigger than a bicycle. A couple months later, Jaq had been part of the clique that had desecrated the statues, and she ran a hand over the stone vulvas she and her brother-sisters had carved into the concrete pylons.
Blood ran on the Mile, flowing freely from the Virgins Corner, where clustered white statues dripped endless gore, to puddle and flow in the gutters. Jaq scooped a bloody handful of peach blossoms from the red stream and stopped to pay her respects to Tlazolteotl. The old, black-faced priestess who squatted by the sandstone statue, called Jaq a child without mother, but passed along the bottle anyway. Jaq took a mouthful, careful not to touch the rim with her lips, and swallowed, careful not to waste it even as tears came to her eyes. The priestess nodded and passed a shard of bone shaped like a maguey thorn; with her left hand, Jaq brought it up to her left ear and pressed hard against the fleshy nub, biting back the pain until she felt the point press through and prick her thumb. She passed the bloody instrument back, and let the blood run as she put her shoes on.
The Brain Dragon lived off Miracle Mile, in the pseudo-temple of the Egyptian Masons. Street lore said he had appeared to them one night and bought the whole building with a gem of pale fire from behind the mountains of the West. The guards where Ghostkillers, caught between east and west, rapping Bullshido and the Five Percent, they smiled at her as she passed, hands never leaving their swords, eyes never leaving her ass. Jaq was expected.
In the rooftop pond, the Brain Dragon took with the Necronaut, a place set out for her. Mutant koi flopped and flashed in gold-green and glowing tronlines, begging for scraps. The black-and-brass diving suit that was the Necronaut obliged them, crumbling scones in one skeletal glove, tossing the crumbs to the strangely intelligent fish. Jaq bowed from the neck as she approached, and the pulsating, fluid, transparent skull-sac of the brain dragon flashed a permission to sit.
Greek tea today, grape leaves and bitter tears, but it left no grounds to divine by. Jaq sipped the tea, her ear still hurting, wondering what the Brain Dragon wanted not to be heard.