For forty years Lot lived at the edge of town near the railroad tracks and an old abandoned factory. He rarely ventured outside during the week. The bustling world terrified him. Dust swirling in the air. Sweaty bodies bumping up against each other in the crowded marketplace. Screaming children and stray dogs. The noise assaulted his raw nerves. He took refuge from the unbearable heaviness of it all in his cramped room. Leather-bound volumes covered the floor and reached the ceiling. During the week Lot buried his wrinkled head in the ancient texts that spoke to him of grave matters, matters that were beyond the understanding of the common people. “They know not what they do,” he often warned his wife Attia. The holy man saw signs of depravity everywhere he looked.” Perverts wallowing in cesspools. They shall all perish. May God burn them eternally in the fires of hell. On the weekends the pale figure wandered the streets preaching to the reluctant crowds, to any poor soul who would listen.
For forty long years Attia left her house at the crack of dawn to look for work, to scramble for pennies or crumbs of bread. Whatever came her way. The economy was turbulent and wages continued to plummet. She was driven. “I have to make ends meet. Pay the rent. Educate those girls. Pay for their iPhones.” The textile factory near the railroad tracks had closed down. Jobs evaporated over night. It was a calamity for Attia. She had to look elsewhere for work. The commute was often long and arduous. Men rubbing her boobs in crowded buses. The pay wasn’t great at the factory but the owners provided regular employment and health insurance. She looked back at this time with great fondness. Women gathered in the canteen and exchanged stories. It was a golden age. All the men in the neighborhood had steady work except Lot.
Nothing remained of the textile factory but a pile of rubble, the ruins of a bygone era. There were piles of red bricks, shards of broken glass and a mountain of debris that settled in her damaged lungs. Attia coughed and coughed. She coughed day in and day out. The work had taken a toil on her frail body but somebody had to provide for the family. She scrubbed sinks and waited tables late into the night. Life had given her quite a beating but she persisted. The girls were doing well in school. Attia stood apart. She was a proud woman, a prophet’s wife.
The neighbors pitied her. Sometimes she wondered how she managed to drag her body to work every morning at the crack of dawn. Her husband’s mental state weighed heavily on her mind. At night it robbed her of precious sleep. Sleep too precious to lose. “Lot needs to see a therapist,” she once told a neighbor with whom she had become intimate. “Now I cannot even afford to pay for his medication,” she sighed and felt the guilt cracking her voice. Lot spoke to God. God spoke to him. The prophet talked obsessively about the calamitous fate that awaited the sinful city and its cursed inhabitants.
Attia admired her husband’s ancient texts and deep learning. The sacred texts had an aura about them. Her house stood apart, a place of great learning amidst the rubble. The prophet with the disheveled white hair spoke of her salvation. “We shall depart with the blessed.” His suffering became hers. Two bodies united in faith. Sometimes the old man woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, shaking and shuddering. Eyes on fire. Attia held him tightly in her warm embrace. The prophet spoke of nightmarish visions. “I saw them. I saw naked bodies piled up high, one on top of the other. There were naked men fornicating on Main Street. They defied God’s law. A young man with bright green eyes grabbed my crotch. He was sleek as a cat purring in my ears. I shuddered at the thought and warned them about God’s wrath. But they mocked me. They taunted me with their wicked laugher. They know not what they do. The end is near. None will be spared saved those who stand apart.”
Attia tried to comfort her husband. The bedroom was drab and cold. It was a herculean effort to comfort and cajole the holy man every night. The work of obscure giants. Attia gently placed a quilt on her husband’s shivering body. She gathered discarded fabrics from the garbage heaps and cut up dresses that her daughters had outgrown. At night she stitched and sewed, cut and designed. She spent years making the quilt. It was a labor of love. The quilt brought color into the drab bedroom, a cherry blossom in the night. “Honey, you just had a terrible nightmare. Try to get some sleep. I need to wake up early tomorrow. I have a bus to catch,” she said sleepily.
Lot detected a hint of impatience in Attia’s voice. This budding rebelliousness troubled him. He attributed his wife’s moral failing to the fornicating men on Main Street. The city was changing rapidly but Lot never varied his reading of the ancient texts. Every flood, tsunami and mass shooting was blamed on the LGBTQ activists who had opened an office downtown. Attia was beginning to have her doubts. It didn’t occur abruptly, a violent break with the past. Her unwavering faith was slowly unraveling. “I don’t believe my nephew is the cause of those mass shootings. That’s absurd. The poor kid committed suicide because his father wouldn’t accept him. Maybe those activists could have helped him. My sister suffers terribly.”
Attia never told Lot about the boy’s tragic death. There was so much she never dared tell him. Words stuck uncomfortably in the throat became the abyss that separated husband and wife. She no longer believed that her husband’s delirious visions were messages from God. She turned from him before he saw that she was already gone. It broke Attia’s heart that Lot couldn’t see how broken the inhabitants of the city appeared to her. Refugees poured into the city from all corners of the world, Haiti, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Children torn from their homes. War veterans with missing limbs and shattered minds slept on the pavement. Exhausted men with sunken eyes unable to feed their families filled the streets.
Lot never stopped cursing the damned. “He only sees what he dreams,” Attia mumbled as she continued to stitch. The old man noticed that her mind wandered. Fragments of inattention flashing here and there enraged him. “I live and work with these people. They aren’t all sinners. Leave them alone. They’re just trying to get by. It’s really rough out there,” she snapped. Attia’s insolence fired him up. The more she doubted the more enraged he became. Lot recalled that the sacred books condemned women who betrayed their husbands, their prophets, their lord.
“Woman, have you lost your mind and your faith,” he thundered and roared until his voice shook the entire house. I am warning you. You shall perish in the city that tolerates such abominations’’
Haggar, Lot’s youngest daughter, sat in her bedroom waiting for the storm to pass. She dreaded her father’s daily tirade. “There he goes again, mansplaining to mom,” she muttered under her breath. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t think he’s ever met a gay person. Why does he have to keep embarrassing us in front of the neighbors? He might as well be a Jehovah’s Witness,” she said to herself in utter frustration.
Hagar grabbed her headphones and started listening to Madonna. That’s how she zoned out when her father wouldn’t shut up. “Papa don’t preach / I’m in trouble deep / Papa don’t preach / I’ve been losing sleep / But I made up mind, I’m keeping my baby, I’m going to keep my baby / Ooh ooh.”
“Dad’s clueless,” she chuckled. “He thinks every other guy on the street is a raging homosexual, especially if he’s young and handsome. Maybe I should tell him that most of the boys in high school just want to fuck girls. Papa don’t preach. Just hand over those condoms. I might need them soon.”
Lot had no idea what kind of a world his daughter lived in. On the way to school horny old men offered Haggar food for sex. The younger guys pelted her with lewd comments in an attempt to impress their friends. Middle-aged men exposed themselves in dark alleys. The city was awash with sexual predators waiting to grab a pussy or pinch an ass or rape a random stranger. They came from all walks of life. Wave after wave flooded the streets. From time immemorial. “Your father only sees what he dreams,” Attia repeatedly warned Haggar. Beware the predators ya benti. They will pounce on you like hungry lions. I am a woman. I was young once. I know what’s it like out there.”
Down among the women warning signals travel underground. Eyes on the lookout for any sign of danger. Eyes sharpened on the rough streets. That night an old neighbor knocked frantically on Attia’s door. She spoke rapidly. Her voice was shaking. “People in the neighborhood are talking. There are rumors. Terrible rumors. Attia your husband has completely lost his mind. People say he’s wandering the streets barefooted. His feet are swollen with frostbite. Icicles hang on his frozen beard. His sermons are over the top. Lot speaks of terrible things to come. There’s no time to waste. You must act quickly.”
The two women saw a dark figure approaching the house. Attia immediately recognized Lot.
He was all fire and fury, eyes ablaze in the night. The neighbor fled in terror. Attia remained by the door, an immovable force ready for a protracted battle with Lot. “Woman, tonight four guests will arrive,” he proclaimed in a tone of hardening authority. “I saw them in my sleep. They come on winged horses. They are messengers from God. You must prepare food and drink fit for our esteemed guests,” he commanded. Make sure Haggar is home. Nobody must know that these angelic beings have graced us with their presence. Otherwise we shall all perish in this God forsaken city. It has been written in the sacred books. Salvation is near my love.”
Attia was a woman of the world. She moved easily amongst men and knew the city well from her endless wanderings. All that she had experienced gave her an uneasy feeling about Lot’s mysterious guests. “The old fool knows not what he sees,” she had long ago realized. There was time to waste. Attia began questioning her husband immediately. “Who exactly are these men? Did you meet fellows in the city before they appeared in your dreams,” she asked him.
It didn’t take Attia long to figure out that Lot probably met these rascals on the wrong side of town where he sometimes went to preach. “Honey, do your guests know that you have two teenager daughters living at home,” she asked coquettishly in an effort to conceal her growing anxiety.
Attia waited impatiently for her husband’s response. “The blessed messengers have knowledge of the hidden world,” he proclaimed with the authority of a well-established prophet. Fear propelled her to act decisively. “I will fetch manna from the heavens for the blessed ones,” she promised and flew to the bedroom. Within seconds Attia was texting everybody who lived in the neighborhood. The texting was frantic. She was in a frenzy. “The old fool has invited a bunch of criminals to our house. Our lives are in danger. I fear for my daughter’s safety. When you see smoke escaping from the chimney, please come to the rescue. I need your support. We are friends.”
A strange calm overcame her. It was a spring breeze. A moment of delectable relief in the most awful dread. There was one more text she needed to send. This time to her brothers. The words flowed freely from her extended fingers.
“For years I have asked nothing of you but tonight I am in desperate need of your assistance. We haven’t always been on the best terms but I trust that you are both honorable men. Lot
is delirious. He is endangering the lives of his own daughters, your beloved nieces. The man has proclaimed, in public no less, that he is prepared to offer his daughters to any stranger in order to save the city from the greater sin of sodomy. He believes it’s a test of his unwavering faith. For years I have tolerated his foolishness for the sake of my children. Now I must protect my daughters from their father’s madness. It’s no concern of mine who sleeps with whom as long as it’s consensual. The men have been doing it ever since I can remember. And as far as I can tell the world hasn’t come to an end.
“Mine has just gotten more difficult. The men who haunt his dreams haven’t caused me or my daughters any harm. I want to save my daughters from this abomination. Nothing else matters to me. Lot doesn’t understand that non-consensual sex is rape. That’s been our life for years but I will stop at nothing to save my daughters from this cruel fate. For all I know the four men he invited to our house could be sex traffickers. Everything’s possible these days. The desperation is rampant and demand high. If Lot becomes an accomplice to rape, I will throw him to the dogs or kill him with my bare hands. This is a warning to all of you. Please act now to prevent this tragedy.
“Your loving sister, Attia.”
That night the neighbors came to Attia’s house with torches and clay bricks. Poor men and women with hardened hands formed a human chain to prevent the mysterious strangers from entering Lot’s house. That night the terrified guests barely escaped the people’s wrath. Attia emerged from the house with bloodied hands. She dragged Lot’s frail body and solemnly proclaimed, “This man shall be forever exiled to the wilderness where he can no longer harm my daughters or abuse my friends.”
Haggar took off her headphones and looked out the window. A halo quiver before her bright eyes. She stood astonished. Bodies swayed gently in the snow-covered yard. Men and women held hands in the winter night. They listened attentively to the great dame. She grew in their eyes, a small woman big as a mountain. Attia’s voice reached her daughter’s shapely ears.
It dawned on Haggar that a great disaster had been averted. “Dad what the fuck,” she blurted out and ran downstairs to join the swelling crowds. “Dude that’s really messed up. My sister’s a lesbian. Your own flesh and blood.”