S cheherazade, mistress of the well-knitted narrative and no slouch to invention, spritzed herself with Elizabeth Taylor's 'White Diamonds,' and said to King Shahryar, "Ready, O Lord?"
"Not another set in a frame, is it?"
"This one's different; it's set in the future."
After her escape from the palace dressed as a eunuch, the King's caravan had finally tracked her down. Withdrawal symptoms from his nightly dose of tales were painful, so he had willingly abandoned Baghdad and dragged the caravan into Tunis. There, he was harassed by droves of wild Tunisians who offered their daughters to him, but he wearied of them all. Each night struck the countdown towards Scheherazade's execution. He cherished her downy cheek, her quicksilver tongue.
"I don't want a circular ending," he said, sinking upon the gold embroidered divan, reaching for his hubbly-bubbly.
"Starting at the end avoids disappointment."
"Like the other inconclusive endings?"
"It has a morally profound, but satisfying, resolution. Great art is never depressing--and, with luck, never ending. The setting is magnificently erect; a city called New York, with great towers, higher than Babylon's, like a giant's graveyard. The time is a thousand years hence."
"The future? A giant's graveyard?!?" The King shook his head, "such a place does not exist. More deceits!"
"May I begin?"
He nodded, settling on the cushions.
"Remember princess Zara who started life as a tomboy, and looked exactly like me?"
"Remember her rampant uncle, King Khozzama, the image of you?"
"Yes. Go on."
"He had plotted to force her into marriage. Zara fled from him on a carpet to this city disguised as a boy; she shaved her head, pierced her navel, and had a serpent tattoo put on her backside. She detested being treated as a chattel, a plaything, a toy, or a baby factory. She believed that wanting freedom should not result in her death. Or the deaths of others. But the King, located her through a psychic, who had an astral double in New York, and followed her there. But she could not be found in person. Her disguise was ingenious. Zara eluded him by ordering many of the New York City boys to pose as her. For seven wild months Khozzama scoured the backrooms, bars and cafés where boys congregated. Zara was beautiful, but so were the boys. She was multiplied. He was perplexed."
"This stretches truth more than your other tales. Khozzama- a King- would not be so stupid."
"Lies and truth are, under given conditions, identical brother and sister. Art lies."
"But what happened to him? Did he become boy crazy?"
"Ah, the mirror of art! That, is quite a different story . . . .Your story. I'll tell you tomorrow. Goodnight."