Seven Sevens Are Forty-Nine

In her dreams she sits before a vast banquet, of variety unimaginable and length interminable. Around her cluster guests in the hundreds, their faces strange and familiar in the way of dreams, their clothing regal and refined. She wears sackcloth and ashes, and tears drip from her chin when she breathes raggedly. They spatter and splotch her hands, black as charcoal. The odor of the banquet nearly overwhelms her, so long has it been since she has eaten, and her knees grow weak, and her stomach watery, and there is the rush of arousal tight along her spine and between her legs, and yet she cannot bring herself to eat. It is not her banquet, it is not her place at the table, she has taken the rightful spot from some august potentate, some dignified plenipotentiary, who will soon arrive and drive her weeping into the darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

In her dreams the guests comfort her, speak nonsense soothing as rushing water, bathe her hair and her feet in rare perfumes and fragrant unguents, diadem her with sparkling gems that shine even beneath the soot that covers her. Seven virgins that she has known enter and bow and scrape and light their lamps and dance in the unsteady light for her sorrow. And still she cannot eat. Seven times seven slaves that she has known enter, bearing on trays of silver and gold gems, baubles, strings of nacreous pearls that they pile around and upon her, until she is a crow in a riot of wildflowers, and still she cannot eat.

That is the dream, and what it means I cannot say, and how it ends I cannot say, for that is where it ends, in opulence and plenty, and her tears, black as coal, black as coke, drip forever from her chin, onto the gems, onto the guests, onto the banquet.