I’d seen her twice before the night we met. The first time in a laundry on the corner of Hayes and Cole, just down the hill from my apartment. Looking back, it seems as if the city itself willed our meeting, as if we were simply the living bodies through which it could act out its dramas and dreams, as we express the passions of our minds through hands, eyes, flesh. I hadn’t planned on doing my laundry that day, but December rains filled the gutters and leaving work a city bus splashed dirty water over the curb, staining my last clean pair of slacks. I’d figured them still good for three days; there would be no walk in the park for me that afternoon. I often walked, then – as I do now – in the late afternoon, in the streets, or through the park to the ocean, or just to the Panhandle, to smell eucalyptus trees and watch the busy city go on with its business. But that day, a Tuesday I believe, I grudgingly packed up a load of clothes in my laundry basket, and trudged down the hill.
She was pulling her clothes out of a dryer when I walked in, stuffing them violently, without folding, into a green canvas bag. She finished, and turned toward the door, toward me, on one toe, as a dancer spins. I noticed that then, her grace and control of her body. Her hair was cut short, ragged as a clump of grass. A faint, violet blush of dye tinted the left side, almost invisibly, adding iridescence more than color, as if the sun were always about to rise over the horizon there. Her face was pretty, petite, her skin clear. She was very small, just under five feet. In another place or time, another city, she would have been a young, happy wife, the most popular girl in high school, now settled into the easy years of the middle twenties, still fully possessing her beauty and youth.
But this was San Francisco, the year 1980. She was neither happy, nor someone’s wife. And she couldn’t be said to possess her beauty; more rightly it possessed her, or something did. It didn’t show in her clothes. Her ragged jeans and army shirt were in the current fashion. But when I met her eyes I knew. I felt both attracted and repelled, frightened yet irresistibly drawn, as a bird to the purr of a cat on a lower limb. Her eyes were like open manhole covers. Her eyes were like ancient chimneys whose houses had long ago burned down, chimneys Santa Claus would never grace again with his sack of gifts. Her eyes were like collapsed stars, black holes reflecting nothing, absorbing all light. Her eyes were like the throats of wild animals, and they swallowed me from across the room. I was dizzied, as if I had stared too long into a deep well, and suddenly realized my danger of falling. I groped for the support of a counter, as she strode past me, through the door and into the street.
San Francisco. She lies at the end of her peninsula like a jewel at the tip of a royal scepter. Today, from the Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate, where I’ve come, with a bottle of wine, alone, I can see her proud towers jutting up from hilltops. Rows of houses shining in sunlight. A tongue of fog licking in from the sea. Those great bridges arcing up and away from tangled streets across the expanse of water, hundreds of feet in the air, support towers stabbing at the moon, a million miles of cable stretching and swaying in the wind.
Sailboats dot the bay, moving like birds around Treasure Island, around the ruins of Alcatraz, dodging an oil tanker headed back out to the Pacific. The ocean dominates half the picture; its blue, blending with the blue of the sky, leans towards forever.
I can’t deny a being as complex and vibrant as this intentions of its own; this may be what we call fate. I saw Salome a second time, the morning before we met. I was on an errand for Feline, heading downtown on the 72 Express. We pulled up beside another bus, at the stoplight at Divisidero, and she sat in the window that stopped next to mine, staring out at the world with the curl of the lip, the distracted snarl peculiar to her deepest reverie. We sat facing each other for two minutes, maybe forever. I had no idea if she even saw me. Her face never changed expression; her eyes never lost the distance in their gaze. She looked like someone entranced by a film, but the movie was inside her, as she was in me. Two panes of glass, two feet of air, and a galaxy of thought separated us, and it would always be so. We would never truly communicate, but rather, in gazing into the other, each of us would learn to see more clearly the reflection of ourselves.
© Ken Zimmerman, 1985