I’ve given up trying to maintain the niceties of casual encounters with strangers. I’m unconcerned with anyone’s reaction to my appearance or style of life. If someone meets my eye on the street, or in the halls of my apartment building, I just smile, nod, and move on. If they try to speak to me I usually ignore them. Everyone seems to think I’m harmless, somewhat amusing, as if I were slightly retarded, and so I’m tolerated, and no one interferes with me. I prefer it this way, as I’m given time to think, to write, to try to piece my life back together. I always held myself back from the city, never participated fully in its rites and orgiastic celebrations, always the watcher at the edge of the crowd. I am even more so, now, necessarily, since I’ve returned.
It may have been this distance between myself and the rest of the world that attracted Salome to me. Perhaps she sensed in my reserve some hidden depth worthy of exploration. When her dance ended, and the applause exhausted itself, the critiques began, of both the sculpture and the dance. Everyone’s opinions flew together in the air of the studio, like hundreds of pigeons released at a circus. I couldn’t take part, or even listen carefully; too awed by what I had seen, I stood away from the others, arms crossed, silent. When Salome approached the group of people I was near, I tensed, as if against an expected electrical shock. She spoke first to Dr. Siems, and her voice held an edge of defiance.
“What did you think of my dance, doctor?”
“It was lovely, lovely. But I believe you could build up your stamina, if you took better care…” King cut him off with an abrupt gesture.
“Salome, I believe that was the most stunning performance I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Jerody’s sculpture does you justice.”
“It captures a moment,” she said.
“Well, I believe you deserve a prize. Is there anything you want, anything at all? Tell me and it’s yours.”
She looked down at the mirror on the table and pointed. My eyes followed her’s and the angles matched; our gazes locked together there. King laughed and said, “That’s no problem at all,” and poured out two lines from a small glass vial. She knelt beside the table, always graceful, and held the rolled bill he offered her. But before she inhaled the cocaine she spoke.
“Today is the solstice, turning point of the year, death of the old king and birth of the new.”
King looked at her and chuckled. “I hope you mean that symbolically, dear.” Salome’s eyes had not let go of mine.
“It seems that we mimic the seasons, in our lives,” I ventured, talking to her in the mirror. “Rising and falling, as in your dance.” I had only that moment recognized the semantic content of the repeated gesture in her choreography. “At the solstice the days get longer, more light, the rising begins…”
“Yes,” she began, “Yes, but…” She let the sentence die and bent her head to the mirror, snorting one of the lines.
“You mean your dance ended at the point of collapse, the bottom of the arc, the solstice, today?”
“Cycles are not endless.” Not really an answer, from her it sounded almost a threat. “They have a definite beginning, and an end, like my dance.” She lifted the mirror, with the second line on it, and offered the rolled bill to me.
Noel was comparing his kinetic sculptures with Salome’s dance. Siems fidgeted, looking critically at King. Ray rolled a joint. The rest of the party resumed the ebb and flow that characterized it before the unveiling and the dance. The band picked up where they’d left off. But none of it had any reality. I watched Salome, and she watch me. When I rose to get another drink at the bar, she followed.
Memory changes the past, as imagination does the future. I can’t remember another word that passed between us that night, though we talked constantly. I remember her hands, poised and tense above her knees, when she finally sat down, for a moment, on the edge of a chair. I remember the sigh she gave as she folded the white cloth of her costume back over breasts that yearned to stay free. It all seemed to happen at once- looking back, from my desk late at night, the roar of the city, for once, almost silent- climbing out of the cab in front of her flat on Fell at Schrader, only a few blocks from my own place; shaking King’s hand, his smile, his voice, “I’ll see you” an ominous promise; Noel disappearing with Jerody; the first kiss on her doorstep, her tongue a live wire to my ground; Ray and Feline, stoned and oblivious on the couch; – I said goodbye to no one but King – her light steps on the stairs to her flat; the bronze face on the oak door as it closed behind us; the click of the lock on Salome’s door as it closed behind us. Of the rest of the night I remember more, but there’s no need to say. Salome made love like she danced.
© Ken Zimmerman, 1985