Perhaps the events of our lives are grouped in discreet units, as the physical particles are, inter-connected over a period of time, years, maybe, but with definite limits, beginnings and ends, like a play. In some sense it is my purpose, in writing these events down, to limit them, to place them in a frame, so to speak, and set them on the wall. To step back and look them over as a piece, and say, “Now I may begin again.” I’ve returned to the city to accomplish this. I’ve taken an apartment near the park, with the money I was given on release, in the same neighborhood where Salome and I once lived. I’m constantly reminded of her, by a smell in the air, a place where we once kissed, a doorway we once ducked into, out of the rain.
Our memory of the passage of time is certainly a funny thing, fantasy of a fantasy, shade of a shade, yet clearly the two are related, directly proportional: the more memories a certain span of time contains, the longer it is remembered to be. The two months that Salome and I spent as lovers seem as long as the three years that followed. Those two months comprise a definite cycle – as Salome would say – separate from the following years, though connected by cause and effect. And this brief time back in the city, which must soon end, may also form a distinct unit of my memory, with its own meaning, another paragraph of my life.
I’m sitting in a small café, across the street from the laundry where I first saw her. The ceilings are low, the place dark and almost empty. It’s early afternoon. A little sunshine filters through the front windows; smoke from my cigarette hangs in layers in the still air. Salome and I often met here – I often waited for her – after her rehearsals with the company. She’d come in flushed and excited, charged with the energy of the dance. We’d drink cappuccino, and she’d talk of the production they were planning, the new music they’d found for a dance in progress. She’d tell me of the counseling sessions with Dr. Seims, the strangeness of coming out of trance with no memory of it.
“It’s like dying, for half an hour. I don’t really believe in reincarnation, but each time I come out of it I check to make sure I’m still me.” But she was pleased with the results of her therapy, able to sleep some at least, as I could attest to. I laid awake beside her, many nights, in her bed or mine, wondering if I was still me. My life had changed so much, as if the waves of Salome’s love had swept me from my safe rock into the swirling sea of the city.
We sometimes went to Broderick St., Feline and Ray’s place, but Salome usually wanted to leave after a short time. The street scene, the low-rent style of life there disturbed her, in an esthetic sense; it clashed with her perfected, etheric grace, her purified violence. She never smoked pot, afraid it would slow her down, and sat stiff on the arm of a chair, or paced to the kitchen and back while the rest of us did. She genuinely seemed to like Feline, though. If by chance Feline was alone when we stopped by, we wouldn’t smoke, but coffee or lines would loosen the reins of our tongues, and she and Salome would ride off on the horses of conversation, sometimes for hours. I loved to see Salome in this mood. I’d sit listening to her low voice, like the purr of a cat. A different Salome, gentler, funnier, and less intellectual than she would ever be with me.
It wasn’t that Feline and Ray didn’t have money; they probably made more than either Salome or I. But they spent it on consumable pleasures, rather than the physical trappings of our society, on experiences rather than things. With the scene in their living room, any possessions of value would long ago have found their way through the door to the street beyond. But they made their money, money that could be inhaled into lungs, snorted into nostrils, injected into veins, to burn its way through cell walls into nerves and brain tissue. Money, the city’s blood. Mine will soon be gone. Another month of rent and food and I’ll have to begin again. I could look for a job, some source of income, but I don’t plan to be here that long. A month, a little more, I should be done by then, and ready to move on.
King had more money than any of us, and he liked to spend it. His house, out in the avenues, near enough to the ocean to hear the crashing breakers, was full of stained glass lampshades, paintings, and ornate brass candlesticks carved with mystical designs, silk tapestries on the walls. It was a meeting place for a cross-section of the underworld and the artistic community, occult practitioners, dealers, musicians. The scent of incense hung in the air. Always a few people there, always an undercurrent of tenseness, suspicion, magical energy. Our quarreling began there, Salome and I. She and Dr. Seims met me, one afternoon, after one of their sessions, and Salome looked agitated as she came in the door. King and I were drinking coffee in the living room, smoking hash. We’d become close friends since the party, and often spent the afternoons together, trading philosophical reflections. He spoke first.
“My dear, you look ready to kill.” She didn’t answer, but reached instead, surprisingly, for the hash pipe. The hit calmed her only a little, but she could speak.
“Siems is trying to insist I go away with Juan, this weekend. But I can’t.”
I’d gotten a car several weeks before, on Siems’ advice, so that Salome and I could take short trips away from the city. We’d gone to Muir Woods in Marin, once, for the afternoon. Off the path, on an Indian blanket in a warm patch of sunlight, under a redwood tree, our love had perfected its art. It was San Francisco spring, in February. Butterflies buzzed us, a hummingbird tried to drink from Salome’s nipple. The animals in us awakened and we watched their awkward courting dance, laughing. But the spell couldn’t last. The sun moved, as it does, and a shadow fell on the blanket. She’d shivered, climbed back into her clothes; we drove home holding hands.
Since then I’d been trying to get her to take a weekend trip to Santa Cruz with me, to rest on the beach, soak in the sun. Without success. Taking Salome from the city was like taking her from her body. In some way she was the city, or so caught up with it as to indistinguishable from it. She got her identity from the city, and without it she was lost, an egg without a shell.
“I have to say I agree with him, you know. I would do you, it would do both of us good.” She cut me off.
“I have to dance. I’ll just die if I miss two days with the company.”
“Salome, your fear of dying if you don’t dance for two days is quite irrational. You must face your fear, the irrationality of it, if I am to help you.” Dr. Siems slow voice echoed in the room. Salome looked back and forth between him and me, like a cornered animal, choosing its opponent. King watched impassively, pressing the fingers of his hands together. Finally he spoke.
“No one can force you, Salome, if you don’t want to go.”
“But he threatened to cut off my treatments.” Her voice raised to a frightened pitch, a squeal or a snarl. Siems answered, calm but strong.
“Our therapy does you no good, if you refuse to consider my advice as prescription. I can’t continue treatment under these conditions.”
“Salome, listen, you can dance on the beach, under stars, in the sand, by the pounding surf of the sea. It’s only two days. Come with me.” My words seemed to reach her. Her defiance ebbed and her eyes looked almost tender, as they met mine. Her voice just above a whisper.
© Ken Zimmerman, 1985