The next day began badly. We’d stayed up late, arguing about Noel, whether he was truly an artist, or just a tool of the city. Finally, making up without agreeing, we made love until, exhausted, we fell asleep on top of the covers. We both woke, chilly and stiff, far too early, to the telephone’s demanding ring. I answered, Salome wouldn’t pull her head from under the pillow, and King’s voice was on the line.
“I don’t mean to frighten you, but you had to hear the news. Ray and Feline were busted last night. I need your help. Obviously, I can’t get directly involved. I want you two to find out what happened, and how much it will cost to bail them out. Meet me at my house this afternoon, we’ll work out what to do.” He hung up without waiting for an answer. A sudden machine-gun burst of firecrackers exploded outside. I almost jumped out of socks I wasn’t wearing. It was Chinese New Years, the culminating day of the week-long celebration.
I crossed back to the bed and told Salome what had happened. Her angry outburst astounded me. She was instantly in tears, cursing, hammering at me for details I didn’t have. Finally she jumped up and called the City Jail, but it was still too early, bail hadn’t yet been posted. We breakfasted in a café on Haight, wrapped too tight in uncomfortable silence. Salome’s dejection increased as time passed, out of all proportion. I worried about Feline and Ray, but worried more about Salome’s reaction. I couldn’t cheer her up, she just snapped and stared back into her coffee cup. Finally, I suggested she see Dr. Siems, today.
“He’ll help. He can meet us at King’s place, later. I’ll call him and set it up.” She said nothing. I went to a phone in the back of the café, and made the arrangements. When we pulled up in front of King’s house that afternoon Siems’ car was already there, parked across the street. Salome jumped out and ran up the steps. I followed, slower, uncomfortable about something I couldn’t define. I felt caught in a game I didn’t understand, the city itself directing my moves. But what choice did I have? I followed Salome up the steps into the big house.
She was already conferring with King and Siems. As we feared, the amount of bail was far too high, even for King, to cover. We clustered around the counter in the kitchen. King began to set out lines of cocaine on its tile surface.
“I guess I’ll have to take a vacation. These things make it all so difficult.” King’s statement infuriated Salome.
“You’ve got to do something.” She was screaming, now. Dr. Siems tried to calm her and she lashed out at him. “You’re just a quack, a horny old fraud, after my ass.” I didn’t bother to try, having taken, I felt, my share of Salome’s unjustified anger the night before. I still didn’t understand her extreme reaction. We did the lines, King laid out more.
“I’ve got to use up my stash,” he answered my raised eyebrows. “They’ll probably talk, I’m not safe here anymore.” We stood for a long time around the counter. Whenever a line disappeared King replaced it. Siems talked to Salome in low, hypnotic voice, trying to calm her. She paced, refusing to speak, every few steps raising an arm, or giving a little spin, as if she considered starting to dance, but thought better of it. The sound of fireworks went on outside, increasing as the hour got later and the sky began to darken toward night. A sudden burst nearby startled us all, and I realized we’d been standing silent, staring down at the kitchen counter.
“This is no good,” I said, “We’re not doing anything here. We should go out, see some of the celebration, do something. Like Noel would say, Salome, we’ve got to keep moving.”
“Yes, yes, that’s the idea. Why don’t you kids go down to the parade, take your minds off it all? Maybe the doctor wants to join you. I’ve got things I must do here.” Siems agreed with King’s suggestion, and said, “Let’s all go in your car, Juan.” When Salome said nothing he took her by the arm and led her outside. I lagged behind to talk to King.
“Why is Salome so affected by all this?” I asked him. “I understand it matters to us all, but she seems so distraught.” King looked into me, the way one would peer into a wineglass, held up to the light, before the first sip. He sat down heavily, as if he had just finished a difficult task.
“Salome is more than she seems.”
“More than she seems?” I smiled, “How could she be more than the universe embodied in flesh, more than the dance of life itself? So she seems to me.” He didn’t answer. His big hands lay on his lap, moving, like a separate being, a cat, perhaps, idly twitching its tail. I left him there. I never saw him again.
They waited in my car, Siems in the back seat. He knew better than any of us. If only I’d found time to talk to him more; if only I could talk to him now. Perhaps through is eyes, as her counselor and hypnotist, through his thick glasses, these events could at last be seen in clear focus. And yet, it may be because he knew her so well that she had come to hate him. He saw through to something in her that she wanted hidden. She glared back at him, as we drove downtown on Geary.
“You’re trying to destroy my gift. You’re trying to change me, so I can be contained in your image of woman.”
“Salome, you’re getting quite paranoid. You came to me for help. I’m only doing what I can.” Siems’ measured response only brought forth a greater storm of anger.
“You want to own me, cage me, but it can’t be done. So you seek my destruction, but you won’t succeed.”
I turned left on Stockton, went up the big hill and through the tunnel. As we neared Chinatown the streets became packed with cars. We slowed and crept along. Crowds thronged the sidewalks, all hurrying, heading in the same direction; the parade had begun. The staccato rattle of firecrackers sounded like a battle. Every once in a while a deeper, more potent and frightening boom, like a cannon, would resound from an alley. I found a place to park just off Stockton, and we joined the mob. I took Salome’s hand, and Dr. Siems followed us down the hill toward the parade. From a few blocks away it looked like a colorful river, moving slowly between its banks, which were the dense crowds of people. Then we were in the crowd, and there was no way to move. I clutched at Salome’s hand desperately, afraid she’d be lost if we separated. Siems stayed within sight behind us. I saw his head bobbing among all the others, craning his neck to keep us in view. A thirty foot long, multicolored dragon, with flashing electric eyes and the legs of six strong men danced in the street, head to tail in full circle, devouring itself. The roar of applause and shrill scream of thrilled children marked its passing. Men shouted their phone numbers to beautiful women on floats. The Gay Pride Marching Band received a similar response. Kids on their parents’ shoulders cried out with each new burst of fireworks.
I tried to lead us up the street, still holding Salome’s hand, though I couldn’t turn enough to see if it were really she I held. How Siems stayed with us I’ll never know. We edged past vendors, selling popcorn and balloons, Chinese herbs and bottled souls, the shrunken heads of missionaries, Buddhas that glowed in the dark. A yellow-toothed grin glittered in a doorway, till the door closed, leaving the smell of burnt opium lingering in the air. And the smell of pork, and pan-fried noodles, of ginger sizzling in sesame oil.
I finally broke free of the crowd and turned up a side street, Salome still with me. Siems joined us, holding his glasses in his hand, and muttered “That’s quite enough parade for me.” We walked back toward the car, moving quickly among the drifting tourists.
“I’ll take you back to King’s now, Dr. Siems,” I said. “Then I think Salome and I will go home.” I started the car. I knew if I got on the freeway I could go two exits up to Presidio, and be a King’s house in a matter of minutes. Siems said, “Yes, yes, I believe some rest would do us all good. This thing with Feline has been so trying.” Salome sat still – she hadn’t said a word – but her eyes steamed. I found the entrance ramp and merged with the faster highway traffic. “Yes,” Siems said, “I’ve often thought Feline was headed for trouble. Not that she deserved it, but, well, we all bring our fate upon ourselves, by the way we live, I mean…”
Salome’s snarl cut him off. “What do you mean?”
I answered for him. “He means, really, that it’s Feline’s own fault, she could be so dumb.”
Her eyes exploded with angry light, twin suns gone nova. Her breath exploded from her lungs in one piercing syllable both perfectly articulate and completely incomprehensible. In a movement so slow and precise it appeared exactly rehearsed – as I watched, from a slight distance, unable to act – she reached across my arms and pulled the steering wheel of the car toward her. We spun in a graceful arc across two lanes of traffic into the guardrail and I passed out.
(to be continued)
Ken Zimmerman (c) 1985