CHURCH STREET BEAT
Nicole R. Zimmerman
Yes, I remember that railroad flat we shared on the third floor, the one with the chandeliers and dumbwaiter closet and wall heater with no heat. In my narrow room with its blue desk and single bed, you sat between my knees while I braided your hair. We listened to the rhythmic rocking of the gay lovers making love above and the alley echo of the boy below, with whom I’d mistakenly slept, who incessantly played his drum set. During my brief love affair with flamenco I bought a used pair of character shoes, black with a thin strap and the metal taps still nailed on, then stomped staccatos on his ceiling in defiance. One day I slipped into white bobby socks, shorts, and a beaded sweater buttoned at the top, stepped from that San Francisco Edwardian—still affordable before the dot-com boom—and clickety-clacked down Market Street. Heel-tapped around the queer street scene and skipped past Café San Marcos, site of an almost-kiss with a pink-lipsticked girl. Scuffed up to the Life Garden and stood, briefly, next to a man I knew, not knowing as I brushed past the NAMES Project that in a few months’ time “Richard”, too, would be stitched across a quilt. Hopped on the J streetcar, shiny as coated candy, and climbed alongside Dolores Park where parrots hung from palms and girls in pastel dresses begged their mamas for paletas: tropical popsicles of papaya or mango. The Castro boys basked in the sun and the Chicanos strutted below. Ooh, them’s some shoes! said our neighbor who sold Street Sheet after I stamped back to our sidewalk. But what I most remember is that time I wove your silken strands, falling like water through my fingers, and described another with sea-foam eyes and hair aflame. Watch out, you warned. Women can hurt you too. Later I moved to a back room with a bay window where plum blossoms winked in spring. There I lay alone and listened to mourning doves murmur, their muffled sounds as steady as the seasons changing, tender like old tap shoes with the leather worn in.
Nicole R. Zimmerman is a recipient of the 2019 Discovered Awards for Emerging Literary Artists, a program produced by Creative Sonoma and made possible, in part, with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco. Her Pushcart-nominated work has appeared in The Best Women’s Travel Writing, the Los Angeles Times, Ruminate, Birdland Journal, Origins, South Loop Review, and Creative Nonfiction. She lives with her wife in Northern California. See more at nicolerzimmerman.com.