He is a red man all over, everyone can smell it. Even through the jasmine oil I apply so liberally before each shave he reeks of rusty iron and musk like the heavy gate to the bull’s field that was left open last year. I prattle on about the weather and tug my comb through his beard with my fingers crossed. Every time I snag on a knot I wince, afraid by the size of his huge hairy fists and the bulk of him sprawled across my biggest chair.
In the end, it was neither a flash nor a tunnel. The kiss had lived through many breaths and many stories, from the eager tongues of fairytale princes to the dry rubbery gums of the dying in hospital beds. Once there had even been a woman who changed into a pillar of salt. That had been a close call but in the moment that the woman turned back the kiss forced its way up and out of her, pulling her mouth into an O as it left her, landing close enough to the woman’s daughter that in the wailing and gasping she scooped the kiss up into her dark red lungs where it counted its blessings.
Sometimes the kiss could stay inside a body for years, but mostly it flitted from one person to the next, back and forth, several times a day. Kissing was contagious. Almost everyone passed it on sooner or later, which is how the kiss had ended up in Tyrone, a fast food worker whose granny had lovingly kissed him goodbye when he last visited her several years ago, before she found out that he had stolen all her savings from under the bed. When she died, Tyrone hadn’t gone to her funeral. He had moved away to another part of the country and didn’t tell anyone where he had gone. He never had any visitors.
Even this unloving and unloved body might accidentally release the kiss as a burp, a yawn, a cough or a snore. When this happened the kiss flattened itself into a disk, in the hope that some tiny piece of itself would be inhaled again. Even Tyrone was better than nothing. In its many centuries the kiss had survived inside milk cartons, beer cans and glass boxes but that was not a comfortable existence. Exhausted from resisting Tyrone’s bodily eruptions it wound itself into the lung’s bronchioles and fell asleep from the warmth and constant movement. The lungs slipped smoothly as they expanded and contracted with each breath. On the outside, Tyrone may not be much to look at but his lungs were just as beautiful as Helen of Troy’s. The kiss was secure. Only the greatest desire would budge it.
At first the kiss felt a tug of joy. It had not felt this for a very long time, a mixture of uncontainable excitement and dizziness. For luck, it counted down the horseshoes of cartilage from 20 to one on its way up the trachea. At the back of the mouth, the kiss noticed three gold fillings as it brushed through the waving papillae and whooshed through the pursed lips into a wet red world that throbbed with exhalation. The kiss was confused. It bumped against squeaky skin that was still growing, but this was not the inside of a womb. This skin was taut and tacky, stretched over nothing but air, and now fingers sealed the way out, gathering the umbilical cord into a puckered knot, and the kiss felt the hands let go and quite suddenly it was lost, gone, out of reach of anything breathing. No flash, no tunnel, just a slow release of life, long enough for a rerun of all those centuries, all those bodies floating away into darkness.
The kiss travelled up, up, up.