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There's a Lot of Room, by Eva Salzman

by Eva Salzman
  

Art was a lot taller than June, and dark and handsome, so it seemed a privilege to be kissed by him.

They'd walked down Bay Avenue, across Montiak Highway towards Vale Road and then doubled back to where they had started, the Town Dock. It was the circuit. There wasn't anything else to do but go around like this. June was too nervous to talk—her heart was hammering away and there was a tingling in her stomach—and Art didn't talk either.

Her deep crush had started at the Hamden Bays Square Dance. She couldn't believe her luck when he asked her out—by which was meant she was to sneak out of the house at night and meet him down at the Town Dock. There would be someone else for her sister Helen.

Back at the Town Dock, he kissed her.

His arms were wrapped around her shoulders and he wasn't moving much. In fact, he wasn't moving at all. He planted his large somewhat dry mouth over hers and there it stayed.

It's not that she minded that, of course, but, after a while, she found herself waiting for something else to happened, thinking he might tilt his head the other way for variation, or maybe suck or push a little with his lips or even introduce a tongue. But the activity, as Art apparently understood it, was completely stationary. Nor did his hands move down her back or try for her large breasts which Helen had insisted would be Art's primary goal.

Helen was at this very moment stuck with Art's friend, a puny little kid—a kid, the way that Art was not. Art was really into man territory with his height and girth, if not his kissing technique.

June had no idea what had happened to them right now. They had melted away into the dark night and now there was just this kiss.

Eventually, her heart began to slow down, until it reached its perfectly normal, unexcited, pedestrian pace.

At first, she'd kept her eyes shut, as you were meant to do. But after some time had passed she had a peek. Through her lashes Art's face loomed up, frighteningly close, so large and round it reminded her of a balloon, or a moon. She was shocked by her own realisation that it really wasn't all that attractive from this perspective.

So she closed her eyes again. Her face was probably also like a moon, but Art wasn't looking, or not while she was looking anyway.

All her concentration was on this large dry mouth like an "O" fitted over her mouth. No biting (some boys did that, or they caught you with their dental braces), no sucking or gentle pursing to punctuate the activity. She began to wonder if it would ever end, what exactly would signal the end for him. What would make him stop?

She couldn't possibly end it herself, God no. It was his kiss after all—he had bestowed it and she was the taker. She'd feel stupid, ungrateful, embarrassed. So she just stood there.

It was so dark that at one point she slightly staggered, losing her balance. He just moved one leg slightly to improve the position and his open cave mouth, enveloped hers again, so everything could return to normal.

She liked his smell. He smelled like wood. For a second she had a fantasy that he was wood, that they were both carved wood figures, locked in kissing position, posing for...posing for...what were they posing for? Maybe someone had artfully placed them there. Who? Why? Artfully. That was funny.

The smells of the beach came and went, little sharp draughts of salt and seaweed and crab. She could hear the light lapping of waves on the shore, the gentle creak of a moored boat, the occasional bumping sound of the hull against the dock. A light breeze brought the sharp tang of the nearby marsh—an intriguing rotten smell of mud and dank pond. Dank pond. That was vaguely unpleasant, not a word she should be dwelling on at this particular moment.
Eventually she drifted further and further away until she was home again, the very place she had escaped from that night, for these irresistible illicit purposes. Her mother and grandmother were asleep in their beds. She entered her mother's room, and remembered she'd had a father once.

Maybe her parents had kissed like this, or maybe they hadn't, maybe they'd kissed another way. Maybe her father had been a lousy kisser. Was it possible for two people to stay together if one was a lousy kisser? He might be kissing someone else now, or he could be dead, in which case the earth was kissing him, the dirt sifting through his teeth and eyeholes. It wasn't him at all, it was a skeleton.

Now she was inside the coffin. She'd lost her perspective so utterly she might as well have been lying horizontally underground. She'd forgotten what she was doing, this activity so far from the subject of corpses and decay. Of course it didn't matter if she did forget—this kiss would just go on anyway, with or without her.

She'd lost all sense of direction and decided to occupy her time playing a little game with herself, to figure out her orientation. For this reason, she now positively wanted the kiss to end, to prove her calculations correct. Also, she was missing the considerably satisfying sight of Helen having a gloomy time with a pint-sized boyfriend.

But still it wasn't finished. Maybe this was the right way of it, kissing sort of like meditation, with your mind not necessarily on the matter at hand. After all, should one have to concentrate on the actual kiss? Then it might be more like work. Or maybe it was like an antechamber, or a large cathedral-like place itself. There was so much room in it, she'd never realised.

But why should the duration of this kiss also make it disappointing, make her feel robbed and deflated?

She knew now he had no intention of going any further. Besides which, if he did decide to progress in the usual matter, she might end up with this large, dry hand planted on her breast for an equally absurdly lengthy epoch, unmoving and spread out over her flesh, more like a brassiere than the curious, groping, desirous fingers of a hungry adolescent. And that might not prove to be much fun either.

So it was a considerable surprise when finally he closed his mouth and stepped back.

Then they walked back, arms wrapped around each other, and said good-night. Once June and Helen had been dropped off, had softened the screen door's slam and made it safely up the stairs to bed, June found herself getting excited again at the thought of Art.

Of course she would have to tell her friends all about the kiss, about the way it was, as she remembered it, since it might never come again, or if it did, she might not have the patience for enough time to pass. How would she ever re-capture the thrill which had waned so dramatically. That ghostly statue of the two of them would stay, entwined on the beach, for as long as she could remember.

  

Eva Salzman, a native New Yorker, has been living in Britain for 18 years, where she is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Ruskin College, Oxford. Her writing includes poetry, fiction, essays and opera, including a libretto, Cassandra, written for her composer father, Eric Salzman. She has taught in schools, community centres and prisons, and read her work frequently on BBC Radio and the Worldservice. Her books of poetry are Bargain with the Watchman (Oxford University Press, 1997) and The English Earthquake (Bloodaxe, 1992).
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