If they met again. It had been too long. It couldn’t be denied. What they missed most. What she needed most. Wanted most. What he did. There were so many things. They formed a sequence. One thing led to another led to another led to another and it all went round again in ever-varying patterns. But it could only begin with a kiss. From which all things would flow. While he might make her wait for those other things, he could not make her wait for the press of lips. Would not wish to. It was the perfect expression of balance in what thereafter was less balanced, more one-sided. Perhaps the advantage would always lie with him, but when they kissed, he gave it up, and willingly. There was truth and love and raw need in the overlapping of their lips, the lapping of their tongues, taste buds tasting taste buds, eyes seeking eyes and refusing to close save for the moments of blinking. To shut them was to shut the other out, to render the kissing passive. Passivity might enter the equation later, but only ever as an active choice, not a habituated setting. Their kissing was like the greediest thirst, but it was also a revolt against disappointment, against a passion gone missing.
That first kiss in the pub near the statue of the lovers. The only one which had ever been in any way awkward between them. He asked permission, she nodded her greedily nervous assent, and for the first time he leaned across into the world of her body. After that, it was as if their mouths were made for each other, and each time they met, that’s how it began, almost always more or less before a word was spoken, as far as that was possible. In hotel rooms they would press against each other’s bodies and then there was the delicious sense of the seldom tasted yet instant familiarity of their lips and tongues renewing their deliberations, their dancing; either way expressing their love. At the archive, they might have to wait for researchers to settle or leave before heading into the back office to steal as many kisses as they could before the bell on the issue desk was rung again; sometimes they had long enough that one or other of them could drop to their knees to taste again another taste that each had longed to taste again.
Both perfect and tantalising, kissing made the one hard and the other wet. Heads to a shared pillow, he said, a kiss contains within it the sum total of all the love that follows from it. If we were permitted only to kiss, in the course of a sufficiently long one – as lips and mouths opened, as tongues searched and teeth pinched – we would experience all of those things nevertheless. Kisses would be full of everything we could not do. They would suffice, and yet never be quite enough, on their own. She said, yes, there’s an invisible thread, between kiss and sex, it’s a magical thing – when you kiss me, somehow it feels as if my lips are joined with the very middle of me.
Between times he was a child about the number of kisses she sent him in messages, and he her. If you were to look back over their communications, you would see that they were littered with kisses, with xxxx’s. If she were ever sparing with her kisses, no matter that she might have been writing or texting in tearing haste or not ascribing to those kisses quite the same level of significance that he did, his heart would hunger over the lack, despite the reproval of his rational mind. If she sprinkled them liberally at the end of her letter, in double or treble doses, his spirits would soar alongside the words of love. In reply he would add at least one to the number, and so over time the quantity of kisses escalated. They went through a period of making patterns of them – giant Xs comprised of smaller ones on successive lines; symmetrical groups of ones and twos and threes; or alternately scattering them like meadow flower seed on the fresh loamy earth of the screen’s white space. These patterns and skeins and trails and showers of kisses stood for what being usually at a distance he was not able to impress upon her face and body, nor she his, except in imagination. And if you added all the actual kisses to the imagined and the real ones, well, like the words, they would stretch to China and back, or to the moon.
On his birthday she sent him the same number of kisses as years he had lived, to be applied all over his body with her lips. His heart was full as he imagined returning the favour – with an extra couple added for luck, he told her, knowing no wink was required.