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Allen Woodman

Kiss

I married a woman who was a lipstick model for a cosmetics company. Their ads proclaimed their products were cruelty free and that they didn't test them on animals. We had passionate sex every night, sex so wonderful that I forgot there were stars. The only problem was she would not let me kiss her. She did not test their products on animals either.

We kissed once in Las Vegas. We had both been drinking champagne. It was in one of those wedding chapels across from the Circus Circus casino that look like the perfect Norman Rockwell view of a church, only shrunk down to miniature size so it could easily fit between two huge casinos. It had a big pointy steeple, an arched front door and plenty of stained-glass windows. It was called the Little Wedding Chapel to the Stars, and, inside, the Minister to the Stars had couples waiting in line.

After we checked off the items we wanted from a menu that included various souvenir photos, floral bouquets, selected musical stylings, choice of religious or secular service, and option of long-grain rice or bird seed (the ecological preference), we reverently passed through the Wedding Photo Gallery to the Stars. There were pictures of their famous clients on the walls, forming a perfect gallery of B film and canceled-after-one-season TV actors. Puffy faces, red eyes, toupees askew, the booze and the city seemed to have gotten to them all.

After the cowboy and cowgirl clad couple ahead of us had said their "Yep, I dos" and finished up with a ceremonial roping of the wedding couple by a hired hand cum Will Rogers (costumes and roper as featured on the services menu), it was our turn.

We were casually dressed in shorts and matching Caesar's Palace T-Shirts. We had opted for a simple secular ceremony, no expensive extras. But the Minister to the Stars converted our alcohol-induced frivolity to sobriety and focused our attention on what we were doing.

With real conviction he said, "And if you ever think you are not being loved enough, try loving more. Giving love will bring back love." Maybe it was the booze or the heat or the moment, but we both started crying and then we kissed.

The kiss was fast. She winced. I thought of those prostitutes you see on daytime TV talk shows. The ones who say they'll do anything but kiss their clients. One said that "kissing was just too personal."

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My wife perfected the Hollywood kiss. You know the one where it looks like two people on the screen are kissing each other tight with a hot passion, but if you were close enough you could see one person's cold fingers sequestered like a maiden aunt between the two pressing mouths. Whenever there was a moment in front of relatives or friends that called for a familial smooch between spouses, up would shoot two of her fingers faster than a harsh word.

It reminded me of something I read about a photographer who had to take pictures at a nudist colony. There she was surrounded by handsome, naked, young men. But there was one naked man who was wearing a bandage on his ankle. After a while, it got so the only thing the photographer wanted to look at was what was under that small strip of material. That's the way kissing became for me. I had sex. Plenty of it. But what I wanted to remember was what was best: the moment you first take your lips away after a kiss or the moment before your lips are joined tight like butterfly wings?

We tried lots of substitutes. Once she cupped her hand into the shape of a puppet's mouth, licked the side of her hand wet, and tried kissing my mouth with it. She said it was the way small girls first learn to kiss by practicing on their own hands. "Kissy, kissy," she said, but it reminded me too much of Senor Wences on The Ed Sullivan Show, too much like kissing a ventriloquist's dummy.

I thought of my history of kisses, of all of the kisses I'd ever been given. Forehead kisses from my mom and kisses on hurt knees, air kisses of aunts, the kiss of peace from perfumed ladies at church, and the kiss of life we practiced in PE class, pressing our lips to a mannequin. I thought of fainting in front of my wife, but she always carried one of those plastic resuscitation masks in her in purse. I recalled a girl named Alice in elementary school kissing my eyelids like the smallest brush of a painter's kit. I thought of the funniest place to be kissed and the best place to be kissed. I thought of blowing kisses, of the kiss off, and the kiss of death. I remembered finding the imprint of a kiss once on a menu in a restaurant: was the red stamp self love or the loneliness of kissing shadows?

I did not think of the later kisses that were just the prelude to taking off clothes. I realized that I had not lingered long enough on the kisses of my youth. The first kiss, the wings of her mouth opening, ruffling against my own, both ready to fly away in a moment's notice. I wondered why teens had to be the keepers of the kiss.

The dictionary says that the verb "kiss" means to touch or press with the lips sightly pursed in a token of affection, greeting, or reverence. And yes, I wanted to touch and press, to smack, peck, buss, graze, caress, brush, and, yes, even to osculate. I thought of that business-mind acronym for KISS, keep it simple, stupid, but that's what I longed for, the perfect, stupid, simplicity of a kiss.

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I entered a crowded movie theater as an escape from the kisslessness of things, just minutes after the movie started. I sat down in the dark, before my eyes had yet to adjust, before I realized that the stranger sitting next to me had turned, my hands full of salty popcorn and sweet cola, and grabbed me and placed a full kiss on my mouth. Whether man or woman, mistaken identity or stolen kiss, I rose up like a shout and ran, spilling my refreshments, all the way out the exit door.

Only outside, after slowing down to breathe in the light, did the seed of memory grow. I thought of the long way some people go to arrive at a kiss. Of Snow White's Prince Charming who finds a dead girl in a glass coffin, surrounded by dwarfs, and the only thing he feels compelled to do is kiss her. And how I could find a cemetery for kissing, too, through sleep.

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That night, I watched my wife in her sleep. She always slept on her back, one arm behind her head, almost posed for a photo of Sleeping Beauty. I thought it would be easy. I hoped to cover her mouth with a kiss so perfect that she could remember it when she waked. She would recall it like a dream of expectation and wish to act upon it.

But my desire was too ferocious. I knew that my kiss would press too hard or wet or loud with life's worries. So I faltered over her sleeping form, and I thought backwards from climaxes to foreplays to kisses and, before even that, to the moment of desire to kiss, to the moment I was so happy just to see her, that first day, at Starbucks, in line beside me, ordering a Frappuccino, the exact same thing I ordered, and her smile when her hand bumped into mine as we both reached simultaneously for the white-chocolate sprinkles.

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Then, I burst into tears. And she woke and asked, "Why are you crying?" And I said, "It's nothing, go back to sleep." And I looked down at her, in the dark, strands of her hair misplaced, her eyes half-opened, and her rich mouth filled with the weight of sleep. "It's nothing," I whispered again. "It's only happiness." And she reached up and pulled my face down to meet hers, and we kissed.

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