THE LAST KISS
I thought that maybe you behaved badly because you wanted me to tire of you. And I did. I didn’t want to be with you anymore. Tomorrow I would tell you. So we went to bed and my heart had to force itself to beat.
I ought to think about going. You said.
How could you be so fucking strong? I don’t understand. How were you able to say this? Maybe you were more determined to end our relationship than I was.
No, not yet please. I’m not ready. Please wait.
I’ll wait. You kissed my head.
It was the kindest kiss and had the most love that I had felt for so long. You were relieved as well. Maybe you were able to suggest leaving because you hoped that I might ask you to stay a while longer.
Slowly and carefully, so as not to change the delicate balance of emotions that could hold us together maybe for hours, or separate us in minutes, we moved under the covers still clothed. For the first time in years neither of us could take our physical contact for granted. This time in each other’s arms and in bed was borrowed; from whom I have no idea. Whose is it? And then as if the emotional tension couldn’t be sustained, there was sexual tension. Nothing was said or changed, but lying under the covers, lying in your arms fully clothed, with tears in my eyes and heart, was as sexually tense as any other moment I have lived. We played with each other’s fingers and felt the breath on our faces. Maybe it was nine or maybe it was ten o’clock at night. Our lips must have touched for an hour before we could allow any motion of kissing and then the quietest whisper of a kiss on the lips that would not disturb the lightest sleeper. I wondered how long your fingers had been touching the bare skin of my back, so lightly it was almost imperceptible. I could have screamed with the impossibility, the frustration that I felt, but I didn’t. Nor did you. We just lay there silently staring at what we were about to lose. I know why it had to end. I know that our marriage didn’t work any more. But just to take those hours in isolation… It’s somehow criminal, the damage of separation. So wrong!
And my hand too was on your skin. My fingers were on your side touching as though you were made of the most delicate material, tracing your form up to the line of your ribs. And as my attention focused on the point where my hands touched your skin, electricity ran through my fingertips and became burning deep in me. I could never tire of that feeling.
At six in the morning we were lying naked together in bed. I don’t think we’d slept, we were just looking at each other, and it was time to go. Neither of us said it, it just was. You got up and dressed, put a few things into a bag and then came and sat on the edge of the bed next to me.
Bye. You said, and I sat up and hugged you and we kissed.
I’m afraid Dad’s been taken into hospital, my mum explained without self pity, but with care that I might be upset.
We both knew that this was going to be the last time he went to hospital. My mum just wasn’t equipped to deal with his illness anymore. And we got stuck in this kind of selfless script, each one trying to avoid their pain by focusing on that of the other. ‘How are you coping?’, ‘Oh fine, I’m sorry to give you such bad news’, ‘no that’s fine, how do you feel?’ ‘no, I’m fine, really, I was expecting this, it must be a shock for you though’. I didn’t say anything to her about us.
At first we sat quietly, not bitter, we just couldn’t think of anything to say without being sad. After half an hour we were speeding gently west and then it started snowing. Not just a bit of snow; it was a blizzard. The sky was black and the other cars became shadows. Huge snowflakes raced towards our faces. At first they melted on the road but after a few minutes it became white. We slowed to a crawl and the snow absorbed all the sound. With the noise went the nervousness, and we started to talk.
I only really remember the sorts of things we said, nothing specific, but it was relaxed and easy, as it could only be between two people so familiar. We talked of friends and work and we laughed at things we’d learned to find funny about each other. We talked about your family and about my parents. We laughed at some of the funny things my dad had said the last few times we’d seen him. We talked about my mum and how she might cope when he dies and the hours passed and we moved little, but gradually the traffic sped up, and the road turned black, the sky became grey. We arrived at my parents’ house at two o’clock. My mum had already been to the hospital and had come back to meet us. She was anxious to be back there.
We came to a room with six or so hospital arm chairs a coffee table and some magazines, like a waiting room, and there was my dad, looking out of the window, waiting.
On the way home you turned your body and your knees to face me and stroked the back of my neck for hundreds of miles. It was eight or nine by the time we pulled up outside our flat. We kissed. Our last kiss (only by name). I got out of the car and you drove away. I stood watching.
I pulled up a chair directly in front of the window trying to block his view so he’d be forced to engage with me. You and my mum pulled chairs round him so one way or another he’d have to look at someone.
I tried prompting him into conversation, but he couldn’t acknowledge me for more than a couple of seconds. He focussed his attention on my mum. He didn’t seem any clearer about what she was saying but she was familiar and safer than a stranger like me. But I persisted and he started wondering how long I’d been there, maybe he’d been talking to me for a while, or even all day. Who knows, maybe I was his best friend.
That’s where the money is. He gestured out of the window.
There was a large tanker far out in the channel and a couple of smaller yachts nearer to the shore. On the horizon to the right, out of his view, there was a trawler.
Boats, he said, that’s where the money is.
Then he had a moment of doubt and looked at me, but when I caught his eye he turned away. Had he been talking to me? It had probably been a mistake. He started to stumble, starting sentences but not finishing.
My mum wanted him to put on a cardigan that she’d bought with her. He stood up and we helped him put it on, but he didn’t want to sit down afterwards. He just stood looking at the door.
Come on Dad sit down, I’ll help you. I said
Oh? Yes, OK then, good. I wondered if he’d even understood what I’d said. But having helped him down he started talking again.
Gesturing out of the window again he explained:
They come up here you see, at night. Tunnelling under the foundations. Destabilises the building you see. The whole thing’s going to fall down. You should get someone. We need to get help.
My mum cut him off, not wanting him to panic.
We’re fine no one comes up here we’re all fine. Look who’s here to see you!
My father looked around shyly at me and then spotted you.
Gosh aren’t you lovely. He said in sincere amazement then turned back to the window, probably wondering if he had mentioned the boats.
Your teeth look good Dad. I said.
Uh? Yes. Yes.
I thought my joke was lost on him as his gaze fixed far out to sea and then he suddenly got it and laughed.
They’re false! He said laughing at me.
I know. I said laughing back. And he laughed more.
My mum wanted to speak to one of the nurses and hobbled out of the room. When did she become old? I hadn’t noticed before.
She’s is lovely, he said gesturing after her, but I have a wife and children back home you know.
But she is your wife! For a moment I thought I was playing a role on a comedy or setting him up for a punch line.
Is she? Oh.
I don’t think he believed me and perhaps was reminded that he was talking to a complete stranger. He stood up.
Where are you going? I asked.
Oh, I ought to be getting back now.
No, no. We’ve only just arrived. Sit down for a bit. Look out of the window. Have you seen the boats?
You and I got either side of him and helped him sit.
Have you been reading at all Dad? I asked.
I thought that maybe I shouldn’t call him dad as it might add to the confusion, but I couldn’t resist; I had an agenda: I wanted him to recognise me, but he didn’t.
Reading? No. Nothing to read here. I don’t really have the time.
He couldn’t read at all of course; his concentration wasn’t good enough.
My mum came back and you helped her sit down. She told him about the things that she’d brought, slippers and some razors that she’d given to one of the nurses, a warmer jumper and some sweets. But he didn’t really care. I don’t think he knew what she was saying, or perhaps he just didn’t realise that she was speaking to him. Then he stood up again.
Oh well, he said, I should be getting back. The boys’ll be wondering where I’ve got to.
He’s tired. We’d better go. Said my mum.
I couldn’t believe it, we hadn’t been there for ten minutes, he didn’t even know who I was. I’d need at least an hour to build up some sort of rapport with him.
My mum took his arm and they propped each other up for the walk along the corridor to the day room. You and I walked behind and you held my hand. After a moment I let go and moved in front of them, walking backwards (it was a little childish and a little clownish, but I wanted to see his face). He stopped and grinned at me pointing.
Oh look, he said, it’s, um it’s..
It’s your son. Said my mum.
Oh. I see. He said, still grinning at me, but I’m not sure that he did.
As we got to the day room, my mum fended off a couple of curious mad people pleased to see us all. You held her arm and I walked my dad in, guiding him towards the seat with the best view of the sea, but he wanted to sit at a table to the left of the room with a view out onto some trees. I sat him down and he pulled a newspaper from the table towards him. I’m sure he couldn’t even see the print.
Goodbye Dad, I’m going now. I said.
Oh right, good. Yes, thank you.
I kissed his head and he glanced up at me and smiled a little.
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