The Kiss Scene


Pia Pera

Excerpts taken from the novel Lo's Diary, originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 103 in 1999.

"Well, you haven't even given me a kiss."

Immediately he brakes on the shoulder of the road, thinks he can get away with a little kiss on the cheek, but I open my mouth and give him a real movie kiss: firm and vigorous, while his is trembly, wet, kind of piggy. He immediately corrects it to a tight-lipped grimace, frightened at realizing so quickly that he doesn't care for the hen in the slightest. Half a second more and I'd have cleared out all the nonsense invented by the easily consolable widow Maze. But a police car pulls up: have we seen a car going over the speed limit? More genius: he doesn't realize it's ours, or maybe he's deep: a parked car is not a moving car. We get back on the road, I return him to his fatherly role, because if I've learned anything it's that you should never let them stay too long in the same position, these gutless males.

"How's Mom?"

The rumble of a truck drowns out the answer.

"What did you say? Stomach?"

"No: I said she has a stomach problem."

"Oh, stomach."

Mrs. Guibert is in a hospital near here, and tomorrow we'll go see her. But it sounds fishy to me. My mother has always had an iron stomach, she's a steamroller hen. She must have said a crock to Hummie so she could go and get herself put back in shape in a clinic for rich widows overflowing with life. After all, Nora's book says you can't always let the man see you with moisturizer on your face and curlers in your hair. At her age, screwing isn't enough to maintain her complexion.

"And how is it that you fell for Mom?"

"One day you will understand the beauty of a spiritual relationships." Oh wow. We're reduced to spiritual beauty. But not a bad euphemism for the subspiritual body of the widow Maze, her thighs lumpy with cellulite, her arms mottled with goose bumps. Anyway, my less elevated attractions are enough for Hummie, who (immediately after buying me an ice cream) tries to suck on my neck, which gives me a chance to tell him what he is: a dirty old man. A dirty old man at a convention of priests: in this absurd hotel there are few truly male animals, apart from the marble swan in the lobby and a gray-and-black spotted cocker spaniel owned by a witch wrapped in purple veils. Otherwise there's a horde of old ministers with shriveled wives, their faces wrinkled like rotten potatoes, lipstick smeared on thin lips, veils instead of makeup. A detail worth noting: we're in Room 231. I look forward to telling the hen, especially about the big bed with its pink chenille bedspread, while I wonder if Hummie will say that two separate rooms for the whole time of her recovery would cost too much. What he says is that now that he's my father there's nothing wrong if we sleep together.

"It's called incest," I explain, just to scare the shit out of him him. He turns white. Brutal to call things by their name, isn't it? Indelicate, very indelicate. He takes out a suitcase loaded with presents for me. Not bad stuff, a sexy shirt, perfect for going to see Mom in the hospital: low-necked, of copper-colored silk, like my skin, more or less, which makes a super effect of nakedness, diamond (fake) belt. She'll be lying in an iron bed in that ugly nightgown of hers with the beehives on it that goes right up to her chin, a hospital band on her wrist, and maybe a couple of needles in the crook of her elbow, the kissing corner . . . I'll walk in dazzling next to Hummie, who's tan, like me, I'll bring her a bouquet of forget-me-nots and a box of exotic fruit, and she'll have to stay there in the hospital, choking on her rage while we have fun telling her about the fabulous movies we've seen, the moonlight walks we've taken. Hummie will do his best to act the "good stepfather" and play down how happy he is to be alone with me, trying to convince her that he's doing it for her, taking care of her daughter. At the high point of this matrimonial performance I will let it slip, "en passant," as those two say when they want to appear united, that we are sleeping in the same room, same bed (king size). Then Plasticmom will let out a shriek that will be heard through the whole hospital, she'll tear off the IV, look for a scalpel to slash Hummie with, try to strangle me. Or maybe she'll play the grande dame and say very coldly that she wants a divorce immediately, now. I wonder if that idiot realizes that for her that would be the best solution after all, to be paid rent without having Hummie in the house as a tenantÑbut she'll never get to that point, because the older they get the more sentimental they get, those hens who are so desperate for affection they've forgotten the art of keeping male animals well trained . . . What a big coward Hummie is. Afraid of what might happen, he goes down to the bar and leaves me alone. If he thinks he can get away with this . . . When he comes back I'll get him, before he turns completely moldy. He must be terrified of getting old, the dirty old man: he takes enormous blue vitamin capsules to stay young.

I was almost asleep when I heard the door creak: it was Rimbaud, Gerry Sue Filthy's terrier. He wags his tail, jumps on the bed, then runs away down the corridor and comes back and sits in front of the room next to ours, 233. Gerry Sue himself opens it! He invites me in, and with him is a kind of Cleopatra, very tall and thin, painting her nails green. She gives me a long look, then starts combing her hair. She is mute, Gerry Sue Filthy explains, because he couldn't bear a woman who talks, and anyway in an ideal couple either the husband or the wife should be mute. Of course, I say. Our camp director's lover was deaf. Filthy is writing a comedy that has the same name as the hotel, The Enchanted Forest, and he couldn't resist the temptation to spend a night here. Just for something to say I tell him that I had to leave camp because my mother is sick and that when I grow up I'm going to be an actress. He had already heard about Mom's marriage from his uncle in Goatscreek. He gives me the address of his ranch in New MexicoÑhe's always there when he doesn't have a play on. He tells me to keep him informed on my theatrical progress: maybe there will be a part for me in his new comedy. He makes me promise not to say anything to Humbert, because he knows how men are about these things.

"But at least I can tell Mom, Mr. Filthy?"

"Oh, whether you say anything or not to your mother doesn't matter," he answers with a little smile. Then he tells me to go back: "My friends call me Filthy Sue."

"Bye, Filthy Sue."