We were at a party, you and I, in celebration of a long-forgotten cause for joy. There was raucous drinking. The party pushed on into the darkest hours of the night. Somebody brought out a video camera to tape the merrymaking. Your boyfriend was seated at a table with some other men, drinking. And you were there beside him, with your hand on his thigh. The camera came and exhorted you all to be witty for posterity. Jokes were made. Funny faces and obscene gestures were directed at the cam- era. I happened to be lying on the table. Your boyfriend picked me up, slipped his face into mine, put the cheap rubber band around the back of his head. He and I mugged for the camera together. For a moment, he was death personified as a drunk man. Or was I an inebriated reaper of souls?
You, my darling, leaned over and—performing for the camera— pushed your tongue through my plastic mouth and into his. You were tongue-kissing the personification of death. I could feel your breath, share your alcoholic saliva. Your friends all cheered. The kiss ended—but then, sweetness, you couldn’t pull your tongue back out through my face. My plastic lips had caught it tight, like a Chinese finger trap. You winced, pulled, made a sort of open-mouthed, gargling cry. The men at the table laughed and jeered. Finally you managed to extract your little muscle of love, but not without cutting it on the sharp edge of my lips. Afterward the videotape clearly showed sweet blood on your tongue.
If you’d been sober, you might have found it symbolic. You can kiss somebody else’s spouse and get away with it. You can kiss a member of the same sex with near impunity. You can give an incestuous kiss on the sly. You can tongue-kiss a dog or exchange raptures with lab rats. But you can’t kiss death without death kissing you back. Death is a pas- sionate kisser. I bite your lips, chew your tongue, leave a little taste of
blood in your mouth as a portent of things to come. If I were to kiss you between the legs, you’d see a little blood there too and think that your period had come early. But it wouldn’t be your menses, lover. It would be your ruination, a death’s head with your clitoris in its mouth.
Death is mad about you. Death loves you. Do you love me too? I’m not needy, but I enjoy intimacy—especially with you, darling. Go ahead. Slip your face into mine. I like to feel your warm lips in my inert visage. I like to feel your eyelashes tickling my empty old sockets. One day I’ll slip my face into yours too, and then we’ll experience another sort of intimacy. I’ll be inside you, like a lover. I’ll kiss you from the inside, and it will feel like catching a chill. You’ll get goose bumps up your thighs and shivers down your spine. I’ll whisk you to my wormy bed and we’ll lie there nestled in each other’s arms, or at least so long as you have arms. And even then, when you are hideous dust, I will remain true. I am death and when I love you, it’s forever.
And why shouldn’t you love me back? I know that sometimes you fantasize about me. You lie in bed at night wondering how and when I will come, and what I’ll look like when I do. Am I a knight in shining armor? A fiery dog of hell? Do I look like a vampire? A skeleton? A ghost? You imagine me taking you into my arms, embracing you, comforting you. “There, there,” I say, kissing your tears away. “I’ll make those awful things go away. Life won’t be a burden to you anymore. I promise.”
I pull back the curtain to reveal a wonderful new world—a party, a riot, a ball. It’s the costume affair, Mardi Gras, the Halloween festival, the Day of the Dead, and it’s enormous fun to prance around on the arm of inevitable doom. Life is short! Seize the day! Go ahead, darling. Slip me on. Pretend you’re me. See the world through my sockets. Laugh. Live. Love—while you can. Eat, drink, and be merry. What do you think I do? I’m death, and I laugh and make merry too. I dance with skeletons and make goblets out of skulls—to drink from the cranium, you should know, is very fine. When your brains are gone, what nobler substitute could there be than wine?
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