A city at night, seen from inside a taxi, can seem like any city, street signs and neon lights, the stop and go of city blocks, the skyscrapers and mini-marts. New York, Beijing, Tokyo, Honolulu, Dubai.
You devised this taxi ride. You wanted to be alone with him. You wanted this fleeting envelope of time, caught between two destinations, anonymous and dark, all those people outside the windows caught in the same human crush but oblivious of anything you might do.
The radio sings in another language, a stranger drives without speaking, all of it dares you, this last chance before you arrive at the train station, before you say goodbye. The two of you had sat next to each other on a couch at a party, your feet near but not touching. You got ready to leave when he checked his watch, assuming he wanted you to go with him. In the taxi, he put his seat belt on and you smiled, thought he was silly, what grown man wears a seat belt in the back seat of a taxi? But you did as he did, playfully, wanting him to see your raised eyebrow, your side smile, to see you were game. And why else would he wear a seat belt except to create a barrier between you, an attempt to behave, to show you he felt like he must restrain himself?
That thought is all you need. You unclick your seat belt and move close. He tilts his chin at the sound.
“Just let me kiss you.” You say this, you, and you are surprised at your predatory powers and territorial lean, you are small but in this taxi you are almost the same height as this tall and broad-shouldered man, and all those things that are female and weak are suddenly an advantage, that you can continue to move without waiting for more than his quick and helpless nod, the sigh that escapes him as if this is not entirely consensual, this is a capitulation, but that thought will come to you later, in the moment you are already pouncing, you are only thinking of your need to press and enter that contained male space of suit and tie, buttoned-up and armored in layers compared to the flimsy material so free and smooth on you. Though the distance is divided it is not so hard to cross, and the taxi is hurdling so fast now, so little time, how can you not try for it, this one small thing.
He is soft as a child, as an adolescent, as that very first game of spin the bottle in the woods behind a badly built fort. Twelve years old and discovering this strange game, Catholic school kids playing their own Pentecost, this new gift of tongues. Curious children testing the edges of sin.
His lips, his tongue, his cheek beneath your palm, smoother than you could have imagined.
There are countries in that kiss, years of experience, ghosts of past lovers and the tricks they taught you. Your lives peel off and exist on their own, future selves in all of their possibilities and computations, couplings and separations. It could be the beginning of everything. You can see it. You can see him and you want him there, in all your tomorrows. Anything can happen while you are inside that small, wet place, you believe in forever in a way you would never be foolish enough to believe otherwise, there’s neither reason nor reality to ruin the soft click of teeth, the perfect alignment of lip and tongue, that necessary balance of suffocation and breath.
You would pay dearly to unclick a belt and so eagerly unleash yourself onto other things, other moments, other passions, to be so intent upon keeping a small flame alight that you don’t care about anything else. But this too is something else you will only think later.
The taxi stops. Grand Central Station.
Immediately you are two separate bodies. Immediately you are forced to be aware. You are embarrassed, finding yourself in his lap.
And you realize you have to pay, as you do in all things. You slide quickly back to your seat, reaching for the purse kicked over, your wallet on the floor, so clumsy. The taxi driver flicks on a light, perhaps to be helpful, perhaps to be an asshole, you must be red-faced, suddenly sober and shy now that you are no longer in motion, now that the cars outside are merely traffic, the streets dirty and strange. Your fingers search for the right bills, your mind trying to figure out how much you need to tip, but he tells he will pay the fare, of course, because he will not exit with you, he will take this ride further without you, to his own destination ahead. You can barely look at him, though you feel him watching, and your downcast eyes notice his seat belt is still buckled, that silver glint at his hip, that strap across his chest. How is it you didn’t notice there had only been one attempt at release?
The realization catapults you out the door, everything that had seemed graceful suddenly awkward, your high heels, your legs, your very hands oddly loose at your wrists. There are pedestrians in your way, the streets too alive and loud and close.
You hesitate, wonder whether you ought to face the taxi and say your goodbye through the open window, or walk toward the station and hope he will change his mind and follow?
How could you have shared breath and suddenly be afraid that a glance will be too telling, too intimate?
But when you turn, you see you are too late, the cab is already driving away, the breath you shared was only air, the taxi windows opaque, nothing but the bright lights of a blind city reflected back at you.
The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers is available from Norton in February 2018.