You never knew what you might find in those handouts under Human Potential or Leisure Pursuits. You never knew, and it was in one of those handouts, under Human Potential—and not Leisure Pursuits—that I found the kissing class: Kissing Without Missing, they called it.
The handout fleshed it out for me—Mastering the Basic Social Skill, How To Pull In Your Partner, Moving From First Kiss to Final Intimacy. The teacher for the kissing class was a Ms., a PhD with some other initials beside her name, too many to go into.
I liked all of that—the sound of that handout. It was not ha-ha or naughty bad. It was not like those other handouts that seemed to suck you in for spite just to spit you out the worse off. I liked the fact that it said right there in the catalogue, in bold face, that there would be no actual kissing—none. I was not looking for actual kissing, kissing class or not.
It was a Miss not a Ms. Miss Sandra Keltrek, PhD, she told us, and her jewelry was jangling like the ding-dong chimes on the crosstown bus, like somebody was always just about to get off. She was done up, Miss Keltrek was. Her hair was dyed whitish blonde, but it was a good dye job. I could see a pale circle of doughy skin around her ring finger where her ring used to be. It looked to me like her lips would be very nice lips to be kissing.
Miss Keltrek was starting to go on about what she said was the social evolution of kissing. To me, this was not very handy material, and maybe not to the others, either. I could see the women in the class were all slumped over, or scratching something, or sneaking looks at us men—even at me.
Miss Keltrek had only gone so far as Eskimo noses when my mind started to kiss off kissing for good. My mind was going off on to what I had to do at home. I went all the way home and back in my mind before I could see someone I knew was standing by the door at the back of the kissing classroom.
Marjorie Urinski, from work, was sitting down in the same chair that held the classroom door open, like she was about ready to go home. Marjorie Urinski was keeping her coat on, and she was squeezing her handbag into her lap with both of her hands.
Marjorie Urinski from work.
I had to look again to make sure it was her. At work, Marjorie Urinski was always jiving around, joshing with everyone, sticking her nose into your business, the crackle of her cackle carrying across the office like a bad laugh track—she was one of those. At work, people I knew thought Marjorie Urinski was very sexy. She swiveled her hips, at work, really swiveled them, like windshield wipers, and she pointed her toes when she walked like she was really going somewhere. At work, Marjorie Urinski was always rubbing up against the arms of the men with the sides of her small breasts—she even did that to me once, when she needed something from handling and receiving.
In the fluorescent light of the kissing class, with Miss Keltrek going on and on about The New Middle Ages, I was seeing that Marjorie Urinski was really a very homely woman, as homely as me, almost, with a chin that came out farther than it should have, like mine, and small lips that I could see were cracked in more places than I could have counted. Her small eyes had no color to them that I could see, and in the fluorescent light her skin was splotched by flesh-colored make-up slabbed badly across her cheeks.
Without the swivel, without the crackle, without the rubbing up against you like a dog in heat, Marjorie Urinski was looking no different to me then than any of the other women in the kissing class—except that she was looking maybe the worse off.
I know Marjorie Urinski was looking at me, then, in the kissing class—I know that she was looking at me—but she was not smiling. She was not even giving me her fake how-are-you? office wave, the one that meant why don’t you get lost?
At the break, she was gone before I could get out of my chair.
I was going to try my very best to speak with Marjorie Urinski at work the next day, in confidence if I could, but she called in sick, and then, after the weekend, she called in sick again. When Marjorie Urinski called in sick the day after that, too, no one at work seemed to be worried. One of her best friends told me that she just had a bug, the one that was going around.
The next morning, after she called in sick again, I went down to Personnel to get Marjorie Urinski’s phone number—they owed me one—but there was no answer at her home at nine, or at ten, or at any hour of that day, right up to when I had to leave the office—or miss the kissing class.
Miss Keltrek was coming into the kissing class like she was late from a long day of shopping without any money to spend. She was jangling worse than before, Miss Keltrek was. Her sloppy make-up was making her face go lopsided, and her lipstick was two crooked red lines that had never met.
I don’t know how Miss Keltrek was feeling that night, but I was feeling terrible for Miss Keltrek. There was only one man other than me still left in the kissing class, and only two women—and no Marjorie Urinski. I was raising my hand to suggest that Miss Keltrek might think about postponing that night’s class, but she was already starting to lecture—Miss Keltrek was yelling really—yelling in a very loud, and in a very, very slurry voice.
Miss Keltrek was saying in that terrible yelling voice that she was going to be accelerating the course—accelerating was the word Miss Keltrek slurred the worst.
Two thousand years of kissing in one class, Miss Keltrek was saying.
Social kissing, Miss Keltrek was saying, French kissing kissing your sister kissing your date kissing your lover lesbian kissing kissing babies kissing dead bodies—we were going to be skipping all of that, Miss Keltrek was saying.
We are going to get right to the guts of kissing, Miss Keltrek was saying.
Miss Keltrek was pointing to the other man in the kissing class, and she was telling him—Miss Keltrek was yelling, telling him twice to shut his eyes closed. When the other man did shut his eyes like he might never open them again, Miss Keltrek was getting down on her knees, on the rug, right between the other man’s knees, and then she was pulling down the other man’s head to her mouth, and then she seemed to be chewing at his mouth with her crooked red lips—and then the other man was choking, sputtering like he had had a hand jammed down his throat.
The other man pushed her off with both of his hands, and then Miss Keltrek was going backwards against the bottom of the blackboard with a sad little hooting sound spurting out from between the crooked lines of her two lipsticked lips. The other man in the kissing class was grabbing his briefcase and his coat, and he was spitting against the wall of the classroom on his way out the door. And then the two women left in the kissing class were gone too—one of them crying, the other one biting her lip to hold back.
Miss Keltrek was lying there, in the classroom, on the rug, her hooting like a who deep inside of her chest, but then Miss Keltrek was pushing herself up off of the rug, away from the blackboard, and she was coming across the kissing classroom—Miss Keltrek was coming at me.
I think I could tell from the look on her lopsided face that Miss Keltrek did not like homely men. At that moment, I was sure Miss Keltrek did not like any men at all—homely men, handsome men, married or unmarried men—or even little boys with freckles.
At that moment, as she was coming across the rug at me with her crooked red lips, I was thinking Miss Keltrek could not have even named one single man, homely or not, alive or dead, that she still liked.
Then I was holding Miss Keltrek back by her hands, stopping her in her tracks, and I was giving Miss Keltrek a long and a slow and a deep kiss—a kiss so long, and so slow, and so so deep, that every bit of snarl left Miss Keltrek’s lips and then her lopsided face, until I could feel her cheeks and her chin go to the good, like the rest of her pain was passing right down and out of her whole body—and out through me—through this, our kiss.
Miss Keltrek did not know anything about Marjorie Urinski, or about why I was still in her kissing class—Miss Keltrek did not even know my name. I knew that as soon as Miss Keltrek opened her eyes—as she was doing then, opening her eyes so slowly, like her eyelids and her eyelashes had a better idea—I knew that when she came to, Miss Keltrek would be thinking that I was just another homely man taking a class, nights.
But when I was kissing a woman, I knew that I was not a homely man.
When I was kissing a woman, I was Clark Gable, Brad Pitt.
And after I had kissed a woman, that woman, homely or not, was always beautiful to me.
As she was opening her eyes, Miss Keltrek was looking so beautiful to me then—a lovely woman totally in love with me, because that kiss was me, the whole story.
But our kiss was over now, done, and then Miss Keltrek was giving me one last sad little hoot before she picked up her handbag. Miss Keltrek walked right past Marjorie Urinski and out the door.
I could not tell you how long Marjorie Urinski had been standing there against the door of the kissing classroom that night. I do know her face was big around her small eyes, like she might have been crying or trying to sleep. Beneath her light cloth coat, I do know that Marjorie was dressed in what looked to me like a nightgown, maybe made by her, maybe by hand, maybe even at home.