The first kiss in cinema is often considered to be in the 1896 film with the incredibly creative title, The Kiss. In the silent picture, which only lasts for around 47 seconds, May Irwin and John Rice reenact a scene from the stage play The Widow Jones. Rice begins by sticking his face into Irwin’s cheek, their noses touching, their mouths moving, though the words are a secret to the audience. Eventually, Rice smiles, pulls back, gives his sizable mustache a Snidely Whiplash-like stroke, then puts his mouth on Irwin’s.
It’s barely a kiss, to be honest. A peck. He sticks his lips on her lips, starts moving his mouth. Not to kiss her, but to speak. Instead of being a passionate, meaningful moment, cinema’s first kiss is a man talking with his lips on a woman’s. Even so, people found it disgusting. Something they all did on their own, in the privacy of their own home, but to see it blown up on a screen was somehow vile. Somehow, it was different.
The day of the kiss, I went out, wanting to get away from the apartment, be alone. I was probably looking for something I shouldn’t have been, seeing as just staying at the apartment would have had a similarly isolating effect.
I’ve never been good at compartmentalization, even in my work. People always tell me to sit back and watch movies, enjoy them for what they are. They’re just entertainment, escapism, multimillion-dollar distractions. But for me, they’re not that at all. They’re work. Always work. I can’t help but dissect, critique, break away from the illusion, see beyond the borders of the screen. Every time I begin to get lost in a movie, I recognize a poorly executed trope, get snagged on clunky dialogue, get buried under shoveled exposition.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I was happy for Cecilia, that’s what I’m trying to get at. I’m not a monster. I mean, I’m glad she got the part. It’s a great part that she’s perfect for. I should know, I wrote it for her. I used phrases she uses all the time in the dialogue, painted her quirks right onto the page. I even pushed for her to get cast, which she insists made all the difference even though a suggestion from the screenwriter is like the waterboy telling the football coach what plays to call. For the most part, you’re just supposed to shut up and shoot water into the players’ mouths so they can promptly spit it back at you.
Now, with the kiss, I guess I really didn’t think it through. People kiss in movies all the time, even Cecilia’s done kissing scenes in movies. Of course she has, what woman can get through a career without being the love interest for the handsome male protagonist in 80% of her roles? But she hadn’t done any kissing scenes since we’ve been married. In fact, she’d barely done any acting, her career in a bit of a slump, now that she was approaching her mid-30’s. I know, not that old, but we’re talking Hollywood Years here. They’re like cat years. A 30-year-old woman might as well be 70, a 5-year marriage is the equivalent of 100-year-old high school sweethearts who hold hands at the park and go to the same grocery store every day together to only buy one thing.
But then I wrote that fucking script. I shouldn’t say that, again, it’s a good thing. It’s going indie, but the award potential will be worth the pay cut. Cecilia is already getting Oscar buzz, which is insane, they’re still shooting the damn thing. But the appeal of former kid star, turned failed adult actress, poising for a comeback with a meaty supporting role in a hot-button topic film written by her husband? Entertainment Weekly even contacted us last week looking for an interview. Not a cover or anything, just a sidebar in their “Hollywood Power Couples” feature. Still, some buzz.
So, back to the kiss. I wrote it, I wrote it for my wife, I was glad she got, and yet I hated her for it. All of her other onscreen kisses that she’d done, not to mention nude scenes, had been before we had met, mostly during her “proving that I’m an adult” period of her career, trying to break away from the kid roles that had made her a household name 20-some years ago. They all made me feel a bit strange, sure, in the way that you have a pain in the pit of your stomach that comes from the emptiness of regret, but I dealt with it like they were old boyfriends, a past mistake, something she did because she didn’t know that somebody like me existed. Though I’ll never get used to the fact that thousands of people have likely masturbated to screen captures of my wife’s young, naked body. This even includes me, before we met, but of course I’ll never tell her that. I’m not sure if the idea is flattering or disgusting. I imagine it could be both at the same time.
I never go to bars. Too loud, too expensive, I’m never sure what to order, or how much to tip. But that night I went, Cecilia in Chicago of all places, shooting there for tax reasons, and I was stuck in Seattle, horny, lonely, an idiot.
Before we go any further, I didn’t sleep with anyone. Just to get that out in the open. These kind of things usually end with something like that. I didn’t go to bed with another woman. It was just a kiss.
I started out the evening at a table upstairs, next to the pool tables. A couple of girls came up, sat down next to me, the prettiest of which asked if she could have a sip of my beer. I pushed the cup towards her without a word. She took a gulp, not a sip, then another, then another. When I went up for a second, I asked if she wanted her own, on me. I came back with a pitcher, a handful of cups for the table. Looking back, she probably wasn’t playing me, she was just underage, which is obviously worse. The sudden realization made my stomach drop, like cops were going to pop out of the back room and haul me to jail.
They were nice enough, a bit chatty. They had a plate of cheese fries they were sharing. I didn’t ask for a fry, they didn’t offer. After the beer was gone, the fries picked over, the girl, the pretty one, thanked me for the beer, touched my shoulder, said something I couldn’t hear over the band, probably a lie about seeing me around, and the bunch of them left. She wasn’t the one I kissed.
I was sitting at the table, the shitty bar band playing a shitty bar band version of “Life During Wartime” when a girl fell into my lap, a skimpy dress, glasses, curly hair, her skin covered in glitter, putrid perfume.
“Hey there,” she said in best drunk Marilyn Monroe impression.
“Hi,” I said, pushing her into the seat next to me. It didn’t any do good, she just leaned backwards into my lap.
“You…are so adorable,” she said, poking my nose with her index finger. “I would totally suck your dick.”
I pushed her up, not sure how to take her comment, not even sure if it was a real compliment. Even a girl as drunk as that, drunk enough to offer me oral sex, couldn’t bring herself to call me sexy or hot. Just adorable.
“What are you doing?” I looked up to see a woman standing next to me, tall, not an ounce of fat on her body, the kind of face that’s perpetually angry. She looked like she could crack my skull like an egg using only her thighs and would have no moral issue doing so. “Don’t you dare fuck her,” she said. “She drunk as fuck.”
I put up my hands as if I was under arrest, which only caused the drunk girl I was holding up to fall face first into my crotch. I picked her up immediately, sliding my hands under her head and pushing her upright. “I’m not even going to touch her,” I said.
The tall girl’s face softened a bit, turning playful, almost sassy. “Oh, you can touch her all you want, just keep it in your pants,” she said, then she walked away, apparently concerned about me taking advantage of her friend, but not concerned enough to take her home or even keep an eye on us.
“Go with your friend,” I told the drunk girl.
“Fuck me, let’s go to the bathroom,” she said, leaning into me, putting her hand on the closest approximation she could get to my penis given her intoxicated state, which was just north of my right knee.
Then she kissed me.
As she pushed her face against me, my lips curled inward, like I was trying to keep someone from forcefully shoving something down my throat. It was barely even a kiss, even less so than Irwin and Rice, but enough to be important, to cause rage in those involved. I saw that it was the intent that made people upset, the ideas behind these things tend to overshadow the physicality.
I grabbed her by the shoulders, moved her face away from mine. “Go with your friend,” I said again, standing up, lifting her up with me. The friend was gone at this point, disappeared into the crowd. I turned the drunk girl toward the bar, she stumbled away, down the steps. She didn’t look back at me, quickly caught the eye of a well-dressed man at the bar. He smiled at her, she whispered something in his ear. The cycle continued.
A few more drinks, then I left. I peed first, the urinals shaped like mouths, the lining thick red lips, a tongue painted under the urinal cake. On the way out I passed the drunk girl in line for the bathroom. She looked up at me, her eyes showing zero recognition. It was like it never happened. At least for one of us.
Outside of the bar, I noticed missed texts from Cecilia, asking if I was okay, telling me to call her. I wiped my mouth, the smell of beer, the bit of glitter from my lips as if Cecilia could see through the phone. I put on my best sober voice, called her.
“Cecilia? You okay?” I said.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Cecilia said. “I’m sorry, I needed to talk. I feel kind of awful.”
“Because of the kissing scene. Isn’t that funny? I’ve done so many before. I’m an actress, this is what I do. But still, afterward, I felt like I’d cheated on you, it was so terrible.”
“It’s okay, it wasn’t real.”
“I know, but I just…don’t leave me, okay?”
A puff of air through her nose, a crackle hitting my ear. “I never thought that I’d be this girl.”
“What girl is that?” I said.
“The kind that’s this intertwined with someone else. It’s strange, but good.” She paused. “You do crazy things to me, you know that?”
Looking back, I had options, so many options, but the only thing I could think of to say at the time was, “I know.”
And I do. I finally do, I think.
Alex Sobel is a freelance journalist living in Toledo, OH. His work has appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post Online, Foundling Review, Hippocampus Magazine, theNewerYork, and Treehouse.