By the time Florence really learned about kissing with tongue, she’d lived over eight decades, birthed ten children, buried two, lost count of the grandchildren they’d given her, and buried the only man she’d ever kissed.
“Being licked couldn’t possibly feel pleasant!” she said, pushing her chair back from the large table covered with the remains of their Mother’s Day brunch.
All the women laughed: her daughters, her daughters-in-law, her granddaughters, and even a girl she didn’t know — somebody’s girlfriend, although Florence couldn’t remember which grandchild had introduced her.
Florence hated looking stupid, especially in front of women who hadn’t even been born when she and Jeremiah first courted. She pursed her lips and stuck out her chin in annoyance, instantly regretting the move as a new wave of laughter erupted. Arms crossed over her chest, she countered with a glare. Her grown children swallowing their amusement.
Florence had never encouraged such conversations before. Not when they had first bled and learned to wash their own underwear to hide the stains. Not when she pretended not to notice that they shortened the hems of their skirts. Not when they introduced their beaus and invited Florence to help plan weddings. Not even after her eldest daughter’s husband left, when she started showing up with a different man every year, declaring that she did like men, but only in carefully doled out increments of time.
“You’ve never kissed with tongue, Mama?” her youngest asked.
“I kissed your father,” Florence said, as if that explained everything. It did. Florence watched the realization dawn on their faces. Jeremiah had been a sweet man with an absent-minded air who rarely finished anything he started because he never spent much time on anything at all. His kisses had been like the flutter of butterfly wings or the tickle of an unexpected summer breeze. She had treasured them for their sweetness, but they had been nothing like what these women described.
For days their words painted pictures in her mind: open mouths, tongues tracing lips, intertwining, twisting, dancing, mating. She was embarrassed to admit – if only to herself – that she who had thought she knew everything, might know almost nothing at all.
So when Gary asked her, yet again, to join him for dinner at Robin’s Bistro Sunday night after service, she surprised them both by saying yes. She was pleased when he pulled out a seat for her and smiled at the server, stopping short of flirting with the young woman. He asked Florence questions and tilted his head, favoring his right ear, listening to her answers. When the breadbasket arrived, he smiled and nodded to her, waiting for her to take a piece before buttering a slice and biting into it, eyes closed in appreciation.
She couldn’t remember a time when anyone had paid so much attention to her. She felt somehow not herself. Younger. Older. Ageless. Jeremiah had loved her with distracted adoration. He gifted her with a beatific smile whenever she happened to wander into his workshop. He had looked at her when she spoke, but his eyes followed the line her hand made in the air. Jeremiah hadn’t listened to her words, and he had rarely said any in response.
Gary listened. He listened so hard that sometimes, after she’d finished saying something, he’d pause and stare down at the checkered tablecloth. When he answered, Florence was surprised, more than once, into laughter. He had taken her words and savored them, drawing out meaning from the very marrow of her thoughts. She wasn’t sure she liked it.
Florence watched him slowly chew his food and take sips of his wine to wash down each bite. His tongue flicked out to pull in a crumb and she shuddered a little, imagining his tongue on her lips and rubbing against hers. She set down her spoon, absorbed by the tip of his fork as it disappeared into his mouth, then re-emerged pressed between his lips. When the server asked if they wanted dessert or coffee, she shook her head resolutely.
Gary helped her with her jacket and brushed his hands lightly on her shoulders before escorting her to where they’d parked side by side. He opened her car door and leaned in.
Florence tucked her tongue safely into the roof of her mouth before tilting her face to his, lips firmly closed.
Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in anthologies and journals including Star82 Review, MoonPark Review, Flying South, Streetcake: Experimental Writing Magazine, and Sky Island Journal. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 or read more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.
Art Grant Wood Public Domain ALT Portrait of a tight-lipped woman wearing glasses
If you like Jellyfish Review, please please please support us with a donation. We want to pay our writers this year and need funds to make that happen.
Next: Calculus for the Aging Consumer by Lois Ruskai Melina
Previous: The Women by Amy Olassa
If you like this story, why not share it on social media and make a writer and a magazine very, very happy!