They always ran out of ice.
It was her way, perhaps, of disowning the parties. There were moments during every one when she’d retreat to a quiet corner, puzzled at being somehow vaguely in charge of all these people. It was a feeling she also had occasionally about her husband and their six children, who seemed to her at times like a dark bruise whose origin she couldn’t recall.
Her best friend’s husband drove her to get the ice. He also had six children, but they didn’t baffle him. They were voices at dinner, backseat wrigglings in the car’s rearview mirror, characters in the little stories his wife told him before he fell asleep.
Both sets of children were sleeping at his house, two blocks away from the party. She wanted to stop by to check on them.
The children were all in one room, some asleep on the floor, the rest tangled together like dirty laundry in two twin beds. Someone had draped a green scarf over the lamp. She removed it and caught the smell of burnt hair.
She stepped carefully around the children on the floor, touching each one on the shoulder as if they were good luck charms. He pulled blankets over the children on the beds, tucking in one arm that dangled over an edge. At just that moment, she turned off the light, so he couldn’t tell whose arm it was. He felt an indistinct affection flowing out to all of them.
She waited for him in the dark hallway downstairs, silhouetted against the screen door by the porch light. There was something vacant in her stance, as if she were expecting to wait a long time or had already been waiting a long time. He was seized with the desire to kiss her. She saw it.
She had once come upon her husband and his wife in a passionate embrace at one of the parties. They hadn’t noticed her, and she had never said anything. It was just the way they were, her husband and his wife. It didn’t mean enough, or it meant too much, to sort out. The marriages stayed marriages. The friendships stayed friendships.
She wondered if he knew and if that was why he wanted to kiss her. She wondered if that was why she was going to let him. She didn’t care.
When he approached, she felt a quiver deep inside her, like the leap of a small fish. He placed his hands flat against the sides of her head, blocking out all sound except her own breathing. She watched his mouth lower slowly to hers. His lips were soft; she felt them tremble. Then came the press of his teeth, the prowl of his tongue. The kiss slid languidly down their bodies and then faded away like an echo.
They drew apart, still watching each other’s faces, and laughed. It was the freest laugh she’d had in some time. He liked the sound of it.
They left the house. He caught the screen door so that it wouldn’t slam into the children’s dreams.
“The Kiss” was published in the journal, Kalliope, Jacksonville, FL, 1997.