by Len Kuntz

We are trying to see it new. The spotted skins. The folds and droop. The sparrows dying, long before we do.

And so, I kiss you again, paint-brushing my tongue across your teeth.

‘Goodness,’ you say, shaking off a shiver, your sallow cheeks like jelly.

I kiss you once more, then polish the end of your nose, twirling a dollop of saliva with a baker’s flourish.

‘Oh my,’ you say.

Oh my? That’s good, right?’

You stammer, tug the blankets. ‘It used to make me dizzy when you’d do that. Sometimes I’d even pee myself a little.’ Saying this, your face pulses, pink blotches blinking under the flour white. ‘Or, you know, it might not exactly have been pee.’

I place my face on your bare chest where the skin is soft like sponge cake. ‘After fifty years,’ I say, ‘you’re just now telling me this?’

‘A girl has to keep some secrets to herself.’

‘Screw secrets.’

Your elbows twitch, as if you’re reading too much into what I’ve just said, as if the years have never really released us from past missteps.

But then, almost as suddenly, you redirect your thoughts, and remember why we’re here. Your frail hand becomes a claw. You grab the sparse hairs surrounding my bald spot, and give them a yank.

‘Ow, ouch.’

‘Too rough?’

‘No, no. Just right.’

You giggle, the same way you did at the fountain that day I first spotted you.

‘You’re a minx,’ I say,

‘I don’t think I like that. It sounds like jinx. Minx, jinx.’

‘Shut up.’

‘No, you shut up.’

‘What if I do this?’ I say, flicking your nipple between my thumb and forefinger, then tweaking it slightly.

‘Oh, god, Leonard. Oh god.’

‘Yes? Tell me.’

‘I, I. What will Housekeeping think, if we stain the sheets?’

‘We never used to care.’

I pool spittle in your sunken naval and suck it out in frothy strings, let the drool roll off my chin, raise up so you can see. ‘Do you remember this?’

‘Oh my god, I do. I do.’

I move between your legs, parting your thighs, as hungry as I’ve ever been, but you pull my head up before I can start.

‘Thank you for not leaving me,’ you say.

‘Shush.’

‘But you should have. What I did was awful. I loved you, and still I did it.’

I kiss your hand, every knuckle. I lick the webbing in between each finger, the veins bulging like green tributaries.

‘I’m so sorry,’ you say.

I take your thumb in my mouth, lap and suck, while staring at you, remembering and not remembering.

When you go to speak again, I tap a wet finger across your mouth.

I say, ‘I’m not leaving you. Ever. And you don’t get to leave me either.’

‘But—’

My back and knees feel as brittle as kindling, but I manage to re-position myself without groaning. As I work, your body jerks.

‘You’re right,’ you say. ‘Yes,’ you say. ‘Yes.’

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press.  You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com