Excerpt: The Kissing Contest

“A long time ago,” Rose began, “kisses were meant to seal contracts. It’s one of the reasons we kiss when we get married. It’s a way to honour your word. Even war generals, when signing treaties, would also lock lips.”

“Rose,” Jack chastised with a soft voice. “I think we’re hardly sealing deals tonight.”

“You never know,” Rose stated. “People have made deals on less.”

“Kisses are also used to spread souls,” Homer added.

“Souls?” Jack asked. “What do you mean?”

“A kiss can bring someone back to life. Some Romantics thought that the soul, if it existed, would be spread through a kiss. Through the sharing of breath,” Homer said, leaning forward. Their small party of Rose, her husband Jack, along with Homer and his wife Clara, stood at the hotel bar inside the Parisian casino. The women held out their champagne glasses which they still sipped from, their eyes solely focused on Homer and his upcoming story. They still had a couple of precious moments to spend before they were all called in for the night’s affair.

“I think the kiss as an emblem of the soul is especially visible in Klimt’s work for The Kiss. In the painting, he uses gold leaf and a gilded style to represent the nature of the soul, I’ve always believed. The soul literally shines in the painting and is reflected inside the two people at its centre. The soul exists, and is shared, because of their kiss. If you recall the work, that kiss is quite tight. They hold their bodies together and never seem to let go. There is beauty in that, one that speaks to the nature of soul mates.”

“Oh, Homer,” Clara said, gripping her husband’s hand. She moved her long dark hair over her shoulder, smiling wide as she chastised Homer with a prolonged stare of her green eyes. “You are being rather unfair. You know you shouldn’t talk about art in the presence of those who have not seen it. It’s rude and rather confusing.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Homer said, eyeing his wife in a playful manner. “I thought we were in Paris. Doesn’t art flow in everyone’s veins?”

Clara laughed. She was Homer’s second wife by now and ten years his junior. Homer’s first wife, Cordelia, had died along with the baby in childbirth. It was one of the few things that Homer didn’t like to speak about, especially if any credence was given to what he was saying about souls. Cordelia had been his first, and for a while, he thought, his only love. She had been the only woman who understood him and his romantic whims, like lecturing about paintings.

“Not to worry,” Jack stated. “I’m sure Rose and I will venture out beyond our hotel room by the time this vacation is over. Don’t you think so, dear?”

Rose blushed slightly, nodding to her husband. “It’s hard to think that we still haven’t seen it yet.”

Jack and Rose Douglas were an older couple, approaching their sixties together. The two of them had not borne any children, and instead turned to business. Jack had become a man of all trades (indeed, Homer often joked that ‘Jack of all Trades’ was named for Jack Douglas alone) and a wealthy one at that. They were both American, but they travelled regularly for business and pleasure. This trip to the heart of Paris was one of those affairs.

“I highly recommend the galleries here,” Homer stated. “I used to spend my summers in Paris as a boy. It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to enjoy this place again.”

“And to many more days of enjoying it,” Jack stated, holding up his glass. Rose and Clara followed suit, and though the silent cheer was for him, Homer also lifted his glass.

“How do you feel about this, dear?” Rose asked, leaning close to Clara after the toast. Rose was always so terrible with whispering. She thought she was being invisible, when really, she was acting normally. It was just that Jack so often ignored her, she believed she could speak at a normal volume.

As Jack spoke with grand hand movements towards the gold fixtures in the bar, Homer listened to his wife and her best friend exchange worries.

“About the contest, you mean?” Clara asked. She folded her tiny hands over her lap, clutching at her purse. Homer could feel Clara’s gaze wander over to him as he and Jack discussed other matters. He could envision her smiling, revealing her dimples on both sides, and then bite her lip nervously before looking back at Rose. “Why should I be worried about a small contest?”

“A kissing contest,” Rose corrected. She clucked her tongue in the side of her mouth before she took another drink of champagne. “I do not know how you can be so trusting with Homer. A man as attractive and successful as that, I’d want to keep him as close as I could. Not allow him to kiss all these other women, most of them unmarried.”

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