Of lust and longing
We had known each other for 20 years. There had always been electricity between us. But we were friends, not lovers. We loved to flirt, to come to the brink and part. We lived in Rome and then I in New York.
We first met because we had the same gallery. It was owned by a woman with sour crimson lips who always seemed to be sucking a lemon. Her mother had named her Hermione. She hated it and changed it to Hermes - the name of her gallery. She was tall, had a big nose, and wore outlandish hats - priceless creations of felt and feathers that looked like flying raptors. Her nails were long and bloody. Her perfume was an overpowering mixture of tuberose and jasmine, privately blended.
But she knew how to bring the best critics in - if there is such thing in critics. And though she took an obscene percentage (50% plus expenses) she got the highest prices.
When I met Lorenzo he was married, and he is still married - but to a different wife. When I met him I was married to X and now I'm married to Y. But none of that matters to the story. I didn't like his work, though it sold ferociously. He made enormous sculptures of roly-poly beasts, bulbous Bambis, obese dancing bears, inflated blue Babars.
At the time I was doing canvases of vaginas. It was the 70s. I was a guerrilla - and also a gorilla-girl.
He pretended to love my work and I pretended to love his. Actually, he loved my breasts and I longed for his huge, unseen penis.
How did the kiss begin?
We were in Palm Beach with our spouses. There was a large party held by some billionaire on his 500-foot yacht. Lorenzo and I were wandering about, looking at the Picassos, Braques, the Koonses, the Boteros, when suddenly in the dark of the titanic teak deck, he kissed me. That kiss was a promise. It lingered fizzily like a jazz riff. It gave me chills and hots simultaneously. It changed us. From then on we knew there was something more between us.
But his new wife was fiercely jealous; they seldom spent nights apart. She had been married to a player - her second marriage to the corrupt Italian politician - and she was wary. She told Lorenzo if he ever cheated, they were through.
Lorenzo was not a beautiful man. He had wild, kinky orange hair and a reddish salt-and-pepper beard. He had huge agate eyes and an aquiline nose and he was not tall, but he exuded sex. You knew this man loved sex and appreciated women. You just knew. If I could bottle that, I'd be rich.
The kiss changed the equation. When he next came to New York he set himself up in a downtown penthouse hotel suite with a sauna and a built-in lap pool. He invited me over.
In the elevator, panic struck. I knew that if we consummated this flirtation, something would shiver between us, possibly even tip over our marriages, but I pretended not to be scared. He greeted me with vintage champagne and fresh chocolate-covered cherries. We ate and drank and spoke haltingly. Then we retreated to the couch, wrapped our arms around each other, and began to kiss. It was a kiss that went back to the birth of the universe, the making of stars, the sculpting of humans out of clay. It was a mitochondrial kiss in which generations were born, died and buried, in which trees leaped out, bloomed, fell and rotted, and gave birth to new forests. It was a kiss that moistened oceans, grew the universe, swirled through the cosmos. His tongue, my lips, my tongue, his lips, everything merged in the waters of the womb of his mother, the penis of his father, the souls of his grandparents.
A kiss can be IOU, or the end of a love affair. A kiss can last for aeons. A kiss can be longer and stronger than sex. A kiss has a history and a future.
But what was its future? In the first ending we go to bed, are deeply disappointed, and never see each other again. In the second ending, we go to bed, discover lifelong passion, and turn our lives upside down, saddening spouses, children, parents. But I have chosen an alternative ending. I get up from the couch, run to one of the many glamorous marble bathrooms to pee, dress quickly, then sneak out the door of the suite.
Now I can keep his kiss for the rest of my life.
- 'The Kiss' is one of a collection of stories in Jong's new book 'Sugar in my bowl: Real women write about real sex' which is published by HarperCollins, R200