Colin Dwyer: “A Brief Word about Your Birth”

Of course, back in those days we had no sounds for kisses. You know that shy little wink of sound between you two when you pull apart? It’s so satisfying, sometimes it’s difficult to believe we ever made do without it. But we did, your mother and I – we did for a long time before we met each other, actually. So did everyone. People kissed, sure – it’s absurd to think there was ever a world where people didn’t. But it was a silent kind of touch back then, something soft and sweet and wet – the wetter the better, as a precautionary measure: without a bit of your lover’s saliva to linger on your lips, you ran the risk of forgetting you’d kissed at all. Without some proof to pin down the memory the kiss might fly from your mind, if you were the careless sort like me. Then all you’d be left with was the uncomfortable suspicion that you’d lost something special.

Naturally, cotton mouth was much more of a menace then than now. I’d struggled with a chronic case of it for most of my life – and to a certain extent I still do – and I knew perhaps better than anyone the dangers of dry lips. They had swallowed some of my early relationships with an inevitability that was every bit as insidious as it was gradual.

There’s something so unsettling in leaving an empty space where you had hoped to create something meaningful to share. If unmarked, a kiss can seem a simple graze of skin, as if you had only brushed past a stranger on a busy street. My first girlfriend, Stephanie, had been just an immature fling. I haven’t told you about her yet, but I think that’s because there hasn’t been much to tell. We were both at that awkward age when you share an estranged marriage with your own body, and you find few escapes from it but the vicarious thrill of wishing you were somebody else. I don’t remember much of her now – too much of myself has leaked into her memory over the years – but I still remember clearly what I wished she would be. She had something like blond hair and the whisper of freckles about her nose, but more importantly she had been mine. When we lost our kisses to my problem, over time we grasped deeper to find them, touching each other more and more as if we were addicts, and we lost our virginities in the grasping. But sex without kissing is just a smooshing of skin. We shared nothing and knew it. She left me and took with her my chance at not being myself, but I suppose everybody loses that at some point or another.

When I first met your mother a little bit after this, I was still struggling with my problem. In those days there was a modest industry of designer sprays and lotions marketed for keeping lips moist and lovers intimate. I had begun using a daily spray of my own, but like any drug it made worse in the long run what in the short run it only briefly made better. I’d developed a habit of visiting the drug store regularly anyway. I suppose I was possessed by some compulsive hope for reassurance that there were others visiting the cosmetics aisle with the same issues I had. When you have a problem, it usually seems the only evidence you aren’t alone is to be found in the number of solutions sold on store shelves.

I met your mother at the drug store, picking something out in some aisle somewhere – she and I both for the life of us could never remember quite what. She said to me something like hi and I returned her gesture by smiling, I think. We began seeing each other sometime after that, but you don’t need to know exact dates or details for this story. Most of the stories I have worth telling don’t need them; most of the stories I’ve heard worth hearing don’t either. There’s something about telling time by assigning it numbers that’s always seemed a bit aggressive to me. Your mother tended to agree.

Now, you will ask me what in the world it was, then, that brought the two of us together if not time, and I will tell you. She fashioned herself a rebel, relishing the attention that occasionally comes with otherness, and staking herself on her difference whenever she felt insecure. I began to develop a certain sensitivity, in fact, for those moments when she felt vulnerable or uncomfortable: in those moments I could find her, wherever she might have been in the room, thrusting her contradiction forward with a jut of her chin just so, brandishing it like a saber for the group to see. Still, it’s a special feat to manage being a contrarian at that age, and I suppose my attraction was partly propped up by admiration. Never for the life of me could I tell just what it was that she found attractive in me, though. She enjoyed the admiration, I guess, or had claimed me as a follower in her scattershot rebellion. But she also said she loved me too, sure, after a little while.

Some weeks – or months, or years – into our relationship my problem returned, and I decided then to risk her reaction rather than suffer again that glacial drift of separation I’d experienced with others before. I told her, and she laughed. She told me that I wasn’t special, and I was offended, and she kissed me, and that thick silence followed.

“Hear that?” she asked into a couch cushion she’d picked up from her lap. Allow me to remember our being seated on a couch when this happened – it’s easier in the retelling this way.

“Hear what?” I asked.

“That sound,” she said.

“Your voice?”

“No, silence.”

“But the cushion only muffled it.”

“No, the silence after we kissed. You hear the way it sounded?”\


“Exactly what I’m saying.”

Before you get the wrong impression, I must admit this wasn’t what we said, not at all – but it’s the clearest I can make of the muddled mess that this moment’s become for me in time. And besides, you must understand that we still didn’t have a whole lot of different words available to us back then. Nobody did. But the real trouble was in the number of new words we were discovering those days and the way they fit with the old ones. Most of the conversations you’d overhear in homes or on the street were only amalgamations of the words we thought once meant something different. We were surprised each time we opened our mouths to hear our voices changing and our meanings misunderstood by those around us. We were changing at a speed that kept most of us awkward and kept the others quiet to cope with the embarrassment.

So you see, it’s hopeless to try to reproduce how we spoke – it was almost hopeless for us to speak then ourselves. I hope you don’t find the words I put in our mouths intrusive. They’re the best I can do.

She continued, in a way: “Somebody told me something about that sound.”


“It doesn’t have to be silent. I know: I met a couple people who’ve been experimenting with sounds.”

“Who?” I remember myself as someone who asked a lot of questions, but not a whole lot of the right ones. I could hear the tone of her voice unsheathing.

“Some people. Doesn’t matter. Let me try something with you.”

“I don’t know if I want this.”

“Let me try. Just once.”

I stared at her and waited. She leaned across the space on the couch between us and kissed me. It was easy and quick, the kiss, just a dab of our skins, and when she pulled away a sound followed like the pat of a raindrop on water. She rocked back on her haunches and smiled.

“What do you think?”

I suspected she referred to the drip that had pressed upon the end of our kiss. I didn’t answer. I didn’t feel comfortable yet accepting it as ours.

“Something I’ve been practicing,” she said. “I heard of people doing it, but I wanted to try it myself. Been practicing on the back of my hand for a while.”

For a while, neither of us said anything. She watched me with wary expectation, and I looked down to duck it. I recall wrestling with something, but I couldn’t say then what it was and even now I don’t trust myself with its expression. So I kept quiet. When she leaned in again, I leaned in to meet her. Another kiss, another raindrop.

And this time I had listened for it; this time, beneath the droplet, I heard the pluck of something sweet and newfound, whether like an apple or a violin string I couldn’t quite tell because I couldn’t quite tell if I’d heard it at all. It might simply have been a sensation set loose to rattle among my innards, but it was pleasant so I let it. The world had let itself be made manageable, if only for a moment, and that sound between us had been its quiet submission. It was the satisfaction I imagine of a creator regarding his creation – or, of the reassurance of proof. I didn’t feel the same way again until we had you, and I haven’t since.

Colin Dwyer’s fiction appears here and in several folders on his hard drive. He studied at Georgetown and still lives in Washington, D.C.

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