Creative Nonfiction: One Mouth, Two Fingers, Fourteen Years by Kristine Langley Mahler

Photo by Cloris Ying on Unsplash

It’s not that I mind the drooping slump of comfort as much as I miss the taut, nerve-attention of realizing something new was imminent. A first kiss was the throat swab test I sought, evidence of desire. I didn’t care for the physical sensation of lips mashing against teeth biting on the gumminess of tongue. That ancient, enameled bone collision, unhinging jaws to swallow spit like a snake, swollen lip-cracks smeared with kiwi-flavored lip gloss the next day: it was just the proof of emotion forced into action. All I ever wanted. To be desired so much it had pushed the fear of rejection aside, made a boy cross the room to break the tension, taking me by the back of the skull and thrusting his mouth at mine. Nothing left to wonder, afterwards.

Kissing is negligible, now. Something I do out of habit to prove I do, indeed, still care. But it has lost its thrill because I have had him for years, that first kiss smothered beneath thousands of distractions. There are no more grand reveals, the marriage certificate still legal-document-green after fourteen years, though surely it must yellow someday.

My hands are showing their years. The freckles are darkening into age-spots, and my finger tendons are less springy than they once were. It is harder to hold anything. I used to revel in the knit of thumb-cups, knuckle nudging knuckle, the secret space between our hands, protecting something I did not know I would need to save. The first time my hand was held, I came. I didn’t know I could orgasm through something so simple, a palm pressed against my palm, bones clicking so tightly my knuckles ached, a grip I never wanted to release, followed by gratitude clenching in waves which slowly dissolved.

I rub my right thumb against my right middle finger when I am spoken to, tracing the letters of the words. I suppose I am firming a phrase, marking evidence that I was addressed and focused upon. Or maybe I am just trying to keep myself present. Trying to stave off the boredom. It was a habit I had never noticed until he asked, recently, “What are you writing?” What am I writing. There it was, ephemeral as a sudden pheromone jolt. The quick bloom of lust, after all these years. Possibility. He had found something new.

Kristine Langley Mahler is a memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska. Her work was named Notable in Best American Essays 2019, received the Rafael Torch Award from Crab Orchard Review, won the Sundog Lit Collaboration Contest, and has been published in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Brevity, Speculative Nonfiction, and The Rumpus, among others. She is the Publisher of Split/Lip Press. Find more about her projects at or @suburbanprairie.

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