Henry passed the booth four, five, six times. He circled the bazaar, purchasing a glass bottle, pickled herring and anise seeds along the way. Each time he ended up in front of the red and white striped booth, staring at the wrinkly woman with the “Kisses, $1.00" sign around her neck.
There was nothing else in her booth. Just the chair she sat on and a bucket for dollars. The bucket was empty and Henry felt awful for the woman that no one wanted to kiss.
Something pulled Henry to the booth; something he could not resist. On his seventh time around, after purchasing a cap made of skunk fur and unable to hold any more purchases, he found himself back at the kissing booth, staring at the old woman and her crooked smile and sagging skin.
Henry fished a dollar coin from his pocket. He dropped it in the bucket and it clanked and clattered while Henry leaned down awkwardly to kiss the woman.
“No,” the woman whispered. “I kiss you.” She stood and Henry could hear her bones move against each other; her back cracked, her knees clicked, her body protested the movement, as if it had been years since the woman had used those muscles and bones. She moved her lips towards Henry’s cheek. The smell of rotting fruit and something long dead clung to her skin and Henry fought off the urge to twist his head; he must have this kiss, he thought. A dollar’s worth, anyhow.
He felt her cracked lips brush against his skin and he shuddered. She then grabbed Henry’s face, her hands pressed firm against his cheeks and ears, her grip surprisingly strong. As she moved in to kiss him full on the lips, Henry saw something small and white emerge from the woman’s mouth; the maggot crawled down her lip, stopping to suck on the flesh. Henry felt the day’s take of pickled herring churn in his stomach and rise up to his throat, he would surely throw up on the woman’s face if she didn’t move. He tried again to turn his head, but the woman’s hands were like steel. He couldn’t turn an inch either way.
Her lips met Henry’s and as he tried to scream, her tongue entered his mouth and Henry felt it slide across his own tongue, reaching down his throat, slithering its way through his body like a snake and then blackness as the bile and woman’s tongue met and made breathing difficult, if impossible.
If later that day you asked anyone who was searching the bazaar grounds for the missing young man named Henry about the old woman and the kissing booth, they would say no such thing existed.
And it doesn't. At least not for them.Copyright Michele Catalano 2005