I do the kissing only very occasionally. I am okay with it, but sometimes it just complicates things. For the most part, it is just about the touching, the skin-on-skin way of it. There’s nothing special I need to do. It just happens the way it happens, and I move about accordingly.
Sometimes, I get to be inside my head, and do all the personal thinking that I like. They can’t tell that I’m not being who they want me to be. And I think about how swimming feels, and about how many hours are left of the day. I don’t think about the heat coming from their hands, or the smell of onion, or cabbage or cigarettes. I don’t think about the warm wet sometimes. Or the up-close throw of it, being pressed together like that, by words.
I started out as a hugger. I would stand close and reach my arm over a shoulder. It was only one arm, at the start. And then it progressed to two, that kind of full-body bear thing. And that was what they wanted most. For hours sometimes. They would stand and not let go, held in my arms, and I would get out of my body and race around outside, waiting for the sound of an ending.
I wear all grey, like skin when the heart stops. Even the mask is grey, and while it only hides the top of my face, it seems to suck out the colour from the bottom half as well. The bottom half is kept uncovered because of lips. Lips are part of what can be utilised. They hardly ever are, though. It’s a very rare person that wants the Proxy kissing their lover. Sometimes it just happens anyway, and when it does, I always try to be as still as possible, as not-there as I can be.
Tonight, it’s the man with the lover in Canada. He misses her more than he lets her know. He is all jokes and funnies when she’s online. Through my earpiece she directs me to pat his arm, tells me to let my fingers curl over his shoulder. I hold the pose while she tells him it’ll be okay, that it won’t be too long now, and then she tells me to move my hand to his neck, to let my thumb rest against his jaw, stroking softly. He closes his eyes and it’s her. He says I love you. He says it too quiet for her to hear it in Canada.
The man with the lover in Canada has a blue corduroy sofa. Sometimes when I sit on it I dig my nails into the ridges and let them travel all the way to the edge. With my free hand. My other hand is usually in his, our fingers interlocked, leaving a space between our palms the size of an egg. A small egg. I think about that space, hoping his lover has it filled with all the things they are going to do. It is a pocket in the closeness of two bodies. Breathing space. A plan. Or anticipation. There is another space in Canada just like it. And it’s the same space. That’s how this works.
With his free hand he types instructions for his Proxy. I don’t look at the screen, but I know that in Canada, the Proxy’s thumb is tracing circles across the quiet veins of the man’s lover’s wrist. She tells me to rest my head against his shoulder. I can smell him there, the nervousness and the excitement. His tee shirt is the scent of summer. My grey face presses against it. My mouth, open, breathes a hot circle and I let my tongue out to taste the fabric for just a second. She didn’t tell me to do that. I close my mouth, glad of the mask and of not being anyone. His thumb is still against my wrist. I have a heartbeat there. It’s quick, but I don’t know what he thinks it means.
I listen carefully for more instructions. A lot of what I do is about breathing. Taking a breath before executing a movement, holding a breath waiting for the next thing to happen. Or breathing in how they’re feeling. Up close, skin throws out secrets. Like now, his skin is saying I Miss Being Touched. I know that’s an easy one, it’s the whole purpose of me, really, but it doesn’t make it any less true. There are subtle changes to this. Like when his lover tells me to rest my hand on his back, and I do, but I rest it high, so that my fingers brush his neck. The missing goes away. The missing becomes a closed-eyed shiver of something different. The hairs on his skin rise up, prickle, and he sits quiet, doesn’t type, just lowers his head, breathes in and out, and in and out again.
The man’s lover in Canada tells him she has to go. They say their I love you’s and she instructs me to leave. The man types the same instruction to his Proxy in Canada. I remove my earpiece. He closes his laptop lid.
My hand is still on his back. He still has hold of my other hand. I don’t feel like I can move. I should be walking down the corridor. I should be on my way home. The blue corduroy sofa is underneath us both. It supports us. But I am not me. I’m not anyone. And I shouldn’t be on the sofa any more.
He won’t let go, though. Sometimes it gets like this. It’s easy to see why. There’s a thin line and we, as Proxys, walk it. I have a bracelet I can press. I will be safe in no time at all. But I’m not going to press the bracelet. I’m going to keep my hands where they are.
I have no idea what is happening in Canada.
We sit like this for a long time, staring at each other’s hands. The skin on my hands is not grey. They’re the only part of me that can tell him anything. The skin on his neck is hot. I lift one finger off at a time, until it’s only my palm that is resting there. Without the voice in my ear, actions become awkward. There is no flow and no justification. It’s easy when the choice is made by someone else. Even if I don’t obey exactly, what happens is still not quite down to me.
There eventually comes a point where we break our grip, and I use this as a means of leaving. I don’t say anything. I just raise my hand in a gesture of goodbye and he matches it. The corridor is long and full of too many chances to turn back. I slap my feet against the concrete and quickly leave it behind.
She says, We need to talk, from her computer in Canada. And then she tells me to rest my head on his shoulder. I try to stare out of the window. I try to think about the sea. The man with the lover in Canada presses his hand into the small of my back. Then he types something with his other hand, and I think in Canada the same thing happens, but I can’t be sure. He fans out his fingers and I feel his hand not as a certain thing, but as a variable, as a thing that can change. I steady myself, placing my hand on his hip. He doesn’t know that she didn’t say to do that. He doesn’t know that her only instruction so far has been Rest Head On Shoulder. We are caught up in the beginnings of a slow dance. My feet are not grey. They have a life of their own.
After a lot of talking, her voice says It’s over, I’m sorry. Then her instruction comes telling me to pat his back, to let him hug if he wants to. The man with the ex-lover in Canada lurches into my embrace. He holds me tight. I hear my own breathing in the space where she doesn’t type. I’m stuck in my skin, waiting for the next move. He breaks from the hug and types something, hits the enter key hard. Then he comes back to me, his body slamming itself around mine, arms strong and inflexible.
My earpiece is quiet. All the sound has been sucked out of the world. He kisses me and it feels like a car crash. Something you know you shouldn’t enjoy, but you can’t help it.
He types something else. He is letting her know what he is doing now, with me. He lies me down on the blue corduroy sofa. All he knows of me is in my lips and my hands. But it’s enough. He kisses me again, and this time, I’m there. Even before he shuts the laptop, even before I pull out the earpiece.