Precursor to a Kiss

I am convinced that, during the fugue state between rousing from a deep sleep and becoming aware of one’s wakefulness, there is a period that can last, figuratively, for days. Let me explain by example.

A few weeks ago, as I lay on my right side in bed, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock on the bedside stand next to me: 4:43 a.m. I rolled over onto my back and closed my eyes, engaging in an internal conversation with myself about the relative merits of getting up or going back to sleep. The conversation included an argument that, if I were to get up, I could get a start on writing something of merit.

That’s when I imagined a scene from a story in which a woman is standing and glaring at a man who seems to be shrinking away from her. The look on her face is one of anger, but she isn’t speaking. Instead, she is simply staring at the man while pointing to a hardback book on the bedside stand beside him. The black linen cover of the book bears its title in gold leaf on the front and the spine: Precursor to a Kiss. The man looks down at the book, picks it up, and thumbs through several pages. Every page is blank.  The scene looks like a painting. There is no motion, not even breathing. But it’s not a painting. I know it’s not. It’s a snapshot that they want etched in memory.

Finally, the man speaks and the painting comes to life. “I didn’t mean for you to see it. It was going to be a surprise.”

A sneer crosses her lips as she responds. “A surprise? You wanted to surprise me with a book that says what we have between us is nothing?”

“That’s not how I intended it. I meant we can write our lives any way we want. We can create our own ideal lifetimes, just the two of us.”

“I’m not buying it. I’m just not buying it. You’re making this up. My name isn’t even in the book. It’s blank because you can write your life with someone else when you think the time is right.” The woman turns and walks out the door, slamming it behind her. Her footsteps echo as she clicks down the long, narrow hallway outside the room.

The man waits for her to return. He waits all day and all night, just standing next to the bed, staring down at the book. Finally, she returns, flinging the door open so hard the knob smashes into the wall. “And what’s more, ” she screams, “it should be ‘prelude,’ not ‘precursor.’ That’s enough to make me scream.”

All of this took place in my mind in real time. Even the long wait, with nothing happening while I was watching the man standing by the bed. It took place as it was happening. But I opened my eyes again and turn to look at the clock: 4:44 a.m.

My description of the experience and the words I ascribe to the two characters may not be precise, but they’re close. It was a while ago, after all, and all I did when I got up was to jot some rough notes, rather than record the conversations in detail. But I think I got most of it just about the way it happened. It’s impossible, though, that the entire interchange—including the entire day of waiting—could have occurred in my imagination in a minute’s time.  Yet it was possible. It did happen. Somehow, my brain processed the entire imagined experience in a minute.  During that minute between the moment I woke from a deep sleep and the time I looked at the clock the second time, I experienced something akin to mental time compression. It’s odd. But there you are. Precursor, prelude, either way, there was no kiss.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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