'The Kiss List' was written by Ilana Conway for our City Academy Short Story Competition 2021.
Please note that this story is intended for an adult audience.
The Kiss List
151 was vicious. He spat in her face, but she liked that. He flipped her over and pushed her face into the pillow, swore at her, pulled her hair. She gripped the sides of the bed, something to hold on to. The bed creaked and her hip bones drove into broken springs. When it was over he just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, like they all did. Later, Gina would add him to her list, another number with a name she struggled to remember. But there were always parts of their faces she recalled, tied to their numbers - an arched eyebrow, brilliant blue eyes.
The Kiss List began at age 14. The gang all had one. Four Kiss Lists: one each for Kelly, Sharon, Clary and Gina, decorated with hearts, flowers and pastel pink lipstick marks. “The first name on the list should be special,” Kelly had said. This was their first kiss after all. But none of theirs had been. They got over those fumbled saliva swaps quickly, leaving behind memories of dribbling spit and too much tongue, racing on to the next, and the next. “The more kisses you get, the closer you get to him – your true love! Right Gina?” Kelly made a heart shape with her hands, peered through the arches at her best friend, winking. “Makes sense. The One.”
“Yeah we all want him!”
“Maybe he’ll look like Mr. Parker!” “Maybe he’ll look like Leo!”
“He’ll probably just look like Trev!” “Speak for yourself!”
Their lists grew and they added stars for action below the belt, for fingers, BJs, probing tongues, anything ticklish. They planned circles around names for the full shebang, compared results at the weekends, drinking milkshakes at the bowling alley. Every week, Gina’s Kiss List grew the most. Kelly would sulk, chewing her straw. Sharon’s eyes would narrow as she aggressively bit down on a cookie. Clary just doodled all over her almost barren list, trying to fill empty space with colours and lines, and mellow out the awkwardness with grand plans of her next unattainable target. But Gina couldn’t help it if their mothers were stricter, insisted on open bedroom doors during mixed-gender study sessions, or worse, that they, “continue that Science project in the kitchen please children!” And besides, when it came to the kissing, Gina put the work in, didn’t she? She leaned in when she felt Will’s gaze on her chest and kept eye contact strong and steady with Kelvin. With Barry, she fluttered her eyelashes or looked down coyly. She’d practiced ‘coy’ in front of the mirror, ‘bold’ too, different strokes of sexy for every new entry on the list. The other girls just couldn’t keep up.
They started meeting without her - no one likes a winner. They left her out of slumber parties and pizza nights, so she hit number 20 alone at lunch break, with the help of Gareth from their school’s closest rival, Cravenwell Comprehensive. She celebrated with a single scoop of Baskin Robbins, instead of the Ice Cream Sundae they’d all planned for the big two oh. After school, Pistachio Chocolate Chip rising up in her throat, she went and stood by the gates of Cravenwell again and found Gareth, not to get a new number, but to put a circle around an old one. Then she was a woman, leaving her girl gang trailing behind.
151 stirred, his post-ejaculation slumber interrupted by her breathing. She couldn’t help breathing.
“Gina, Gina, Gina...What are we going to do with you?”
She plastered a smile on her face. Her glow was fading fast.
“Glad you remember my name,” she said.
“Do you remember mine?”
“Mark...no - Miles?”
He sighed, gave a wry smile, “Good job Einstein.”
She looked pointedly at the door.
“Oh, you want me to go? Come on, let’s have a smoke first.”
She’d taken up smoking semi-regularly at number 40 - only after, or during, sex. Gina had always been determined to keep her lungs free of toxic smoke, even long before she cut the toxic girls out of her life. They’d tried their first Silk Cut together and all hated it. Still, they’d carried on puffing, except for her. She caved when number 40 came up from between her legs and lit her a Camel Light, before sinking back down. The head rush forced her orgasm out in one loud, crashing moan. She chased that high all the way to number 57, her only long-term boyfriend, and the only man since number 40 who’d made her come like that. Ten whole months. He’d liked her a lot, loved her even. He’d loved her even more when she invited Miss 58 to join them for long weekends and late night parties. He never found out about 59 and 60, but he read a text from 61 and gave her no chance to explain. He left the next day and Gina hit 62 that very evening.
Number 31 is when they all really turned on her. Kelly in the school playground, tall for her age, taller than Gina, who’d developed breasts but not height. The boys preferred the breasts. “Come and get it if you want it!” Kelly shrieked, waving Gina’s Kiss List above her head. “Or isn’t that what you say to all the guys?!”
Gina stretched up, the list a vast chasm away. “Give it here Kelly! Give it back!”
“You’re a bitch!”
“Ben - star, Jack - star, Gareth ...oooh circle around Gareth!” Kelly gasped, moving her hips back and forth for the audience that gathered around them. Some of the boys had stopped their game, moving closer to the screaming girls. Ben made blowjob motions and they all giggled, just as Miss Tregon started yelling, striding over from across the playground. Kelly’s arm lowered and Gina grabbed at the list, ripping it in two.
She never really trusted girls after that. She even kept the girls she slept with at a distance. She found out what they tasted like, but didn’t care for the flavours of their souls. 51 and 102 got close to knowing her, but she held her hopes and dreams aloft over them, delighting in their confusion as they stretched up to reach her, always falling short. She knew they cried when she didn’t return their calls.
She travelled the world from numbers 70 to 95, spending more than a score in Spain. She found balmy, sweaty sex on the balconies of Barcelona, and kisses as fierce as the wind in Tarifa, where saliva mixed with salt and sand on the sea breeze. She opened her eyes mid- kiss and peeked at Africa.
151 lived around the corner from her. Nothing exotic about him. His penis was average in size.
She’d ruled out sex dreams a long time ago, although some were so real she’d almost wavered. She could have reached a thousand by now. But at least in her waking hours she could see their faces clearly. Well, most of the time. Sometimes she blurred them with gin
and wine, hazed over them with weed and vodka. She made up the difference later, sketching in the spaces with brows, noses and lips of all the numbers that came before.
And every time they left she would reach inside the drawer, the one with the condoms and the lube and rummage around for her black and red notepad, never quite in the same place she’d left it. Triple digits reached over halfway through now. Smudged names and numbers harked back to nights of smeared lipstick and torn knickers. Most of the names were
circled. The pages were grungy, the ink fading. Weird - she took good care of her possessions and her books were usually pristine. But the notepad’s insides were slowly crumbling, becoming more and more dog-eared. Sometimes she’d notice a turned-up corner. Once, she found a long, brunette hair, unlike her translucent blonde strands. She’d picked it out, stared at it, then walked over to the bin and flicked it away. Stuck to the inside front cover of the book, was the original Kiss List, long outgrown.
“Girls, stop this at once!”
Miss Tregon hadn’t been pleased.
“There’s to be no bullying in my school!”
Kelly’s eyes were scrunched up in fury. She looked down at Gina, who stood panting, hearing nothing the teacher said. Even the sportiest of the boys had stopped their kick around now. The football rolled slowly over to Gina’s feet.
“That slut started it Miss!” shouted Kelly, teeth barred. “She’s a slag! Look at all these guys she’s stuck her tongue down. And she’s sucked them off too!” The crowd gasped, sniggered. “And that’s not all Miss, she’s...”
“Enough!” hollered Miss Tregon.
The sound of laughter grew. Even Clary, Gina’s most loyal friend from primary school, the only one who still answered her phone calls, was giggling, barely even trying to hide it. Miss Tregon took a few deep breaths. Gina’s cheeks reddened. They all had a list, why was hers any different? All she’d done is do well! They should be cheering her on, like she’d do for them, not singling her out and laughing at her success. How dare they? Hands shaking, she picked up the football. Stretching up as far she could, she leaned back and smacked it upwards onto Kelly’s stupid head.
Right, I’m gonna make a move now,” said 151, He stubbed his cigarette out into last night’s wine.
“See you around?”
“Yeah – maybe.” She looked him over as he stood in the doorway. He waved awkwardly. “Bye...”
She reached for her notepad as soon as the door slammed. It fell open on the inside front cover, the original, torn Kiss List winking up at her. The halfway point was taped together, its words smeared with tear stains and drops of blood. She ran her fingers over the droplets, long dried up. The tears had long dried too.
The playground was silent for once, in the moments before the screaming started. Who would have known that a football could cause so much damage? Who would have known that Kelly would fall so heavily, all her height crashing down on to that jagged paving stone that the school had been meaning to fix for months? Who would have known there’d be so much blood? It flooded out of Kelly, staining her brown hair dark red. She didn’t die straight away. Amongst the pushing and the cries and the shouts for an ambulance, the space between the two girls stood silent, a vacuum that filled up slowly with memories: sharing snacks and skipping ropes, secret alcopops and skipped lessons. They stared at each other, Gina’s eyes flooding with tears of horror and realisation, Kelly’s wide and disbelieving.
“You bitch,” Kelly whispered. “I hope your list –”
“K-Kelly, I-I’m sorry”, stammered Gina.
“I hope you never –”
Gina crouched down beside her. “Please, Kelly, I –”
“I hope your list goes on forever, and – and you never find him,” Kelly spat out. Blood trickled down the side of her chin.
Gina flicked forward in the notepad, through pages of different inks and foreign names, past English gents and drunk ravers, and the ones who bought her presents and dinners, or just a drink and the morning-after-pill. Or nothing at all. “151”, she wrote. “Miles.” Star. Circle.
The blood formed a cloud-shaped splatter, like the ones they painted in art class, drawing scrawny tails on to make sheep, pointed ears pricked up to follow the herd. Kelly squinted up at her.
“K-keep on kissing Gina.” Kelly’s lips turned bruised blue, like one too many colours merging on a palette. “I’ll make sure you never find your one true love.”
About Ilana Conway
Ilana Conway writes fiction exploring time, memory, and our sense of reality. A long-time short story enthusiast, she began focusing on this genre a few years ago through creative writing courses. When she’s not piecing together characters’ recollections, she works as a UX Writer for a legal tech platform. She lives in London and can be contacted via Twitter @ilana_conway.