By Michael Perret
Artwork by SickNasty
People like to joke about superpowers. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The ability to produce a sign from behind one’s back, for good or for evil, but always completely apropos. The ability to produce a blinding flash of light off one’s front tooth upon grinning, accompanied simultaneously by a high-pitched “DING!” The ability to fly, to be invisible, to see through other people’s clothes… Strangely, Suzy actually had one.
When she was nine she overheard the boy she liked say that his favorite was “sour apple”. That night she lay in bed imagining his lips, occasionally licking hers with the tip of her tongue, tasting them. At lunch the next day she ambushed him by the bathroom and kissed him. He pulled away, his eyes, wide with surprise, expressed confusion, and he said, “Do you have Jolly Ranchers?” – the main currency of the playground. She kissed him again, and both, with their eyes closed, experienced timelessness.
Once, a little drunk, staring at all the different flavors of Stoli Vodka lined up behind the bar, it occurred to her to make her lips taste like red meat. Just an experiment – she was feeling loose enough not to invest herself in it too much and be too disappointed if it didn’t work out – like that time in high school on a field trip to New York when her “boyfriend” went on and on about how much he loved the hot dogs, but when she made her lips taste like one, he pulled back and accused her of burping into his mouth. Another infamous backfire was when she made her lips hot like jalapeño – she was dating a guy from Texas and it was supposed to be a surprise. She learned from that experience that certain chemicals really did form on her lips – in this instance, skin burning capsaicin.
When her date came back from the restroom, a big guy named Ralph she worked with, and took his seat next to her at the bar, Suzy leaned over with a certain air, “caution to the wind”, and said, “I’m a little drunk, why don’t you kiss me?”
It was Friday, happy hour, and Ralph had been looking forward to this drink with Suzy for days, but this development caught him off guard. “What? Oh – here?” She nodded, almost laughing. He moved in, expecting to give her a peck on the lips and make a joke of it, but as soon as his lips touched hers the savory flavor of warm steak seemed to seep into his flesh, through his lips into his cheeks; his soft, wet mouth filled with saliva, and instead of giving her a peck, he massaged her lips with his insatiably, and, beginning to stand up from the bar stool, tilted her head back and pushed his tongue into her mouth. Suzy put her hands on his chest to hold him back. She broke away and smiled sideways, indicating they should leave. The next morning it occurred to her that the only reason he hadn’t actually eaten her alive was that they were old enough to know about sex, and that had diverted and confused his appetite. What an animal, she thought to herself, and they got married a few months later. A good meal always made Ralph think transcendently of his wife, and a certain sensation he was never able to put into words, always hinted to him that his wife’s kisses were all he really needed to be happy. When he was on his death-bed, Suzy made her lips taste like pineapple, which she had come across in a book of philosophy once, and Ralph passed away believing firmly that true love is eternal and of divine origin.
When Suzy had first discovered her superpower as a child she’d tried to tell her parents about it. One morning at breakfast, while her father read the paper and her mother prepared her lunch, Suzy looked up from her cereal and said that she could make her lips taste like bubble gum, and that morning she had waken from a nightmare where she had forgotten that she could make her lips taste like bubble gum and so had absent-mindedly started to chew them off, believing that they were just bubble gum. As she slowly became aware that she was chewing apart her own lips she’d tried to stop but couldn’t because they tasted so good, like Bazooka. Her father stopped reading and looked over at her with a curious look on his face. He glanced over the paper to her mother who had stopped making her lunch sandwich and just stood there, a limp piece of sliced turkey in her hand.
“Don’t worry, honey,” her mother finally said, as her father went back to reading the morning paper. “I used to have a terrible dream about a black goat, and when your father’s feet get cold he kicks like a rabbit and wails that the dogs are after him.” Startled, Suzy looked up at her father who only grunted behind his paper. Her mother rubbed her back soothingly and added, “Now go get your backpack, it’s time for school.” When Suzy left the kitchen she heard her parents chuckling (“…the darndest things”), and wondered if they’d understood what she had tried to say at all.
Suzy learned to accent her day with the taste of her lips. It afforded her a quiet pleasure, especially as she got older and spent more and more of her days alone, to find the flavor that would tastefully elevate the experience to perfection. At the theater, or at a concert, if the theme was right, a touch of rose would lace the music or fantasy filled auditorium with a subtle exhilaration. If she were out on a walk and the day was cool, crisp and sunny, she’d make it perfect with the light flavor of lavender. On cold days, the warmth of burnt sage and maple kept back winter’s edge. Sometimes in the summer, when she was hot and sweaty, just the thought of a cold Corona with lemon would bring the flavor to her lips – but this usually made her too thirsty, and at this stage in her life, impulsive appetites seemed to her somehow distasteful.
Before she died, she tried to recall the taste of her mother’s milk. She’d closed her eyes and tried to remember sucking her mother’s nipple, tried to imagine the sensation of the warm milk in her mouth. For some reason, it appeared sweet now, very sweet, and yet Suzy couldn’t convince herself that it really had been. In any event, when she finally passed away, and her head slowly and slightly sank to one side, the sweet taste of condensed milk enlivened the tip of her slightly protruding tongue.