Oh, Mark. Mark and I had started off so well, with a humorously disastrous date in a museum followed by one too many drinks in a boozer laughing over how bad it had been. That first night ended with a drunken kiss, and half-hearted torso fumbling before we parted at a bus stop, sparks of sexual energy fizzing out of every pore as I watched his bus pull away.
As time passed by, I could just about cope with him insisting on trying to put all his fingers in my mouth during a passionate embrace and I was willing to overlook his taste in socks – always black, always ill-fitting and bobbly. I even cast aside any doubts I had when he insisted on smoking out of my kitchen window and putting his fags out in half-finished cups of tea. The breaking point came when nature intervened and, about three weeks into our courtship, I got a cold sore.
It wasn’t unusual for me to get a cold sore when kissing someone new – indeed I soon came to view it as a ‘sign’ that the relationship was probably destined for failure. Lusty mouths carry God knows what inside them, and I could often be found submerged in Bonjela and Corosdyl, my mouth a gaping scarlet letter – its shame for all to see. And of course, when I had one, it pretty much meant I was ‘off limits’ for anything too exciting. Cockblocked by my own kisser – what a life.
One day, as my new cold sore throbbed, Mark texted asking me to go round to his. This was new; I hadn’t been to his house before, but soon I was weaving around the streets glued to Google Maps until I finally arrived at his front door.
Mark opened the door in a dressing gown and, as far as I could see, nothing underneath. He beckoned me in and asked if I’d like some wine. His voice sounded deeper, seductive. Or at least I assumed that’s what he was going for.
Instead of taking me through to the kitchen, he whisked me straight up the stairs, shoving me into his room – tidy, fairly sparse, very brown – and gestured for me to sit on the bed, handing me a glass. So far we had only ever rolled innocently around my sheets in our underwear; it became quickly clear Mark was ready for phase two.
I perched on the edge of the bed and looked meekly around the room at familiar movie posters, boring knick-knacks and family snapshots while Mark reclined. When I eventually let my gaze fall upon him, I saw Mark had arranged his gown to be as alluring as possible: a nipple there, an exposed thigh there, plus, although he probably didn’t plan this as it wasn’t particularly sexy, one of his testicles in full view.
Mark looked me up and down. “You look nice today,” he said.
I searched for a return compliment. A long pause. Until finally: “One of your knackers is hanging out.”
Mark looked down at his crotch and rearranged himself quickly, laughing.
“Obviously I’m too excited.”
Then, before I knew what was happening, he lunged at me, his hand in my lap, sending my glass of wine flying.
“I’ve dropped my wine,” I said awkwardly, like someone might say “My tea is a bit cold” during an earthquake.
“Fuck the wine,” he breathed in my ear, finally turning his face to mine, his lips poised.
“Oh, errr, you’d better not,” I squeaked.
I explained. He sprang back, panting, before leaning forward to peer at my mouth.
“What is it?” he asked, eyes wide. “How do you get them? Are they contagious?”
“We won’t be able to kiss until it’s gone.”
“And how long will that take?”
“Erm,” I sigh. “Maybe a week.” A lie. It’s almost always two.
“Can you get rid of it?”
“Well what are we supposed to do?” he groaned.
“We just wait.”
“But I, but I…” he started, gesturing to his dressing gown, before opening it to reveal we were not alone.
I did as much as I could with what was available to me, before claiming I had to get up early in the morning and needed to go.
“I’d ask you to stay,” he said as his breathing began to return to normal, “but y’know… that.” He pointed at the cold sore.
Mark texted often over the next few days, mainly to ask how my cold sore was getting on. Still there. I put him off saying I had work commitments until I could fib no more.
On Saturday, we met for dinner at a local Italian, usually a prelude to coming back to mine. Mark’s face fell as soon as he saw the cold sore patches on my stricken mouth. Yes, I had more. He ate his pizza in near silence while I gently forked pasta into my mouth, every bite total agony.
“I’ve been Googling cold sores,” he said, suddenly. “They are herpes. You have herpes. ”
I rolled my eyes. I’d heard all this before. “Yes, I know, but…”
“So does that mean you got it from shagging someone with herpes?”
My head felt very heavy. “No, Mark. They are related, but you don’t really get cold sores that way.”
“But, I’d get herpes if you…” he faked a cough, hopefully choking with embarrassment at what he was saying.
“If I sucked your pecker?” I said brightly, pushing my plate away. “It’s a risk.”
“So…?” he waved his hands around, willing me to finish his sentence.
“So, I won’t be doing it until the cold sore is gone,” I said, thinking “if ever”.
Mark did come back to mine but didn’t lunge at me again. He finally went home at midnight, grinding against me like a go-go boy as I said goodbye at the door, his eyes flicking sadly to my very own flaming lips.
He texted on the way home: “Can’t wait for your mouth to be back in action!”
I considered sending him details of where he could buy a fleshlight or a sex doll, but thought better of it, glad to be sleeping alone.
He got in touch again later in the week checking on my mouth’s progress once more, and, upon my reply of “Still a thing!!”, only silence. Finally, a few days later, the text I knew was coming finally arrived.
There were the usual clichés like “momentum” and “compatible” and “not ready for anything serious” but we both knew why it was all over.
As I read it, I licked my now cold sore-free lip and – for the first and last time – thanked the patron saint of herpes simplex for helping me dodge a Mark-shaped bullet.