Articles about sex scenes in books usually fail in one of 3 ways. They often:
- Give such a short love scene that you’re begging for more but can’t find a longer excerpt online
- Feature Romantic or Erotica novels with busty men or bodice-rippers on the cover
- Offer sex passages from the classics (D.H. Lawrence, anyone?) that everyone knows and has already read (what’s wrong with modern sex writing?)
The sex scenes below are literary fiction. But don’t run away! They’re really good sex and really good writing, and yes, those things can be combined. I’ll prove it to you.
Just read the first couple of excerpts below and you’ll find steamy, romantic, arousing sex writing. Writing that doesn’t make you cringe from bad prose. Writing that offers a number of pleasures to be had — psychological, word-play, beautiful descriptions. These are some damn fine love scenes in books.
Before we get there, a quick quiz: What is the difference between erotica and sex in literary novels?
In erotica, the sex is never bad.
It’s always vagina-blowing, cock-swelling fantastic.
But in the excerpts below, sometimes the sex scenes don’t go as planned, or one of the partners wants something he is not getting. It’s not all roses and multiple orgasms. In short, it’s more like the complexity of real life, which sometimes arouses you and sometimes depresses you.
Writers, read these sex scenes in books and learn! Don’t fall into the trap of writing terrible sex scenes and earn yourself a nomination for the Bad Sex in Fiction award. Glean from this wisdom. Study and prove yourself approved. As Steve Almond has recommended, if you want more insight into how to write sex, there’s no better text than the Song of Solomon.
I also have to make a pitch for a nonfiction work that features some of the sex scenes in books below: The Joy of Writing Sex. (For those of you who are old enough, that’s a clever play on the famous 1972 book, The Joy of Sex).
And for those champions of diversity who are going to try to VIDA count these excerpts according to the diversity of sexual acts, please know that I tried my best to choose racy novel excerpts that illustrated a wide range of human sexuality. If I did not happen to hit upon your specific form of sexual entertainment, I humbly apologize in advance (but seriously — there must be something here that entertains you).
I would love to hear in the comments which sex scene you think is the hottest. If you really want to be bold, you can tell me exactly why (but don’t get too titillated!).
Sex Scenes in Books
“He arrived at the shower block, Body Space 8. He had more or less resigned himself to the women being old and decrepit and was taken aback to see teenagers. There were four of them near the showers, all between fifteen and seventeen, opposite the sinks. Two of them wore bikini bottoms and waited as the other two played under the shower like otters, chatting and laughing and splashing each other: they were completely naked. The scene was indescribably graceful and erotic. He did not deserve such a thing. His cock was hard in his boxer shorts; with one hand, he took it out and pressed himself against the sink as he cleaned between his teeth with a toothpick. He stabbed himself in the gum, removed the bloody toothpick. The head of his penis tingled unbearably; it was hot and swollen, a drop forming at the tip.
One of the girls, graceful and dark-haired, stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and began to contentedly pat her young breasts dry. A little redhead slipped off her swimsuit and took her place under the shower – her pussy hair was golden blonde. Bruno moaned a little, and was beginning to feel dizzy. In his head, he could imagine walking over, taking his shorts off and waiting by the showers. He had every right to go and wait to take a shower. He imagined himself beside them, his cock hard, saying something like “Is the water hot?” The showers were fifty centimeters apart; if he took a shower next to the redheaded girl she might accidentally brush against his prick. At this thought he felt increasingly dizzy and had to hold on to the porcelain sink. At the same instant two boys arrived, laughing a little too loudly; they were wearing black shorts with fluorescent stripes. Suddenly Bruno’s hard-on was gone; he put his penis back into his shorts and returned to picking at his teeth.”
“And again, as before, she unzipped my fly, took out my penis, and put it in her mouth. The one thing different from before was that she did not take off her own clothing. She wore Kumiko’s dress the whole time. I tried to move, but it felt as if my body were tied down by invisible threads. I felt myself growing big and hard inside her mouth.
I saw her fake eyelashes and curled hair tips moving. Her bracelets made a dry sound against each other. Her tongue was long and soft and seemed to wrap itself around me. Just as I was about to come, she suddenly moved away and began slowly to undress me. She took off my jacket, my tie, my pants, my shirt, my underwear, and made me lie down on the bed. Her own clothes she kept on, though. She sat on the bed, took my hand, and brought it under her dress. She was not wearing panties. My hand felt the warmth of her vagina. It was deep, warm, and very wet. My fingers were all but sucked inside. …
Then Creta Kano mounted me and used her hand to slip me inside her. Once she had me deep inside, she began a slow rotation of her hips. As she moved, the edges of the pale-blue dress caressed my naked stomach and thighs. With the skirts of the dress spread out around her, Creta Kano, riding atop me, looking like a soft, gigantic mushroom that had silently poked its face up through the dead leaves on the ground and opened under the sheltering wings of night. Her vagina felt warm and at the same time cold. It tried to envelop me, to draw me in, and at the same time to press me out. My erection grew larger and harder. I felt I was about to burst wide open. It was the strangest sensation, something that went beyond simple sexual pleasure. It felt as if something inside her, something special inside her, were slowly working its way through my organ into me.”
Haruki Murakami practices the art of the literary erection:
- 1Q84: Tengo has sex with a woman who mystically transfers his sperm to a woman across town.
- Norwegian Wood: Man copulates with woman because she reminds him of his true love.
“And one of them calls out to me, “Hey, punk faggot,” and the girl and I get into her car and drive off into the hills and we go to her room and I take off my clothes and lie on her bed and she goes into the bathroom and I wait a couple of minutes and then she finally comes out, a towel wrapped around her, and sits on the bed and I put my hands on her shoulders, and she says stop it and, after I let go, she tells me to lean against the headboard and I do and then she takes off the towel and she’s naked and she reaches into the drawer by her bed and brings out a tube of Bain De Soleil and she hands it to me and then she reaches into the drawer and brings out a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses and she tells me to put them on and I do.
And she takes the tube of suntan lotion from me and squeezes some onto her fingers and then touches herself and motions for me to do the same, and I do. After a while I stop and reach over to her and she stops me and says no, and then places my hand back on myself and her hand begins again and after this goes on for a while I tell her that I’m going to come and she tells me to hold on a minute and that she’s almost there and she begins to move her hand faster, spreading her legs wider, leaning back against the pillows, and I take the sunglasses off and she tells me to put them back on and I put them back on and it stings when I come and then I guess she comes too. Bowie’s on the stereo and she gets up, flushed, and turns the stereo off and turns on MTV. I lie there, naked, sunglasses still on, and she hands me a box of Kleenex. I wipe myself off and then look through a Vogue that’s lying by the side of the bed. She puts a robe on and stares at me. I can hear thunder in the distance and it begins to rain harder. She lights a cigarette and I start to dress. And then I call a cab and finally take the Wayfarers off and she tells me to be quiet walking down the stairs so I won’t wake her parents.”
“There is nothing so sexy as seeing a solid young dyke coming with her legs bent in a diamond shape, feet together, and one of those Hitachi camping flashlights, those Hitachi huge-eyed deep-sea exotic fishes, doing its blunt tireless thing in her Marianas Trench. I risked being seen, emboldened by how loud the vibrator was, timing my mastur-strokes to the shaking of her knees and the somewhat Zen-like whooshing of her breathing, and when she began to come for the second time I did in fact stop time for an instant and laid my dick in her palm and closed my fist around her fist, and squeezed on it so tightly my knuckles turned yellow, sliding within my skin in and out of her grip. As the inexorability of my clasm began I pulled down on my glasses so that she and I were living coterminously, and as she came I released one-liners of sperm up her forearm and then squeezed the last semi-painful droplets of my orgasm out on her curled fingers. I let her just begin to register the fact of my cooling slime on her arm after she finished coming herself before I stopped time and toweled her off and left.”
If you like Nicholson Baker, look at these other erotic novels by him:
- Vox. The greatest phone sex novel of all time. It’s rumored that Monica Lewinsky once gave this as a present to Bill Clinton.
- House of Holes. Some of the most innovative sex writing of all time. The cover is a work of art.
“I couldn’t get enough of him. I was tired and sore but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to sleep. I wanted the ache. I wanted him in me, all the time. His weight on top of me. I wanted to squeeze him in further and further. I wanted to watch his face. I wanted his sweat to drop onto me. I wanted to drop mine on him. I got on top of him. I’d never done it before. I couldn’t really believe it; I was doing this. I was inventing something. I held him and put him in. He felt deeper in me. I’ll never forget it. I was in charge and he liked it. I held his hands down. He pretended he was trying to break free. I let my tits touch his face. He went mad; he bucked. He split me in two. I pushed down. I couldn’t believe it. One of his fingers flicked over my bum. I did it to him. He lifted and heaved. I couldn’t believe it. There was no end to it, no end to the new things. He did something. I copied him. I did something. He did it back. He took me from behind. I pushed back, forced more of him into me. I sucked him. He licked me. I made him come on my stomach. He sucked my toes. The whole room rocked and Mrs. Doyle smiled at us every morning.”
6. Mary Gaitskill, Secretary
“The last time I made a typing error and the lawyer summoned me to his office, two unusual things occurred. The first was that after he finished spanking me he told me to pull up my skirt. Fear hooked my stomach and pulled it toward my chest. I turned my head and tried to look at him.
“You’re not worried that I’m going to rape you, are you?” he said. “Don’t. I’m not interested in that, not in the least. Pull up your skirt.”
I turned my head away from him. I thought, I don’t have to do this. I can stop right now. I can straighten up and walk out. But I didn’t. I pulled up my skirt.
“Pull down your panty hose and underwear.”
A finger of nausea poked my stomach.
“I told you I’m not going to fuck you. Do what I say.”
The skin on my face and throat was hot, but my fingertips were cold on my legs as I pulled down my underwear and panty hose. The letter before me became distorted beyond recognition. I thought I might faint or vomit, but I didn’t. I was held up by a feeling of dizzying suspension, like the one I have in dreams where I can fly, but only if I get into some weird position.
At first he didn’t seem to be doing anything. Then I became aware of a small frenzy of expended energy behind me. I had an impression of a vicious little animal frantically burrowing dirt with its tiny claws and teeth. My hips were sprayed with hot sticky muck.
“Go clean yourself off,” he said. “And do that letter again.”
I stood slowly and felt my skirt fall over the sticky gunk. He briskly swung open the door and I left the room, not even pulling up my panty hose and underwear, since I was going to use the bathroom anyway. He closed the door behind me, and the second unusual thing occurred. Susan, the paralegal, was standing the waiting room with a funny look on her face. She was a blonde who wore short, fuzzy sweaters and fake gold jewelry around he neck. At her friendliest, she had a whining, abrasive quality that clung to her voice. Now, she could barely say hello. Her stupidly full lips were parted speculatively.
“Hi,” I said. “Just a minute.” She noted the awkwardness of my walk, because of the lowered panty hose.
I got to the bathroom and wiped myself off. I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt mechanical. I wanted to get that dumb paralegal out of the office so I could come back to the bathroom and masturbate.
Susan completed her errand and left. I masturbated. I retyped the letter. The lawyer sat in his office all day.”
Mary Gaitskill frequently writes sex scenes with unequal power relationships:
- Bad Behavior: This story collection contains the excerpt above, as well as “A Romantic Weekend,” about a submissive woman and a dominant man.
- The Mare: A novel about a young girl’s sexual awakening.
It is quiet in the rest of the library.
Inside the back room, the woman has crawled out from underneath the man. Now fuck me like a dog, she tells him. She grips a pillow in her fists and he breathes behind her, hot air down her back which is starting to sweat and slip on his stomach. She doesn’t want him to see her face because it is blowing up inside, red and furious, and she’s grimacing at the pale white wall which is cool when she puts her hand on it to help her push back into him, get his dick to fill up her body until there’s nothing left of her inside: just dick.
“She begins to strip like a roommate and climb into bed.
They have fallen asleep. Dean wakes first, in the early afternoon. He unfastens her stockings and slowly rolls them off. Her skirt is next and then her underpants. She opens her eyes. The garter belt he leaves on, to confirm her nakedness. He rests his head there.
Her hand touches his chest and begins to fall in excruciating slow designs.
He lies still as a dog beneath it, still as an idiot.
The next morning she is recovered. His prick is hard. She takes it in her hand. They always sleep naked. Their flesh is innocent and warm. In the end she is arranged across the pillows, a ritual she accepts without a word.
It is half an hour before they fall apart, spent, and call for breakfast. She eats both her rolls and one of his.
“There was a lot,” she says.
She glistens with it. The inside of her thighs is wet.
“How long does it take to make again?” she asks.
Dean tries to think. He is remembering biology.
“Two or three days,” he guesses.
“Non, non!” she cries. That is not what she meant.
She begins to make him hard again. In a few minutes he rolls her over and puts it in as if the intermission were ended. This time she is wild. The great bed begins creaking. Her breath becomes short. Dean has to brace his hands on the wall. He hooks his knees outside her legs and drives himself deeper.
“Oh,” she breathes, “that’s the best.”
When he comes, it downs them both. They crumble like sand. He returns from the bathroom and picks up the covers from the floor. She has not moved. She lies just where she has fallen.
9. E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime
“She now stood nude in the lamplight except for her black embroidered cotton stockings which were held up by elastic bands around the thighs. Goldman rolled the stockings down and Evelyn stepped out of her stockings. She held her arms across her breasts. Goldman stood and turned her around slowly for inspection, a frown on her face. […]
Lie down. Evelyn sat down on the bed and looked at what was coming out of the black bag. On your stomach, Goldman said. She was holding a bottle and tilting the contents of the bottle into her cupped hand. Evelyn lay down on her stomach and Goldman applied the liquid where the marks of the stays reddened the flesh. Ow, Evelyn cried. It stings!
This is an astringent – the first thing is to restore circulation, Goldman explained as she rubbed Evelyn’s back and buttocks and thighs. Evelyn was squirming and her flesh cringing with each application. She buried her face in the pillow to smother her cries. I know, I know, Goldman said. But you will thank me. Under Goldman’s vigorous rubbing Evelyn’s flesh seemed to spring into its fullest conformations. She was shivering now and her buttocks were clenched against the invigorating chill of the astringent. Her legs squeezed together. Goldman now took from her bag a bottle of massage oil and began to knead Evelyn’s neck and shoulders and back, her thighs and calves and the soles of her feet.
Gradually Evelyn relaxed and her flesh shook and quivered under the emphatic skill of Goldman’s hands. Goldman rubbed the oil into her skin until her body found its own natural rosy white being and began to stir with self-perception. Turn over, Goldman commanded. Evelyn’s hair was now undone and lay on the pillow about her face. Her eyes were closed and her lips stretched in an involuntary smile as Goldman massaged her breasts, her stomach, her legs. Yes, even this, Emma Goldman said, briskly passing her hand over the mons. You must have the courage to live. The bedside lamp seemed to dim for a moment.
Evelyn put her own hands on her breasts and her palms rotated the nipples. Her hands swam down along her flanks. She rubbed her hips. Her feet pointed like dancer’s and her toes curled. Her pelvis rose from the bed as if seeking something in the air. Goldman was now at the bureau, capping her bottled emollient, her back to Evelyn as the younger woman began to ripple on the bed like a wave on the sea. At this moment a hoarse unearthly cry issued from the walls, the closet door flew open and Mother’s Younger Brother fell into the room, his face twisted in a paroxysm of saintly mortification. He was clutching in his hands, as if trying to choke it, a rampant penis which, scornful of his intentions, whipped him about the floor, launching to his cries of ecstasy or despair, great filamented spurts of jism that traced the air like bullets and then settled slowly over Evelyn in her bed like falling ticker tape.”
10. J.G. Ballard, Crash
“A loose hierarchy of prostitutes occupied the airport and its suburbs – within the hotels, in discotheques where music was never played, conveniently sited near the bedrooms for the thousands of transit passengers who never left the airport; a second echelon working the terminal building concourses and restaurant mezzanines; and beyond these an army of freelances renting rooms on a daily basis in the apartment complexes along the motorway.
We reached the multi-storey car-park behind the air-freight building. I drove around the canted concrete floors of this oblique and ambiguous building and parked in an empty bay among the cars on the sloping roof. After tucking the banknotes away in her silver handbag, the woman lowered her preoccupied face across my lap, expertly releasing my zip with one hand. She began to work systematically at my penis with both mouth and hand, spreading her arms comfortably across my knees. I flinched from the pressure of her hard elbows …
As she brought my penis to life I looked down at her strong back, at the junction between the contours of her shoulders demarked by the straps of her brassiere and the elaborately decorated instrument panel of this American car, between her thick buttock in my left hand and the pastel-shaded binnacles of the clock and the speedometer. Encouraged by these hooded dials, my left ring-finger moved towards her anus.”
The camera served Tereza as both a mechanical eye through which to observe Tomas’s mistress and a veil by which to conceal her face from her.
It took Sabina some time before she could bring herself to slip out of the robe entirely. The situation she found herself in was proving a bit more difficult han she had expected. After several minutes of posing, she went up to Tereza and said, “Now it’s my turn to take your picture. Strip!”
Sabina had heard the command “Strip!” so many times from Tomas that it was engraved in her memory. Thus, Tomas’s mistress had just given Tomas’s command to Tomas’s wife. The two women were joined by the same magic word. That was Tomas’s way of unexpectedly turning an innocent conversation with a woman into an erotic situation. Instead of stroking, flattering, pleading, he would issue a command, issue it abruptly, unexpectedly, softly yet firmly and authoritatively, and at a distance: at such moments he never touched the woman he was addressing. He often used it on Tereza as well, and even though he said it softly, even though he whispered it, it was a command, and obeying never failed to arouse her. Hearing the word now made her desire to obey even stronger, because doing a stranger’s bidding is a special madness, a madness all the more heady in this case because the command came not from a man but from a woman.
Sabina took the camera from her, and Tereza took off her clothes. There she stood before Sabina naked and disarmed. Literally disarmed: deprived of the apparatus she had been using to cover her face and aim at Sabina like a weapon. She was completely at the mercy of Tomas’s mistress. This beautiful submission intoxicated Tereza. She wished that the moments she stood naked opposite Sabina would never end.
I think that Sabina, too, felt the strange enchantment of the situation: her lover’s wife standing oddly compliant and timorous before her. But after clicking the shutter two or three times, almost frightened by the enchantment and eager to dispel it, she burst into loud laughter.
Tereza followed suit, and the two of them got dressed.
Milan Kundera is famous for writing sensual books. Also check out:
- Ignorance: A strange love novel, about lovers who fight to reunite.
- Slowness: Two stories about seduction, each one more than a century apart.
“Inside the apartment, Windust doesn’t waste time. “Get down on the floor.” Seems to be in a sort of erotic snit. She gives him a look.
Shouldn’t she be saying, “You know what, fuck yourself, you’ll have more fun,” and walking out? No, instead, instant docility—she slides to her knees. Quickly, without further discussion, not that some bed would have been a better choice, she has joined months of unvacuumed debris on the rug, face on the floor, ass in the air, skirt pushed up, Windust’s not-exactly-manicured nails ripping methodically at sheer taupe pantyhose it took her easily twenty minutes in Saks not so long ago to decide on, and his cock is inside her with so little inconvenience that she must have been wet without knowing it. His hands, murderer’s hands, are gripping her forcefully by the hips, exactly where it matters, exactly where some demonic set of nerve receptors she has been till now only semi-aware of have waited to be found and used like buttons on a game controller… impossible for her to know if it’s him moving or if she’s doing it herself… not a distinction to be lingered on till much later, of course, if at all, though in some circles it is held to be something of a big deal…
Down on the floor, nose level with an electrical outlet, she imagines for a second she can see some great brightness of power just behind the parallel slits. Something scurries at the edge of her vision, the size of a mouse, and it is Lester Traipse, the shy, wronged soul of Lester, in need of sanctuary, abandoned, not least by Maxine. He stands in front of the outlet, reaches in, parts the sides of one slit like a doorway, glances back apologetically, slides into the annihilating brightness. Gone.
She cries out, though not for Lester exactly.”
So Thomas Pynchon has some pretty hilarious and classic sex scenes. Try reading:
13. Norman Rush, Mortals
She straddled him. Her hair was loose. It was cut straight across at the level of her shoulders. It was hanging forward, hiding her face, except for her eyes, which she was holding shut tight. She was being careful about his cock, leaving it alone so far. On his back meant fun for him, Iris taking her time.
He had to push his anxiety away. It would be easier for him to get up and take care of an emergency if she weren’t on top of him. He had to forget about that. Some of their best sex had been with her on top, using him as a dildo, taking her sweet time.
One thing he loved that she sometimes did was to align their nipples and rub. Hers would be hard and his would be too. He didn’t know if she would do that. In an ideal world she would do everything she had ever done with him, in farewell, a variety show, had they world enough and time, which they didn’t. There was too much.
She was dragging her hair across his eyes. Kiss me, he thought, anguished, because she wasn’t going to, he knew. She lightly bit his shoulder. She was lowering herself more. She was brushing her breasts across his face. He wanted to take one of her breasts into his mouth, either one. He was frantic. He wanted to get as much of one of her breasts into his mouth as he could. Her breasts were killing him, her blunt instruments. He had called them that and she had laughed, long ago. […]
He drove himself harder into her. She was whining with pleasure and that was good. She would climax again right away.
He kept on, slowing himself. He pushed her knees up higher. He was almost there and so was she, again.
And then the knot at the root of his cock dissolved in fire, melting. He shouted when he came. Then she was snorting, trying to say something. She was telling him to stop. She had come a second time and she wanted him to stop. They disengaged, shaking.
They were sitting on the floor leaning into the corner of the room, her mouth on his nipple, her hand moving his dick slowly. An intricate science, his whole body imprisoned there, a ship in a bottle. I’m going to come. Come in my mouth. Moving forward, his fingers pulling back her hair like torn silk, he ejaculated, disappearing into her. She crooked her finger, motioning, and he bent down and put his mouth on hers. He took it, the white character, and they passed it back and forth between them till it no longer existed, till they didn’t know who had him like a lost planet somewhere in the body.
I washed her with slow, careful gestures, first letting her squat in the tub, then asking her to stand up: I still have in my ears the sound of the dripping water, and the impression that the copper of the tub had a consistency not different from Lila’s flesh, which was smooth, solid, calm. I had a confusion of feelings and thoughts: embrace her, weep with her, kiss her, pull her hair, laugh, pretend to sexual experience and instruct her in a learned voice, distancing her with words just at the moment of greatest closeness.
But in the end there was only the hostile thought that I was washing her, from her hair to the soles of her feet, early in the morning, just so that Stefano could sully her in the course of the night. I imagined her naked as she was at that moment, entwined with her husband, in the bed in the new house, while the train clattered under their windows and his violent flesh entered her with a sharp blow, like the cork pushed by the palm into the neck of a wine bottle. And it suddenly seemed to me that the only remedy against the pain I was feeling, that I would feel, was to find a corner secluded enough so that Antonio could do to me, at the same time, the exact same thing.
‘Hush,’ he said, ‘hush. Yes, it has to be given.’ And he kissed my eyelids again, then my lips, the way he did when he cut the motor on the boat when we’d been together. And the kiss continued on past the point where he usually broke off. Then, slowly, he pulled away.
I groped for him, as though I were blind. ‘Renny, please, please—’ My lips touched his.
And he was kissing me again, and slipping the shorty nightgown over my head. His strong and gentle hands began to stroke me, his hands, his lips, his tongue.
Gentle. Not frightening. Knowing what he was doing. I felt my nipples rise, and it startled me.
‘Shhh,’ Renny whispered. ‘Shhh, it’s all right, don’t worry, just relax and listen to your body.’
He was slow, rhythmic, gentle, moving down my body, down …
and I was nothing but my body
there was a sharp brief pain
and then a sweet spasm went through me
and I seemed to rise into the air
no more pain
just the sweetness
and then Renny, panting
I pressed him hard against me.
Ammu, naked now, crouched over Velutha, her mouth on his. He drew her hair around them like a tent. Like her children did when they wanted to exclude the outside world. She slid further down, introducing herself to the rest of him. His neck. His nipples. His chocolate brown stomach. She sipped the last of the river from the hollow of his navel. She pressed the heat of his erection against her eyelids. She tasted him, salty, in her mouth. He sat up and drew her back to him. She felt his belly tighten under her, hard as a board. She felt her wetness slipping on his skin. He took her nipple in his mouth and cradled her other breast in his calloused palm. Velvet gloved in sandpaper.
18. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
So that was our love affair. Wordless, blinkered, a nighttime thing, a dream thing. There were reasons on my side for this as well. Whatever it was that I was was best revealed slowly, in flattering light. Which meant not much light at all. Besides, that’s the way it goes in adolescence. You try things out in the dark. You get drunk or stoned and extemporize. Think back to your backseats, your pup tents, your beach bonfire parties. Did you ever find yourself, without admitting it, tangled up with your best friend? Or in a dorm room bed with two people instead of one, while Bach played on the chintzy stereo, orchestrating the fugue? It’s a kind of fugue state, anyway, early sex. Before the routine sets in, or the love. Back when the groping is largely anonymous. Sandbox sex. It starts in the teens and lasts until twenty or twenty-one. It’s all about learning to share. It’s about sharing your toys.
Sometimes when I climbed on top of the Object she would almost wake up. She would move to accommodate me, spreading her legs or throwing an arm around my back. She swam up to the surface of consciousness before diving again. Her eyelids fluttered. A responsiveness entered her body, a flex of abdomen in rhythm with mine, her head thrown back to offer up her throat. I waited for more. I wanted her to acknowledge what we were doing, but I was scared, too. So the sleek dolphin rose, leapt through the ring of my legs, and disappeared again, leaving me bobbing, trying to keep my balance. Everything was wet down there. From me or her I didn’t know. I laid my head on her chest beneath the bunched-up T-shirt. Her underarms smelled like overripe fruit. The hair there was very sparse. “You luck,” I would have said, back in our daytime life. “You don’t even have to shave.” But the nighttime Calliope only stroked the hair, or tasted it. One night, as I was doing this and other things, I noticed a shadow on the wall. I thought it was a moth. But, looking closer, I saw that it was the Object’s hand, raised behind my head. Her hand was completely awake. It clenched and unclenched, siphoning all the ecstasy from her body into its secret flowerings.
What the Object and I did together was played out under these loose rules. We weren’t too scrupulous about the details. What pressed on our attention was that it was happening, sex was happening. That was the great fact. How it happened exactly, what went where, was secondary. Plus, we didn’t have much to compare it to. Nothing but our night in the shack with Rex and Jerome.
As far as the crocus was concerned, it wasn’t so much a piece of me as something we discovered and enjoyed together. Dr. Luce will tell you that female monkeys exhibit mounting behavior when administered male hormones. They seize, they thrust. Not me. Or at least not at first. The blooming of the crocus was an impersonal phenomenon. It was a kind of hook that fastened us together, more a stimulant to the Object’s outer parts than a penetration of her inner. But, apparently, effective enough. Because after the first few nights, she was eager for it. Eager, that is, while ostensibly remaining unconscious. As I hugged her, as we languorously shifted and knotted, the Object’s attitudes of insensibility included favorable positioning. Nothing was made ready or caressed. Nothing was aimed. But practice brought about a fluid gymnastics to our sleep couplings. The Object’s eyes remained closed throughout; her head was often turned slightly away. She moved under me as a sleeping girl might while being ravished by an incubus. She was like somebody having a dirty dream, confusing her pillow for a lover.
Sometimes, before or afterward, I switched on the bedside lamp. I pulled her T-shirt up as far as it would go and slid her underpants down below her knees. And then I lay there, letting my eyes have their fill. What else compares? Gold filings shifted around the magnet of her navel. Her ribs were as thin as candy canes. The spread of her hips, so different from mine, looked like a bowl offering up red fruit. And then there was my favorite spot, the place where her ribcage softened into breast, the smooth, white dune there.
I turned the light off. I pressed against the Object. I took the backs of her thighs in my hands, adjusting her legs around my waist. I reached under her. I brought her up to me. And then my body, like a cathedral, broke out into ringing. The hunchback in the belfry had jumped and was swinging madly on the rope.
He whispered, “Let’s make this one last happy farewell fuck.”
She started to tell him something but then thought no. They fell together, folded toward each other, and then she leaned back, arching, shored on her back-braced arms, and she let him pace the occasion. At some point she opened her eyes and saw him watching her, measuring her progress, and he looked a little isolated and wan and she pulled his head down to her and sucked salt from his tongue and heard the sort of breast-slap, the splash of upper bodies and the banging bed. Then it was a matter of close concentration. She listened for something inside the bloodrush and she spun his hips and felt electric and desperate and finally home free and she looked at his eyes stung shut and his mouth stretched so tight it seemed taped at the corners, upper lip pressed white against his teeth, and she felt a kind of hanged man’s coming when he came, the jumped body and stiffened limbs, and she ran a hand through his hair—be nicer if we did it more often.
20. Roberto Bolano, Antwerp
The nameless girl spread her legs under the sheets. A policeman can watch any way he wants, he’s already overcome all the risks of the gaze. What I mean is, the drawer holds fear and photographs and men who can never be found, as well as papers. So the cop turned out the light and unzipped his fly. The girl closed her eyes when he turned her face down. She felt his pants against her buttocks and the metallic cold of the belt buckle. “There was once a word”… (Coughs)… “A word for all this”… “Now all I can say is: don’t be afraid”… Images forced up by the piston. His fingers burrowed between her cheeks and she didn’t say a thing, didn’t even sigh. He was on his side, but she still had her head buried in the sheets. His index and middle finger probed her ass, massaged her sphincter, and she opened her mouth without a sound. (I dreamed of a corridor full of people without mouths, he said, and the old man replied: don’t be afraid.) He pushed his fingers all the way in, the girl moaned and raised her haunches, he felt the tips of his fingers brush something to which he instantly gave the name stalagmite. Then he thought it might be shit, but the color of the body that he was touching kept blazing green and white, like his first impression. The girl moaned hoarsely. The phrase “the nameless girl was lost in the metro” came to mind and he pulled his fingers out to the first joint. Then he sank them in again and with his free hand he touched the girl’s forehead. He worked his fingers in and out. As he squeezed the girl’s temples, he thought that the fingers went in and out with no adornment, no literary rhetoric to give them any other sense than a couple of thick fingers buried in the ass of a nameless girl. The words came to a stop in the middle of a metro station. There was no one there. The policeman blinked. I guess the risk of the gaze was partly overcome by the exercise of his profession. The girl was sweating profusely and moved her legs with great care. Her ass was wet and occasionally quivered.
She said, ‘Very well, you may kiss my vibrato.’
He took her left hand and sucked the ends of her fingers in turn, and put his tongue on the violin player’s calluses there. They kissed, and it was in this moment of relative optimism for Florence that she felt his arms tense, and suddenly, in one deft athletic move, he had rolled on top of her, and though his weight was mostly through his elbows and forearms planted on either side of her head, she was pinned down and helpless, and a little breathless beneath his bulk. She felt disappointment that he had not lingered to stroke her pubic area again and set off that strange and spreading thrill. But her immediate preoccupation – an improvement on revulsion or fear – was to keep up appearances, not to let him down or humiliate herself, or seem a poor choice among all the women he had known. She was going to get through this. She would never let him know what a struggle it was, what it cost her, to appear calm. She was without any other desire but to please him and make this night a success, and without any other sensation beyond an awareness of the end of his penis, strangely cool, repeatedly jabbing and bumping into and around her urethra. Her panic and disgust, she thought, were under control, she loved Edward, and all her thoughts were on helping him have what he so dearly wanted and to make him love her all the more. It was in this spirit that she slid her right hand down between his groin and hers. He lifted a little to let her through. She was pleased with herself for remembering that the red manual advised that it was perfectly acceptable for the bride to ‘guide the man in’.
She found his testicles first and, not at all afraid now, she curled her fingers softly round this extraordinary bristling item she had seen in different forms on dogs and horses, but had never quite believed could fit comfortably on adult humans. Drawing her fingers across its underside, she arrived at the base of his penis, which she held with extreme care, for she had no idea how sensitive or robust it was. She trailed her fingers along its length, noting with interest its silky texture, right to the tip, which she lightly stroked; and then, amazed by her own boldness, she moved back down a little, to take his penis firmly, about halfway along, and pulled it downwards, a slight adjustment, until she felt it just touching her labia.
How could she have known what a terrible mistake she was making? Had she pulled on the wrong thing? Had she gripped too tight? He gave out a wail, a complicated series of agonised, rising vowels, the sort of sound she had heard once in a comedy film when a waiter, weaving this way and that, appeared to be about to drop a towering pile of soup plates.
In horror she let go, as Edward, rising up with a bewildered look, his muscular back arching in spasms, emptied himself over her in gouts, in vigorous but diminishing quantities, filling her navel, coating her belly, thighs, and even a portion of her chin and kneecap in tepid, viscous fluid.
22. Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde
One of them wrestled her to the cold damp sand, hard-packed as dirt. She was fighting, laughing, her red dress torn, her garter belt and black lace panties twisted … Full on her startled lips Cass Chaplin began to kiss her, gently, then with increasing pressure, and with his tongue as he hadn’t kissed her in so long. Norma Jeane grabbed at him desperately, arms around his head, Eddy G sank to his knees beside them and fumbled with the panties, finally ripping them off. He stroked her with skillful fingers and then with his skillful tongue he kissed between her legs, rubbing, nudging, poking, in a rhythm like a giant pulse, Norma Jeane’s legs twined about his head and shoulders desperately, she was beginning to buck her hips, beginning to come, so Eddy quick and deft as if he’d practiced such a maneuver many times shifted his position to crouch over her, as Cass was now crouching over her head, and both men penetrated her.
23. Lauren Groff, Arcadia
Her mouth moved down, then farther. He touched the top of her head, her fragile skull under wet hair, pulled her up gently. He wanted slowness, warmth, kissing. But she wouldn’t. She grasped him, though he wasn’t quite ready; she wasn’t either, she was dry, still cold. But she moved just slightly, sitting there above him, and after a few minutes he took the bones of her hips and pulled himself in until he’d fully stirred. She pressed down again, her body against his chest, and at last her mouth found his. He imagined the quiet street outside shining in the lights, the millions of souls warm and listening to the rain in their beds. He couldn’t stop looking at the side of her face, her eyes closed, the small shell of her ear, the scar in her nostril where the stud had been, her thin pale lower lip in her teeth. He was close but held off, until at last she whispered, Go. I can’t come.
But his wife was saying, “Hello there, Sir Lancelot, you doughty fellow. Come out and joust.” And what a beautiful way to fully awaken, his wife astraddle, whispering to his newly knighted peen, warming him with her breath, telling him he’s a what? A genius. Lotto had long known it in his bones. Since he was a tiny boy, shouting on a chair, making grown men grow pink and weep. But how nice to get such confirmation, and in such a format, too. Under the golden ceiling, under the golden wife. All right, then. He could be a playwright.
He watched as the Lotto he thought he had been stood up in his greasepaint and jerkin, his doublet sweated through, panting, the roar inside him going external as the audience rose in ovation. Ghostly out of his body he went, giving an elaborate bow, passing for good through the closed door of the apartment.
There should have been nothing left. And yet, some kind of Lotto remained. A separate him, a new one, below his wife, who was sliding her face up his stomach, pushing the string of her thong to one side, enveloping him. His hands were opening her robe to show her breasts like nestlings, her chin tipped up toward their vaguely reflected bodies. She was saying, “Oh god,” her fists coming down hard on his chest, saying, “Now you’re Lancelot. No more Lotto. Lotto’s a child’s name, and you’re no child. You’re a genius fucking playwright, Lancelot Satterwhite. We will make this happen.”
If it meant his wife smiling through her blond lashes at him again, his wife posting atop him like a prize equestrienne, he could change. He could become what she wanted. No longer failed actor. Potential playwright. There rose a feeling in him as if he’d discovered a window in a lightless closet locked behind him. And still a sort of pain, a loss. He closed his eyes against it and moved in the dark toward what, just now, only Mathilde could see so clearly.
Half an hour later, his eyes closed, then suddenly opened, tears and sweat dripping down onto her, he calls out her name, and in response Jamie comes at the same time that he does. Her facial expression is one of pleasure mixed with horrified surprise. After a moment—she has broken out into quick shocked laughter—he looks into her eyes and imagines that her spirit, without knowing how or why, has suddenly disobeyed the force of gravity that has governed it. Her soul, no longer a myth but now a fact, ascends above her body. Like a little metallic bird unused to flight, unsteady in its progress, her soul rises and falls, frightened by the heights and by what it sees, but excited, too, by being married to him for a few seconds, just before it plummets back to earth.
He turned his head so his cheek was flat against her. He could feel her muscles moving softly — her coming was more in her mind still; when she got closer she would become a single band of muscle, like a fish — all of her would move at once, flickering and curving, unified from jaw to tail.
His mind was half in hers. He felt her still loose-jointed drift — only an occasional little coil in the current tugging at her harder, moving her toward the flood.
The tide came all the way up.
He felt all of her pass into him through his forehead: the effort of her body as if she was swimming upward, then the uncurling as she stretched out to catch the break, body-surfing a wave bigger than she’d thought, caught in the rush.
He felt it — she had an instant of fear — he didn’t hear it but he felt a bleat from her as though her lips were pressed against his opened forehead. Then she breathed — he felt her body move as if her mouth opened on all of him — she took a breath and let herself go tumbling.
After a while they moved up the bank as though they had to escape the flood. They clambered onto the table of higher ground, onto the spartina. He sat to untie his shoes, and Elsie clambered on his back as if she couldn’t get enough of clambering. He got his feet out of his pants and made a bed of them for her on the long flattened stalks.
Everything was brighter than in the creek — all around them the even tops of the spartina caught flat shadowless starlight.
He reached under her back to smooth out broken stems. For an instant he felt her feel his body, felt her register him, his inner sounds, the outer wave of them pressing toward her. And then they both fell into their own urgencies, overlapping disturbances, like waves from separate storms, at first damping, then amplifying each other.
They lay still in their pit of gray light. Her cheek moved against his. He had no idea what her expression was now — maybe smiling, maybe recovering herself the way she laughed at herself after she cried.
She moved her head and kissed his mouth. It didn’t make her clear to him. Pretty soon she’d start talking.
She stayed quiet, though. She wasn’t coming back so easily. He caught one more feeling from the heavy stillness of their bodies. Both of them this time — no matter what silly game she’d started — they’d both been caught and tumbled hard and carried this far. They were both stunned by sadness.
Tomorrow there was more light in the room, and they split a half-bottle of white wine from the minibar before they began. Yolande was bolder and far more loquacious. “Today is still touching only, but nowhere is off-limits, we can touch where we like, how we like, OK? And it needn’t be just hands, you can also use your mouth and your tongue. Would you like to suck my breasts? Go ahead. Is that nice? Good, it’s nice for me. Can I suck you? Don’t worry, I’ll squeeze it hard like this and that’ll stop you coming. OK. Relax. Was that nice? Good. Sure I like to do it. Sucking and licking are very primal pleasures. Of course, it’s easy to see what pleases a man, but with women it’s different, it’s all hidden inside and you’ve got to know your way around, so lick your finger, and I’ll give you the tour.” He was shocked, bemused, almost physically winded by this sudden acceleration into a tabooless candor of word and gesture. But he was elated too. He hung on for dear life. “Are we going to make love today?” he pleaded. “This is making love, Bernard,” she said. “I’m having a wonderful time, aren’t you?” “Yes, but you know what I mean.
Smugly, he showed her his pinga, as it was indelicately called in his youth. He was sitting on the bed in the Hotel Splendour and leaning back in the shadows, while she was standing by the bathroom door. And just looking at her fine naked body, damp with sweat and happiness, made his big thing all hard again. That thing burning in the light of the window was thick and dark as a tree branch. In those days, it sprouted like a vine from between his legs, carried aloft by a powerful vein that precisely divided his body, and flourished upwards like the spreading top branches of a tree, or, he once thought while looking at a map of the United States, like the course of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
“Come over here,” he told her.
On that night, as on many other nights, he pulled up the tangled sheets so that she could join him on the bed again. And soon Vanna Vane was grinding her damp bottom against his chest, belly, and mouth and strands of her dyed blond hair came slipping down between their lips as they kissed. Then she mounted him and rocked back and forth until things got all twisted and hot inside and both their hearts burst (pounding like conga drums) and they fell back exhausted, resting until they were ready for more, their lovemaking going around and around in the Mambo King’s head, like the melody of a song of love.
I do not say anything. Instead I roll in the bed, reach across, and touch her, and because she is surprised she turns to me. When I kiss her the lips are dry, cracking against mine, unfamiliar as the ocean floor. But then the lips give. They part. I am inside her mouth, and there, still hidden from the world, as if ruin had forgotten a part, it is wet— Lord! I have the feeling of a miracle. Her tongue comes forward. I do not know myself then, what man I am, who I lie with in embrace. I can barely remember her beauty. She touches my chest and I bite lightly on her lip, spread moisture to her cheek and then kiss there. She makes something like a sigh. “Frank,” she says. “Frank.” We are lost now in seas and deserts. My hand finds her fingers and grips them, bone and tendon, fragile things.
She arches her body like a cat on a stretch. She nuzzles her cunt into my face like a filly at the gate. She smells of the sea. She smells of rockpools when I was a child. She keeps a starfish in there. I crouch down to taste the salt, to run my fingers around the rim. She opens and shuts like a sea anemone. She’s refilled each day with fresh tides of longing.
He touched her on the forehead between her eyes and ran his finger down the line of her nose. “I’ll make love to you 100 percent safe.”
She had never imagined you could say those words and still feel tender, but now she was lying on her side and he was lying on his and he had those clear blue Catchprice eyes and such sweet crease marks around his eyes.
“Is there 100 percent?” she asked.
“Is this safe?”
“Does this feel safe?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep my word. Is this safe?”
She let him undress her and caress her swollen body. God, she thought— this is how people die.
“Is this beautiful to you?” “Oh yes,” he said. “You glisten.…”
She began to kiss him, to kiss his chest, to nuzzle her face among
the soft apple-sweet hairs, discovering as she did so a hunger for the scents and textures of male skin.
“Get the condom,” she heard herself say.
“I’ve got it.”
“I’m crazy,” she said.
32. Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy
At fourteen I had discovered that a tongue had no real taste. I was sucking the tongue of a boy named Tanner, and I was sucking his tongue because I liked the way his fingers looked on the keys of the piano as he played it, and I had liked the way he looked from the back as he walked across the pasture, and also, when I was close to him, I liked the way behind his ears smelled.
Those three things had led to my standing in his sister’s room (she was my best friend), my back pressed against the closed door, sucking his tongue. Someone should have told me that there were other things to seek out in a tongue than the flavor of it, for then I would not have been standing there sucking on poor Tanner’s tongue as if it were an old Frozen Joy with all its flavor run out and nothing left but the ice. As I was sucking away, I was thinking, Taste is not the thing to seek out in a tongue; how it makes you feel— that is the thing. I used to like to eat boiled cow’s tongue served in a sauce of lemon juice, onions, cucumbers, and pepper; but cow’s tongue has no real taste either. It was the sauce that made the cow’s tongue so delicious to eat.
33. Mary Gordon, Spending
He put his head between my legs, nuzzling at first. His beard was a little rough on the insides of my thighs. Then with his lips, then his tongue, he struck fire. I had to cry out in astonishment, in gratitude at being touched in that right place. Somehow, it alwaysmakes me grateful when a man finds the right place, maybe because when I was young so many of them kept finding the wrong place, or a series of wrong places, or no place at all. That strange feeling: gratitude and hunger. My hunger was being teased. It also felt like a punishment. I kept thinking of the word “thrum,” a cross between a throb and hum. I saw a flame trying to catch; I heard it, there was something I was after, something I was trying to achieve, and there was always the danger that I’d miss it, I wouldn’t find it, or get hold of it. The terrible moment when you’re afraid you won’t, you’ll lose it, it won’t work, you won’t work, it is unworkable and you are very, very desperate. At the same time, you want to stay in this place of desperation … at the same time, you’re saying to yourself, you’re almost there, you’re almost there, you can’t possibly lose it now, keep on, keep on a bit longer, you are nearly there, I know it, don’t give up, you cannot lose it. Then suddenly you’re there.
She is in a good mood. She is very playful. As they enter her building she becomes the secretary. They are going to dictate some letters. Oh, yes? She lives alone, she admits, turning on the stairs. Is that so, the boss says. Oui. In the room they undress independently, like Russians sharing a train compartment. Then they turn face to face.
“Ah,” she murmurs.
“It’s a big machine à écrire.”
She is so wet by the time he has the pillows under her gleaming stomach that he goes right into her in one long, delicious move. They begin slowly. When he is close to coming he pulls his prick out and lets it cool. Then he starts again, guiding it with one hand, feeding it in like line. She begins to roll her hips, to cry out. It’s like ministering to a lunatic. Finally he takes it out again. As he waits, tranquil, deliberate, his eye keeps falling on lubricants—her face cream, bottles in the armoire. They distract him. Their presence seems frightening, like evidence. They begin once more and this time do not stop until she cries out and he feels himself come in long, trembling runs, the head of his prick touching bone, it seems. They lie exhausted, side by side, as if just having beached a great boat.
“It was the best ever,” she says finally. “The best.”
I make her a cup of coffee. She stands by the window peering cautiously through the blinds to the street. I crawl to her on my knees. She looks down at me skeptically. “You couldn’t give me what I want in a million years,” she says. She places her leg on a chair and guides my face to her and tells me where to lick and where to suck. “That’s where my husband fucks me,” she says. I’m stretching my neck as she lifts beneath my chin, surrounded by her legs. “Stop,” she says, pushing me away. Stripping her top and skirt. She’s getting fat. “Do you think I’m the most beautiful woman?”
“I do,” I say. We’re going through the motions. The next forty minutes is spent with me trying to please her with my tongue until my mouth is dry and sore.
She slaps me a few times over by the couch and for a moment I think this is going to work. She hits me particularly hard once and I feel my eye starting to swell again and she stops. “Lie down on the bed,” she says. “My husband doesn’t want me to do this.” She slides over me. Of course I’m not wearing protection. Nothing is safe. She rides up over me. Like an oven. She says, “Theo, darling.” She grabs my hands and places them on her thighs. She lies on top of me, biting me lightly. I grip her legs and stay quiet. Her chest is against my chest. This is sex. There’s no real threat. If I yell loud enough she’ll stop, which leaves us with nothing. And when I say I exist only to please her I don’t mean it. And when she tells me how beautiful she is it’s because she doesn’t believe it. Or when she says she has to punish me and asks me if I’m scared, she doesn’t mean it. We don’t mean it.
‘Sit with your legs apart.’
She obeyed — impotent out of choice, submissive because she wanted to be. She saw him looking between her legs, he could see her black pants, her long stockings, her thighs, he could imagine her pubic hair, her sex.
She leaped up from her chair. She found it hard to stand straight and realised that she was drunker than she thought.
‘Don’t look at me. Lower your head, respect your master!’ Before she could lower her head, she saw a slender whip being removed from the suitcase, then cracking through the air, as if it had a life of its own.
‘Drink. Keep your head down, but drink.’
She drank another one, two, three glasses of vodka. This wasn’t just theatre now, it was reality: control was out of her hands. She felt like an object, a mere instrument, and incredible though it may seem, that feeling of submission gave her a sense of complete freedom. She was no longer the teacher, the one who instructs, consoles, listens to confessions, the one who excites; before the awesome power of this man, she was just a girl from the interior of Brazil.
‘Take off your clothes.’
The order was delivered abruptly, without a flicker of desire, and yet, nothing could have been more erotic. Keeping her head down as a sign of reverence, Maria unbuttoned her dress and let it slip to the floor.
‘You’re not behaving yourself, you know.’ Again the whip cracked through the air.
You need to be punished. How dare a girl your age contradict me? You should be on your knees before me!’
Maria made as if to kneel down, but the whip brought her up short; for the first time it touched her flesh – her buttocks. It stung, but seemed to leave no mark.
‘Did I tell you to kneel down?’
The whip again flicked across her buttocks.
‘Say, “No, sir!”’
Another stinging whiplash. For a fraction of a second, it occurred to her that she could either stop this right now or else choose to go through with it, not for the money, but because of what he had said the first time – that you only know yourself when you go beyond your limits.
And this was new, it was an Adventure, and she could decide later on if she wanted to continue, but at that moment, she had ceased to be the girl with just three aims in life, who earned her living with her body, who had met a man who had an open fire and interesting stories to tell. Here, she was no one, and being no one meant that she could be everything she had ever dreamed of.
‘Take the rest of your clothes off. And walk up and down so that I can see you.’
Once more she obeyed, keeping her head down, saying not a word. The man who was watching her, still fully dressed and utterly impassive, was not the same person who had chatted to her on their way here from the club – he was a Ulysses who had travelled from London, a Theseus come down from the heavens, a kidnapper invading the safest city in the world, and who had the coldest heart on earth. She removed her pants and her bra, feeling at once defenceless and protected. The whip cracked again, this time without touching her body.
‘Keep your head down! You’re here to be humiliated, to submit to my every desire, do you understand?’
He grabbed her arms and put the first pair of handcuffs on her wrists.
‘You’re going to get a good beating. Until you learn to behave yourself.’
He slapped her bottom with the flat of his hand. Maria cried out; this time it had hurt.
‘Oh, so you’re complaining, are you? Well, I haven’t even started yet.’
Before she could do anything, he had placed a leather gag on her mouth. It didn’t stop her speaking, she could still say ‘yellow’ or ‘red’, but she felt now that it was her destiny to allow this man to do whatever he wished with her, and there was no way she could escape now. She was naked, gagged and handcuffed, with vodka flowing in her veins rather than blood.
Another slap on her buttocks.
‘Walk up and down!’
Maria started to walk, obeying his commands: ‘stop’, ‘turn to the right’, ‘sit down’, ‘open your legs’. He slapped her again and again, whether she deserved it or not, and she felt the pain and felt the humiliation – which was more intense and more potent than the pain – and she felt as if she were in another world, in which nothing existed, and it was an almost religious feeling: self-annihilation, subjective and a complete loss of any sense of Ego, desire or selfless!? She was very wet and very aroused, but unable to understand what was going on.
‘Down on your knees again!’
Since she always kept her head down, as a sign of obedience and humiliation, Maria could not see exactly what was happening, but she noticed that in that other universe, on that other planet, the man was breathing hard, worn out with wielding the whip and spanking her hard on the buttocks, whilst she felt herself filling up with strength and energy.
She had lost all shame now, and wasn’t bothered about showing her pleasure; she started to moan, pleading with him to touch her, but, instead, the man grabbed her and threw her onto the bed.
He violently forced her legs apart – although she knew this violence would not actually harm her – and tied each leg to one corner of the bed. Now that her wrists were handcuffed behind her, her legs splayed, her mouth gagged, when would he penetrate her? Couldn’t he see that she was ready, that she wanted to serve him, that she was his slave, his creature, his object, and would do anything he ordered her to do?
She saw him place the end of the whip handle against her vagina. He rubbed it up and down, and when it touched her clitoris, she lost all control. She had no idea how long they had been there nor how many times she had been spanked, but suddenly she came and had the orgasm which, in all those months, dozens, no, hundreds of men had failed to give her. There was a burst of light, she felt herself entering a kind of black hole in her soul, in which intense pain and fear mingled with total pleasure, pushing her beyond all previously known limits and she moaned and screamed, her voice muffled by the gag, she writhed about on the bed, feeling the handcuffs cutting into her wrists and the leather thongs bruising her ankles, she moved as never before precisely because she could not move, she screamed as never before because she had a gag on her mouth and no one would be able to hear her. This was pain and pleasure, the end of the whip handle pressing ever harder against her clitoris and the orgasm flooding out of her mouth, her vagina, her pores, her eyes, her skin.
The kiss, unbearably fragile, a spike of sensation, shoulders the frame. Everything Elaine thinks about who she is, what she is, is irrelevant. There are no words, only sensation, smooth sensation. Tender, like the tickling lick of a kitten. Elaine feels powerless, suddenly stoned. Pat is kissing her. She is kissing Pat. They are standing in the middle of the kitchen, giving and getting every kiss they’ve ever gotten or given; kissing from memory. Kissing: fast, hard, deep, frantic, long and slow. They are tasting the lips, the mouth, the tongue. Elaine puts her hands to Pat’s face, the softness of Pat’s skin; the absence of the roughscruff and scratch of a stale shave is so unfamiliar as to seem impossible. Pat rubs her face against Elaine’s — sweeping the cheek, the high, light bones, muzzling the ear, the narrow line of the eyebrow, finishing with a butterfly flick of the lashes.
Pat is at her breast. A noise escapes Elaine, an embarrassingly deep sigh — like air rushing out of something. Elaine can’t believe that she’s letting this happen; she’s not stopping it, she’s not screaming,
She’s enjoying it. Pat is kissing Elaine’s belly, tonguing the cesarean scar that no one ever touches. Elaine reaches for Pat — there’s an incredible strangeness when they touch simultaneously. Elaine can’t tell who is who, what is what — Marcel Marceau, a mirror game, each miming the other. Phenomenal confusion.
Elaine touches Pat’s breast, pressing. Her knees buckle, she collapses to the floor. Pat goes with her.
Luscious. Delicious. Pat is smooth and buttery, not like Paul, not a mass of fur, a jumble of abrasion from beard to prick. Pat is soft, enveloping.
Elaine is thinking that it’ll stop in a minute, it won’t really happen, it won’t go too far. It’s just two women exploring. She remembers reading about consciousness-raising groups, women sitting in circles on living-room floors, looking at their cervixes like little boys in circle jerks, women taking possession of their bodies. Only this is far more personal — Pat is taking possession of Elaine.
Pat is pulling Elaine’s pants off. Elaine is lifting her hip, her khakis are tossed off under the kitchen table. Pat is still in her robe. Elaine reaches for the belt, half thinking she will use it to pull herself up, she will lift herself up and out of this. The robe opens, exposing Pat.
Pat spreads herself out over Elaine, skin to skin, breast to breast. Pat against her, not ripe, repulsive. She almost screams — it’s like a living thing — tongue and teeth.
And Pat is on top, grinding against Elaine, humping her in a strangely prickless pose. Fucking that’s all friction.
She reaches her hand under Elaine’s ass to get a better grip. Crumbs. There are crumbs stuck to Elaine’s ass. Horrified, Pat twists around and begins licking them off, sucking the crumbs from Elaine, from the floor, and swallowing them like a human vacuum cleaner. “I sweep,” she says, wiping dust off her mouth. “I sweep every day. I’m sweeping all the time.”
“It’s all right,” Elaine says. “It’s fine.”
Fine if it’s only on the outside, fine if it’s just a hand. Fine if it’s fingers and not a tongue, and then fine if it is a tongue. Fine if it’s just that, and then it’s fine. It’s all fine.
They are two full-grown women, mothers, going at each other on the kitchen floor. A thick, musky scent rises, a sexual stew.
Pat’s fingers curl between Elaine’s legs, slipping in.
“Aooww,” Elaine says, combining “Ah” and “Ow,” pain and pleasure. It takes a minute to figure out what hurts. “Your ring,” Elaine pants.
The high diamond mount of Pat’s engagement ring is scraping her. Pat pulls off the ring, it skitters across the floor, and she slips her hand back into Elaine, finding the spot. She slips in and out more quickly, more vigorously.
Elaine comes in cacophonous convulsions, great guttural exaltations. She’s filled with a flooding sensation, as though a seal has broken; her womb, in seizures, squeezes as though expelling Elaine herself.
And just as she thinks it’s over, as she starts to relax, Pat’s mouth slides south, and Elaine is flash-frozen at the summit of sensation, her body stun-gunned by the flick of Pat’s tongue. She lies splayed out on the linoleum, comparing Pat to Paul: Paul goes down on her because he saw it in a porno movie, because he thinks it’s the cool thing to do. Paul goes down on her like he’s really eating her, like she’s a Big Mac and he’s got to get his mouth around the whole burger in one big bite.
Elaine is concentrating, trying to figure out exactly what Pat is doing. Every lick, every flick
causes an electric surge, a tiny sharp shock, to flash through her body.
She is seeing flashes of light, fleeting images. It’s as though she’s losing consciousness, losing her mind, dying. She can’t bear any more — it’s too much. She pushes Pat away.
I closed my eyes— the method Chang and I had decided upon— to become “mindless” for the next hour. But with each bounce or jolt or kick of Adelaide’s leg, my eyes opened instinctively, as if against my will.… And then my brother and his wife began to have relations. Chang stirred me yet again as he climbed on top of his wife and me. He was touching her breasts at the nipples as if he feared he’d never get the chance again. My arm was wrapped around my brother’s shoulder, and to make this positioning possible, our band extended farther than it should go. The inopportune logistics meant I had no choice but to curl against Adelaide, to cover her body partially— at the curve of her hip— and to move along her leg as my brother rocked back and forth. Chang saw my eyes were opened; he turned away quickly, and I closed them. As tightly as I could. After some rolling of the three of us, Adelaide’s soft blond hair came tickling across my neck, simultaneously gift and ordeal. I strained to keep my eyes shut as knees, elbows, fingers poked or bounced off me. Our band ached. Though my eyes were closed, I knew she was still on top of my brother because her hair gladdened my neck once again. I let my stare glide over her coloring face, following the swerve of bone in her exquisite cheek. Another accident, her fingers ran involuntarily against my palms before she could withdraw her embarrassed hand. She was alarmed and self-conscious and nearly crying. I felt alone and exposed. Meanwhile, Chang, eyes closed, perspired, bit his lip, and then began triumphantly to smile. I felt something, too, like a feather dragged lightly across the length of my body, chin to feet, and I shivered. I began gradually, instinctually, I hoped imperceptibly, to approach the cheeks of my brother’s bride with my own lips opened in an O. I cut their journey short at the last moment. The wind made a shrill noise through the magnolias outside, and the mattress sounded its own creaky song.
Absentmindedly he strokes her long hair, soft from all that swimming, as it flows on his abdomen. “Pair of kids came into the lot late today,” he begins to tell her, then thinks better of it. Now that her sexual push is past, his prick has hardened, the competing muscles of anxiety having at last relaxed. But she, she is relaxed all over, asleep with his prick in her face. “Want me inside?” he asks softly, getting no answer. He moves her off his chest and works her inert body around so they lie side by side and he can fuck her from behind. She wakes enough to cry “Oh” when he penetrates. Slickly admitted, he pumps slowly, pulling the sheet up over them both. Not hot enough yet for the fan verses air-conditioner decision, both are tucked around the attic somewhere, back under the dusty caves, strain your back lifting it out, he has never liked the chill of air-conditioning even when it was only to be had at the movies and thought to be a great treat drawing you in right off the hot sidewalk, the word COOL in blue-green with icicles on the marquee, always seemed to him healthier to live in the air God gave however lousy and let your body adjust, Nature can adjust to anything. Still, some of these nights, sticky, and the cars passing below with that wet-tire sound, the kids with their windows open or tops down and radios blaring just at the moment of dropping off to sleep, your skin prickling wherever it touched cloth and a single mosquito alive in the room. His prick is stiff as stone inside a sleeping woman. He strokes her ass, the crease where it nestles against his belly, must start jogging again, the crease between its halves and that place within the crease, opposite of a nipple, dawned on him gradually over these years that she had no objection to being touched there, seemed to like it when she was under him his hand beneath her bottom.
He used to come easing into bed sometimes, not too drunk. I make out like I’m asleep, ’cause it’s late, and he taken three dollars out of my pocketbook that morning or something.… I think about the thick, knotty hair on his chest, and the two big swells his breast muscles make.… I pretend to wake up, and turn to him, but not opening my legs. I want him to open them for me. He does, and I be soft and wet where his fingers are strong and hard. I be softer than I ever been before. All my strength is in his hand.
My brain curls up like wilted leaves.… I stretch my legs open, and he is on top of me. Too heavy to hold, and too light not to. He puts his thing in me. In me. In me. I wrap my feet around his back so he can’t get away. His face is next to mine. The bedsprings sounds like them crickets used to back home. He puts his fingers in mine, and we stretches our arms outwise like Jesus on the cross. I hold on tight. My fingers and my feet hold on tight, because everything else is going, going. I know he wants me to come first. But I can’t. Not until he does. Not until I feel him loving me. Just me. Sinking into me. Not until I know that my flesh is all that be on his mind. That he couldn’t stop if he had to. That he would die rather than take his thing out of me. Of me. Not until he has let go of all he has, and give it to me. To me. To me.
When he does, I feel a power. I be strong, I be pretty, I be young. And then I wait. He shivers and tosses his head. Now I be strong enough, pretty enough, and young enough to let him make me come. I take my fingers out of his and put my hands on his behind. My legs drop back onto the bed. I don’t make no noise, because the chil’ren might hear. I begin to feel those little bits of color floating up into me— deep in me. That streak of green from the june-bug light, the purple from the berries trickling along my thighs, Mama’s lemonade yellow runs sweet in me. Then I feel like I’m laughing between my legs, and the laughing gets all mixed up with the colors, and I’m afraid I’ll come, and afraid I won’t. But I know I will. And I do. And it be rainbow all inside. And it lasts and lasts and lasts. I want to thank him, but don’t know how, so I pat him like you do a baby. He asks me if I’m all right. I say yes. He gets off me and lies down to sleep. I want to say something, but I don’t. I don’t want to take my mind offen the rainbow.
The bedroom was freezing, and when she slid into the bed, the cool of the soft yellow sheets brought up goose pimples.
He was shy, that’s what made it all so touching. He liked to leave the lights off and reach for her under the covers, as if they were doing something that had to be kept secret. He buried his face in her chest, mumbling that awful name he had for her, “Jody, Jody,” and rubbed against her leg. She could feel his fat, bloated penis bumping her, clumsily.
It made her think of a Newfoundland puppy, a creature whose gawky, immature, undisciplined behavior was completely inappropriate to its size.
He was at her nipples now, this overgrown adolescent, sucking, but too hard, making her sore and angry. So many men were plagued with premature ejaculation, impotence, and other sexual dysfunctions, but always the wrong men. But as soon as those thoughts passed through her mind, they were drowned out by a roar of remorse. So she lay there, moving her body lightly, trying to set off a spark, something that she, or, less likely, he could fan into a flame. Thomas was in for the long haul at her chest. He was hesitant, always had been, about touching her anywhere below the waist, as if it might be disrespectful to do so.
The length of her body is the simple answer to what I am missing. It’s an odd sensation to have something in your arms and to still be yearning for it and you lie there and feel the yearning subside slowly as the actual woman rises along your neck, chest, legs. We are drifting against each other now. Sex is the raft, but sleep is the ocean and the waves are coming up.… I run my hands along her bare back and down across her ribs and feel the two dimples in her hip, and my only thought is the same thought I’ve had a thousand times: I don’t remember this— I don’t remember this at all. Katie sits up and places her warm legs on each side of me, her breasts falling forward in the motion, and as she lifts herself ever so slightly in a way that is the exact synonym for losing my breath, we see something.
The homely and erotic patterns of marriage are not easily discarded. They knelt face to face in the center of the bed undressing each other slowly. “You’re so thin,” said Julie. “You’re going to waste away.” She ran her hands along the pole of his collarbone, down the bars of his rib cage, and then, gratified by his excitement, held him tight in both hands and bent down to reclaim him with a long kiss. He too felt proprietorial tenderness once she was naked. He registered the changes, the slight thickening at the waist, the large breasts a little smaller. From living alone, he thought, as he closed his mouth around the nipple of one and pressed the other against his cheek. The novelty of seeing and feeling a familiar naked
body was such that for some minutes they could do little more than hold each other at arm’s length and say, “Well…” and “Here we are again…” A wild jokiness hung in the air, a suppressed hilarity that threatened to obliterate desire.… He wondered, as he had many times before, how anything so good and simple could be permitted, how they were allowed to get away with it, how the world could have taken this experience into account for so long and still be the way it was. Not governments or publicity firms or research departments, but biology, existence, matter itself had dreamed this up for its own pleasure and perpetuity, and this was exactly what you were meant to do, it wanted you to like it.
In his room, I stripped naked in one minute flat and lay on the bed.
“Pretty desperate, aren’t you?” he asked.
“For God’s sake, why? We have plenty of time.”
“As long as you want it,” he said, ambiguously.
If he left me, in short, it would be my fault. Psychoanalysts are like that. Never fuck a psychoanalyst is my advice to all you young things out there. Anyway, it was no good. Or not much. He was only at half-mast and he thrashed around wildly inside me hoping I wouldn’t notice. I wound up with a tiny ripple of an orgasm and a very sore cunt. But somehow I was pleased. I’ll be able to get free of him now, I thought; he isn’t a good lay. I’ll be able to forget him.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
“That I’ve been well and truly fucked.” I remembered having used the same phrase with Bennett once, when it was much more true.
“You’re a liar and a hypocrite. What do you want to lie for? I know I haven’t fucked you properly. I can do much better than that.”
I was caught up short by his candor. “OK,” I confessed glumly, “you haven’t fucked me properly. I admit it.”
In his hotel room he used his hands to hold her head, moved it with deliberate but tempered force— far more than a suggestion— from a spot on his neck to his chest to himself. He kept his hands pressed firmly to her ears, then played with strands of her hair. He moved her head then away from himself so that he could feel her breasts there, between her breasts, and he pressed them close around it, which no one had ever.… It was weird having it pushed into her face, pushed against her, as casually as if it were a finger. He was so sure of himself. So cock-centered. The phrase had never occurred to her before that moment, when it was locked between her breasts. When he was inside of her later, she felt the same taut, sure strength in his hips as they pressed into her, forcing her to press back.… With his hips he pulled her along to the edge of sensation and then let her pull back ever so gently, and back and forth and back and forth. She felt as if she were getting ready for a dive, jumping up and down on the end of the diving board to get a feel for the springs. Tighter than she had expected. Though she offered no resistance and came right before he did. When they caught their breath and pulled the covers back up, Stephen kissed her on the cheek, a quick good-night kiss, and rolled over and slept by himself.
Nora entered the living room naked, a bad idea with guests in the house, and from the weave of her walk he could see how drunk she was. She got into bed beside him and turned unceremoniously upon her back. Max wasn’t sure if this contained a sexual invitation or not. Such complex passivity on her part was unknown to him— except for those times when he started things rolling by applying his mouth to her. This he began to do, swiftly losing himself in the flowery complexities of her labia, until her thighs tightened in refusal and she sat up, taking his face between her hands. “Just fuck me,” she said.
She lay back down and waited.
“Yes.” She waited stoically, like a good Victorian wife. She felt abnormally tight as he entered her. And then there was a further surprise; she was silent. He thought this might be in deference to Bob and Judy down the hall, but that didn’t explain what her eyes were doing open, or why the look in them was so liquid and beseeching.
“Max,” she said, just as he was starting to come apart against his climax. “Max, I have to tell you…”
“What?” he managed to say.
“I just wish…”
“I just wish we could have a baby.”
For an irrational moment he wished it too. And then he spurted his useless seed.
And another year or two later, I was in Paris on business; and one morning on the landing of a hotel, where I had been looking up a film actor fellow, there she was again, clad in a gray tailored suit, waiting for the elevator to take her down, a key dangling from her fingers. ‘Ferdinand has gone fencing,’ she said conversationally; her eyes rested on the lower part of my face as if she were lip reading, and after a moment of reflection (her amatory comprehension was matchless), she turned and rapidly swaying on slender ankles led me along the sea-blue carpeted passage. A chair at the door of her room supported a tray with the remains of breakfast—a honey-stained knife, crumbs on the gray porcelain; but the room had already been done, and because of our sudden draft a wave of muslin embroidered with white dahlias got sucked in, with a shudder and a knock, between the responsive halves of the French window, and only when the door had been locked did they let go of that curtain with something like a blissful sigh; and a little later I stepped out on the diminutive cast-iron balcony beyond to inhale a combined smell of dry maple leaves and gasoline…
Every night after that I carefully soaped Malkele from her long graceful neck down to each and every toe. Though her limbs were atrophied and her spine bent slightly backwards, her small breasts remained girlish and as lovely as her face. Soaping Malkele, slowly, gently, quietly, became for us our kaddish for our obscured childhood and for our dead mother and father. This soaping was our only defense against the looming Nazi death machinery. During the day we longed for those few moments of slippery tenderness. My own muscles craved it as much as hers. Yes, yes, we were, after a fashion, Malkele and I, lovers.
But we obeyed the final taboo— we never, to be cold and German about it, fornicated. I washed her hair. She still cursed and threatened me. I soaped every inch of her body. I caressed her pointy nipples with the palm of my hand. I dried her and helped her into her nightgown. I carried her to her bed. I brushed her thick reddish black hair in the candle-lit bedroom. Once she whispered to me, “To what are Chopin’s Preludes preludes?” and I kissed her. ‘
Sometimes after that, I lay with her. We kissed each other’s lips and we embraced, but I never entered her. That restraint, which I adhered to religiously— Malkele, I am sure, would have welcomed me, though even she was never bold enough to ask … If we should omit these most private details from the historical record, there is no way to appreciate fully the richness of life for two young Jews, surviving temporarily, with false identifications as Pavel and Maria Witlin, on the Aryan side of Nazi-occupied Warsaw.
On an outing of our family association, I once cored an apple, saw to my astonishment (and with the aid of my obsession) what it looked like, and ran off into the woods to fall upon the orifice of the fruit, pretending that the cool and mealy hole was actually between the legs of that mythical being who always called me Big Boy when she pleaded for what no girl in all recorded history had ever had.
“Oh shove it in me, Big Boy,” cried the cored apple that I banged silly on that picnic. “Big Boy, Big Boy, oh give me all you’ve got,” begged the empty milk bottle that I kept hidden in our storage bin in the basement, to drive wild after school with my vaselined upright. “Come on, Big Boy, come,” screamed the maddened piece of liver that, in my own insanity, I bought one afternoon at a butcher shop and, believe it or not, violated behind a billboard on the way to a bar mitzvah lesson.
I pushed aside my pillows and turned onto my stomach. My feet hung off the end of the bed, my toes hooked over the edge. The way I do. And through my cotton nightgown, I put two fingers of my right hand on my clitoris and thought of him. Standing in a room, coming toward me, watching me undress.… (It must always be through a nightgown or a pair of underpants. I’ve wondered if this is because of the greater friction. Surely that must be part of it, but there is something more, perhaps the thrill that first came to me as a small girl, pressing my fingers against myself, the cloth interceding between my fingers and my vagina, interceding between shame and pleasure).…
One Sunday morning in boarding school I found my roommate lying on her back on the tile floor of the shower stall. Her legs … were splayed on either side of the spigots, the water cascading between her slack muscular thighs.… She remains to this day the only woman I’ve ever known who spoke freely of her own masturbation. She urged me to try it. I didn’t have the courage to tell her that I had found my own way. Women will talk about anything— sexual jealousy, dishonor, the lovely advantages of eating pussy or sucking cock— but they will not tell you about fucking themselves.
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