Writing about Sex is like cooking with garlic: the garlic is not the point.
Imagine writing a scene in which two important characters share a meal and you’re therefore lavishing all of your descriptive powers on that act of eating (and, possibly, attempting to elevate this act to a level of kitschy spiritual symbolism that neither Eating nor Sex can realistically support), leaving almost everything else out of the scene. Imagine doing that several times in a novel: it would be peculiar to do so. Eating is great but… right? Garlic is great….
Imagine, instead, the meal between these two characters as a good excuse to create, and a technically efficient way to anchor, in Truth, with sensual detail, a set-piece with so much more than the chewing to it. The garlic is not the point. “Bad Sex” awards go to writers who attempt bravura descriptions of an ultimately banal act… without realizing they would have been better off lavishing descriptive creativity on actions and objects within the set-piece, parallel to the Sex… but not on the breasts, pussy, cock or big-O itself. A little dick-describing (dickscription?) goes a long way. Literary anti-award “Bad Sex” contests are more properly called “The Bad Writing Prize”.
Following is my description of one character’s pussy (a word I hated when I was young; now I see the gentle poetry of it; I see how neatly the metaphor fits; does the penis have such a nice pseudonym? Exercise: try to come up with a pseudonym, or synonym, for penis, that isn’t comedic) through the eyes of another character. The Sex has occurred, already, offstage and the character whose eyes we are seeing through is a smart, slightly neurotic, slightly more uptight than he thinks swinger of the ’70s who is contemplating his lover’s pussy as he prepares, possibly, to seriously commit to an act of cunnilingus for the first time ever:
“Benji had gazed with some fascination at Prentis’ ruddy brown bush where a stripe of sunlight struck it at various depths, touching off filaments of flaring gold here and there above a scattered undergrowth of pink or red bumps and scratches, micro-debris stuck in the hairs, the imperfections which endeared the territory to him. It was a big bush, a bushy bush fluffing the crimped fold of her puss and up her lower belly, stopping along the neat edge of the pale limit of her bikini-shaped tan line, just below her navel where some of Benji’s cum had pooled into a tiny opal coin with a hole in its center and Benji had never really looked at it before, the bush belonging to Prentis.
And neither had he looked at the pussy itself, her tender lips down there posing casually ajar but freshly sealed with a cloudy strip of moisture to which he had only to apply, repeatedly, the subtlest touch of his nervous tongue. How long, on average, would such a thing take? Benji squinted at the moisture, which had beaded to a creamy dollop cooling under the raspberry hood of clit. He assumed that was her clit. But how could you not sort of wonder about the chemical composition of all that moisture? Obviously, a lot of it was going to consist of Benji’s own semen.”
The description of the pussy here is an excuse to show something about the character looking upon it; the pussy described is obviously a Real one. Imagine how pointless it would be to render the pussy in ornate or cosmic terms (as some writers do)? The pussy is not a golden chalice or Hesperus’ chariot or an interdimensional portal, it’s a body part (an often very nice one)… to render the pussy (or Sex itself) in mythopoetic terms is to indulge in inadvertent satirical bathos. The dick/cock/penis is a meat tube that fills with blood to stiffen and is no more comparable to a scepter, sword, steed or rocket than a smallish warm cucumber with a funny color and knobby tip would be. Don’t distract or alienate or unwillingly amuse the reader with wildly-inappropriate metaphor choices.
Sex is mostly action: describe the action. Describe action well enough and the reader will provide the feelings but if you must describe feelings, avoid airy, New Agey abstraction. Remain as grounded as Sex (which revolves around physics and plumbing) always is. Write Sex as action, a specific action, a thing that happened, or that is happening, an action that you are wiser than to attach a preposterous significance to (whether or not your characters are this wise).
My rule of thumb regarding the description of action: unless there are good reasons for doing otherwise (eg you’re Nicholson Baker) try describing a given action with the approximate speed and rhythm of the real world action you’re capturing. You can speed up a sentence by cheating… Paul Theroux (a solidly middlebrow writer) taught me an enormous amount, when I was young, by efficiently comparing leaves in a jungle to “old dollar bills” and the mud between a boy’s toes as “smashed cake”. Imagine how long it might otherwise have taken to describe either, in detail, one adjective (or the ponderous three-adjective-cluster) at a time… a common mistake. Cheat. This will get your speed/rhythm under control and allow your written objects to acquire mass/ structure/ impact. (Cheat also with your characters: invoke a famous actor’s face or mannerism and you’ve allowed your readers’ own memories to particularize the character for you, which is the gold standard: ransack the readers’ memories for whatever you need to make the passage Real).
Oh yes, and. It wouldn’t hurt to acquire a few years of experience fucking before attempting to make it work on the page. That Sex scene in McEwan’s Atonement, for example, can only have been written by a near-virgin. Science Fictioneers can get away with describing the Plixit Folk of planet Rigel-Beta-9 without ever having seen Plixit Folk (or Rigel-Beta-9) because, of course, neither has, or will, the reader.
Many writers were adolescent introverts who wouldn’t have resorted to Writing if they’d had access to Sex and it shows.
Do the research.
Example One: Mary and Paul in This Incredible Sex Comedy:
There was a clear brown jar of Vaseline on the moonlight-striped windowsill above the turntable and Mary drew his attention to it (and away from the yeasty panties she’d left on the floor near the ashtray next to his foot) with an accusing finger when My Sex (she lifted the tone-arm off the shimmering platter) was finished, saying, after clearing her throat,
“Um, that’s not what it looks like.”
“What does it look like?”
“A jar of Vaseline.”
“Okay,” he said.
“It looks kind of used. But it isn’t.”
“Not much, really. A dab or two at most. If you remove the lid you’ll find no gouges in it. Out of it? In it? Just dabs. Dab-holes. Dablets.”
“It’s for removing make-up. And it’s great for cracked lips. Oh, and a dab on your teeth makes smiling through interviews on the red carpet a breeze. Your lips glide right over your teeth. Don’t you read Cosmopolitan?”
She had a coffee-table edition of The Tao Te Ching on the built-in desk beside her record collection. He was leaning against the wall by the door in her cramped little dorm room (nearly identical to his) and he unfolded his arms to have a look at this cosmic book. It was inscribed For The Cosmic Kali Dancing Yin Yang Siren Princess Samurai Slut of Oregonia, with Love and Squalor and Blueballs, Micha. Paul leafed through its large, beautifully banal, calligraphy-graced photographs of water and stone and mist and all that jazz and throaty-chuckled again. The trick was not to use it too much and so once more today, at the most, was the limit. Who the fuck is Micha?
“Is this what it looks like it is?” Naked Paul asked, showing her a pretty page in the book.
“You’re not a Hippie?”
She tapped his third eye playfully. She pretended to ignore his swinging dick.
“I was always told that Hippies are non-violent.”
“The Hippies were hicks. I guess I’m more of a psychedelic mod if I were forced to choose. You know, like Carnaby street? Close all your eyes for a minute.”
He closed his eyes and she removed the Tao Te Ching from his freckled brown hands and tossed it loudly on the bed as though a book were just an object but a kiss was a significant thing and Mary kissed him on the closed mouth, slipping between his lips with her questing tongue which shoved his nonplussed tongue out of the way to lick the backs of his teeth and spread her DNA in the crevices. Paul stood stiff as a slot machine until he remembered to act, eating Mary’s breaths with such a passion that it made them both dizzy and wise. After that first long co-breathingly Dyadic kiss they smiled in a loose clinch like fighters exhausted by each other’s talent and determination and with the wide-open eyes of feigned shock Mary said,
“I promised myself that I was either going to commit suicide or suck a penis today and I think I’ve made my decision.”
Off the bed to the floor splashed the suburban American white girl’s edition of the Tao Te Ching.
Mary was back up on the bed with her blue velour bathrobe open like the petals of a flower that’s been flattened on the road and her bush like matted pollen and Paul was down upon Mary with near-tears of gratitude and then he was grunting and gasping and in her and out her and in her and horribly hard.
Mary’s previous (and sixth) lover had been in his forties and adept at the oral mysteries but married and white, of course, white and pink and skinny as an intermittently-leadless pencil. You could invest all that time in teaching a man to screw well and still end up with a leadless pencil in your mouth. And even with lead it was still just a pencil (the only man she’d ever seen to fake an orgasm). Probably Queer and forestalling the inevitable. Using Mary’s babysitting vagina as a diversionary tactic, probably, to be frank, when Mary thought back on it with self-hugging shudders. Ronald Reynolds Baker, the claims adjuster and avid reader of Ronald Firbank. There was a cartoony drawing of a cracking Ming vase in mid-crack on Baker’s business card and it was when she’d seen this card that Mary had decided to let Reynolds plumb her sideways on the long drives home in his Chrysler after each babysitting of his handicapped son named Alvin. Loving, as she did (at the time) cartoons.
Paul came quickly. Mary instructed Paul sweetly to hold her as she masturbated in order to complete the act. And so she lay back upon him, against his broad chest between his long dark legs, which looked to her to be as polished and sturdy as the serious furniture of her childhood, his muscled arms around her and the fragrant blond sirocco of her just-washed hair fizzing a pale gold blur across a corner of his field of vision. Paul kissed the side of Mary’s face through this sirocco and watched her faraway toes curl and splay and curl again as she came with the pleading grunts of being gently electrocuted. Her feet were braced on the windowsill and had turned a strawberry red for a minute.
And Ah, the effortless fuckings of youth like flight among mammals who don’t quite grasp that they are incapable of flight.
As though falling, not flying, were the miracle.
Paul whispered Mary in Mary’s ear, while her gasps downshifted precipitously into regular breaths and she was nearly lucid. She fanned her tufted mons with the wet and responsible hand. Blue cones of patchouli incense had burned with measured grace in the hollowed belly of a white Buddha Mary had placed beside the jar of Vaseline on the windowsill before they got into it and now the arabesques of scent, like insinuating vines of ether, guided by subtle messages from the day’s weather as it leaked through the seams between the sill and the outer wall, were drifting over the spinning turntable across where Mary’s crotch was angled (her perfect ass resting on Paul’s semi-tumescent erection, provocatively) toward that very windowsill. Providing the delightful illusion that the smoke was wafting from her mons.
Example Two: Richardina and Salter in Germantown:
The first time Richardina did it, he was walking home from school, the long way, after having wasted hours in the field. The field, beyond the school playground and bordering a stretch of the highway, was marshy in a dragon-flied corner replete with frogs. He was catching the tiny jewel-green things with his cap and releasing them again before he realized he would be so late going home that there might be trouble over it, even though summer was in high gear and the days had grown nice and long.
He’d commenced trudging home across the field when Richardina Fortneaux rose up from a shock of thistles and gripped him by his long black hair and wrestled him down. She got his corduroy pants past his skinny hips easily enough and his underwear too and pinned his arms and hocked a goblin of spit upon his rusty nail of a penis. She piled dirt on top and manipulated it like a scrawny recalcitrant tuber she was trying to yank from the earth. Salter was terrified by the matter-of-factness she displayed while doing this, but there was a lag of almost a minute before he started kicking and squirming and burst into tears and wailed for her to get off of him.
The next time, a week later, he was just a block from home when he saw Richardina out of the corner of his eye, coming up fast on his left side, though he did not quicken his pace. She got his left arm behind his back and marched him towards what had once been a community recreation center, built when Tubman Gardens was new and not called Tubman Gardens at all; it hadn’t always been a ghetto. The entire four square mile complex had originally been fabricated (poured in concrete) as housing for low-security-clearance white factory workers during The War. This community recreation center had once featured table tennis, dart boards, judo mats and a miniature golf course. Now it was a one-story red-brick wreck, with boarded windows and sooty black rainbows scorched on both the outer and inner walls where fires had been built and everything reeked of piss and the adamant garbage of the poor.
Richardina forced Salter inside the ruins where dozens of thin beams of daylight angled through bullet holes in the plywood windows and again she grabbed his hair and wrestled him grunting to the ground, which was damp concrete. This time, however, as Salter lay on his back in the gloom, forearms pinned under Richardina’s sharp knees, she didn’t undress him, but worked her hand into her own dirty pants and dug around a bit, and when she finally pulled out she stuck an index finger under Salter’s nose and it was clear to him that the finger had spent time in her rectum. Again, she stared dispassionately as if watching it all from a great distance, and after a cursory struggle let Salter up to run home.
Example Three: Benji and Prentis in Kootchie Towers:
If loving Feminism made you a Feminist, Benji was a Feminist. It was 1974 and Benji had been teaching, professionally, in some form or another, since Grad School. But he had never gotten as much sheer pussy, in such heavy wet quality and quantity, as he’d been getting since Feminism exploded in the brand new decade’s earthtone sky and across TIME and LIFE and LOOK magazine and trickled down through Lefty bookstores and the leaky vaulting roof of academe, making everything sexy, sexier than it had ever been, sexier by far than the Paris of the 1920s or even Caligulan Rome, which both suffered from a lack of modern facilities of hygiene. Indoor plumbing and capitalism’s innovations in the field of soaps and deodorizers had opened new doors of body-joy for everyone. The door was open a little while before many really stepped through, though.
Back in 1969, the Summer of Supposed Love, he’d had one affair, a niggardly affair, a paltry jab or two, a few brackish licks and pokes and way too much awkward clean-up, at the age of 31, with somebody’s twice-divorced mother who’d had to pretend that Benji was a windbreakered rapist to enjoy the act without guilt, mouthwash-drunk as she was the two times they tried it. The mother of the kid with the receding hairline he was tutoring very poorly in calculus. This was long before Benji’s pop-physics book hit and the corn-colored beauties of the upper Midwest cocked and opened their unshaved legs and fruity monses for his uncurled nautilus. His nautilus was suddenly afloat on the sultry pink sea of little deaths. The ’70s were turning out to be everything the ’60s had pretended to promise. The ’50s: dire hand jobs from homely fiancées with skills in the kitchen. The ’60s: regretful sex with itchy hippies or frowsy Mrs Robinsons who referred to your cock as “you know what” and their pussies as “you know where”.
In 1974 alone, he’d fucked twelve or more Feminists, each a goddess, and that’s just the Feminists (not to mention his gloriously earthy lunch ladies) and this was still spring, there were overlapping Feminist trysts every month, most of the sisters uniformed in Gloria Steinem’s owlish glasses, slender and wry of tit and brown as Polynesians from picketing. No exaggerated tan lines, sadly (he dearly missed exaggerated tan-lines, the great invention of the Playboy magazine) because they sunbathed nude, in a Feminist cabal, reading Ms. Magazine and Simone de Beauvoir on the Student Union roof. The Zen cock trick was giving the Feminists firm handshakes and uninterrupted attention when they held forth and never (never) suggesting that they’d look better with their hair down or in a skirt instead of pinstriped slacks and taking it seriously (sincerely) when something pissed them off. No more patronizing chuckles. No more unsolicited feedback. Let them lead. Let them be the aggressors. Let them climb on top. Be the prey, Benji. The prey.
Men who didn’t get Feminism didn’t get Feminists.
Prentis sometimes wore a long white silken Isadora scarf around her neck for sexual style and wire-rimmed glasses like a tiara snagged in her perfumed nimbus of gilded flesh-toned hair but today she was magnificently unadorned. Prentis who pronounced “cock sucking” as cork sacking. Her hair the precise tone of the ruddy-blond flesh of inner-illuminated cherubs. Benji’s mitts were on the inverted teacups of her very faintly tan-lined boobs. Those sweetly not-big tits. Tits like the mathematical symbol for tits.
Benji mistakenly thought that Prentis thought, mistakenly, that she was fucking like a man thought sex should be: an honest mistake. And of course he was profiting from this mistake. But these energetically beautiful young women who put their diaphragms in every morning (more natural than the Pill), just in case, screwing at the drop of a hat, all over campus, owned by no one but themselves and circumscribed by no hoary desert-convention of the intact hymen as a commodity to be traded for guaranteed life-long financial support and social status: they weren’t acting like men, they were acting like their mothers. Their upper-middleclass, pre-menopausal mothers. Which was great, wasn’t it? If there was anything more exciting than a divorcee’s to-hell-with-it rapacity wedded to a face undamaged by alcohol, Benji had no idea what it could possibly be at that moment.
He slipped a finger into Prentis’ sweat-and-pussy-goo-slick rectum and she yanked it out again and slapped him (not hard) without missing a beat and pinned his wrists to the mattress and bore down on him with redoubled intensity, her shifting woof of pyrite hair a visual effect on his face.
He was busy trying not to cum while wanting to remain hard, the Scylla and Charybdis of 36. At 20 he could hold out no longer than five minutes before cumming in 5000-volt spasms and unbelievable volume (he’d once accidentally put out a scented candle from the other side of the room) but he could do it five times in a row, then, too.
Example Four: Azzedine and Verna in The Bomb Collector:
When she came out with a six-pack of edible-looking beer bottles under one arm and a grocery sack under the other, she was grinning widely. He opened her door for her and she slid onto the seat with the bundle in her arms like a baby. El-Hadi nodded towards the source of the food odor. “Are you hungry?”
“That place? That place is a dump. We can do better than that.”
The convertible eased out into traffic like a boat with her as its navigator. What El-Hadi liked was their tacit adherence to a rule he’d never before realized was one of his sweetest fantasies: no names. A short while later, two king-size fried shrimp dinners to-go sat steaming on the space between them. He was in a part of the city he’d never seen before, surprising not so much by its poverty but because of how rural it all looked. White clapboard houses and red dirt roads and shirtless black boys peddling ‘no-hand’ on their bicycles. Under the harsh glare of streetlights their black flesh looked to be made of the asphalt missing from the roads.
She said, “You know what this here little party of ours is lacking?”
“What?” El-Hadi found himself growing impatient.
“You’d like her. I like her too. Verna’s my cousin and we’re so close we kiss goodnight on the lips.”
Despite his impatience, El-Hadi’s sexual greed got the better of him, and he soon found himself turning left and right and then left again on roads that were sometimes dirt, sometimes gravel. The first house they stopped at produced no results; the Gaugin girl ran back down the front steps to the car and informed El-Hadi that Verna was at church, so they drove to church.
“I was under the impression that Americans only went to church on Sunday.”
“You ain’t in America right now, baby,” she laughed, pulling a fried shrimp out of its greasy white box and re-sealing the box lest El-Hadi consider doing the same, “This here is a suburb of Africa.”
How ironic that of the two of us, I’m the actual African, thought El-Hadi.
They pulled up in front of the church, a dark box of a building with lavender curtains in all of its windows and a white cross each painted on two of them; a building, minus the detail of the windows, which might just as easily have been another liquor store. There was no boisterous music or primitive ululations, despite his expectations; the only sound was the wind whipping a chain against the aluminum flagpole in front of the building.
The temperature had been dropping gradually all evening and El-Hadi felt a chill setting in. But his resolve to have his sexual experience only solidified as the minutes turned to hours. He’d never had relations with a genuine American colored girl and this intersection of opportunity and desire (she was more attractive than the few of her race that he sometimes came in contact with… shop girls and meter maids, mostly) would most likely never repeat itself. So he waited.
By the time Verna Williams emerged from the building in a thick plug of people, followed by a trickle of stragglers, a light drizzle turned the sidewalks into a dark cloth and beaded on the windshield, and El-Hadi had had to put the top on the convertible up again. When Verna came out the Gaugin said That’s her and stretched provocatively across El-Hadi and honked the horn. The girl who ran towards the car in response was heavyset and darker than her cousin, medium height and somewhere in her middle twenties, although El-Hadi, of course, had been fantasizing about a younger, more slender and sloe-eyed version of the Polynesian. Verna’s dark dress hid neither the round weight of her stomach nor that of her breasts, which bounced in a Disney ballet as she skipped towards them with a grin that struck El-Hadi as their only common feature. Verna leaned into the window and the cousins kissed, as promised, on the lips.
“Girl, how you doin’? I was gonna call you later to see if everything turned out okay.”
“You know me, Verna.”
“Too well, child.”
“Verna, this is my friend Rudy. You wanna come with me an’ Rudy to my place an’ celebrate?”
El-Hadi got out and opened the Gaugin’s door so she could get out in turn and let Verna Williams push her way onto the back seat. Close up, he noticed that Verna was a pretty girl, though heavyset, and his disappointment healed itself. He developed a wolfish interest in seeing all that flesh unpacked and set in contrast with the slender form of her cousin. He even got a hand on her hips as he helped her into the car and this re-animated his dozing erection. He glanced at Verna in the rearview mirror and wondered how far the two girls had gone in the past. The trick would be to get them to exceed the previous limit without calling attention to the moment of truth, and the beers they had with them would no doubt play a role. El-Hadi’s dark beauty handed one of the shrimp dinners back to her cousin and they ate the food quickly while chatting, polishing off two handfuls of shrimp, some coleslaw and their complimentary Saltine crackers.
“How long you got off now, girl?”
“He said I could come back to work on Monday.”
“A four-day weekend. That ain’t bad.”
“Least he could do, considering.”
Verna curled her lip and cocked her head. “Considering. You sure you okay?”
“Okay as I’m gonna get.”
Verna licked her fingers and met El-Hadi’s eyes in the rearview. “Rudy, what do you do?”
“He’s a male nurse,” answered the Gaugin.
“Oh. Should would be talking about… ?”
“Different hospital. He just started working at St. Luke’s.”
“That’s right,” said the Gaugin girl.
“How you like working there, Rudy?”
“I love it,” said El-Hadi, and all three of them laughed, each for a different reason.
They drove up a very long gravel alley and parked behind a tilted garage so weathered that it had nearly managed to unpaint itself. The Gaugin girl was through the gate and up the walk to the back door of the house before El-Hadi could help Verna out of the back seat. The Gaugin had either run ahead to warn someone about this unexpected arrival or to hide something El-Hadi shouldn’t see, he thought, but still he was surprised that it was a house and not a wretched little apartment after all. It was Verna who led him up the uneven walk in the rain, speaking in a museum-goer’s hush.
“Maybe Mr. Reyes home,” she said.
“Who’s Mr. Reyes?”
When they entered the kitchen through the screen door the air they met was the sealed air of a sickroom, though the lighting was over-bright as on a stage in a theatre as the curtain rises. There were four unshaded table lamps glaring from various spots around the kitchen. Seeing El-Hadi squint, Verna whispered, “The poor man losin’ his vision.”
A gray-haired man of indeterminate race slumped at the kitchen table with El-Hadi’s sixpack in front of his downed head and the pillow of his folded arms. Tugged by Verna, El-Hadi followed the two women out of the kitchen into a dimly lit hallway, thence left into a doorless room. The room would have been just about a comfortable size for one adult, with its permanently unfolded and unmade sofa bed on the far wall and its two playpens, side-by-side, under the heavily draped window nearest El-Hadi. In each playpen stood a curly-haired child, wide awake but silent, the one aged two or three perhaps and the other three or four and resembling each other not very much at all. El-Hadi remained in the doorway with Verna while his Polynesian extracted two loud bags of cheesecorn from the Liquor store grocery sack and handed one to each. Whatever purchase remained in the sack, which she did not crumple but placed discreetly on a chair near the playpens, was clearly allocated for the night. She said, over her shoulder, “Y’all go on to the other room and I’ll be right with you.”
Azzedine, overwhelmed by the unpredictability of living things and stunned by the fact of the children, allowed himself to be tugged further by Verna into a large, dark room at the end of the hallway. There was a massive console television set in front of drapes faintly aglow with streetlight and a sofa angled to face the television.
Verna came at him with the fervently awkward kisses of a twelve-year old. She placed his hands on her body and moved in them like a novice teaching the tango. He stumbled around the room with her like this, smelling the sweat baked in layers into her dress and the meal that he’d paid for on her lips, nurturing his arousal with brutal thoughts: he saw himself yanking her by her hair to her knees, forcing himself in her mouth. He fantasized pinning her belly-down to the floor and forcing an entrance or having both her and her beautiful cousin prone and compliant, side-by-side, like a buffet; anything to protect his arousal against her clumsy, giggly, anti-erotic behaviour. He unzipped her dress and gestured for her to pull it off over her shoulders, thinking, The important thing is to have her naked before the pretty one comes back into the room; if the line is already crossed, she can’t fear to cross it.
Under Verna’s dress was a tightly-packed slip instead of brassiere and panties. She backed away from El-Hadi and sprawled on the sofa in a gynecological posture. Her breasts were rounded slabs. He unzipped his pants and freed himself with a sigh of relief, pointing at the ceiling as though a string was pulling him. He knelt on the couch with one knee as she said, not in a whisper but in a very small voice, “I hope your cock bone strong… “
“Your cock bone… I hope it good and strong ‘cuz I got a hard cherry… “
“What are you talking about?”
“The bone in your cock… “
El-Hadi emitted an Algerian curse appropriate to being sold ten cracked eggs out of a dozen and dragged her up off the couch, to do a lurch-and-stumble tango of weak resistance across the room and up the hallway. Verna grunted and groaned, pleading No all the way. He dragged her to the doorway of the Gaugin’s bedroom. The light was off so he slapped on the light in the hall and he noticed that the bedroom smelled as though it had gotten a quick wipe-down from a kerosene-soaked rag by an arsonist: The Gaugin’s nightcap. She was snoring softly on her sofa bed between her doomed half-castes, one of whom blinked in the wedge of light that cut across his mother’s stockingless legs from the doorway as El-Hadi hurried to stuff himself back in his trousers.
She hadn’t even undressed; she was still wearing her crepe-soled shoes and Verna had Azzedine’s arm and pulled her mouth up to his ear and she said, “The poor thing had that operation today, you know what I mean. Let her sleep, Rudy. You can do it to me instead. Anything you want, I promise, I’ll take you to the moon and back just let my Raylene sleep.”
Example Five: Frau Schivelbeiner and Narrator#1 in The Bad Czech
Is self-awareness a form of insanity? Is culture an altar to madness? Animals are proto-rational, in that what they do always makes sense, unless they are badly damaged, mentally… and I wonder if animals who exhibit strong signs of neurosis are therefore, like (wo)man, self-aware?
Schnecke was growling and popping and hissing, from her vantage point at the top of a very tall chest of drawers, the whole time I was having intercourse with her friend Frau Schivelbeiner, who was sitting as straight-spined as a Yogi on me, gasping. We were balanced on the edge of her giant red bed.
Consequently, Frau Schivelbeiner frequently shouted ‘Schnecke!’ during the act, to admonish the cat, but her complaints sounded like cries of amorous abandon instead, punctuated with her gasps. I could see the top edge of the electrified black outline of the beast in the shadow just under the ceiling, but Frau Shivelbeiner’s back was to her, so her face was turned half away from me as she bounced on my lap, calling out ‘Schnecke!’ until it felt not a little like a menage-a-trois. And the raking red scratches in neat diagonal stripes down my back I finally walked out of her flat in the middle of the night with only added to this impression.
Despite her claws, she was a tiny, fragile, lovely thing in my lap. Her skin was smooth; she was fifty! Strangely, and grotesque in a sexy way, all of her wrinkles had furled to her groin, as though smoothed down from the top of her forehead with an iron, until her groin was as brown and hairless and wrinkled as a dune. Her breasts were just big bumps, and I bit them, and she bit mine; she tipped me back and rode me with her hair on my face like a veil, and I stuck my thumb in her mouth, and she monkey-see, monkey-do’d this hospitable gesture wherever she could until I cried out for her to stop. Or not to. Until I.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t come,” I whispered, while she ground my squashed penis into my belly with her sopping pelvis. I cupped her narrow waist between my hands, and her muscles shifted under her skin, under my fingertips, as though I was holding a snake*.
“But I was coming the entire time!” she whispered back, biting my ear, and I loved this poetic lie.
“May I spend the night?” I asked gallantly.
“No, my husband will be back in a while!”
“Your husband! I thought you were divorced!”
“I am… from my first two husbands. My third is still around. He won’t like this.”
*I can tell I wrote The Bad Czech quite a while ago because I do my best to avoid the formulation “As though…” now. Why preface a metaphor with a heavy-handed warning that a metaphor is coming? Trust the reader to get it. Pay your Smart Readers that compliment and leave your Dumb Readers behind; you’d only need your Dumb Readers if you wanted money.
PS (March 3, 2019): I was just now reading an old collection of essays by Anthony Burgess and came across:
“The vulgarity of a lot of writing about food is cognate with the vulgarity of a lot of writing about sex. Certain sensations cannot be described except through metaphor, and the metaphor of sensation is too often the metaphor of mysticism.”