by HAROLD BRODKEY
I: Orra at Harvard
Orra Perkins was a senior. Her looks were like a force that struck you. Truly, people on first meeting her often involuntarily lifted their arms as if about to fend off the brightness of the apparition. She was a somewhat scrawny, tuliplike girl of middling height. To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die. I'm not the only one that said that. It was because seeing someone in actuality who had such a high immediate worth meant you had to decide whether such personal distinction has a right to exist or if she belonged to the state and ought to be shadowed in, reduced in scale, made lesser, laughed at.
Also, it was the case that you had to be rich and famous to set your hands on her; she could not fail to be a trophy, and the question was whether the trophy had to be awarded on economic and political grounds or whether chance could enter in.
I was a senior, too, and ironic. I had no money. I was without lineage. It seemed to me Orra was proof that life was a terrifying phenomenon of surface immediacy. She made any idea I had of psychological normalcy or of justice absurd since normalcy was not as admirable or as desirable as Orra; or rather she was normalcy and everything else was a falling off, a falling below; and justice was inconceivable if she, or someone equivalent to her if there was an equivalent once you had seen her, would not sleep with you.
II: Orra With Me
In the last spring of our being undergraduates, I finally got her. We had agreed to meet in my room, to get a little drunk cheaply before going out of dinner. I left the door unlatched; and I lay naked on my bed under a sheet. When she knocked on the door, I said, "Come in," and she did. She began to chatter right away, to complain that I was still in bed; she seemed to think I'd been taking a nap and had forgotten to wake up in time to get ready for her arrival. I said, "I'm naked, Orra, under this sheet. I've been waiting for you. I haven't been asleep."
Her face went empty. She said, "Damn you — why couldn't you wait?" But even while she was saying that, she was taking off her blouse.
I was amazed that she was so docile; and then I saw that is was maybe partly that she didn't want to risk saying no to me — she didn't want me to be hurt and difficult, she didn't want me to explode; she had a kind of hope of making me happy so that I'd then appreciate her and be happy with her and let her know me: I'm putting it badly. But her not being able to say no protected me from having so great a fear of sexual failure that I would not have been able to be worried about her pleasure, or to be concerned about her in bed. She was very amateurish and uninformed in bed, which touched me. It was really sort of poor sex; she didn't come or even feel much that I could see. Afterwards, lying besides her, I thought of her eight or ten or fifteen lovers being afraid of her, afraid to tell her anything about sex in case they might be wrong.
But what I did for the rest of that night — we stayed up all night; we talked, we quarreled for a while, we confessed various things, we argued about sex, we fucked again (the second one was a little better) — I treated her with the justice with which I'd treat a boy my age, a young man, and with a rather exact or measured patience and tolerance, as if she were a paraplegic and had spent her life in a wheelchair and was tired of sentiment. I showed her no sentiment at all. I figured she'd been asphyxiated by the sentiments and sentimentality of people impressed by her looks. She was beautiful and frightened and empty and shy and alone and wounded and invulnerable (like a cripple: what more can you do to a cripple?)
It was a fairly complicated, partly witty thing to do. It meant I could not respond to her beauty but had to ignore it. She was a curious sort of girl; she had a great deal of isolation in her, isolation as a woman. It meant that when she said something on the order of "You're very defensive," I had to be a debater, her equal, take her seriously, and say, "How do you mean that?" and then talk about it, and alternately deliver a blow ("You can't judge defensiveness, you had the silly irresponsibility of women, the silly disconnectedness: I have to be defensive") and defer to her: "You have a point, you think very clearly. All right, I'll adopt that as a premise."
Of course much of what we said was incoherent and nonsensical on examination, but we worked out in conversation what we meant or what we thought we meant. I didn't react to her in an emotional way. She wasn't really a girl, not really quite human: how could she be?
At that moment Orra said, "I think we're falling in love."
I figured I had kept her from being too depressed after fucking — it's hard for a girl with any force in her and any brains to accept the whole thing of fucking, of being fucked without trying to turn it on its end, so that she does some fucking, or some fucking up; I mean, the mere power of arousing the man so he wants to fuck isn't enough: she wants him to be willing to die in order to fuck.
To be fucked when there's no drama inherent in it, when you're not going to rise to a level of nobility and courage forever denied the male, is to be cut off from what is inherently female, bestially speaking. I wanted to be halfway decent company for her. I don't know that it was natural to me. I am psychologically, profoundly, a transient. A form of trash. I am incapable of any continuing loyalty and silence; I am an informer. But I did all right with her. It was dawn, as I said. We stood naked by the window, silently watching the light change. Finally, she said, "Are you hungry? Do you want breakfast?"
"Sure. Let's get dressed and go —"
She cut me off and said with a funny kind of firmness, "No! Let me go and get us something to eat."
"Orra, don't wait on me. Why are you doing this? Don't be like this."
But she was in a terrible hurry to be in love. After those few hours, after that short a time.
She said, "I'm not as smart as you, Wiley. Let me wait on you. Then things will be even."
"Things are even, Orra."
"No. I'm boring and stale. You just think I'm not because you're in love with me. Let me go."
I blinked. After a while, I said, "All right."
She dressed and went out and came back. While we ate, she was silent; I said things but she had no comment to make; she ate very little; she folded her hands and smiled midly like some nineteenth century portrait of a handsome young mother. Every time I looked at her, when she saw I was looking at her, she changed the expression on her face to one of absolute and undeviating welcome to me and to anything I might say. So, it had begun.
She hadn't come. She said she had never come with anyone at any time. She said it didn't matter. She said she had never come, not once in her life, and that she didn't need to. And that I mustn't think about whether she came or not. "I'm a sexual tigress," she explained, "and I like to screw, but I'm too sexual to come: I haven't that kind of daintiness. I'm not selfish that way."
I could see that she had prowled around in a sense and searched out men and asked them to be lovers as she had me rather than wait for them or plot to capture their attention in some subtle way; and in bed she was sexually eager and a bit more forward and less afraid than most girls, but only in an upper-middle-class frame of reference was she a sexual tigress.
It seemed to me — my whole self was focused on this — that her not coming said something about what we had, that her not coming was an undeniable fact, a measure of the limits of what we had. I did not think we should think we are great lovers when we weren't.
Orra said we were, that I had no idea how lousy that sex was other people had. I told her that hadn't been my experience. Orra said that coming was a minor part of sex for a woman and was a demeaning measure of sexuality. She said it was imposed as a measure by people who knew nothing about sex and judged women childishly.
It seemed to me that she was turning a factual thing, coming, into a public relations thing. But girls were under fearful public pressures in these matters.
I wondered how Orra would look, in what way she would do it, a girl like that going off, how she'd hold herself, her eyes, how she'd act towards me when it was over.
To get her to talk about sex at all, I argued that analyzing something destroyed it, of course, but leaves rotted on the ground and prepared the way for what would grow next. So she talked.
She said I was wrong in what I told her I saw and that there was no difference in her between mental and physical excitement, that it wasn't true her mind was excited quickly and her body slowly, if at all. I couldn't be certain I was right, but when I referred to a moment when there had seemed to be deep physical feeling in her, she sometimes agreed that had been a good moment in her terms; but sometimes she said, no, it had only been a little irritating then, like a peculiarly unpleasant tickle.
In a way, sexually, she was a compulsive liar. And then she had in her determination to have sex become more and more of a sexual fool. The first time I'd gone to bed with her, she'd screamed and thrown herself around, a good two or three feet to one side or another, as she thought a sexual tigress would, I'd supposed. I'd argued with her afterward that no one was that excited, especially without coming; she said she had come, sort of. She said she was too sexual for most men. She said her reactions weren't fake but represented a real sexuality, a real truth. That proud, stupid, stubborn, girl.
But I told her that if she and a man were in sexual congress, and she heaved herself around and threw herself a large number of inches to either the left or the right or even straight up, the man was going to be startled; and if there was no regular pattern or predictability, it was easy to lose an erection; that if she threw herself to the side, there was a good chance she would interrupt the congress entirely unless the man was very quick and scrambled after her, and scrambling after her was not likely to be sexual for him: it would be more like playing tag. The man would have to fuck while in a stage of siege; not knowing what she'd do next, he'd fuck and hurry to get it over and to get out.
Orra had said on that first occasion, "That sounds reasonable. No one ever explained that to me before, no one ever made it clear. I'll try it your way for awhile."
So far in her life she had disappointed everyone. I had to keep this all in mind, I figured. She was fantastically alive and eerily dead at the same time. I wanted for my various reasons to raise her from the dead.
IV: Orra: The Same World, a Different Time Scale
One afternoon, things went well for us. We went for a walk, the air was plangent, there was the amazed and polite pleasure we had sometimes at merely being together. Orra adjusted her pace now and then to mine; and I kept mine adjusted to her most of the time. When we looked at each other, there would be small, soft puffs of feeling as of toy explosions or sparrows bathing in the dust. her willed softness, her inner seriousness or earnestness, her strength, her beauty, muted and careful now in her anxiety not to lose me yet, made the pleasure of being with her noble, contrapuntal, and difficult in that one had to live up to it and understand it and protect it, against my clumsiness and Orra's falsity, kind as that falsity was; or the day would become simply an exploitation of a strong girl who would see through that sooner or later and avenge it.
But things went well; and inside that careless and careful goodness, we went home; we screwed; I came — to get my excitement out of the way; she didn't know I was doing that; she was stupendously polite; taut; and very admiring. "How pretty you are," she said. Her eyes were blurred with half-tears. I'd screwed without any fripperies, coolly, in order to leave in us a large residue of sexual restlessness but with the burr of immediate physical restlessness in me removed: I still wanted her.
She was slightly tearful, as I said, and gentle, and she held me in her arms after I came, and I said something like, "Don't relax, I want to come again," and she partly laughed, partly sighed, and was flattered, and said, "Again. That's nice." We had a terrific closeness, almost like a man and a secretary — I was free and powerful, and she was devoted: there was little chance Orra would ever be a secretary — she'd been offered executive jobs already for when she finished college — but to play at being a secretary who had no life of her own was a romantic thing for Orra.
After about ten minutes or so, perhaps it was twenty, I moved in her: I should say that while I'd rested, I'd stayed in her (and she'd held onto me). As I'd expected — and with satisfaction and pride that everything was working, my endowments were cooperating — I felt my prick come up; it came up at once with comic promptness, but it was sore — Jesus was it sore. It, its head, ached like hell, with a dry, burning reddish pain.
The pain made me chary and prevented me from being excited except in an abstract way; my mind was clear, I was idly smiling as I began, moving very slowly, just barely moving, sore of pressing on her inside her, moving around, lollygagging around, feeling out the reaches in there, arranging the space inside her, as if to put the inner soft-oiled shadows in her in order; or like stretching out your hand in the dark and pressing a curve of a blanket into familiarity or to locate yourself when you're half asleep, when your eyes are closed. In fact, I did close my eyes and listened carefully to her breathing, concentrating on her but trying not to let her see I was doing that because it would make her self-conscious.
Her reaction was so minimal that I lost faith in fucking for getting her started, and I thought I'd better go down on her. I pulled out of her, which wasn't too smart, but I wasn't thinking all the consequentially; she'd told me on other occasions she didn't like "all that foreign la-di-da," that "it didn't excite her," but I'd always thought it was only that she was ashamed of not coming and that made being gone down on hard for her. I started in on it; she protested; and I pooh-poohed her objections and did it anyway; I was raw with nerves, with stifled amusement because of the lying and the tension, so much of it. I remarked to her that I was going down on her for my own pleasure; I was jolted by touching her with my tongue there when I was so raw-nerved, but I hid that.
It seemed to me physical unhappiness and readiness in her into me; echoes of her stiffness and dissatisfaction sounded in my motuh, my head, my feet; my entire tired body was a stethoscope. I was entirely a stethoscope; I listened to her with my bones; the glimmers of excitement in her traveled to my spine; I felt her grinding sexual haltedness, like a car's broken starter motor grinding away in her, in my stomach, in my knees.
Every part of me listened to her; every goddamned twinge of muscular contraction she had that I notice or that she should have had because I was licking her clitoris and she didn't have, I listened for so hard it was amazing it didn't drive her out of bed with self-consciousness; but she probably couldn't tell what I was doing, since I was out of her line of sight, was down in the shadows, in the basement of her field of vision, in the basement with her sexual feelings where they lay, strewn about.
When she said, "No...No, Wiley...Please don't. No..." and wiggled, although it wasn't the usual pointless protest that some girls might make — it was real, she wanted me to stop — I didn't listen because I could feel she responded to my tongue more than she had to the fucking a moment before. I could feel beads sliding and whispering and being strung together rustlingly in her; the disorder, the scattered or strewn sexual bits, to a very small extent, were being put in order. She shuddered. With discomfort. She produced, was subjected to, her erratic responses. And she made odd, small cries, protests mostly, uttered little exclamations that mysteriously were protests although they were not protests, too cries that somehow suggested the grounds of protest kept changing for her.
I tried to string a number of those cries together, to cause them to occur in a mounting sequence. It was a peculiar attempt: it seemed we moved, I moved with her, on dark water, between two lines of buoys, dark on one side, there was nothing ness there, on the other, lights, red and green, the lights of the body advancing on sexual heat, the signs of it anyway, nipples like scored pebbles, legs lightly thrashing, little ohs, nothing important, a body thing; you go on: you proceed.
When we strayed too far, there was nothingness, or only a distant flicker, only faintest guidance. Sometimes we were surrounded by the lights of her reponses, widely spaced, bobbing unevenly, on some darkness, some ignorance we both had, Orra and I, of what were the responses of her body. To the physical things I did and to the atmosphere of the way I did them, to the authority, the argument I made that this was sexual for her, that the way I touched her and concentrated on her, on that partly dream-laden dark water or underwater thing, she responded; she rested on that, rolled heavily on that. Everything I did was speech, was hieroglyphics, pictures on her nerves; it was what masculine authority was for, was what bravery and a firm manner and musculature were supposed to indicate that a man could bring to bed.
Or skill at dancing; or musicianliness; or a sad knowingness. Licking her, holding her belly, stroking her belly pretty much with unthoughtout movements — sometimes just moving my fingers closer together and spreading them again to show my pleasure, to show rewarded I felt, not touching her breasts or doing anything so intensely that it would make her suspect me of being out to make her come — I did those things but it seemed like I left her alone and was private with my own pleasures. She felt unobserved with her sensations, she had them without responsibility, she clutched at them as something round and slippery in the water, and she would fall off them, occasionally gasping at the loss of her balance, the loss of her self-possession, too.
I'd flick, idly almost, at her little spaghetti-ending with my tongue, then twice more idly, then three or four or five times in sequence, then settle down to rub it or bounce it between lip and tongue in steadily more earnest way until my head, my consciousness, my lips and tongue were buried in the dark of an ascending and concentrated rhythm, in the way a stoned dancer lets a movement catch him and wrap him around and become all of him, become his voyage and not a collection of repetitions at all.
Then some boring stringy thing, a sinew at the base of the tongue, would begin to ache, and I'd break off that movement, and sleepily lick her, or if the tongue was too uncomfortable, I'd worry her clit, I'd nuzzle it with my pursed until the muscles that held my lips pursed tired in their turn; and I'd go back and flick at her tiny clitoris with my tongue, and go on as before, until the darkness came; she sensed the darkness, the privacy for her, and she seemed like someone in a hallway, unobserved, moving her arms, letting her mind stroke itself, taking a step in that dark.
But whatever she felt was brief was halting; and when she seemed to halt or to be dead or jagged, I authoritatively, gesturally accepted that as part of what was pleasurable to me and did not let it stand as hint or foretaste of failure; I produced sighs of pleasure, even gasps, not all of them false, warm nuzzlings, and caresses that indicated I was rewarded — I produced rewarded strokings; I made elements of sexual pleasure out of moments that were unsexual and that could be taken as the collapse of sexuality.
And she couldn't contradict me because she thought I was working on my own coming, and she loved me and meant to be cooperative.
What I did took nerve because it gave her a tremendous ultimate power to laugh at me, although what the courtship up until now had been for was to show that she was not an enemy, that she could control the hysteria of fear or jealously in her or the cold judgments in her of the me that would lead her to say or do things that would make me hate or fear her; what was at stake included the risk that I would look foolish in my own eyes — and might then attack her for failing to come — and then she would be unable to resist the inward conviction that I was a fool.
Any attempted act confers vulnerability since only she could judge it; and I was safe only if I was immune or insensitive to her; but if I was immune or insensitive I could not hope to help her come; by making myself vulnerable to her, I was in a way being a sissy or a creep because Orra wasn't organized or trianed or prepared to accept responsibility for how I felt about myself: she was a woman who wanted to be left alone; she was paranoid about the inroads on her life men in their egos tried to make: there was a dangerous machochism, dangerous hubris, dangerous hopefulness, and a form of love in my doing what I did: I nuzzled nakedly at the crotch of the sexual tigress; any weakness in her ego or her judgment and she would lash out at me; and the line was very frail between what I was doing as love and as intrusion, exploitation, and stupid boastfulness.
There was no way for me to even begin to imagine the mental pain — or the physical pain — for her if I should fail and, to add to that, if I should withdraw from her emotionally, too, because of my failure and hers and our pain. Or merely because the failure might make me so uncomfortable I couldn't go on unless she nursed my ego, and she couldn't nurse my ego, she didn't know how to do it, and probably was inhibited about doing it.
Sometimes my hands, my fingers, not just the tops, but all of their inside surface and the palms, held her thighs, or cupped her little belly, or my fingers moved around the lips, the labia or whatever, or even poked a little into her, or with the nails or tips lightly nudged her clitoris, always within a fictional frame of my absolute sexual pleasure, of my admiration for this sex, of there being no danger in it for us. No tongues or brains handy to speak unkindly, I meant. My God, I felt exposed and noble. This was a great effort to make for her.
Perhaps that only indicates the extent of my selfishness. I didn't mind being feminized except for the feeling that Orra would not ever understand what I was doing but would ascribe it to the power of my or our sexuality. I minded being this self-conscious and so conscious of her; I was separated from my own sexuality, from any real sexuality; a poor sexual experience, even one based on love, would diminish the ease of my virility with her at least for a while; and she wouldn't understand.
Maybe she would become much subtler and shrewder sexually and know how to handle me, but that wasn't likely. And if I apologized or complained or explained in that problematic future why I was sexually a little slow or reluctant with her, she would then blame my having tried to give her orgasm, she would insist I must not be bored again, so I would in that problematic future, if I wanted her to come, have to lie and say I was having more excitement than I felt, and that, too, might diminish my pleasure. I would be deprived even of the chance for honesty: I would be further feminized in that regard.
I thought all this while I went down on her. I didn't put it in words but thought in great misty blocks of something known or sensed. I felt an inner weariness I kept working in spite of. This ignoring myself gave me an odd, starved feeling, a mixture of agony and helplessness. I didn't want to feel like that, I suddently wondered why in the theory of relativity the speed of light is given as a constant: was that more Jewish absolutism? Surely in a universe as changeable and as odd as this one, the speed of light, considering hte variety of experiences, must vary; there must be a place where one would see a beam of light struggle to move. I felt silly and selfish; it couldn't be avoided that I felt like that — I mean it couldn't be avoided by me.
Whatever she did when I licked her, if she moved at all, if a muscle twitched in her thigh, a muscle twitched in mine, my body imitated hers as if to measure what she felt or perhaps for no reason but only because the sympathy was so intense. The same things happened to each of us but in amazingly different contexts, as if we stood at opposite ends of the room and reached out to touch each other to receive identical messages when then diverged as they entered two widely separated sensibilities and two such divergent and incomplete ecstasies. The movie we watched was of her discovering how her sexual responses worked: we were seated far apart.
My tongue pushed at her erasure, her wrong and heretofore hardly existent sexual powers. I stirred her with varieties of kisses far from her face. A strange river moved slowly, bearing us along, reeds hid the banks, willows braided and unbraided themselves, moaned and whispered, raveled and faintly clicked. Orra groaned, sighed, shuddered, shuddered harshly or liquidly; sometimes she jumped when I changed the pressure or posture of my hands on her or when I rested for a second and then resumed.
Her body jumped and contracted interestingly but not at any length or in any pattern that I could understand. My mind grew tired. There is a limit to invention, to mine anyway: I saw myself (stupidly) as a Roman trireme, my tongue as the prow, bronze, pushing at her; she was the Mediterranean. Tiers of slaves — my God, the helplessness of them — pulled oars, long stalks that metaphorically and rhythmically bloomed with flowing clusters of short-lived lilies at the water's surface. The pompous and out-of-proportion boat, all of me hunched over Orra's small sea — not actually hunched: what I was was lying flat; the foot of the bed was at my waist or near there, my legs were out, my feet were propped distantly on the floor, all of me was concentrated on the soft, shivery, furry delicacies of Orra's twat — the pompous boat advanced lickingly, leaving a trickling, gurgling wake of half-response, the ebbing of my will and activity into that fluster subsiding into the dark water of this girl's passivity, taut storminess, and self-ignorance.
The whitish bubbling, the splash of her discontinuous physical response: those waves, ah, that wake rose, curled outward, bubbled and fell. Rose, curled outward, bubbled and fell. The white fell of a naiad. In the vast spreading darkness and silence of the sea. There was nothing but that wake. The darkness of my sense when the rhythm absorbed me (so that I vanished from my awareness, so that I was blotted up and was a stain, a squid hidden, stroking Orra) made it twilight or night for me; and my listening for her pleasure, for our track on that markless ocean, gave me the sense that where we were was in a lit-up, great ill-defined oval of night air and se and opalescent fog, rainbowed where the lights from the portholes of an immense ship were altered prismatically by droplets of mist — as in some 1930s movie, as in some dream.
Often I was out of breath; I saw spots, colors, oceans, depths. And her protests, her doubt! My God, her doubts! Her No don't Wileys and her I don't want to do thises and her Wiley, don'ts and Wiley, I can't come — don't do this — I don't like thises. Mostly I ignored her. Sometimes I silenced her by leaning my cheek on her belly and watching my hand stroke her belly and saying to her in a sex-thickened voice, "Orra, I like this — this is for me."
Then I went down on her again with unexpectedly vivid, real pleasure, as if merely thinking about my own pleasure excited and refreshed me, and there was yet more pleasure, when she — reassured or strengthened by my putative selfishness, by the conviction that this was all for me, that nothing was expected of her — cried out. Then a second later she grunted. Her whole body rippled. Jesus, I loved it when she reacted to me. It was like causing an entire continent to convulse, Asia, South America. I felt huge and tireless.
In her excitement, she threw herself into the air, but my hands happened to be on her belly; and I fastneed her down, I held that part of her comparatively still, her twat fastened to my mouth, and I licked her while she was in midheave; and she yelled; I kept my mouth there as if I were drinking from her; I stayed like that until her upper body fell back on the bed and bounced. She made the whole bed bounce; then my head bounced away from her; but I still held her down with my hands; and I fastened myself, my mouth, on her twat again; and she yelled in a deep voice, "Wiley, what are you doing!"
Her voice was deep, as if her impulses at that movement were masculine, not out of neurosis but in generosity, in an attempt to improve on the sickliness she accused women of; she wanted to meet me halfway, to share; to share my masculinity: she thought men were beautiful. She cried out, "I don't want you to do things to me! I want you to have a good fuck!"
Her voice was deep and despairing, maybe with the despair that goes with surges of sexuality, but then maybe she thought I would make her pay for this. I said, "Orra, I like this stuff, this stuff is what gets me excited." She resisted, just barely, for some infinitesmal fragment of a second, and then her body began to vibrate; it twittered as if in it were the strings of a musical instrument set janging; she said foolishly--but sweetly-- "Wiley, I'm embarassed, Wiley, this embarasses me...Please stop...No...No...No...Oh...Oh....Oh ....I'm very sexual, I'm too sexual to have orgasms, Wiley, stop, please...Oh...Oh...Oh..." And then a deeper shudder ran through her; she gasped; then there was a silence; she then gasped again; she cried out in an extraordinary voice, "I FEEL SOMETHING!" The hair stood up on the back of my neck; I couldn't stop, I hurried on; I heard a dim moaning come from her. What had she felt before? I licked hurriedly. How unpleasant for her, how unreal and twitchy had the feelings been that I'd given her? In what way was this different? I wondered if there was in her a sudden swarming along her nerves, a warm conviction of the reality of sexual pleasure. She heaved like a whale — no: not so much as that. But it was as if half and ocean rolled off her young flanks; some element of darkness vanished from the room; some slight color of physical happiness tinctured her body and its thin coating of sweat; I felt it all through me; she rolled on the surface of a pale blue, a pink and blue sea; she was dark and gleaming, and immense and wet. And warm.
She cried, "Wiley, I feel a lot!"
God, she was happy.
I said, "Why not?" I wanted to lower the drama quotient; I thought the excess of drama was a mistake, would overburden her. But I also wanted her to defer to me, I wanted authority over her body now, I wanted to make her come.
But she didn't get any more excited than that: she wa srigid, almost boardlike after a few seconds. I licked at her thing as best I could but the sea was dry; the board collapsed. I faked it that I was very excited; actually I was so caught up in being sure of myself, I didn't know what I really felt. I thought, as if I were much younger than I was, Boy, if thisn't doesn't work, is my name mud. Then to build up the risk, our of sheer hellish braggadocio, instead of just acting out that I was confident — and in sex, everything unsaid that is portrayed in gestures instead is twice as powerful — when she said, because the feeling was less for her now, the feeling she liked having gone away, "Wiley, I can't — this is silly —" I said, "Shut up, Orra, I know what I'm doing..." But I didn't know.
Everything was a gamble. I didn't know what I was doing; I figured it out as I went along; and how much time did I have for figuring things out just then? I felt strained as at poker or roulette, sweaty and a little stupid, placing bets — with my tongue — and waiting to see what the wheel did, risking my money when no one forced me to, hoping things would go my way, and I wouldn't turn out to have been stupid when this was over.
Also, there were sudden fugitive convulsions of lust now, in sympathy with her larger but scattered responses, a sort of immediate and automatic sexuality — I was at the disposal, inwardly, of the sexuality in her and could not help myself, could not hold it back and avoid the disappointments, and physical impatience, the impatience in my skin and prick, of the huge desire that unmistakably accompanies love, of a primitive longing for what seemed her happiness, for closeness to her as to something I had studied and was studying and had found more and more of value in--what was of value was the way she valued me, a deep and no doubt limited (but in the sexual moment it seemed illimitable) permissiveness toward me, a risk she took, an allowance she made as if she'd let me damage her and use her badly.
Partly what kept me going was stubbornness because I'd made up my mind before we started that I wouldn't give up; and partly what it was was the feeling she aroused in me, a feeling that was, to be honest, made up of tenderness and concern and a kind of mere affection, a brotherliness as if she were my brother, not different from me at all.
Actually this was brought on by an increasing failure, as the sex went on, of one kind of sophistication — of worldly sophistication — and by the increae in me of another kind, of a childish sophistication, a growth of innocence: Orra said, or exclaimed, in half-harried, half-amazed voice, in a hugely admiring, gratuitous way, as she clutched at me in approval, "Wiley, I never had feelings like these before!"
And to be the first to have caused them, you know? It's like being a collector, finding something of great value, where it had been unsuspected and disguised, or like earning any honor; this partial success, this encouragement gave rise to this pride, this inward innocence.
Of course that lessened the risk for this occasion; I could fail now and still say, It was worth it, and she would agree: but it lengthened the slightly longer-term risk; because I might feel trebly a fool someday. Also, it meant we might spend months making love in this fashion — I'd get impotent, maybe not in terms of erection, but I wouldn't look forward to sex — still, that was beautiful to me in a way, too, and exciting. I really didn't know what I was thinking: whatever I thought was part of the sex.
I went on; I wanted to hit the jackpot now. Then Orra shouted, "It's there! It's THERE!" I halted, thinking she meant it was in some specific locale, in some specific motion I'd just made with my tired tongue and jaw; I lifted my head--but couldn't speak; in a way, the sexuality pressed on me too hard for me to speak; anyway, I didn't have to; she had lifted her head with a kind of overt twinship and she was looking at me down the length of her body; her face was askew and boyish — every feature was wrinkled; she looked angry and yet naive and swindleable, she said angrily, naively, "Wiley, it's there!"
But even before she spoke that time, I knew she'd meant it was in her, the fox had been startled from its covert again; she had seen it, had felt it run in her again. She had been persuaded that it was in her for good.
I started manipulating her delicately with my hand; and in my own excitement, and thinking she was ready, I sort of scrambled up and, covering her with myself, and playing with her with one hand, guided my other self, my lower consciousness, into her. My God, she was warm and restless inside; it was heated in there and smooth, insanely smooth, and oiled, and full of movements. But I knew at once I'd made a mistake: I should have gone on licking her; there were no regular contractions, she was anxious for the prick, she rose around it, closed around it, but in a rigid, dumb, faraway way; and her twitchings played on it, ran through it, through the walls of it and into me; and they were uncontrolled and not exciting, but empty: she didn't know what to do, how to be fucked and come. I couldn't pull out of her, I didn't want to, I couldn't pull out; but if there were no contractions for me to respond to, how in hell would I find the rhythm for her? I started slowly, with what seemed infinite suggestiveness to me, with great dirtiness, a really grown-up sort of fucking — just in case she was far along--and she let out a huge, shuddering, hour-long sigh and cried out my name and then, in a sobbing, exhausted voice, said, "I lost it... Oh, Wiley, I lost it...Let's stop..." My face was above hers; her face was wet with tears; why was she crying like that? She had changed her mind; now she wanted to come; she turned her head back and forth; she said, "I'm no good...I'm no good...Don't worry about me...You come..."
No matter what I mumbled, "Hush" and "Don't be silly," and in a whisper, "Orra, I love you" she kept on saying those things, until I slapped her lightly and said, "Shut up, Orra."
Then she was silent again.
The thing was, apparently, that she was arrhythmic: at least that's what I thought; and that meant there weren't going to be regular contractions; any rhythm for me to follow; and any rhythm I set up as I fucked, she broke with her movements: so that it was that when she moved, she made her excitement go away. It would be best if she moved very smally: but I was afraid to tell her that, or even to try to hold her hips firmly, and guide them, to instruct her in that way for fear she'd get self-conscious and lose what momentum she'd had. And also I was ashamed that I'd stopped going down on her.
I experimented — doggedly, sweatily, to make up for what I'd done — with fucking in different ways, and I fantasized about being in Mexico, someplace warm and lushly colored where we made love easily and filthily and graphically. The fantasy kept me going. That is, kept me hard. I kept acting out an atmosphere of sexual pleasure — I mean of my sexual pleasure — for her to rest on, so she could count on that. I discovered that a not very slow sort of one-one-one stroke, or fuck-fuck-fuck-Orra-now-now-now, really got to her; her feelings would grow heated; and she could shift up from that with me into a one-two, one-two, one-two, her excitement rising; but if she or I then tried to shift farther to one-two-three, one-two-three, she'd lose it all. That was too complicated for her: my own true love, my white American.
But her feelings when they were present were very strong, they came in gusts, huge squalls of heat as if from a furnace with a carelessly banging door, and they excited and allured both of us. That excitement and the dit-dit-ditting got to her; she began to be generally, continuingly sexual. It's almost standard to compare sexual excitement to holiness; well, after a while, holiness seized her; she spoke in tongues, she testified. She was shaking all over; she was saved temporarily and sporadically: that is, she kept lapsing out of that excitement, too. But it would recur.
Her hands would flutter; her face would be pale and then red, then very, very red; her eyes would stare at nothing; she'd call my name. I'd plug one-one-one, then one-two, one-two, then I'd go back to one-one-one: I could see as before--in the deep pleasure I felt even in the midst of the labor--why a woman was proud of what she felt, why a man might kill her in order to stimulate in her (although he might not know this was why he did it) these signs of pleasure. The familiar Orra had vanished; she said "GodohGodohGod" it was sin and redemption and holiness and visions time. Her throbs were very direct, easily comprehensible, but without any pattern; they weren't in any regular sequence; still they were exciting to me, maybe all the more exciting because of the piteousness of her not being able to regulate them, of their being like blows delivered inside her by an enemy whom she couldn't even half domesticate or make friendly to herself or speak to. She was the most out of control girl I ever screwed. She would at times thrust like a woman who had her sexuality readied and well understood at last, and I'd started to distend with anticipation and a pride and relief as large as a house; but after two thrusts — or four, or six — she'd have gotten too excited, she'd be shaking, she'd thrust crookedly and out of tempo, the movement would collapse; or she'd suddenly jerk in a midmovement without warning and crash around with so great and so meaningless a violence that she'd lose her thing; and she'd start to cry.
She'd whisper wetly, "I lost it"; so I'd say, "No, you didn't," and I'd go on or start over, one-one-one; and of course, the excitement would come back; sometimes it even came back at once; but she was increasingly afraid of herself, afraid to move her lower body; she would try to hold still and just receive the excitement; she would it pool up in her; but then, too, she'd begin to shake more and more; she'd leak over into spasmodic and oddly sad, too large movements; and she'd whimper, knowing, I suppose, that those movements were breaking down the tempo in herself; again and again, tears streamed down her cheeks; she said in a not quite hoarse, in a sweet, almost hoarse whisper, "I don't want to come, Wiley, you go ahead and come."
My mind had pretty much shut off; it had become exhausted; and I didn't see how we were going to make this work; she said, "Wiley, it's all right — please, it's all right — I don't want to come."
I wondered if I should try and say something and try to trigger some fantasy in her; but I didn't want to risk saying something she'd find unpleasant or think was a reproach or a hint for her to be sexier. I thought if I just kept on dit-dit-ditting, sooner or later she'd find it in herself, the trick of riding on her feelings, and getting them to rear up, crest, and topple. I held her tightly, in sympathy and pity, and maybe fear, and admiration: she was so unhysterical; she hadn't yelled at me or broken anything; she hadn't ordered me around: she was simply alone and shaking in the middle of a neural storm in her that she seemed to have no gift for handling. I said, "Orra, it's O.K.:I really prefer long fucks" and I went on, dit-dit-dit-dit, then I'd shift up to dit-dot, dit-dot, dit-dot, dit-dot...My back hurt, my legs were going; if sweat was sperm, we would have looked like liquefied snowfields.
Orra made noises, more and more quickly, and louder and louder; then the noises she made slackened off. Then, step by step, with shorter and shorter strokes, then out of control and clumsy, simply reestablishing myself inside the new approach, I settled down, fucked slowly. The prick was embedded far into her; I barely stirred; the drama of sexual movement died away, the curtains were stilled; there was only sensation on the stage.
I bumped against the stone blocks and hidden hooks that nipped and bruised me into the soft rottenness, the strange, glowing, breakable hardness of coming, of the sensations at the approaches to coming.
I panted and half rolled and pushed and edged it in, and slid it back, sweatily — I was semiexpert, aimed, intent. Sex can be like a wilderness that imprisons you: the daimons of the locality claim you. I was achingly nagged by sensations; my prick had been somewhat softened before, and now it swelled wit ha sore-headed but fine distension; Orra shuddered and held me cooperatively; I began to forget her.
I thought she was making herself come on the slow fucking, on the prick which, seated in her like this, when I hardly moved it, seemed to belong to her as much to me; the prick seemed to enter me, too; we both seemed to be sliding on it; the sensation was like that; but there was the moment when I became suddenly aware of her again, of the flesh and blood and bone in my arms, beneath me. I had a feeling of grating on her, and of her grating on me. I didn't recognize the unpleasantness at first. I don't know how long it went on before I felt it as a withdrawal in her, a withdrawal she had made, a patient and restrained horror in her, and impatience in me: our arrival at sexual shambles.
My heart filled suddenly — filled; and then all feeling ran out of it — it emptied itself.
I continued to move in her slowly, numbly, in a shabby hubbub of faceless shudderings and shufflings of the midsection and half-thrusts, half-twitches; we went on holding each other, in silence, without slackening the intensity with which we held each other; our movements, that flopping in place, that grinding against each other, went on; neither of us protested in any way. Bad sex can be sometimes stronger and more moving than good sex. She made sobbing noises — and held onto me. After a while sex seemed very ordinary and familiar and unromantic. I started going dit-dit-dit again.
Her hips jerked up half a dozen times before it occurred ot me again that she liked to thrust like a boy, that she wanted to thrust; and then it cocurred to me that she wanted me to thrust.
I maneuevered my ass slightly and tentatively delivered a shove, or rather, delivered an authoritative shove, but not one of great length, one that was exploratory; Orra sighed, with relief it seemed to me; and jerked, encouragingly, too late, as I was pulling back.
When I delivered a second thrust, a somewhat more obvious one, more amused, almost boyish, I was like a boy whipping a fairly fast ball, in a game, at a first baseman -- she jerked almost wolfishly, gobbling up the extra power of the gesture, of the thrust; with an odd shudder of pleasure, of irresponsibility, of boyishness, I suddenly realized how physically strong Orra was, how well knit, how well put together her body was, how great the power in it, the power of endurance in it; and a phrase — absurd and demeaning but exciting just then — came into my head: to throw a fuck; and I settled myself atop her, braced my toes and knees and elbows and hands on the bed and half-scramblingly worked it — it was clearly mine; but I was Orra's — worked it into a passionate shove, a curving stroke about a third as long as a full stroke; but amateur and gentle; that is, tentative still; and Orra screamed then; how she screamed: she made known her readiness, she grunted: "Uhnnnahhhh...." a sound thick at the beginning but that trailed into refinement, into sweetness, a lingering sweetness.
It seemed to me I really wanted to fuck like this, that I had been waiting for this all my life. But it wasn't really my taste, that kind of fuck: I liked to throw a fuck with less force and more gradations and implications of force rather than with the actual thing; and with more admissions of defeat and triumph; my pleasure was a thing of me reflecting her, her spirit entering me; or perhaps it was merely a mistake, my thinking that; but it seemed shameful and automatic, naive and animal, to throw the prick into her like that.
She took the thrust: she convulsed a little; she fluttered all over; her skin fluttered; things twitched in her, in the disorder surrounding the phallic blow in her. After two thrusts, she collapsed, went flaccid, then toughened and readied herself again, rose a bit from the bed, aimed the flattened, mysteriously funnel-like container of her lower end at me, too high, so that I had to pull her down with my hands on her butt or on her hipsl and her face, when I glanced at her beneath my lids, was fantastically pleasing, set, concentrated, busy, harassed; her body was strong, was stone, smooth stone and wet-satin paper bags and snaky webs, thin and alive, made of woven snakes that lived, thrown over the stone; she held the great, writhing-skinned stone construction toward me, the bony marvel, the half-dish of bone with its secretive, gluey-smooth entrance, the place where I was — it was undefined, except for that: the place where I was; she took and met each thrust — and shuddered and collapsed and rose again: she seemed to rise to the act of taking it; I thought she was partly mistaken, childish, to think that the center of sex was to meet and take the prick thrown into her as hard as it could be thrown, now that she was excited; but there was a weird wildness, a wild freedom, like children cavorting, uncontrolled, set free, but not hysterical, merely without restraint; the odd, thickened, knobbed pole springing back and forth as if mounted on a web of wide rubber bands: it was a naive and complete release.
I whomped it in and she went, "UHNNN!"; and half-iota of a second later, I was seated all the way in her, I jerked a minim of an inch deeper in her, and went, "UHNN!" too. Her whole body shook. She would go, "UHN!" And I would go, "UHN!"
Then when it seemed from her strengthening noises and her more rapid and jerkier movements that she was near the edge of coming, I'd start to place the whomps in neater and firmer arrangements, more obviously in a rhythm, more businesslike, more teasing, with pauses at each end of a thrust; and that would excite her up to a point; but then her excitement would level off, and not go over the brink. So I would sleep up: I'd thrust harder, then harder yet, then harder and faster; she made her noises and half-thrust back. She bit her lower lip; she set her teeth in her lower lip; blood appeared.
I fucked still faster, but on a shorter stroke, almost thrumming on her, and angling my abdomen hopefully to drum on her clitoris; sometimes her body would go limp; but her cries would speed up, bird after bird flew out of her mouth while she lay limp as if I were a boxer and had destroyed her ability to move; then when the cries did not go past a certain point, when she didn't come, I'd slow and start again. I wished I'd been a great athlete, a master of movement, a woman, a lesbian, a man with a gigantic prick that would explode her into coming.
I moved my hands to the corners of the mattress, and spread my legs; I braced myself with my hands and feet; and braced like that, free-handed in a way, drove into her; and the new posture, the feeling she must have had of being covered, and perhaps the difference in the thrust got to her; but Orra's body began to set up a babble, a babble of response, then — I think the posture played on her mind.
But she did not come.
I moved my hands and held the dish of her hips so that she couldn't wiggle or deflect the thrust or pull away: she began to "Uhn" again but interspersed with small screams: we were like kids playing catch (her poor brutalized clitoris), playing hard hand: this was what she thought sex was; it was sexual, as throwing a ball hard is sexual; in a way, too, we were like acrobats hurling ourselves at each other, to meet in midair and fall entangled to the net. It was like that.
Her mouth came open, her eyes had rolled to one side and stayed there — it felt like twilight to me — I knew where she was sexually, or thought I did. She pushed, she egged us on. She wasn't breakable this way. Orra. I wondered if she knew, it made me like her, how naive this was, this American fuck, this kids-playing-at-twilight-on-the-neighborhood-street-fuck. After I seated it and wriggled a bit in her and moozed on her clitoris with my abdomen, I would draw it out not in a straight line but at some curve so that it would press against the walls of her cunt and she could keep track of where it was; and I would pause fractionally just before starting to thrust, so she could brace herself and expect it; unfounded sense of my sexual virtuosity; and she became silent suddently, then she began to breathe loudly, then something in her toppled; or broke, then all at once she shuddered in a different way.
It really was as if she lay on a bed of wings, as if she had a half-dozen wings folded under her, six huge wings, large, veined, throbbing, alive wings, real ones, with fleshy edges from which glittering feathers sprang backward; and they all stirred under her.
She half-rose; and I'd hold her so she didn't fling herself around and lose her footing, or her airborneness, on the uneasy glass mountain she'd begun to ascend, the frail transparency beneath her, that was forming and growing beneath her, that seemed to me to foam with light and darkness, as if we were rising above a landscape of hedges and moonlight and shadows: a mountain, a sea that formed and grew; it grew and grew; and she said, "OH!"; and "OHHHHH!" almost with vertigo, as if she were airborne but unsteady on the vans of her wings, and as if I were there without wings but by some magic dispensation and by some grace of familiarity; I thunked on and on, and she looked down and was frightened; the tension in her body grew vast; and suddenly a great, a really massive violence ran through her, but now it was as if, in fear at her height, or out of some automatism, the first of her three paris of wings began to beat, great fans winnowingly, great wings of flesh out of which feathers grew, catching at the air, stabilizing and yet lifting her: she whistled and rustled so; she was at onc eso still and so violent; the great wings engendered, their movement engendered in her, patterns of flexed and crossed muscles: her arms and legs and breasts echoed or carried out the strain, or strained to move the weight of those winnowing, moving wings.
Her breaths were wild but not loud and slanted every which way, irregular and new to this particular dream, and very much as if she looked down on great spaces of air; she grabbed at me, at my shoulders, but she had forgotten how to work her hands; her hands just made the gestures of grabbing, the gestures of a well-meaning, dark but beginning to be luminous, mad, amnesiac angel. She called out, "Wiley, Wiley!" but she called it out in a whisper, the whisper of someone floating across the night sky, of someone crazily ascending, someone who was going crazy, who was taking on the mad purity and temper of angels, someone who was tormented unendurably by this, who was unendurably frightened, whose pleasure was enormous, half human, mad. Then she did it hoarsely and insanely, asking for help, but blaming me, and merely as exclamation; it was a gutter sound in part, and ugly; the ugliness destroyed nothing, or maybe it had an impetus of its own, but it whisked away another covering, a membrane of ordinariness — I don't know — and her second pair of wings began to beat; her whole body was aflutter on the bed. I was as wet as — as some fish, thonking away, sweatily. Grinding away. I said, "It's O.K., Orra. It's O.K." And poked on. In midair. She shouted, "What is this!" She shouted it in the way a tremendously large person who can defend herself might shout at someone who was unwisely beating her up. She shouted — angrily, as an announcement of anger, it seemed — "Oh my God!" Like: Who broke this cup? I plugged on. She raised her torso, her head, she looked me clearly in the eye, her eyes were enormous, were bulging, and she said, "Wiley, it's happening!" Then she lay down again and screamed for a couple of seconds. I said a little dully, grinding on, "It's O.K., Orra, it's O.K." I didn't want to say Let go or to say anything lucid because I didn't know a damn thing about female orgasm after all, and I didn't want to give her any advice and wreck things; and also I didn't want to commit myself in case this turned out to be a false alarm, and we had to go on.
I pushed in, lingered, pulled back, went in, only half on beat, one-thonk-one-thonk, then one-one-one, saying, "This is sexy, this is good for me, Orra, this is very good for me"; and then, "Good Orra," and she trembled in a new way at that, "Good Orra," I said, "Good...Orra,"; and then all at once, it happened. Something pulled her over; and something gave in; and all three pairs began to beat: she was at the center and the source and the victim of a storm of wing beats; we were at the top of the world; the huge bird of God's body in us hovered; the great miracle pounded on her back, pounded around us; she was straining and agonized and distraught, estranged within this corporeal-incorporeal thing, this angelic over avatar, this other substance of herself: the wings were outspread; they thundered and gaspily galloped with her; they half-broke her, and she screamed, "Wiley!" and "Mygodmygod" and "IT'S NOT STOPPING, WILEY, IT'S NOT STOPPING!"
She was pale and red; her hair was everywhere; her body was wet, and thrashing. It was as if something unbelievably strange and fierce — like the holy temper — lifted her to where she could not breathe or walk: she choked in the ether, a scrambling seraph, tumbling and aflame and alien, powerful beyond belief, hideous and frightening and beautiful beyond the reach of the human.
A screaming child, an angel howling in the Godly sphere: she churned without delicacy, as wild as an angel bearing threats; her body lifted from the sheets, fell back, lifted again; her hands beat on the bed; she made very loud hoarse tearing noises — I was frightened for her: this was her first time after six years of playing around with her body. It hurt her, her face looked like something made of stone, a monstrous carving; only her body was alive; her arms and legs were outspread and tensed and they beat or they were weak and fluttering. She was an angel as brilliant as a beautiful insect infinitely enlarged and irrevocably foreign: she was unlike me: she was a girl making rattling, astonished, uncontrolled, unhappy noises, a girl looking shocked and intent and harassed by the variety and viciousness of the sensations, including relief, that attacked her.
I sat up on my knees and moving a little in her and stroked her breasts, with smooth sideways winglike strokes. And she screamed, "Wiley, I'm coming!" and with a certain idiocy entered on her second orgasm or perhaps her third since she'd started to come a few minutes before; and we would have gone on for hours but she said, "It hurts, Wiley, I hurt, make it stop..." So I didn't move; I just held her thighs with my hands; and her things began to trail off, to trickle down, into little shiverings, the stoniness left her face; she calmed into moderated shudders, and then she said, she started to speak with wonder but then it became an exclamation and ended on kind of a hollow note, the prelude to a small scream: she said, "I came..." Or "I ca-c-a-ammmmmme..." What happened was that she had another orgasm at hte thought that she'd had her first.
That one was more like three little ones, diminishing in strength. When she was quieter, she was gasping, she said, "Oh, you love me..."
That, too, excited her. When that died down, she said — angrily — "I always knew they were doing it wrong, I knew there was nothing wrong with me..." And that triggered a little set of ripples. Sometime earlier, without knowing it, I'd begun to cry. My tears fell on her thighs, her belly, her breasts, as I moved up, along her body, above her, to lie atop her. I wanted to hold her, my face next to hers; I wanted to hold her. I slid my arms in and under her, and she said, "Oh, Wiley," and she tried to lift her arms, but she started to shake again; then, trembling anyway, she lifted her arms and hugged me with a shuddering sternness that was unmistakable; then she began to cry, too.
Harold Brodkey was born Aaron Weintraub. He died in 1996 of complications resulting from the AIDS virus. You can buy Stories In An Almost Classical Mode, the book from which this excerpt is taken, here.
"At Least It Was Here" - The 88 (mp3)
"Center of the Sun" - The 88 (mp3)
"After Hours" - The 88 (mp3)