Jack’s Naughty Bits: William Styron, Sophie’s Choice Part Two

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Jack's Naughty Bits
What is sought with difficulty is discovered with more pleasure.

Saint Augustine, De doctrina Chrisitiana

In the above quote, Augustine’s talking about the pleasures of detangling dense bible verses — but the same might be said of life as a whole. We sapiens like to be tantalized, necks craned, shaking with thirst, as long as we eventually get to drink. Which brings us, as ever, to the subject of love. For while I have known the joy of deferred pleasure (after seemingly interminable games of pursuit and perseverance), I am also a big fan of the matchlight encounter, of instant chemistry, no games, no waiting, no brakes.


So which is better, lingering or leaping? A few weeks ago, I was at a cocktail party claiming that I would never chase after a woman again, that if we didn’t click right away, it wasn’t meant to be. “But surely,” one interlocutor said, “some things are worth the wait.” No way, I rejoined, and then the woman to my right, whom I had waited three years to kiss, said, “Oh, really.” Ah, yes, Some things certainly are worth the wait.


Still, my heart of hearts tells me that Augustine’s dictum and the whole damn waiting thing is a stupid human preference. It’s irrational, right? Why can’t we get the most out of pleasure that’s easily won? My guess is that it’s the irrationality itself that makes deferred gratification better: we are creatures who live in time, often more time than we’d like to have, and the necessity of change has taught us, almost paradoxically, not to live for every second. Because we know that everything changes, a certain part of us remains distrustful of good things and finds an unconscious optimism in hardship. The world being what it is, suffering is what we humans understand, and what makes us feel a bit more at ease. It’s sad, but I think true. And, finally, the suffering makes a better story. Plot is based on suspense, and life, the twentieth century taught us, is better when it’s more like the movies.

Then again, the movies are better when they’re like life too, as evidenced by the passage below from William Styron’s great Sophie’s Choice (great both on the page and on the screen). In the scene, so true to life, Styron captures the magic of long-awaited fulfillment in all its jubilance. The main character, affectionately called Stingo, has lusted after Sophie most of the book. Here is the moment when, alone on a Long Island beach, the dreamt becomes the held.


From Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

“Stingo, let’s take our clothes off,” I thought I heard her say.


“What did you say?” I replied dully.


“Let’s take our clothes off. Let’s be naked.”


Reader, imagine something for a moment. Imagine that you have lived for an indeterminate but longish time with the well-founded suspicion that you are suffering from some fatal disease. One morning the telephone rings and it is the doctor saying this: “You have nothing to worry about, it was all a false alarm.” Or imagine this. There have been inflicted upon you severe financial reverses, bringing you so close to penury and ruin that you have considered a way out in self-destruction. Again, it’s the blessed telephone, with the message that you have won half a million dollars in the state lottery. I am not exaggerating (it may be recalled that I mentioned once that I had never yet really witnessed a female in the nude) when I say that these tidings could not have created the mingled astonishment and sheer brute happiness of Sophie’s gentle suggestion. Combined with the touch of her fingers, forthrightly lewd, it caused me to gulp air with incredible rapidity. I think I went into the state known medically as hyperventilation and I thought for a moment I might black out completely.


Even as I looked she was wriggling out of her Cole of California special, so that I beheld inches away that which I thought I would see only after reaching early middle age: a young female body all creamy bare, with plump breasts that had perky brown nipples, a smooth slightly rounded belly with a frank eyewink of a belly button, and (be still, my heart, I remember thinking) a nicely symmetrical triangle of honey-hued pubic hair . . . I got up then and watched her go, transfixed; I mean it when I say that no chaste and famished grail-tormented Christian knight could have gazed with more slack-jawed admiration at the object of his quest than I did at my first glimpse of Sophie’s bouncing behind — a delectable upside-down valentine. Then I saw her splash into the murky ocean . . .


In an excess of furtiveness — despite the total seclusion of the place — I slid out of my trunks and stood there beneath the strange churning gray summer sky. I gulped at the last beer, woozy with mingled apprehension and joy. I watched Sophie swim . . . The air was sweltering, close, but I felt myself in the clutch of malarial trembling and chills.


“Oh, Stingo,” she said with a giggle when she returned, “tu bandes.


“Tu what?”


“You have a hard-on.”


She had seen it immediately. Not knowing what to do with it, but trying to avoid the extremes of guacherie, I had arranged it and me on the blanket in a nonchalant posture — or as nonchalant a possible in my fit of ague — with my distended part concealed beneath my forearm; the attempt was unsuccessful, it flopped into view just before she flopped down beside me, and we rolled like dolphins into each other’s arms. I have since then utterly despaired of trying to capture the tortured excitement of that embrace. I heard myself making little pony-like whinnies as I kissed her, but kissing was all I could manage; I clutched her around her waist with a maniac’s arm hold, terrified of stroking her anywhere out of fear that she would disintegrate under my crude fingers . . .


When she whispered, “Turn over on your back, Stingo darling,” there flashed through my mind the scenes of insatiable oral love with Nathan she had so frankly described. But it was too much, too much to bear — all this divine, accomplished friction and (My God, I thought, she called me “darling”) the sudden command to join her in paradise: with a bleat of dismay like that of a ram being slaughtered I felt my eyelids slam shut and I let loose the floodgates in a pulsing torrent.

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Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2000 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.