The Pornographer

That’s the title of a short piece I wrote this weekend — not an entire story, mind you, but half, up to the point where something new must happen between the two characters. It’d be nice if you could put a story in your gleaming stainless steel pressure cooker and have it come out all seasoned and mellow and finished. I haven’t tried it, but think this is unlikely to work.

So, while I’m waiting for inspiration about how to go on, I’m posting a little bit of it. And all I have to say about it, really, is that it’s awfully hard to write about sex very well. Here is the first part of my effort. The story begins with a letter. It is sent to a woman who has been widowed recently. She lives with her three teenage boys. The letter is from a man she had an affair with a long time ago. It is an erotic letter, although we don’t know much about its contents. This is what happens after that letter, and another like it, arrive:

It is not hard to find out where to reach him. He is, by this time, a law professor at a university in the southern part of the state. He writes books and gives lectures on things she could not remember him ever caring about. He might still be married. He might not. They don’t talk about that on his school’s website. She writes his email address on top of one of the envelopes, puts his letters into the box with the wedding picture and her passport and tries to forget all about it.

Maybe it is all the sex in the fraught teenage air of her house, or maybe it is all the sex out in the world, or maybe it is all the sex contained in his letters, but she discovers that she cannot forget him or the things he has described.

In fact, the more the days go by, the more she sees that he has colonized most of the words she hears or uses during the day. “Pull,” and “hold,” now belong to him exclusively, as do “your,” “my” and “I.” But these are the least of her problems. More concerning is that he has used the words “take” and “put” at least four times in one paragraph and she finds herself growing warm and distracted every time her boss tells her to take a paragraph out of a report or put something on his desk before he leaves, things he says with alarming frequency. But most difficult is a string of words with no commas — “you me that room” — which makes it almost impossible for her to concentrate on her work as an auditor for the state government, a job in which these words are used on a regular basis, although obviously not with the same intention of arousing her interest.

One afternoon, when her boys are outside practicing tricks on their skateboards, she pulls the computer toward her, trying not to think about the way he has said he will pull her toward him, and begins to type. She decides on “dear” and “surprising.” She decides not to use “amusing” but does work in the phrase “give it some thought” which she has never used in quite this context, not that she recalls anyway. Without giving herself time to reconsider, she uses “love” and “hard” but in separate sentences and then, thinking it might be best to keep some things in reserve, she sends it all to him, to tell him what she thinks of that.

In his office at the law school, he hears the email beep that signals he has one more thing to do. When he sees her name, he gets up and locks his door. He has not wanted to think about whether she will answer but now that she has all he can see is that she still punctuates beautifully and never spells anything wrong. This does not frighten him the way it used to because his wife, now his ex-wife, once told him in a friendly way that as long as you use the right words at the right time, people will look the other way at how you spell them. She never lied to him, not even when she told him that she did not love him anymore, and so he believes her about the spelling.

Her email is more funny than heated, but he is glad she has decided to start that way. He has not wanted things to go too quickly from words to the room he has already told her about. He is pretty sure she will have more to say. That’s what “give it some thought” generally means. He writes one sentence, enough to keep her mind off the wrongdoing in the Department of Transportation for an entire week, and waits for her to come a little closer and tell him what she is thinking about.

It takes her three days to do so, but when she does, he discovers he cannot breathe and think about her at the same time. He tells her this and other, more specific things besides. And so it goes, for a month or two, until there are no more words in circulation in the everyday world that they have not already used to describe the many things they have done and would like to do with and to each other. The atmosphere between them, the entire corridor from the southern part of the state to the northern, buzzes with words.

One sunny afternoon, when he is in his office, absent-mindedly thinking about what she means by the word “effective,” she calls him.

There is more, but I’ll leave off here.

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21 thoughts on “The Pornographer

  1. Oh, BL, that is so beautiful. You have achieved just the right mixture of highly charged eroticism and fear; I love the way you describe the way he has “colonized” so many words. We really feel the progression of feeling and the inevitability of what is to come…and seeing it from both points of view is perfect. I cannot wait to read more of this story. Really exquisitely done! Congratulations.

  2. Ooh! This is fantastic. I would SO read the rest of this. Write the rest of it, soon, please, but then don’t just give it away. Send it somewhere, where you might even get PAID for it.

  3. Bravo! A brilliant, teasing tale. I love that these characters are aroused by vocabulary and even punctuation. As if the words themselves are charged with pheromones. I can so relate. I still remember the night I fell in love with my sweetie, right after he used the word “festooned.” I was ready to jump into bed right then and there. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  4. Every time I attempt to write saucy scenes, I either end up wanting to laugh at the absurdity of what I’m trying to capture, or I am slightly embarrassed by the exercise, as if my mother might be reading what I’m typing from over my shoulder…

    I applaud your bravery and your skill. Bravo.

  5. Hey Mick — I love thinking of them as “saucy scenes”! I think you have to do that “tell the truth but tell it slant” sort of thing with those scenes.

    Tai, I can see how that single word would have worked magic. Good for your guy, knowing the way to your heart.

    Hello Susan, I must tell you that your comment is pretty awesome payment!

    Sandi, Ah, if I can only figure out what they do after the phone stops ringing.

    Charlotte — Exactly. I too would like to know what happens next. I suppose there’s no better way to find out than to keep writing. And really, isn’t that pretty much why people write?

  6. I’ve got one more word for your couple, dear BL – ‘hot’. Fantastic start – what I want to know is: when they meet (because they must feel compelled to – how could they not?) which will prove stronger – words or their reality? Will the fantasy they’ve created be more vivid than the real thing, or will they meet and exchange those words for something else? ooooh I’m all intrigued to know now!

  7. Oh, Lily! What an amazing story this is, and I’m eager to read the rest of it! I love the way you make the story sizzle without delving into explicit language or imagery. My favorite erotic prose is this kind, that leaves so much to the imagination. Brava!

    ~Love and Blessings,
    Selene~

  8. I’m interested – I’m intrigued – I’m there. I particularly like the sex-charged house with three teenage boys – I think it lends an air to the story that really works.

    As for writing sex/erotica or whatever, I’m at a loss. One of my short stories I’ve been working on is, in fact, on pause because I’m trying to write about the couple’s first sexual encounter and failing miserably at it.

  9. Well, everyone’s already given you all the accolades, so I’ll just say: Betcha you are going to see some funky Google searches on your statcounter!

  10. Courtney, I think you, Charlotte and I need to form a little support group — I’m a bit stuck too. But it helps to think of this as a writing exercise, probably the hardest there is and experiment a little with it.

    Hey Selene — I’ve missed seeing you, and am glad to hear your voice, if only electronically. And thank you. The imagination is often the best ingredient in a scene like this.

    LK — !

    Dear litlove, Those are the questions I’m going to need a support group to answer. (I think you should join us!)

  11. I wish I could write you; altho I find myself having thots like ur protagonist – u know unscrambling and deciphering words all the time. Write more!

  12. I too love the tension between words and passion. This works on so many levels – I think it also says a lot about writing, the idea of charging every word we use. Wow, Lily!

  13. Hello Debbie, Thank you — and by the way — your website looks great! (I can’t wait to have your book in my hands. It looks so beautiful on the screen.)

    And hello and welcome Baiti — That’s very sweet to say! The best thing about writing a lot, which is one thing blogging’s particularly good for, is that the more you write the more you uncover your own voice. So, yes, as you say, keep writing. When you do, you will get closer and closer to finding that voice which is yours alone.

  14. I enjoyed reading this. In a way, I don’t want to read the rest, because this bit is so good – I want to leave it with the words and thoughts and not get into the messy reality of sex (I’m obviously assuming that they do get to this stage, and I might be wrong!). Very nicely done.

  15. Kristin,Yes, I think there is some way that people who’re influential live in our vocabularies and our writing.

    Oh Lilian, that is so very true! I don’t want to write the rest of it either, probably for that very reason. But there must be another way out than a messy reality or a fall from grace or something sentimental and not true. Something more magical and mythical, is my thought for now.

  16. I loved reading the beginning of this story. It amazed me how very sexy and erotic it was to read nothing specific! It left it all to the imagination, so sweetly. Good luck finding your way out of this little corner, BL.

  17. I love the tension. There is anything specific but there are things like the fact that he locked the door and the lack of air in his lungs that let me intrigue to the deepest.
    I am very interested in developing a style in english as a second language and your half story has left me anxious and wanting more.
    This is my first time in your blog of many still to come. I love it BL.

  18. Pingback: A Murder for You « BlogLily

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