No. 7: Maggie Pouncey’s “Perfect Reader”

In the year's seventh-best sex scene, a woman has an intimate encounter in her late father's home

Topics: Good Sex Awards, Books,

No. 7: Maggie Pouncey's "Perfect Reader"

Christmas morning began with sex. Better, longer the second time around, though less stunning. Flora liked having sex with Paul, but she would have preferred to do it in the afternoon or evening, or at least after she’d had her coffee. She felt incompatible with most men she’d been with for this reason — morning sex. She caught herself missing the sex of her girlhood, which had occurred later in the day. There was something about high school sex. Not skill, of course. And really, she was romanticizing it. She was always doing that, getting the past wrong. But as sex became more competent, more expected, even more pleasurable, it seemed a little less exciting, less dangerous. Gone was the sense of being bad. Where the titillating fear of getting caught? No wonder academics loved adultery (along with the rest of the planet). It saved them from the suffocating appropriateness of the rest of their lives. Growing up, it became harder and harder to feel illicit. So what, you fucked. Big deal, you smoked. Okay, you went on the occasional bender. You were an adult. You knew what you were doing. You used condoms. You understood the risks. You repented with brain-pummeling hangovers.

Flora had decided not to celebrate Christmas. Her mother, who’d grown up just Jewish enough to be deprived of the holiday, had never been very good at it, and didn’t seem to mind when Flora announced after the memorial that she would not be observing it this year. The Christmases they shared in the little house had been the most desultory occasions, deliberately gloomy — such gloom could not be arrived at by accident. Two sad presents under the tree, and later, no tree at all. So much trouble. All those dried pine needles. “I’m better at daily life,” her mother had offered as an explanation. But her father had excelled at Christmas. He’d loved it with an unabashed glee found more often in people under the age of ten. He used pillowcases for stockings, stuffing them with thoughtful curiosities — a clear plastic stapler where you could watch the interstices at work, a pocket-size kaleidoscope, a hand-carved wooden spoon with a coiled serpent tail for a handle. His cards were watercolors he’d made, with captions running across the top: “Flora-Girl at Work,” “Where Is My Flora-Girl?” The first of a small Flora behind a giant desk, the second showing a sad mouse on the phone, looking patiently out a kitchen window. He’d drawn himself as an importuning mouse, rendering her and, before her, her mother as cats. Flora still had a yellowing card he’d made her mother when she was newly pregnant. It showed a round-bellied Rapunzel-like cat, her tail trailing out a window, the humble mouse on the ground, hat in hand. The caption read “From the Mouse Who Loved the Puce So Much He Gave Her Exactly What She Wanted.”

Flora had spent Christmas Eve at Paul’s apartment so she would not wake on the morning itself in her father’s bed. She had called him at his office that night, having no one else to call, and he had sounded as lonely as she was, and when he arrived at her father’s house to pick her up, standing there in the kitchen she had felt that if they weren’t naked in minutes, she would die. She led him upstairs, though not to her father’s bed, but up the back stairs to her old bed, the twin canopy, where she had lost her virginity at fifteen, her father away at a conference and her mother thinking she was staying with him — how much easier parents who did not speak had made a life of deception — and she pulled off his clothes and helped him with hers and they had fucked and she had come in moments. Afterward she was embarrassed and Paul was stunned, and it seemed better not to think too much about it. But the good thing about it was that while lying on his back he noticed she had done nothing to fix the leak, nothing, that is, but duct-tape a garbage bag over the offending area of ceiling, and he had reached for his pants and found his cell phone and called the contractor he knew and soon, right after the holidays, it would be fixed, or at least patched. No longer oozing, or molding. But a new roof would have to wait. Threads and patches would do for now.

Despite the threadbare roof, the niceness of her father’s house was awkward. There Flora was, not working, never expected to show up anywhere at any given moment, and living alone in a house big enough for an upper-middle-class family of five, while Paul worked late nights to pay back his student loans and make rent on his one-bedroom in town. And there was the further awkwardness of his knowing the intimacies of her finances — knowing them perhaps better than she herself knew them. While lying post-coitally stunned and staring at the garbage bag where the ceiling should have been, he had asked her if she’d thought of selling the house. The mortgage was paid off; the local market had appreciated in recent years. “You’d make enough to buy something in the city,” he said. “More than enough.”

But mixing financial and sexual services seemed inadvisable.

“Let’s leave, I think,” she said.

Copyright Maggie Pouncey/Pantheon Books.

Maggie Pouncey is a writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Perfect Reader” is her debut novel.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>