Private Noises

Lost in his irreverent twenties, J.J. picked up some bad habits. Mentally, he kind of pissed on everything. He scoffed, in other words, at time-honored values like success, family, community. He lived for the moment, meaning that he smoked and drank too much. He thought of women as sex objects, but hung around with intellectual types who talked about hegemony and the male gaze, so he became paralyzed, basically, around women. Oh well. He got laid occasionally. Women wanted to fuck, too. He believed that.
One spring, J.J. and his two roommates, Martin and Javi, decided to spend their tax rebates on a Las Vegas weekend. When they asked a cabby for a local hangout, he took them to a dark bar off the strip, The Double Down Saloon. The place was leather and chrome, dog collars, neck tatts, multiple piercings, etc. Hot girls leered from every direction, and their boyfriends dared anyone to make eye contact. At the bar, a punk rocker in a leather vest and tight leather pants slapped down a single dollar and the bartender wrung his bar rag into a shot glass, which leather boy promptly knocked back. Affecting unfazed-ness, J.J. and his pals got beers and put up quarters for pool. Then they leaned back against the wall to survey the scene.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Martin.
“Yes.” said Javi.
J.J. jerked his head around to follow their gazes.
A little-male was hammering away at a full-sized porn star chick, while a full-sized porn star dude was bouncing a little-female on his enormous schlong. Up in the corners, the TVs were showing dwarf porn. The scene was set in a forest, so they fucked up against trees and on tree stumps and on a blanket on the ground. They switched it up, so the two full-sizers went at it and, more interestingly, the two little people fell upon each other. The place was loud, with a lot of metal on the jukebox, but in the occasional moment of relative quiet, it was possible to hear the porn soundtrack, which, of course, consisted of a lot of exaggerated moaning and squealing.
“The problem is that they always start too high,” said Martin. “And then there’s nowhere to go from there. The guy fucks her for like an hour and she starts wailing right away, and then she’s screwed—”
“Literally,” said J.J.
“I like the porn moan,” said Javi. “I think we should start using it out of context.”
They all laughed, and then: What if people did fake moans whenever something half-decent happened in their lives? It wouldn’t be any more fake than the quote-unquote pleasure experienced by porn actresses. Really, everyday conversation could use a little spark. Really, it wouldn’t be any more fake than most of the stuff people say to indicate that they’re pleased with life. Instead of saying “thanks,” you’d just whimper in a rising, pleading kind of way. Instead of pumping your fist and going “yes!” you’d throw your head back and moan ejaculatorily. Normally, sexual energies hummed beneath a person’s exterior. Cum sounds might bring that voltage to the surface. Who knew? Maybe they’d get laid more.
Soon it was their turn on the pool table. Every made shot elicited something between a clit-tickle-whimper and a full-on cum-cry. They cracked up laughing every time. Even the biker dudes they played against and beat gave them fist bumps when they left the table, and one tatted up girlfriend looked back at J.J.
The habit might have died that night, but J.J. wouldn’t let it. They woke up bleary in the hotel room they shared, and when J.J. took his first sip of the in-room coffee, his cracking little spooge-moan made all three of them laugh a little and then groan in hangover pain. In the early evening, at the blackjack table, every good hit elicited a vocal spasm. On a fifty-dollar hand, J.J doubled down and got the ten he needed. His head rolled back and he groaned loudly. People within a certain radius were taken aback, as if he really had creamed his jeans. J.J. stood, put his fists in the air, tipped out the dealer, and cashed in his chips.
That night they succeeded in meeting some older babes at the Hard Rock. It was complicated. There were five of them, all in their thirties, maybe even forty. They seemed eager to be hit on, which probably meant they were all married, in town for a girls’ weekend, rings stashed in a hotel room safe.
Javi started right at the introductions, purring like a sex kitten when he shook Miranda’s hand.
“What was that?” she asked, and they explained their new mode of discourse.
Needless to say, the three guys became their pets for the night. When they danced, they rubbed up against each other and exchanged moans and giggles. Back at the table, the ladies took turns sitting in their young men’s laps, nuzzling their necks, making little orgasm noises at every opportunity. Before the stroke of midnight, libidos were raging.
Then, Miranda got too drunk and needed help. Steffi volunteered immediately. She had barely said a word all night, and had probably been looking for a way out of the situation all along. As their two friends walked away, the three remaining cougars looked at each other, smiled, and made simultaneous cum sounds. Martin and Javi matched up easily with their favorites, and J.J. felt good about his partner, too—Lisa was the funny one, with bright eyes, who made a lot of jokes. He liked a girl—a woman—he could be quiet around, and he liked her big body, too. She was a little overweight, but pleasantly soft.
A while later, she invited him back to her room. He came out loud. She smiled. He smiled. They held hands through the lobby and started making out in the elevator. In the room, they couldn’t get out of their clothes fast enough. J.J. guided Lisa into the lounge chair in the darkened suite and went down on her. When he teased her with a finger, she came suddenly and loudly. His face was sticky and shining in the dim light. He looked up from between her legs, and said “that was real, right?” She laughed and nodded and pulled him up on top of her.
In the morning, it turned out that she was married.
“We don’t have good sex,” she said.
“I understand,” said J.J. They stayed in bed for a few hours, alternately getting each other off, snoozing, and talking about their lives.
“Don’t commit until you’re really ready,” she advised him. “Or you’ll end up running around.” She cried for a little while, but came out of it.
“You’ll be okay, right?” asked J.J.
“Yeah,” she said. “I have a daughter, so I have to be.”
They finally said their goodbyes that afternoon, punctuated by sincere ironic cum sounds, which, J.J. was surprised to notice, had the potential for true tenderness of expression. Lisa and J.J. lingered, kissing and touching, until J.J. finally broke away, closed the door softly behind him, smiled hugely, and trotted down the hallway—in fact, he leapt down the hallway.
In the years to come, the warmth J.J. felt when he thought of Lisa served as a reminder of how deeply people could connect and provide each other with the comfort they needed. Lisa had needed to feel sexy, and J.J. had needed the confidence to approach women. Sure, somewhere in middle America, there was a husband whose trust had been betrayed, but if he never knew, what was the harm? And if Lisa decided to tell him about it, J.J. liked to imagine him as a compassionate person who would understand the problems in his marriage, and re-dedicate himself to living happily with his wife.
But there is one day, twelve years later, when J.J. finds himself in an elementary school principal’s office. The principal is a very tall, young black woman named Geneva, whom J.J. has known to be energetic, caring, and great with kids. Now, though, she maintains a steely no-messing-around demeanor.
“Cole,” says Geneva, “would you like to tell your dad why you’re here?”
“No,” says Cole. It’s not a defiant answer, just an honest one.
“Do you want me to tell him?”
“No,” he says again. His head hangs, his face practically touching his knees. Kid trouble is super cute, J.J. thinks, but Geneva catches his trying-not-to-smile expression, which she meets with raised eyebrows. Oh. Maybe it’s serious.
“It’s okay buddy,” J.J. says. “Whatever it is, you know your mom and I love you. You can always be honest with us.”
“It’s embarrassing,” says Cole. “You tell it.” Without looking up from his lap, he points at Geneva, and now she almost smiles.
Geneva explains that Cole’s been making little sounds at school. At first, his teacher, Mrs. Stengel, didn’t think anything of it, but as it’s gone on, she’s realized that the sounds are “private noises.” And as she explains, J.J. feels himself go pale and lightheaded—he feels transparent, as if Geneva could understand how his whole life has come together—that these cum sounds were a product of immaturity that had opened surprising doors for him, and that he’d been reluctant to let it go, that he couldn’t have let it go if he’d wanted to, because it had been the secret to most of his significant social and sexual successes—it had helped him connect with Cole’s mother, helped him land a good job and get promoted. Now, his unsuspecting child had picked up the filthy habit and brought it to school. J.J. realizes that he might vomit, and notes the location of Geneva’s garbage can.
Cole looks up at him, and J.J. sees that his son is neither ashamed nor worried that his dad will be angry. He’s furious. How could his father have led him into this kind of debacle?
It was a bad moment, but it wasn’t a disaster, J.J. reminded himself. They’d get past this easily. In forty-eight hours, he and his wife would be laughing about it while Cole played Nerf hoops in the living room. That was the great thing about kids—they had short memories. You might encounter embarrassments and difficulties, but all you had to do was keep loving your kids, and they’d forgive you for pretty much anything. That was right. That was the truth.


Front page image by Rob Boudon.

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William Stobb

About the Author

William Stobb is the author of five poetry collections, including the National Poetry Series selection, Nervous Systems (2007) and Absentia (2011), both from Penguin Books. From 2006-2010, Stobb hosted the popular poetry podcast "Hard to Say," featuring commentary and interviews. Since 2010, Stobb has worked on the editorial staff of Conduit. A graduate of the writing program at the University of North Dakota, Stobb now lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
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