We’re pleased to present an excerpt from David Huddle’s novel Hazel today. Huddle’s novel follows the story of a man reconstructing the life of his aunt. To quote the novel’s publisher, “What emerges, through found documents, photographs, interviews, and a sequence of narratives, is a moving story of his aunt’s long, paradoxical, Vermont life.”
When she was on a roll of self-loathing, Hazel could generate considerable momentum. In her bare feet and stinking nightgown she was poised to start one of her falls from self-esteem. But the moment slowed. She turned into a big rock with eyeballs. She watched Forrest’s expression slowly soften from objectivity toward whatever its opposite was. Probably not love but maybe desire. Maybe affection, she thought. Something really hot but probably not love.
Starting that morning they plummeted into what they called their little paradise. They’d been having sex for a while, but they’d both been holding back. Or Hazel certainly knew that she’d been holding back and that now she wasn’t doing that. “The bawdy slut who lives within me isn’t shy any more,” she told Forrest after her first really bone-rattling orgasm had nearly tumbled both of them out of his bed. Her grunts and hollers shocked and amused her.
Maybe her now-riled-up pelvic region had been covertly practicing opera arias just in case Hazel ever stopped holding back and gave it an opportunity to express itself. Forrest, too, had changed but compared to her unequivocal excitement of body and voice, the difference in him was subtle. Actually, she thought, he’d even become kind of feminine. Whereas he’d been considerate of her before, he’d also taken the lead in moving them toward orgasm.
Therefore—and there’d be a certain point when she knew this was going to happen—she’d sense him moving out ahead of her, abandoning the project of bringing her along. She hadn’t resented it, she’d just figured that was the way the male apparatus worked. Her choices were to fake an orgasm, to try to persuade herself that she’d had a minor one, or just to pout in her disappointment over missing out on the one truly sublime experience available to living creatures.
From her teenage years, one of Hazel’s deep fears was that she would be a failure at sex. Men would want nothing to do with her because she wasn’t sexual enough. Forrest’s going ahead without her had brought up that old anxiety. She knew he intended no criticism, but she couldn’t help taking it that way. What he intended was to move the train of his libido down the tracks and into the station. She’d had enough experience with orgasms to understand that.
Hazel thought Forrest must have consciously decided to stop taking the lead at a certain point in their sex, but she wasn’t certain. And she didn’t want to bring it up with him, because then she’d have to confess she’d been frustrated. Also, she wasn’t clear about exactly how he was different now. Maybe he was confident she was likely to have an orgasm if he just waited for the signals she couldn’t help giving—now that she wasn’t holding back.
They didn’t talk about sex and what they liked and didn’t like, the way Doctor Ruth advised her listeners to do. Hazel thought of their recent accord as their bodies having worked it out between them. Words would have made their sex an intellectual project. Grunts, sighs, and hollers did the trick. Hazel was grateful to Forrest for figuring her out. She was tempted to tell him the phrase she’d invented—“Forrest screws well with others.”
She thought anyone who claimed to have achieved complete sexual liberty had to be lying. Especially if that person said it happened because one morning she and her lover had about ninety seconds of deeply seeing each other. She wasn’t about to announce her good fortune to anyone she knew. She had few friends anyway and none with whom she wanted to discuss Forrest and herself and their orgasms. She realized now she’d never talked about sex with anyone.
She worried that she and Forrest might be just making it up. Maybe they were both deluded. Maybe they’d just gone a little crazy together. “People do that, you know,” she told him one evening. Forrest said no, it was real, but the big change was in her. In their first weeks together, he figured she was keeping him on probation, and now she’d granted him the status being her official lover. “I don’t know why, but all of a sudden you’ve let me be your man.”
“With all rights and privileges,” she said, pulling up her pajama shirt and flashing him. He grinned and reached for her. She trusted his desire for her to be as strong as hers was for him. Again and again there was that balance. He particularly liked looking her over. “We’re playing doctor, yes?” she asked him once in bed when he was sitting on her backside and probing her shoulder blades. “I’m just looking for evidence of wings here,” he murmured to her.
Forrest was capable of studying her body for hours at a time. She luxuriated in lying still, letting him do as he wished. He pressed and probed. Even her scalp. And maybe especially her feet. “Your toes are just so intricate!” he exclaimed. They were lying side by side in opposite directions, and she was half drowsing in the pleasure of his investigating the bones in her feet. She wondered if she should enjoy someone playing with her feet.
She was aware that she wasn’t nearly as interested in his body as he was in hers. But she decided that was probably just a standard male-female difference. Then she realized that although his intense physical attention pleased her, it hadn’t made her take any more interest in her body than she’d ever had. His certifying her as physically desirable enabled her to just forget about it. He likes what I’ve got so I don’t have to worry about that any more.
A ridiculous idea that came to her was that she’d be delighted if Forrest ever said something like This is an excellent body you have here, Hazel. Or even These are splendid boobs! Of course he was not likely to do that. And what they had—intimacy, sex, lively companionship—was better than any fantasy she’d ever allowed herself to entertain. “We’re the astronauts of 872 West End Avenue,” she told him one morning. “The two of us alone in space.”