To call the private studio of the Dominatrix a dungeon would, for the fortunate, earn only her contempt. Eschewing the contrivances of male sadomasochistic fantasies, the walls were painted a passionless shade of gray-green, the oak floor polished to the luster of ancient gold, and the sole window decorated with an embroidered ivory curtain, now closed.
The eclectic wood furnishings, a large bed, wardrobe, and Edwardian writing desk and chair, reinforced without crowding the space.
On this evening the studio air, richly tinctured with body heat and lather, worked the chest like an August night in Mississippi. A childhood memory that Hell would smell of brimstone brought a smile to the Dominatrix as she pinched the candle flame beneath a small blackened crucible. She thought Lucifer in choosing brimstone had cheated the imagination because the deepest hells are woven from the slimmest of threads. White paraffin dregs lingered impotent in the crucible, but sweet notes from the beeswax candle beneath it coiled around the imagination like a honey-eyed viper. A puff of breath snuffed the flame.
A small noise restored the Dominatrix’s attention to the bed that stood like Gibraltar in the center of the studio. She orbited the fortress, her left hand sliding around each timber post just above the iron fittings, experienced eyes checking the wrist or leg sheathed in tooled leather. Is the cuff binding? Is the lock secure? Is the chain sufficiently slack? Is the limb poise relaxed and natural? All was well.
The Dominatrix dimmed the sconces, leaving the brass desk lamp to cast a tepid glow across the studio. She tugged down the zipper of her dress, stepped out, and hung it in the wardrobe. Perspiration molded a fine yellow silk slip to her body. The circumstances of the evening did not proscribe nudity, but the Dominatrix stopped with the slip peeled to her waist. She’d felt the nudge again, a subtle wrinkle at the boundary between the subconscious and the conscious. She was trying to tell herself something. Common sense judged the something immaterial to a layer of silk, but it reminded the Dominatrix to question whether her motive to be nude extended beyond simple comfort. She smoothed the slip into place and closed the wardrobe door.
On the bed a young woman lay splayed between its four posts. She sweated naked save for a coarse leather blindfold that reached to the tip of her nose and a thick braided bit cinched cruelly tight. Both devices were harsh to use on one so inexperienced, but the woman, strong in mind, spirit, and body, had tickled the dragon’s tail. You must stimulate the mind, ignite the spirit, and control the body, a mentor had once coached the Dominatrix. Another had been more prosaic: never saddle a thoroughbred with a pony harness.
“My beautiful girl,” whispered the Dominatrix, though the object of her attention was only a few years junior.
And now this girl, having bathed in the dragon’s breath, rolled like a restless sea after a midnight tempest. Her belly pumped a deep and disciplined rhythm, breathing through her nose, expanding her diaphragm to fill her lungs to capacity, exhaling, and ending the cycle with a kittenish mewl. The Dominatrix again paused to watch the girl breathe; so few understood how to do it well.
Her caress startled the girl. Such daring, thought the Dominatrix as she traced an angry inverted chevron that scarred the girl’s shin midway between the knee and ankle. The memento from some crazy adventure had proved sensitive both to touch and to vanity. The Dominatrix scraped off an errant droplet of wax, then reversed the direction of her caress, crossing the knee to the thigh, leisurely climbing to the pale skin demarcating the girl’s bikini line.
The perceived target of the Dominatrix’s attention provoked the girl to grimaces that exposed white teeth gnawing at the leather bit. She’d fought the device—not its emplacement but rather its effect. Speech is a manifestation of control, and its absence nulls pretense and conceit: there are lies you want to tell and there are truths you must speak. In time frustration had yielded to a language in which each naked, tongueless vocalization conveyed an importunate emotion. The Dominatrix had patiently prodded the girl to learn the new grammar, to taste the new words, to learn to speak. Then she had taught the girl to sing.
The mewls intensified.
“Shh,” the Dominatrix said. “Just breathe. That’s my good girl.”
The Dominatrix shifted her weight onto the bed and strummed her fingertips through the wiry curls on the girl’s mound. She’d forbidden herself to do this again, having stimulated the girl’s clitoris far beyond any sensation remotely pleasurable, but … maybe one more time. The mewls grew to shrieks as the girl, to the great amusement of the clinking and creaking iron and leather, battled to close her legs. The Dominatrix patiently strummed until the girl’s belly convulsed, expelling visceral groans around the bit as the spasm—less an orgasm than a shock wave of inverted agony—rampaged through her body like an animal flinging itself at the bars of a cage. The wave collapsed, slamming the girl to the bed.
“That’s the last time.” The Dominatrix touched the girl’s burning cheek. “I won’t do it again, I promise. No more pain. No more pleasure. Do you understand?”
A whimpering, disbelieving nod.
Like a mother attending a feverish child, the Dominatrix stroked the girl’s forehead and arranged dark matted locks behind her ear.
“I will remove the gag,” the Dominatrix said after the girl had calmed, “but you must not speak. Can you do that for me?”
A single, compelling nod.
The clasp securing the bit popped open with a metallic ping. Red furrows marred the girl’s cheeks where the straps had dug in. The Dominatrix lifted out the sodden bit and wiped away spittle as the girl flexed her jaw and practiced swallowing without encumbrance. Darting this way and that wetting her lips, the girl’s pink tongue bumped against the Dominatrix’s fingers.
The tiny collisions reverberated throughout the Dominatrix’s body.
“May I kiss you?” she said.
The girl’s tongue fled behind her lips.
It was a seemingly incongruous request, given the girl’s predicament, but some treasures the Dominatrix had no power to take. Impulse did not prompt the question; in one form or another it had grown gravid through the evening. The Dominatrix’s occupation defined her, and she never concealed this truth from prospective lovers. Intrigued to the point of infatuation, the Dominatrix had returned the girl’s at once flirtatious and intellectual overtures as a direct sexual advance rather than a desire to dominate. It was the girl who, coy about the former and audacious about the latter, had, wittingly or not, chosen the evening’s wine, and it was the Dominatrix’s pleasure to raise the cup to the girl’s lips.
“May I kiss you?” the Dominatrix repeated.
A wisp of a nod.
Kneeling astride the girl, the Dominatrix slowly kissed her breasts, her throat, and finally her mouth. Contrasting tastes baptized the Dominatrix’s tongue: the sour milk of stress, the earthy musk of orgasm, the masculine salt of sweat-soaked leather. She closed her eyes against the blood rush in her nipples and deepened the kiss, but the girl’s teeth remained locked. It was only a kiss, and not their first. The unanticipated defiance stoked a predatory growl deep in the Dominatrix’s chest and loosed a hot, quickening flood between her legs. Did the girl feel nothing? Was she teasing? Provoking? Would she dare? Violence infiltrated the kiss as the Dominatrix honed a torture to persuade those stubborn lips to yield—something this minx would never forget.
The growl spilled out of the abandoned kiss.
“You are so brave,” the Dominatrix said, seizing the girl’s face in her hands. “You are so incredibly brave and strong, you take my breath away. You are exceptional beyond words.” She put her mouth to the girl’s ear. “It’s almost over, but now rest. I will be close.”
The Dominatrix eased away, collected the girl’s discarded clothes, and settled at the writing desk. The scent of sunshine-fat berries and spring roses lingered in the fabric as the Dominatrix neatly folded the jeans, blouse, bra, and panties. She had stripped the girl, but then the prize and not its wrapping had, by necessity, demanded her attention. Her prize dressed well. The blouse and jeans sported quality designer labels — the former sharply tailored, the latter expensive and loved. The white cotton bra and panties were practical and comfortable underwear, not lingerie. Fresh perspiration stains on the blouse amused the Dominatrix; bravery rarely traveled without her sisters fear and anxiety.
The Dominatrix dropped the panties on the stack and withdrew a leather-bound notebook, ink pot, and quill from the desk drawer. The idiosyncratic indulgence of keeping her diary with quill and ink required a concentration of thought unattainable with a soulless keyboard or sterile ball point pen. She turned to a page half-adorned in lines of narrow, precise cursive and inked the quill:
“The girl is again resting. Each moment with her is like dancing on the edge of a sunburst lighting the dawn. She has taken me beyond infatuation to irrational desire. It has been so long that I had forgotten how wonderful bottomless hunger feels.
“She is complicated and an insolent pain in the ass. We met for lunch and she again demanded again to see my studio. Demanded! Her exact words: ‘I can handle the scary Dominatrix.’ She knows I want her, and that is the ace she throws. I demurred again and the cheeky bitch countered with some philosophical bullshit about not debating gravity when she’s standing in the airplane doorway about to jump.
“What an artful way to call me a coward, and an obligation to take offense seized me. Sometimes the only thing left to do for a junkie is to shove a needle into her vein, so I called her bluff. I honestly believe she expected my drug to be nothing more than the next jump, but whatever she may feel when hugging her parachute, she is not naked, she is not chained, and, beyond all else, she is not dependent on me for mercy. I am confident she now appreciates this distinction.
“I pray the lesson has not ruined her to me, but I could not help myself. I did not want to help myself.
“I am aflame for this woman. Such an evening!”
The Dominatrix closed the notebook and, as if cued, the girl thrashed against the restraints.
“You are safe.” The Dominatrix rushed to the bed. “I will unchain you now, but I need you to lie still.”
The Dominatrix freed the girl and helped her to sit on the edge of the bed. The girl huddled into herself, shaking and rocking with her thighs sealed and her hands protectively cupping her breasts. Plump tears leaked from under the blindfold.
“You’re crashing,” the Dominatrix said with a stout hug. “It’s normal and will pass.”
The Dominatrix poured water into a tumbler and held it to the girl’s mouth. She drank in fits and starts, spilling as much as she swallowed. The Dominatrix refilled the tumbler, and the girl searched along the Dominatrix’s hands and plunged her fingers into the cold water. She splashed water onto her face, then experimentally dabbed water on each breast.
“Oh god, oh god,” she said. The chant devolved into wracking sobs.
“Walk with me.” The Dominatrix hoisted the girl to her feet.
Regret swelled in the Dominatrix’s throat at not having removed the slip as the girl’s breasts burned through the silk. She led an awkward, intimate dance, coaxing the crying girl to small, unsteady steps. Gradually, concentration staunched tears and restored a measure of composure. After two turns around the studio, the Dominatrix sat the girl on the bed and refilled the tumbler.
The girl, with her hands again shielding her breasts, sought the glass with her mouth.
“No,” said the Dominatrix. “You hold it.”
“I don’t want to.” The girl shook her head like a pouting child when the Dominatrix tugged her wrist.
“Listen to me.” The Dominatrix dropped to one knee. “I won’t hurt you any more. I promised, remember? Your breasts are beautiful, don’t hide them.” She smeared away the fresh tears.
“They burn,” said the girl, but, with the slow apprehension of a turtle opening its shell, she relaxed her arms.
The thought of brusquely flogging a woman’s breasts repelled the Dominatrix. Marking breasts requires finesse, and the girl’s own, small white mounds peaked with dark caramel nipples, blazed with a crosshatched pattern of narrow weals laid on with exacting symmetry. And the nipples, succulent testaments to the Dominatrix’s perfectionism, each protruded unscathed from the geometric center of a red diamond.
The Dominatrix continued hydrating the girl and, after a few minutes, patted her knee. “Time to walk some more.”
The girl balked with a quick upturn of her chin. “No. I want to see.”
The flash of spirit reassured the Dominatrix. “Not yet. After I take you out of the studio.”
“I want to see it now,” the girl said, reaching for the leather.
The Dominatrix frosted her voice. “No.”
The girl’s nostrils flared but she held her tongue. The Dominatrix smiled; even the most stubborn could be taught when to shut up. She retrieved the girl’s clothing and led her out of the studio, locking the door behind them. Stepping into the cool, bracing air of the hallway was like jumping into a mountain lake. The Dominatrix, accustomed to the transition, ignored the girl’s complaining gasp.
In the bathroom the Dominatrix touched the girl’s cheek. “To your knees, my sweet girl.”
A display of reluctant obeisance, punctuated with another flip of the girl’s head, fueled the inferno between the Dominatrix’s legs. The girl’s resistance was like an uncut precious gem, and the Dominatrix ached to cleave away the imperfections one crystalline shard at a time. She deflected the urge and indulged in a snap critique of the girl’s unconditioned pose. It pained her eyes, but chastisement now would only humiliate them both.
The Dominatrix sighed; it was time to let go. “You are in the bathroom. When I close the door you may take off the blindfold. Bathe and dress at your leisure.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Having retrieved her dress the Dominatrix waited in the breakfast nook with a carafe of strong tea and a tray of fruit scones. Perhaps she had acted recklessly, casting the girl so deep into the pit so soon, but the girl’s impatience coupling with her own had amplified desire and distorted caution in them both. And the girl, oh, the girl! Such resilience, such tenacity, such trust. Not once had she signaled for respite though it had assuredly tempted like the Sirens’ song to poor bound Odysseus. The Dominatrix blinked back the sting of tears.
A long cup of tea later, soft deliberate footsteps descended the stairs. The girl, enveloped in the lilac aura of her bath, carefully pulled back a chair, her carriage foreshadowing the soreness to come. In her eyes, framed by unruly damp curls, deep fatigue veiled the blue irises. The Dominatrix’s welcoming smile went unanswered as the girl pushed back her hair and picked out a cherry scone. Her white bra peeked from beneath the now rakishly buttoned blouse.
The Dominatrix observed in anxious silence while the girl fussed with her tea.
“You took off your dress,” the girl said quietly.
“I love the heat, but tonight it was too much. Did it bother you, my undressing?”
“No.” The girl pinched off a piece of the scone. “It felt good. Silk?”
“Yes. A yellow silk slip.”
“Yellow would be pretty on you.” The pastry crumbled between the girl’s fingers. She blew on the tea and brushed the pastry flakes into a conical pile.
“How do you feel?” asked the Dominatrix.
The girl shrugged. “I don’t know. I anticipated the cruelty, but not the … artistry. I can’t find another word. You had purpose, like I was a painting and you were peeling off swatches of color, textures, pieces of me, looking for what lay beneath. Some part of me wanted you to stop and another part didn’t. I got to a point where I just wanted to shut down, you know? But most of all stop thinking. I’d almost get there and you’d coax me back and start all over.”
“You amaze me.” The Dominatrix reached for the girl’s hand.
The girl recoiled. “Please don’t.”
The Dominatrix masked disappointment with a sympathetic smile. “I put you through hell because anything less would have patronized us both. It’s OK not to like me right now. I understand. Time will sort out the emotions and the best thing to do is sleep. Look, it’s well past midnight. I want you to stay here so we can talk in the morning.”
“And make love?” the girl said with a tired smile. “That’s what you really want. There were times when I thought you were going to touch me that way. I almost wish you had, because when you’d catch yourself giving in, you’d hurt me even more or rip another orgasm out of me. Why didn’t you? I couldn’t have stopped you.”
“You make love with, not to, someone.” A rosy blush bloomed across the Dominatrix’s cheeks. “That would have been unfair. And selfish of me.”
“Selfish?” the girl said, incredulous. “You’re too much the romantic. I didn’t expect that.”
The Dominatrix, burning inside and out, let the bittersweet compliment lay untouched while the girl nibbled the scone.
“May I tell you something?” the girl said.
The girl dialed a fingertip through her tea. Concentration worried her brow as she gathered thoughts.
“Years ago in college,” she said. “It was the end the semester, my first, everything was crazy fresh and wonderful they way it can only be when you’re eighteen. Exams had ended the day before and I was going hiking with two older sorority sisters. We were up early, in the kitchen horsing around. I did something stupid and they decided little sis needed her ass spanked. Silly fun. Out came the wooden spoons, down went my shorts. I was supposed to count to ten, but when they got to ten I kept saying ‘nine.’ They were barely tapping me, we were laughing, then it got quiet and I looked up to see another girl watching us.”
A smile ghosted across the girl’s mouth. “She just stood there in her panties and a skimpy top, her face puffy from sleep. She’d graduated, but I didn’t know much about her. She didn’t stay at the house often. Not aloof or anything, she just guarded her space. Anyway, she stood there staring holes in me, and I started to pull up my shorts. ‘Do not move,’ she said and meant it. The other girls made themselves small while she banged through cabinets and drawers.
“I heard the crack before I felt it. You know that half second after you cut yourself when you can’t feel the pain? But you know what you’ve done and you know what’s coming? She’d hit me with this heavy, long-handled spatula, but it might as well have been a hot iron the way it blistered my ass.
“‘How many?’ she said. I swear to God I meant to say ‘ten,’ but something happened in my brain, some neurons fucked and had a baby, I don’t know. ‘Nine’ came out. She hit me harder. ‘Nine.’ She kept hitting me and I was dying but I kept saying ‘nine.’ Couldn’t stop myself. After maybe a dozen I guess she lost patience and buried the damn thing in the back of my thigh. I kissed the floor.”
The girl paused, idly destroying and rebuilding the little mountain of crumbs. “I cried so hard I almost puked. I got up on my knees and her eyes were all over me like a hawk watching a mouse, and then it hit me she was turned on. Couldn’t hide the fact in what she was wearing. She was on fire and somehow I knew I’d done it to her and I liked the way that made me feel.”
The girl’s face clouded. “Then one of her earrings dropped off. A little thing, nothing special. I held it up for her like a goddamn dog with a food bowl in its mouth. I needed her to take it, to say something, but she walked out. Not a word, not a look back. Nothing. I was too fucked up to understand why, but in that moment I belonged to her, and on a gut level beneath words I knew exactly what that meant. I would have been hers forever, but she did not want me. She did not want me.”
The girl shrugged. “My friends cleaned me up and made me do the hike. When we got back she was gone, moved out and moved on, career, life, whatever. It would’ve been easy to find her, but I didn’t have the balls, or maybe I was too angry. Doesn’t matter now. I got over it, but I could never forget.”
The girl’s eyes flicked up as bottomless blue as an October sky and as hard as primordial ice.
“This is for you,” she said. Her slender fingers pushed a small red box across the table.
The long-shadowed memory burst free of the Dominatrix’s subconscious in jagged, blinding color, its electric glare banishing all but the little box that splayed her throbbing heart as mercilessly as her chain and leather had the girl’s body. Like in a dream, the Dominatrix watched rather than sensed her hands reaching out to open the box. A solitary gold stud earring gleamed on black velvet. Through tears the gold began to shimmer and dance, transporting the Dominatrix from the present to a fiery moment a decade past.
She was not the Dominatrix yet, just a young woman burning like a blade pulled glowing red from the forge, dangerous but untempered, loving but not understanding the tormenting hunger to possess, to control, to ravage. That morning, wild with desire, she had fled from herself, not the impertinent, crying girl who had awakened the dragon and divined its secret, the girl who could have ridden the dragon.
If only …
The girl who became the Dominatrix wanted the dragon to fly wild again.
“Please stay with me,” she said.
There was no answer, only a cup of cold tea, a scattering of crumbs, and an empty chair.