The Surgeon told me that he had a gift for me. Something special that he picked up at Bloomingdale’s. His voice changed as the words came out, becoming thick with desire.
I was perched on the edge of the sofa. He stood in front of me, over me. The position made me feel like a young girl. He asked me if I was ready for my present.
It’s this belt, he said, looking down at me. This belt I’m wearing. I bought it just for you. He raised his hand and caressed my cheek. My mouth opened. I made a low moaning sound.
Why don’t you take it off for me? He asked. His voice had fallen to a whisper. Take off the belt and look up at me while you do it.
I raised my hands to the elegant gold buckle. The metal had a little heft to it. The leather was brown. The small whispering sound that it made as it glided through the belt loops on his trousers. I remember it so clearly. I was spellbound.
He beat me with it from the top of my shoulders to the bottom of my thighs. The buckle left a clear impression on my ass that lasted for two weeks.
Good girls get gifts.
foot is starting to cramp, and the tendons on the inside of my thigh are taut as piano wire and starting to twitch. I won’t be able to hold it long, but then, I’m not expected to.
I close my eyes and nod affirmatively, steeling myself for what is about to come.
He’s on his feet in an instant, throwing the ends of the rope around my ankle through the steel ring attached to his ceiling. Then he pulls the rope, lifting my foot off the ground, above the rest of my body. It takes three, four seconds. The weight of my body is suddenly transferred to the rope harness around my chest, especially the knots in between my breasts. The scratchy twine bites deeply. There is the illusion of suffocation; it feels too tight to catch a deep breath. My heart—an organ I seldom ever notice at all—is suddenly a pounding engine, a piston, close to the skin, right behind my breastbone. I hear it beating in my ears.
Heinrich pauses, gives me a few seconds for me to assess my body. “Are you all right?” His voice is above me and to the side; I can only see his trousers and shoes.
“Is this position tenable for now?”
I nod again and exhale the deep breath I’ve been holding in. As I do, the rope bites in tighter, eating more of me. I have a flash of memory from my childhood, something I haven’t thought of for many years. When I was taught how to saddle a horse, my teacher showed me how the cinch went under the barrel of the animal, like a belt. He said that it had to be drawn as tight as I could pull it, because when being saddled the horse would frequently hold its breath and puff out its chest, and later—once it relaxed—the cinch would be loose.
The discomfort is tremendous. The blood rush to my head and upper torso, due to the partial inversion of my body, makes it worse. I want to breathe in deep, refreshing mouthfuls of air, I feel the need to catch my breath. I have to remind myself that this cannot be done. Shallow breaths are all I can do, the best I can do. But they will suffice–I won’t suffocate or pass out. I know that.
Hanging there, I make a deliberate effort to reverse the focus of my concentration, taking it from the borders of my body back inward to my mind. This ability to “check out” is a special talent of mine, but I know that I won’t be able to do it for long—bodily pain and distress always triumph, obliterating everything else. How long do I have…? Two, three minutes of rationality…? Perhaps as many as five.
But we reckon time differently here, I think, and it’s true. In these situations, there is only the present moment. Time and space stop; we are suspended in a pure vacuum.
I need to relax my body in order to alleviate some of the pressure. This is difficult because it’s tricky to discern which parts of me are tight and tense because they are contorted and bound in rope, and which parts of me are tight because I am clenching my whole body in distress. It takes a little investigation, a little round-the-world tour of this body I inhabit.
I try to imagine myself as a bag of sand or a beanbag, collapsing around the rope. It takes a minute or two to soften myself. I lower myself as if I were settling into a hammock. It still hurts, of course, but because I accept it, I am not overwhelmed. No panic. No fear. For now, just for now.
Like a kaleidoscope, my perception changes. I feel lucid and drugged at the same time. My breathing becomes even more shallow; suddenly I am looking through my eyes again. I know that this stage is ephemeral. It’s only been two or three minutes, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it felt like to not be in this….this what, exactly? This pain? This situation? This state of mind? My memory, my ability to apply comparison and perspective, has been totally lost. The jute that sinks into my flesh hurts and scratches terribly, but at the same time, it feels very secure. It is, after all, holding me aloft. Like an embrace that won’t let go. I cannot drop. I cannot fall.
I can see around me. The quality of the light is marvelous. The Goldberg Variations on the stereo, turned down low. Heinrich always play the same music—usually Bach—when we do this together. It’s a powerful trick I appropriated for my own use with others—the music becomes part of the memory, and can trigger it in the future. Months, years later, quite by accident, you hear it on a movie soundtrack or in a restaurant, and the memory of your experience comes rushing back, vivid and visceral.
Something was deliberately left in your head, by another person, that you didn’t even realize was there. That is intimate.
We are in the living room of Heinrich’s apartment. On the far wall were two tall windows that let in lots of sunshine. They’d been treated for privacy, as hotel windows sometimes are. The wall to my left is full of books, written in both German and English. I have spent a lot of time admiring his library. Heinrich is a book collector. He owns books that he touches only with white cotton gloves. He often wears gloves of one sort or another whenever the weather is not too warm. They compliment his aesthetic. He is meticulous and formal, careful in his handling of things. His houseplants are manicured and he rotates them so that they grow in magical-looking symmetry. The furniture is old and made of hardwoods which are probably endangered. Besides the electronics, nothing in the room looks obviously contemporary, including his clothing. He is partial to cotton, wool, leather—natural fabrics, usually in neutral colors. When I arrived, he was wearing khaki trousers tucked neatly into the top of dark brown riding boots. On the street, it would look strange to see these boots on a city dweller who was not in some sort of paramilitary uniform, but here, now, in this room, they are perfect. They are beautiful. His white shirt is rolled up at the sleeves. Our complexions are similar and he has a high, wide forehead like my own.
Suddenly Heinrich approaches from behind me and grabs a fistful of my hair at the roots, raising my head. He is out of the range of my vision, but I can feel his body close by.
“It is time to come back now. I gave you four minutes to yourself because you’ve been so deprived, but now you must come back to me.” He gives my head a little shake. I momentarily picture a terrier shaking a rat. I hear the snap of a rubber band, then he is gathering all my hair and tying it back. “I want to see you better. That glassy, thousand-mile stare. You did not think I was going to let you check out the entire time, did you?”
I whisper no.
“How much longer until you start to pass?” Pass out of this stage and into the next, he means. That’s when things start getting really interesting. That’s when the real suffering starts, and anything can happen.
In truth, I can already feel it starting. My brain is making lots of chemicals, all sorts of chemicals, chemicals for every contingency.
“You’re going to have to speak more loudly so that I can hear you, my dear. Where does it hurt?”
“Everywhere. Especially my chest.”
“Mmmm.” He sounds pleased. My skin breaks out in gooseflesh all over my body. I shudder with anticipation and desire. “Let me help to distract you from it.”
It was pointed out to me: the woman looks like she could be my sister. In fact, she could almost be my twin.
And yet, I never would have realized it in a million years.