On a Sunday afternoon, I find myself without any plans, feeling bored and restless, so I call Atom the Archaeologist and invite myself over to his apartment. He reluctantly agrees. When I arrive, his roommates are watching football on TV.
"It's too fucking noisy here," he says with a sour face. "Let's go for a drive."
We hop in his pickup truck and he drives aimlessly through the back roads behind his apartment. Even though he lives in the city, it's a somewhat wooded area with nice views.
"Sorry the radio is busted," he says as we start out, driving in silence. "I'm too hard on my things."
I don't say anything. It seems like a strange statement to me. How can you not want to take care of your things? I suppose I'm far too attached to my possessions, though. But if you know this about yourself, why wouldn't you at least try to keep from breaking things? Anyway this bit of personal insight is a reminder that I know almost nothing about Atom. Even though we've been hooking up regularly, he's stayed distant.
"So I'm moving to Hawaii in a few weeks," he says out of nowhere.
"What? So suddenly? Why?"
"Freelance archaeology doesn't pay for shit here. I'm almost thirty-two, you know? I've gotta start getting my shit together. I found a better paying dig on Maui, so I'm going there."
"Oh." I feel unexpectedly bad about this news. "I wish you had told me sooner."
"Why? What does it matter?"
"Because I like you, you jerk! I'm going to miss you!"
"Come on," he sneers. "You're just some chick from The Onion."
I don't say anything, but just sort of stare at him with my mouth open. I'm a little slow on the uptake, so it takes me a good long while to fully understand what Atom means by this. We met through a personal ad I posted on Nerve.com, a sex and kink positive website that I trusted to deliver like-minded guys. But I forgot that the personal ad service for Nerve is shared among a bunch of different websites, including The Onion. When my ad was chosen as an ad of the week, my photo and tag line appeared on the front page of The Onion, alongside jokey headlines about President Bush and Area Man. I had no idea Atom found my ad through The Onion. No wonder he never took me seriously.
I'm so committed to my cool girl act with him that I don't say anything about how surprised and hurt I am by his comment. I can't think of anything much to say at all. I've known all along that this was a sex-only relationship. It was stupid of me to expect anything more of him.
We chat awkwardly about Hawaii until we circle around back to his apartment. Anyway after all that he's definitely not getting any. I say goodbye, get in my own car and drive home, feeling even more lonely and frustrated than before. Each time I see Atom I feel like it's the last, but this time I'm really sure I won't hear from him again. At least I don't plan to contact him again. What the fuck, man? Why does everything have to be so hard?
I get a message from Warren saying that he's back from the wedding in Edmonton, Frank has delivered the human cage to his house and do I want to lock him in it next weekend? I have rehearsal Friday night and all day Sunday so I can't do it the whole weekend like he envisioned, but I offer to come over Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning. He's satisfied with that arrangement.
When I arrive at Warren's house with my overnight bag, I don't get into character with him right away. We need to establish some ground rules first.
The cage is set up in the dining room, next to the table and under the giant porno print. That fucking print, man, every time I see it I realize more and more how gross and tacky it is.
The cage is a huge hulking thing, about three feet high and six feet long, with thick steel bars. Warren shows me how to work the door mechanism, which releases at the top. It's pretty easy to open from the outside, but can't be reached from the inside. We agree on a safe word, and timing of bathroom breaks because no way am I cleaning anything up.
There's something else on my mind too, that I want to clear up before we start. "Do you have a girlfriend?" I ask.
"No," he replies expressionlessly.
"Ok, but Marty said you went to Edmonton with some woman named Keiko."
"She's not my girlfriend."
"Are you sure? Does she think of herself as your girlfriend?"
"Nah, we're just friends," he insists.
I'm not asking because I'm jealous. I just don't want to get in the middle of any stupid drama. I haven't met this Keiko person, but Marty seemed pretty sure they are an item. Warren says they're not though so I'm not sure what else I can do short of calling her out of the blue, which would be weird. Anyway I'm here now. I let it go and order him to get in the cage.
Warren strips down to his underwear, then crawls inside the cage. I lock the door with a resounding crash.
It's so exciting to see him in there. He wants to get out but he can't. For a while, I just tease him with dirty talk and reminding him how he can't get out unless I allow it, which I won't. I wander into the kitchen, still in sight of the cage, and help myself to some ice cream from the freezer, and eat it in front of him. I tell him he's not allowed to even speak without permission.
When I've finished eating, I pour him some dry cereal in a bowl then set it down inside the cage and make him eat it like a dog. He really gets into it, and I scold him for making a mess.
Then I do a sexy striptease, touching myself all over and reminding him of how he wants to touch me but can't. I raid his toy collection and find a high end vibrator coated with soft silicone and a little fluttery bit at the end that flicks around enticingly when I turn it on. I lie down on the floor right in front of the cage and use the vibrator for a good long time. He watches me with huge, hungry eyes. I tell him he's not allowed to touch himself until after I've finished.
At this point, as fun as it all is, I've sort of run out of ideas. That's the thing about SM, you can build up a scenario in your mind and kind of live in that moment eternally in fantasy, but in reality it can be tricky to make the moment last. Either you're too excited and come too soon, then it's over, or you have to keep coming up with new ideas to drag things out.
I decide to take an extended break. In our pre-scene negotiation, Warren said I don't have to entertain him every minute, or even stay in the room with him the whole time. I get the feeling he would be just as happy being locked in the cage on his own the whole weekend, without anyone else around, but it's not safe. What if there were a fire, or some other emergency? I'm mainly there as a kind of babysitter.
So like any other babysitter, I order a pizza and spend the rest of the evening watching TV in the living room. And none of that Terminator crap either. I find a good slow moving British period drama, the kind of thing he would hate, and settle in to enjoy it.
At the agreed-upon times, I let him out for a bathroom break. Later, I go back to the dining room to tease him some more, parading around naked in front of him and making him tell me how much he wishes he could touch me. Then I brush my teeth and go to bed.
It feels a bit weird to be sleeping alone in his bed, but it's bigger and more comfortable than my own bed at home, so I try to just relax and enjoy it. The next morning, still in my pajamas, I go back into the dining room to check on Warren. He's awake but looking a little dazed. I open the cage and order him to the bathroom. He stumbles back a few minutes later, then sits down at the dining room table. I guess we're finished now.
"Well?" I ask. "Was it all you hoped for?"
He looks at me with a slight smile, but his face is kind of glowing. "It was awesome, thank you." This is the most emotion I've ever seen from him. It's strangely sweet.
As much as I enjoy playing with Warren, he's got nothing on The Mantis. With rehearsals increasing, I haven't had time to see him for a few weeks, but we still maintain an overheated email correspondence. He tells me what a pathetic worm he is, and I remind him how unworthy he is to even kiss the feet of the Cruel Mistress. I invent ways for him to punish himself, to keep him in line until he sees me in person again.
I order you to slam your fingers in a drawer, I write to him.
Yes Mistress, the wretched Mantis will obey, he writes back.
The next day he sends me an update: Oh my god, that hurt like hell.
I laugh to myself as I read his email in my basement apartment late at night.
I know, I accidentally slammed my fingers in a drawer a few days ago while I was getting some clothing out, and I couldn't believe how much it hurt. That's where I got the idea.
That was a good one, he replies. So I was wondering if we could try something new next time. I've always wanted to try needle play. What do you think?
I have never done anything like that before, but upon consulting my SM how-to books and websites, it seems surprisingly easy and straightforward. When I was in middle school, the kids used to stick straight pins through the top layer of skin on their fingers and wave them around. It was gross but no one ever got hurt. It's basically the same principle. I tell him yes, as soon as I can get the proper equipment.
I find an online seller specializing in medical fetish gear, and order a box of Terumo needles, a hundred in assorted sizes, along with a box of alcohol wipes and a box of surgical gloves. While I'm looking around the site, I also add some plastic scissor type clamps and a Wartenberg wheel, a small stainless steel pinwheel type device that used to be used to test nerve sensitivity.
A week later, the package arrives in the mail. I tear it open eagerly. The needles are not exactly what I expected. I guess I was picturing something like a straight pin, but these are meant to be used with a syringe--they are hollow with a plastic connector at the bottom. The whole idea with needle play is to poke the needle in and out through the top layer of skin only. If you do it properly, there shouldn't be any blood, and the pain is minor, but the repeated pricks will eventually create an endorphin rush. The key is to keep everything as clean as possible, which is what the gloves and alcohol wipes are for, and why each needle has to be sterile and used only once. I guess this is the only kind of sterile needle there is, but the hollow part does make me a little nervous.
My how-to book recommends practicing first on an orange to get the hang of guiding the needle in and out at just the right depth. I don't have any oranges so I practice a few times on a red plum. I take a picture of the box of needles with the plum sitting in front, a single needle of the smallest gauge jabbed through its red flesh. Then I send an email to The Mantis that consists of only the photo and the subject line "Terumo." He writes back with just one word:
He comes over late on a weeknight, the only time I don't have work or rehearsal. I show him the box of needles and his eyes glitter with excitement.
"Ooooh, it's gonna hurt," he says with nervous anticipation.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
"No. I mean yes. Come on, let's just start before I change my mind."
He wheels to the bedroom and as I watch, he transfers to the bed and unbuttons his shirt, all the while staring at me with that sub boy look I find so irresistible. Like he's scared but trusting, and so turned on.
I put on my sexy vinyl nurse outfit. It's still a bit stained with body paint from Halloween last year, but it doesn't matter. I snap on the rubber gloves, trying to look intimidating.
"Lie down," I order, and flip on the bedside light. With the rubber gloves on, I rip open the packet and take out an alcohol wipes and rub it on his upper chest. Then I select a needle with a flourish, and tear open the wrapper with as much drama as I can muster. I pop off the plastic cap and save it carefully on the bedside table for disposal later.
Now comes the hard part. The bigger gauge needles hurt more, so for the first time I have selected the smallest gauge, a thin, almost dainty needle with a green plastic base and an angled tip, terrifyingly sharp. I aim at the spot where I rubbed the alcohol. We both hold our breath as I slide it in and out the top layer of skin, the way you might if you were sewing and holding the fabric together with straight pins. Getting the angle just right is tricky, so that it's deep enough to stay in place but not too deep. I do a few more, neatly lined up along his pecs, on either side of the breastbone. Once I have inserted four needles on each side, I pause to check how he's doing.
The endorphins have started to kick in, and he just nods, a little glassy-eyed. His pupils are huge. I'm feeling rather light-headed myself, but I'm enjoying this fake medical play. I run my gloved fingers over his chest, gently poking at where his skin is stretched over the parallel needles. He groans a little.
But it's the Wartenberg wheel that I find really satisfying. It's cool and a bit heavy, and it makes a squeaking noise as I run the pinwheel over his skin. I run it all over his chest, his nipples, then over the needles. His groans get louder. By now there are angry little red spots where the needles go in and out of his skin.
"I need to check your sensation," I say in my fake doctor voice, as I run the pinwheel down to the level of his injury, just below his rib cage. "Tell me where you feel it."
By running the wheel over and over his lower chest and upper belly, learn that there's a band about an inch wide where the sensation is all confused and strangely hypersensitive. I call it the Interzone.
I tease him some more there, using the wheel, then turn my attention back to his nipples and ears, still trying to induce a nipple orgasm, but although he's clearly enjoying it, he doesn't go over the edge.
After about an hour, I slide the needles out, one after another. One of them was a bit too deep, and a tiny drop of blood wells up. I wipe it away with an alcohol wipe.
"So how was it?" I ask, as I snap the covers back on the used needles and put them in a plastic bag for proper disposal later.
"Oh my god." He's still just lying there limply. "That was fucking intense."
It's so good that he's back for more less than a week later. When he takes his shirt off, I see two little round bruises where I put one needle in too deeply.
"Oh no, I'm sorry!" I say. "I promised no marks. I don't want to get you in trouble."
"It's ok, she's out of town until the end of the month," he mutters, looking away. Glancing back up at me with his big Mantis eyes wide, he says more boldly, "Mistress, please punish me."
How can I resist?
I don't want to damage his skin more than I already have, so I start with the clothespins instead, arranging them artistically in even rows along the side of his chest and in an oval along the underside of his upper arm. He winces sweetly as I yank each one off.
Once I have removed all of them, I lick his nipples and ears, and we roll around and kiss, but this is not enough.
"Please," he begs, "the needles..."
"It' not medically advisable," I tease him. "You haven't recovered from last time."
"Ok, but I'm going to use the bigger ones this time."
His eyes grow wide with that delicious mix of fear and anticipation.
I start with one small one, pointing directly toward his nipple. Then I insert three more of the medium gauge, so that all four needles are arranged in a circle around his nipple, the sharp tips pointing inwards in a wicked wheel. I do the same thing on the other side. The bigger size is clearly more painful, and he groans and hisses as I slide them in. The target-like arrangement is pleasing, plus I avoid the places where I pierced him last time.
Again, I use the pinwheel to run all over his chest, going over his nipples and the inserted needles over and over again. The squeaking of the metal, the little pins making slight impressions in his soft skin, the little sighs he makes, it's all so delightful. I sit on his face for a good long time before carefully sliding the needles out.
This time I did a better job; even with the bigger needles, there's hardly any blood. He thanks me profusely before leaving.
I'm sitting at home alone on a Saturday afternoon, just finishing up a late lunch, when Lulu calls.
"I have bad news," she says, her voice strangely distorted and formal.
"What? What is it?" She instantly has my full attention.
"My brother died."
I never met Lulu's brother, although he lived with their parents, whom I have met a few times. In an oddly composed, or maybe shell-shocked voice, she gives me the details, with some further elaboration added over the next few days.
He wrecked his car, but apparently it's not too clear exactly what happened. He was on his way home after studying late and just went off the road, no one else in the car with him and no indication that he was drunk or on drugs. He might have fallen asleep. He was just twenty-one, not even graduated from college yet.
It's almost too horrible to contemplate what Lulu and her parents are going through--the late night phone call, never knowing the exact cause, the suddenness of it all. My heart aches for all of them. I ask Lulu what she needs from me but she's not really sure. She's at her parents' house just south of the city, and all their relatives and friends are starting to descend from out of town.
With Lulu's permission, I drive down to her parents' house and meet her there. Her mother and father, grandmother, and a few assorted aunts and uncles are drifting about the well-appointed open plan living/dining/kitchen area, looking stunned, haunted. We make small talk drink wine and nibble on the trays of cholent and kugel that friends from the synagogue have brought. Lulu's whole family and all their closest friends are New York transplants. I feel like I could be in my own parents' house, right down to the reproduction Marc Chagall prints on the walls, and populated with parallel universe versions of all their friends.
As midnight approaches, Lulu's mother takes an Ambien and is ushered off to bed. Her mother can be difficult sometimes, but I'm impressed by how well she's holding up. Lulu and I go up to her childhood bedroom and curl up in the bed together. As I hold her in the darkness, she says,
"What happens after we die?"
"I don't know," I say honestly. We were both raised in the type of intellectual Judaism where maintaining culture and tradition is the only important part; faith or believing in god is optional. Judaism doesn't have much to say about the afterlife--you're supposed to concentrate on this life. But anyway I gave it all up a long time ago, now I really don't believe in anything.
Lying there, holding her in the dark, hearing the anguish in her voice, I hate that I don't have a reassuring answer for her. I feel like we're both lying together in the bottom of a well. What the hell are we doing with our lives? Does it mean anything at all?
"I'm sorry," I tell her. I wish there was something more I could do or say. I hug her tightly and eventually we both fall asleep.
The next day, more family arrives, as well as family friends from out of town, people she's known a lot longer than she's known me, and that seems to help.
The rabbi shows up in the afternoon and leads a short service in the backyard, all of us standing up holding prayer books printed in Hebrew and English. A lot of our friends from the Raser City Lyric Opera are there too, including all the Jewish members. Of course Jews are overrepresented in the opera company, and we all sort of cluster near the front of the group, holding prayer books--me, Ariel, the gardener poet, and a few others. Non-Jewish friends are there too, Gretchen and William and about a dozen other chorus members. Notably absent are Marty (half a Jew) and Lulu's current boyfriend from J-Date (full Jew) currently traveling for work.
The entire service lasts about twenty minutes, and mostly consists of songs sung in Hebrew. Everyone is amazed that I sing every word of every song.
"I thought you said you weren't religious!" Lulu exclaims afterwards, over bagels and cold cuts.
"I said I'm not religious now," I clarify. "I had to go to Hebrew school three times a week from kindergarten through high school, and go to services every Saturday morning. It's all, like, deeply programmed in here." I tap the side of my head.
"You should be a cantor!" Ariel says.
"Absolutely not. I'm culturally Jewish because I can't change how I was raised, but I have no interest in ever practicing in any way." Lulu makes an unhappy face when I say this, a face that I recognize from my parents and every member of their synagogue, a face that says, you'll come around someday.
I ignore her, but a thought suddenly occurs to me. "You should be a cantor, Lulu! It's a career in music but without the cutthroat competition of show business."
Lulu rolls her eyes. "Yeah, everyone keeps telling me that but I really don't want to, you know? It's the kind of thing that's a calling. I just don't feel called."
"So what then, are you going to try for an opera career like Suzanna?" Ariel asks.
"I don't know," Lulu says with a sigh. "I don't know what I want to do, but now I feel even more pressure to do something big. I mean, I'm the only one left to make my parents proud." She starts to tear up, and I put my arms around her.
"It's ok, don't worry about that now," I tell her.
The funeral is the next day, but I don't go. Her brother had a lot of friends, but I never even met him--there will be over a hundred people there. I'm not really needed. By this point some of Lulu's other friends take over supporting her, so I head home.
In the following weeks, I continue to field two and three hour phone calls nearly every day from Lulu, freaking out over her boyfriend. He vacillates between pledging her his full support but then not actually showing up to provide that support. They've only been together for a month or so, and her intense grief is too much to put on what had been a pretty casual relationship. He's too nice a guy to dump her because her brother died and he can't deal, but he actually can't deal. I think this guy is a lukewarm piece of shit who is making things worse for her by making promises he has no intention of delivering on, but of course she's not ready to hear that from me. So instead I just listen and make sympathetic noises as she examines in excruciating detail the contents of each email and the possible meaning of every missed call. She won't be the one to end it with him, so things just drag on.
My own life continues on without much change for the moment. The Mantis comes over for more torture by the Cruel Mistress: the usual round of clothespins, needles, and the pinwheel. Maybe I will make him wear the blindfold or the ball gag or both, or tie his hands and tease him unbearably.
As he sprawls naked in my bed, I sit at the foot, holding his skinny, atrophied, hairless legs. I pick up first one leg then the other and put him through some range of motion exercises, while he watches with a bemused expression.
I take one of his feet and press it against my face, kissing it. I love that I can just do this kind of thing, indulge my dev feelings, and I don't have to hide it. He grins widely as I run my hands along his leg.
"You said, 'It doesn't smell like a normal person's leg,'" he says in that funny tone of voice that he uses when he's super turned on by the Mistress humiliating him.
I laugh. "I'm sorry! I just blurted that out. I didn't mean to be rude."
"No, I like it," he says. "I'm not a normal person." He laughs too.
I had no idea when I said it that he would take it as another form of erotic humiliation, but I'm glad it worked out that way.
"You're right! You're not a normal person," I say, crawling up the bed sinuously, like a cat. "You're a dirty pervert!" We wrestle around in the bed and I pull him on top of me, his legs flopping over as he leans over me supporting himself with his arms.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" I demand, giving him a little shove on the shoulder. He takes the cue and pushes himself down in the bed until his face is between my thighs, his legs bent up beside him.
It's kind of a cliché that SCI guys are good at oral sex, but The Mantis is spectacular. Just like really fucking amazing. I lay back and enjoy it. As he goes down on me, I spool through my sexiest thoughts --the look and feel of his pale, thin legs as I kissed them a moment ago, the look of delight on his face as I humiliated him. I come over and over again, and it feels fantastic.
But even as I'm in the throes of orgasmic rush, I can't help thinking, is this all there is to life? I mean, sex is important, and I'm having some really fucking great sex right now. In fact I think I've probably just had the most perfect orgasm of my entire life. But shouldn't there be something more? How is it that I broke up with Skip and ended up just like him anyway? It's not like I'm actively searching for guys who don't want to commit. I was ready to be all in with William, who seemed like the perfect catch, but somehow his situation is just as complicated as these other dudes and not looking for a relationship. And I'm leaving town anyway. Ugh, this sucks!
So I'm trying to fuck like a guy, just enjoy it and not feel attached but I'm secretly afraid I'm not very good at it. I have to keep reminding myself not to get too close to The Mantis. I want to tell him what's been going on in my life lately, about Lulu and William and Atom and Warren and all of it, but I think it's better not to confide in him.
After he finishes me off, we both just lie there on my bed for a while, not saying anything.