All of it culminates in that moment—hands pressing right places hard enough, tongue sharp, tone the perfect mixture of desire and disgust—everything aligning like planets in a Greek myth. One side eclipses the other, muscles contract in white-hot bursts of pleasure like flashbulbs and, in the light-blindness, everything is perfect. Emily forgets herself. The force against her body is abstracted; the ropes are hardly there. But, however long, it never lasts. The flash recedes and leaves her blinking spots from her eyes, staring up at the basement ceiling, out the window, a below-ground view of starless night-time sky.
She lies still while he unties her. This part always stilted and awkward, she dresses in a rush, stuffing stockings into purse. She feels his gaze raise the fine hairs on her skin. “Thanks, bye,” she says, already starting up the stairs. Just before she steps outside she hears him call out, “Don’t mention it.”
The cold hits her legs first and her face last, still flushed with afterglow and embarrassment. She shuffles down the ice-glazed sidewalk toward the main road and hails a cab. Inside its warm haze of late-night AM radio, she checks her phone nervously, wondering if he’ll still be awake. The lights are off when they pull up and Emily thanks the driver, takes a deep breath opening the front door and holds it up the stairs.
“Sweetheart?” he says sleepily as she slinks into the room. Emily winces. She slips under the covers, puts an arm around him and whispers, “Shhh, go back to sleep.” Planning her apology for tomorrow—which excuse to use this time—she drifts off.
When she wakes late in the morning, he’s already left for work. She boils an egg and stares at their photo on the fridge, one from their wedding. Emily and Michael Smith, 2012. Did she realize it was a mistake while she was making it? Was it just another way of tying herself down? She thinks about last night, trying to place Michael like a jigsaw piece into the basement scene, but he doesn’t fit. “I could never treat you like that—I love you,” he once said, as if the two were mutually exclusive.
Her eyes wander to the microwave clock and, swearing under her breath, she hastily dumps the pot, a plume of steam billowing up from the kitchen sink. Plucking hot egg from stainless steel, she feels around its shell, burning her fingers, digging bit-down nails into cracks and peeling away. She bites into the egg and feels its yolk run down her chin, spattering the front of her dress. She swears again, louder this time. It didn’t boil long enough. She snatches a black wool pullover from a pile by the door and slips into her jacket walking down the driveway, warm yolk cooling fast against her chest.
At lunch, waiting in the office break room for coffee to brew, Emily wraps herself tight in sweater-clad arms. She feels safe and warm; more comfortable in thick fabric, more completely concealed. Two women from sales walk in chatting.
“Emily! You’ll love this,” says Marian, who got married six months earlier and had been full of advice along the lines of, “Go for it! You’re only getting older!”
“The other night, Tom asked me to put a leash on him. Like, literally, a leash. He begged me, actually. He seems really into begging.”
“I’ve heard of handcuffs in bed, but this is something else,” the other one, a name Emily doesn’t know, chimes in.
“It’s sick, is what it is.” Marian’s tone darkens. “We learned all about it in abnormal psychology. It’s all repressed memories of childhood abuse.”
Emily blurts a single sudden “Ha!” before clamping a hand over her mouth. Their heads snap to where she’s sitting. Unable to stop giggling, she croaks, “Excuse me,” and flees the room wiping tears from the corners of her eyes with her sleeve.
She leaves early to avoid trapping herself in an elevator with Marian, but her heart sinks at the prospect of going home and getting dinner ready for Emily and Michael Smith. She considers the basement but can already hear his voice purring, “Long time no see,” dripping with condescension. She crosses the street and starts walking, ending up on the easternmost strip of downtown—the part lined with red-lit doorways. She spots a bar and wanders in. Adjusting to the low light, she orders a drink.
Grunts and smacks ring from the back room. She can make out most of it through an open door. She stares past the people to the devices, all black leather and stainless steel, whole complicated shrines to the moment of orgasm. She watches men and women contort themselves into the machines, fasten and tighten straps, abusing each other in turn. Suddenly one cries out, rapt in the moment. The rest watch with the detached interest of zoo-goers.
Emily walks out, untouched drink perspiring coaster-less on the bar. She starts toward home, shoved by the feeling that there’s nowhere else to go. Given enough time, could she become bored of anything? And would there always be some new thing more exciting and degrading to turn to? She pictures herself wearing out like an elastic waistband, stretching around larger and more unwieldy objects of desire, finally giving up and sliding to the ground. She pictures herself as a bundle of secrets that wastes away with every revelation and wonders if some things are better left repressed. After all, even if you could get everything off your chest, what’d be left to clothe you once you did?
Finally reaching her address, she stops on the front porch and closes her eyes. Television chatter trickles out and she can picture him in there, on his side of the couch, looking up and patting the seat next to him, her place, as if to say, “Sit.” She turns on her heels and runs back down the driveway, shoving cold fists into coat pockets, sliding, legs nearly slipping out from underneath but righting themselves last minute and pumping on down the street. She doesn’t think of where to go, propelled instead by the mental image of her own two sides, clear for the first time, and the certainty that neither one would do.
JONAH BRUNET is a freelance and creative writer from Ottawa living in downtown Toronto. His fiction has appeared in Carleton University’s In/Words Magazine, NYU’s Minetta Review, and is forthcoming in the University of Houston’s Glass Mountain Magazine. He’s very happy to be here. You can follow him on Twitter @jonahbrunet.