by Tobias Ryan
First session (floorwork)
He loosens his tie and starts to dance. Too young for the song to have any resonance, and without the aid of any intoxicants, them being, for the most part, against my rules, he moves stiffly. Thoughts wander. I cross the applicant off my mental list and succumb to the dispiriting realisation that from those who got in touch I made a poor choice. I’m often hasty when excited, and the prospect of having found the one, the ideal candidate for my next evolution, must have blinded me to the boy’s shortcomings.
Robbie Williams is singing in French, the usual grotesquery of his Anglo-accented vocal, champing through the translated lyrics of ‘Supreme (version français)’, dulled by my preoccupation. Not entirely – could it ever be? – but just enough to scuff against the thrill I sought, that which I’d planned to the last detail.
Meanwhile, the warmth of the outfit I provided – Husbands single breasted suit, two button navy blazer with straight cut slacks, matched with a Prussian blue knitted tie, thin belt and patent leather Chelsea boots – and the light workout of tying me up, have got him flushed. Beads of sweat appear at his temples, developing nicely into thin streaks as he continues his awkward shuffle. He has just the right after-work-drinks-gone-long look that really gets me going.
He has been a good lad, after all. He secured my chest, arms folded square behind my back, in a plain but efficient two rope takate-kote, done with a degree of care suggesting he’s more used to tying women. I did have to tell him he could handle me more roughly, but I wouldn’t hold that against anybody. Not on our first time.
“Oh! Oublie toutes ces choses de la vie / Qui reviennent torturer / Les grands vide de tes nuits,” I murmur along in the language of my adopted homeland. He hears this and takes it as a cue to do the same, resulting in a spike of vicarious embarrassment which discomforts me in all the wrong ways. Not wanting to further derail the scene by ordering he stop, I let it go. Mercifully, it’s not a long song.
As it fades out, and per my instructions, he approaches. He holds out his arm for me to kiss the watch – Anders Piguet Code 11:59 Chronograph (white gold finish, black strap) – that I had also included with the ensemble.
“Tell me I’m the master of the goddamn universe,” he says.
“You’re the master of he universe.”
“That isn’t what I said.”
“You’re the master of the goddamn universe.”
“You’re fucking right I am.”
I chafe against the improvisation. I’d specified no profanity.
He leaves to set up for the final portion of the evening, and I weigh up his obvious missteps against how well he has me trussed. The first wrap, rising from the burled knot that binds my wrists behind my back, goes around my shoulders, with a second looping across my chest. Yes, the takate-kote is basic, but it has the benefit of leaving no links or hitches to press into my sternum as I lie face down on the parquet. I can focus on the constriction. His underarm kannukis, cinching the binds that clamp my biceps to my sides, have been applied perfectly. Without straying into suffocation play, as the scene has gone on and my breathing deepened, my awareness of the pressure on my ribs has developed exquisitely.
I crane my neck to see myself reflected in the antique overmantel mirror. My left leg is fastened simply at the ankle, a single line connecting it to the trunk of the harness. My right, meanwhile, was folded, foot bound to thigh, before being linked up, levering considerably more strain on my lower back. There he really showed his class. Handling me with the gentle force of a confident masseur, he wrenched my leg back from the hip, turning me out in a muscular arch.
I squirm, pushing my legs apart and tilting my pelvis, my body seeking leeway that he hasn’t left it. Divine. What a pity that, in other respects, he let himself down so badly.
Coming back into the room, he is wheeling a black stand on which sits a 40” Sony KV-XBR800 television, complete with VCR. He places it in front of the fireplace, plugs everything in, then takes the remote and settles into the Finn Juhl Japan Easy Chair to my left. In a mini fridge tucked discreetly behind his seat, he will find two cans of Carling Black Label. On top of it there’s a pack of B&H Gold containing three cigarettes and a lighter.
With a can open and a fag on the go, he hits play on the loaded cassette. The rest of the session, which lasts for as long as I can withstand the rig, is taken up watching the 2001 WWF Royal Rumble Match.
Second session (partial suspension)
Wearing the outfit I’d couriered over, I watch her step out of the town car. She wavers on the edge of the pavement before wandering towards the McDonald’s. My driver pulls away. When my phone lights up with the notification, I ignore her text. I want to watch her.
In addition to the pale pink tracksuit – vintage, Kappa – she’s wearing the large hoop earrings I requested and has tied her hair up in a high ponytail. The longer I leave her waiting, the more she blends in with the scene outside McDo’s: teenagers, the indolent and the poorly dressed, all coming and going, meeting with friends, eating their cheap meat or just killing time; hanging out in that way that the feckless do, as though the world were simply going to offer up everything that they want from life.
She would blend in, that is, if I could take my eyes off her. With her phone in her hand she is scanning my building, picking out the windows she assumes are mine, thinking back to the flights of stairs she climbed on her first visit. I’m confident, however, behind a curtain on the upper floor of my duplex, that she won’t see me looking down.
She sends a second text. A moment longer. I’m taking a little extra time to relish her coming transformation. She paces up and down, checking her reflection and teasing out her fringe in the window of FNAC one shopfront down. A third text. I read this one before the screen goes black: Can’t get over this ponytail. I don’t look like me at all.
Despite her impertinence, I smile; she had won me over with our first session. I hadn’t been expecting much, having been disappointed, and, seeing the size of her, had had doubts about her physical capacities. I was disabused of these notions the moment we touched. Perhaps a little over-anxious to begin, overcompensating somewhat and shunting me around with affected strength, once the chest harness was in place, she calmed. She patted my sides as though she were bridling a horse. Everything went smoothly after that; she moved with an assured and less insistent flow. I have no doubt that tonight, moving on to the half lift, she will have no difficulty at all.
She enters without knocking and the effect is overwhelming. She looks magnificent. The combination, suggested by my shopper at Le Bon Marché, of a mid-length, Atlantique Ascoli skirt in aniseed – a colour I never would have chosen – with a black Roland Mouret Olinda top and oro Bloem sandals – from Michel Vivien – is worth every cent of its expense. And she knows it. She subtly twirls as she steps in; her excitement, though no part of any programme I’ve designed, delightful. I straighten my back, withholding the compliments that flood my mind.
Composing herself, she scans the room. Rather than crossing to where I’ve left the ropes, rather than approaching, she goes directly to the Kaufman table, set up next to the Finn Juhl chair. On it are the materials for the second half of the scene. We are, already, entirely off script. I tense, but do nothing to forestall her.
As she surveys the materials, I do my best to urge her to choose the text I want to hear her read. She reviews the options: the 1996 Beano Book, David Copperfield (Wordsworth Classics paperback) and the report from my final year in primary school to which the deeds from one of my properties has been stapled. Picking each one up in turn, she looks it over and puts it down. She chooses none. “I have Bataille!” I want to shout, “De Sade, Louÿs, Les Onze Mille Vierges, Le Jardin des supplices – anything you want!” My heart is racing before she’s even touched a rope.
“Are you ready?” she asks; it’s the first time she’s spoken. I come back to myself, back to the high-ceilinged salon of my elegant Parisian apartments. As she tied me up, I‘d drifted in top-notes of citrus, bergamot and rose from the perfume she’d chosen – Mitsouko by Guerlain – and which, I’ve decided, I’ll let her take home as a gift.
She passes the suspension line through the chrome ring that hangs from the middle of the ceiling and – her shins leant against mine anchoring my lower half – tugs on the rope. My torso rises from the floor. She holds me a moment before inching me higher, and I can sense the heat rising in her through the fragrance of ylang-ylang, jasmine and peach, the peppery hint of the spice to come.
We sway slightly together and I close my eyes. My deeper inhalations rock us. She secures the rope and steps off. The loss of her weight is so lightly felt through the distribution of the bindings that I swear I can still feel her there for several seconds after she’s moved away.
I hear her walk about behind me, heels on parquet, and ache to see her come around again. I need her to look down on me. She takes her time.
Thinking I can hear her approach, and unable to bear the anticipation any longer, I turn.
“Tut tut tut.”
Her footsteps retreat and I must wait for her to walk the length of the room and come up along my other side before she comes back into view. She stands, looking down, and I’d fix her there as surely as she has me bound. Here, in the look we share, beyond the ropes, the play, the kink, we are approaching the essence of kinbaku. We are connected, tied. She is the agent of my potential.
Kicking off her shoes, she kneels. She shuffles closer and pets me. She brushes back my hair. Our eyes lock. She covers mine. Ropes creak in the unwilled efforts of my body to propel itself towards her, through the blindfold of her palm, and hang within our look again. She strokes my cheek.
“Can I add another line?”
She crosses the room to collect another length, no sooner gone than a tension released. I slump back into the hold of the harness, body longer compelled to work, strung up like dead game, long pork in a butcher’s window. I try to centre myself, employing meditative techniques I’ve learnt to maximise my pleasure. I isolate and identify every pain and gripe, and give them up them to undertow of helplessness.
Back she comes. Rather than kneel, now she squats, and I’m conscious her skirt is riding up. I roll my pelvis, opening my hips, but there’s little give. She strokes my cheek again and rests her hand on my shoulder.
The rope goes between my teeth. Before it’s hitched, attached from the back to the suspension line, she gently lifts my chin, as though to slit my throat and bleed me. She caresses me instead.
We’re no longer looking at one another; she’s watching me. She watches how my body resists her ropes, pleading for vulnerabilities it can settle into. Gag tight, my breath gets louder, saliva pooling in my cheeks. I am all knots, desire and supplication. She tilts her head. I’m prey; am bestial.
Sitting, she swings her legs around and opens her thighs. I can’t look down, head tugged too far back to even see the mirror. Her right hand moves beneath her skirt. I can’t see. Only her left hand, spread on the parquet as she leans back into private passions, is in my line of sight. A sound. Her breath catches. I struggle to hear anything more over my own strained, raw-throated panting. I’m brutish; I’m wildly excited. My chest rakes. She slides closer; I see even less. I can just make out her head, thrown back. She’s under me, almost directly beneath me. She is cresting, and I smell the perfumed movements of her pleasure, spice and vetiver and underbrush.
I’d come with a touch.
Agathe calls me unexpectedly before our last appointment. I must have told her that she could. I don’t recall. She’s signed up online for an advanced shibari course and has been learning new knots and harnesses. She has ideas. As she talks, I make a transfer to her account covering what I calculate the course might have cost, as well as a little extra.
“I’m happy for you to do what you like,” I tell her, realising she has been waiting for some kind of response. “Provided my final instruction is carried out fully.”
She says that she’s scared and I reassure her. The benefit of my careful planning is that all eventualities have been thought through.
“And what if you change your mind?”
“I trust you.”
She scoffs. “In the context, I’m not sure I know exactly what that means. I have your consent to—?”
“No. You have my trust. Consent implies a clear understanding of what’s coming. It’s binary: yes or no. I accept that, when the moment comes, I won’t know. I hope you can accept that too…”
I imagine her sitting on the floor of a cheap studio apartment she has done her best to prettify. Perhaps, laptop open in front of her, she’s fidgeting with a length a rope, a piece she uses to practice her knots.
“For the most part,” I go on, “it will be no different than before. You’ll let yourself in and I’ll be waiting in the salon. No costumes this time. No games. Just the one command.”
I’m tempted to ask if she trusts me, but it doesn’t matter. As long as she trusts that I have the means to protect her from any subsequent fallout. I send her an email with the amount I’ll forward to her once the scene is done. Everything, I write, will be taken care of.
“Why did you chose me for this?”
“You can always back out. I would be heartbr—”
“No. I don’t know. I’m just not sure I understand—”
“It was arbitrary,” I interject. “You were a name on a list.”
She doesn’t answer.
“Of course we wouldn’t have proceeded beyond the first meeting if I didn’t think you were any good.”
My flattery garners nothing. I clear my throat, disquieted by the continued lack of response.
“There were other criteria too, obviously. Anglophone. Someone with the skills and who would respect a contract; someone honest who would stick to the script and not get it into their head to rob the apartment while I’m tied up.”
The laugh I attempt catches.
“I’ve generally found the ads I post are precise enough to weed out non-serious applicants.”
“Right,” she says, “tant pis pour eux.”
Final session (full suspension)
For tonight I bought new rope. A change from treated jute to raw manila, adding some extra scratch, some bite. I sit in the middle of the floor under the suspension ring. I haven’t warned Agathe that I’ll be naked, but what can she expect?
Waiting for her to arrive, I look at my reflection in the mantelpiece mirror. I try to position my body more beautifully. The day hasn’t been as relaxed as I’d hoped. I ate too much, got a little drunk.
I hear the latch and the front door close; my blood is up. I sit straighter, tensing my stomach, and fold my hands across my groin. I can’t hear footsteps. Perhaps she’s concluded she should rob me after all and is currently appraising the other rooms, deciding in what order to steal everything I own. The quiet is unbearable. I hold my breath.
She’s in the corridor. My heart is thumping. She will be reading the last of my instructions. For today, they are written out by hand; nothing has been sent by email or text. Nothing will be traceable. I have a moment to regulate my breathing. The instructions state that she must first light the candle on the dresser beside them – Ambre & Volupté, Goutal – and then read them through twice at least. Having done so, she is to burn the page on which they’re written.
I close my eyes.
When she enters, she doesn’t acknowledge me. She walks past me, the length of the room, to where the ropes are lined up against the skirting. She has chosen an outfit of loose-fitting, sage-coloured yoga pants and a white vest. They look brand new. She’s barefoot.
My eyes track her every move. I can’t help but turn.
“Tut tut tut.”
She kneels on the floor, feeling out the ropes, looping them to test their tensile strength, snapping them taut. For the moment, she seems not to have noticed the utensils laid out in the corner.
She comes to squat behind me, drops the ropes and places both hands on my shoulders. I fix my posture.
“Today, I’m doing a strappado.”
I wish she hadn’t told me.
Her hands slide down my arms and she takes my wrists. She gathers them, tying them off just above the bones. Alternating left to right, she then winds the rope up my arms, cinching them together. She pauses. With a slight lift, she can plunge my head towards the floor. She lists and leans me, moving me as though she were working a tiller.
With the ropes having reached my upper arms, she wraps my chest and, without letting up the tension, takes both shoulders in her hands again. She must have the line between her teeth. She rolls my shoulders, clamping the blades together and ties a second, tighter wrap around my torso. Feeding the rope back down my arms, she weaves a diamond pattern of counter-tensions, lacing it so tightly my elbows touch.
As she strings me up from the stem of the strappado, my neck lolls. She begins to bind my legs.
“I’m doing futomomo.”
I ignore her.
I shut my eyes. I’d thought I’d be more afraid. I’ve been practising breathing techniques, meditating on the transformation to come, but I know its how she ties me that has calmed me down. Before I can prevent the thought, it occurs to me that I should ask her to stay once the session is done.
I go off script.
She talks to me as aftercare. She tells me about where she’s from, a council estate in some drab provincial place. She talks about her parents, their mediocre jobs, their divorce; how they struggled; how they tried to show her love; how that was never quite enough. Nobody understood her there. I got out, she would say.
I’d tell her to light a cigarette and tell me more about her life. “I can see every detail,” I’d say, admiring, then once she’d taken a final drag, tell her to stub the butt out on my neck.
Together, we could make a life.
She cinches my right thigh with an inner-leg kannuki and I blink away the reverie. How quickly I forget my own designs.
I am now attached to the hanging ring at three points: between my shoulders, from the trunk of the strappado and from midway up the thigh of each stumped leg. My body folds back on itself, pectorals twinging as my chest thrusts, loins straining, hobbled legs splayed. I struggle to hold up my head.
Agathe is circling. I can’t make out the expression on her face. I feel dizzy.
If she were to ask me now, directly: yes or no—
I catch glimpses of her in the mirror, moving constantly. When she steps beyond a certain boundary, I no longer see her. Is she going to add another rope? A gag? A blindfold? Is she going to get an implement?
Panic sets in. I gulp and gasp for air. She comes to stand where I can see her, eyes locked on mine in the reflection in the mirror. She tilts her head, seeking my assent.
“Turn me,” I cough. I don’t want to see.
She takes me by the nape, other hand on my hip, and walks me round away from the fireplace. My head is pounding with the pressure of the bind. Where my body sags, flesh portioned, bulging between the loops, I feel the scarlet saw of the ropes. The meat of me welcomes its incision.
Agathe walks to the corner and bends to choose a knife.
About the Author
Tobias Ryan is an English teacher and translator. He lives in Paris.