It’s late. I’m alone in a hotel room in a city I’ve never been to before.
It’s late, but I can’t sleep. I’m alone, states away from anyone I could call at this hour. I’m texting a partner back home, flirting and sending pictures back and forth, both getting more frustrated but not getting off. He’s teasing me for being insatiable. It’s a fair taunt, but not one I plan to let slide.
I’m sure I can find a way to entertain myself for a few nights alone.
Yes, I came prepared. [I send a snapshot of a sheet of clothespins leaning against my thigh.]
And you plan to entertain yourself how, exactly?
That’s up to you.
[He tells me where to attach them. I send a photo when it’s done.]
Looks about right…needs more clips though.
Yeah, well. TSA might have looked askance at that. Fuck, pulling these off is going to hurt.
Isn’t that the idea? Is it worse to wait or pull as soon as possible?
Waiting. Gives things a chance to get used to the pinching, then it’s worse when it stops.
That’s what I thought. So let things acclimate then change the climate.
Of course you’d say that. Just what am I meant to do while I’m waiting?
Be patient. [He starts talking about other things, making plans for after I get home.]
Just so you know, breathing makes the clothespins on my ribs shift. Ow.
Aww. Guess it’s just as well I didn’t have you line the whole ribcage, then. I considered a couple of other patterns.
Well, maybe I can try something else after you let me pull these ones off.
Oh, you expect me to let you pull them off.
Yes, that I am. Shouldn’t you be a little nicer if you want me to tell you to pull?
I wish you could be here for this.
Not just because I wish someone else would pull this damn ripcord for me.
Oh? To pull the line or to fuck you mercilessly afterwards?
Or to help keep me quiet when they do come off.
So maybe you should try to convince me.
[Hell. I never beg. I hate begging. If one or two renditions of “please” doesn’t get a result, I settle into a prideful state of “fine, I didn’t need that anyway”]
How would it go if I were there?
How would you want it to?
I don’t know how you’d pull. Jerk the whole string at at once, maybe, or steadily increase pressure to release one clothespin at a time.
Which is worse?
Whichever is worse? I don’t know which one is worse, they’re both damn near unbearable.
I suspect you’d draw it out. Waiting for that rush of pain to hit is its own special torture, and you do love to torture me.
As if you don’t… I can’t tell if this is about pain or sex right now.
Is there a difference? It hurts. And yes, I’m desperate to come. My clit is throbbing against that horrible clothespin. What the hell was I thinking, putting one there?
That it would please me. So what is it you want?
I wish you were here. I need to come but not half as badly as I need to taste your cock. I want to make you moan and grab me by the hair. I want to do whatever it is you want me to do.
I want you to keep talking. What do you want?
I want to see your face, what this does to you. I want to fly home right fucking now; to hell with this conference I want you to hurt me.
I need to come. Please. God, I need to come ten minutes ago. My legs are shaking. It hurts. It fucking hurts and I can’t touch myself with all these clothespins in the way.
I’m afraid to pull the cord, afraid I’ll make too much noise. Fuck, it’s going to hurt.
Fast or slow, which is worse? It’s a trick question. Waiting is worse.
Please. I need to come. I need these clothespins off of me so I can shove my fingers in my cunt and imagine they’re yours. Just…please.
I’d never begged before. Talking, flirting, demanding others say these things for me, sure, but this was new and a little frightening.
“The problem with playing at the club is that I can’t fuck you.”
His breathing is ragged. He speaks in a quiet growl that makes me want to growl back. I grind my hips against his. The tension has us wound impossibly tight. We’re playing hard, even for me. I’ll have bruises for a month, mottled garters around both thighs. My legs are shaking from the effort of staying upright while they swell and I don’t care. I don’t want it to stop.
I know this moment. It’s still violent, always violent, but the topology has changed. We’re so still, after all my twisting and writhing under his blows. He’s feeling along my edges but my surface isn’t orientable. If he wants inside he’ll have to break me. I almost want him to.
The problem with playing at the club is that I can’t fuck you.
Yes, it’s a problem. It wasn’t a problem until he said it; I was giddy with tension before but now it’s insistent, focused. If we were at his place he’d be fucking me now. He’d be pinning me down with a hand on my throat. He’d be telling me how much I want him with that smug look that I can’t even call arrogant even though he’s wrong; I want him so much more. And I’d be arrogant, too, if he teased, sure that he wouldn’t hold back for long.
But we’re not there. This tension has nowhere to go and now that he’s said it it’s the only thing in my mind.
He rakes his fingers across bruised skin, covers my mouth with his when I gasp. This isn’t kissing. I’m being consumed, voice and lips and skin and anything-you-want disappearing into him.
He puts a hand on my cheek, looks me in the eye. “I want to make you come.”
“God yes.” I’m surprised, later, that I didn’t hesitate at all. I’m not an exhibitionist, not really. Orgasm is intimate. It belongs to me, to my partner. It’s ours. I’m greedy for it and jealous of it and no I don’t care who’s watching, not really, but it isn’t for them and I’m not going to share.
I’m on the edge from kissing and from pain. He isn’t gentle. He shoves his fingers into me, rough and hard and perfect. His eyes stay focused on mine. I’m trying not to scream, not to draw attention. Trying to draw this out, if I can.
He whispers. “Come for me.” I turn my head, sink my teeth into the back of my forearm to keep from crying out. I nearly lose my balance. Too many nerves firing all at once in overwhelming contradiction of pain and yes and ohGod.
He pulls my arm away when I regain my footing. “I want to see your face when you come. I want to hear you scream. Can you do that for me?” I nod. I can’t answer aloud. He’s good with his hands, or good with me. I’m moaning again in seconds, low and soft at first, but rising fast. My hand flies up to cover my mouth. I remember not to before it gets there. He smiles. “Not yet.”
Fuck. Hell. Fuck. I exhale slowly. Refocus. Not on the pressure of his fingers inside me, or–oh God. Refocus. Math? I’ve gone past math. Words. Three syllables, beginning with P. Palimpsest. Petrichor. Priory. Pleiades. Please. Please. “Please.”
He shakes his head. He’s hoping I can’t hold back. He’s arrogant enough to think he can make me come when I’m trying not to. I’m contrary enough, proud enough, to refuse. But God, I’m close. Palmetto. Pinniped. Piranha. Predator. Like him, predatory, eyes on mine with all the smug fierceness of a cat staring down cornered prey. “Oh, fuck, please–” Refocus. Preamble. Portentious. Predicament. No, that’s four. Persistent. Pretentious. P– P– P–. I can’t think anymore, can’t see straight, can’t remember enough words to pull away from sensation. “Please.” If he says no, I still have the emergency brakes. I can control this. It may not be worth it. Employ that tactic and I may not be able to orgasm at all for days.
I don’t have to decide. He’s nodding, that smug grin still playing across his face. “Come for me.”
I don’t close my eyes. Don’t look away. Try not to think of how ridiculous my face must look, how ragged my breathing, whether I need to be quieter. His expression has turned gentle. He straightens to pull me into his arms and I let him. In these heels I can rest my chin on the top of his head, but somehow I feel small. Almost dazed. He whispers “thank you” and I smile.
The problem with playing at the club isn’t such a problem, not really.
We shouldn’t be doing this. Kissing, touching, sliding hands over wet skin. There are others in the hot tub with us. Two acquaintances, more strangers. I don’t know how many. I’m straddling your lap, trying to focus on the conversation we’re having with the others, on the flow of water across my skin, on anything other than the pressure of your body against mine every time you move.
You look calm. You nod and smile and carry the conversation as though there’s nothing but this small talk on your mind. As though you aren’t running your hands over my ass and thighs, slipping your fingertips just under the edge of my bathing suit before moving away again. By the time there’s a lull in conversation long enough for us to kiss again, I’m ready to devour you. You let me. If I could thank you for not teasing me by keeping back another moment, I would. Speaking would mean losing a syllable of time that could be spent kissing you. It’s unthinkable.
You run your fingers between fabric and skin, shove the crotch of my suit out of the way. It cuts into my thigh. I can’t remember why I decided to wear it at all, can’t help being annoyed that it’s getting in the way now. Your fingers clamp down hard on my clit, making me gasp and pull back to look at you. You turn suddenly gentle, let your fingers drift down, feather-light and slow. You take your hands away, shift your weight. For a moment I think you’re going to push me away. You grip my hips instead, pull me closer, until your cock is pressed up against my cunt. I can’t read your expression–waiting to see how I’ll react, I suppose. I could stop you. I nod, only once, only slightly. Your expression stays the same: calm and inscrutable. Above the water, you don’t even move. You slide into me slowly, with the barest rocking of our hips. I have to kiss you again to keep from moaning out loud. It hardly seems possible that the others don’t know exactly what’s going on, but no one says a word. It’s not as though anyone’s likely to mind, here. We’re not fucking–not really. Once you’re inside me we barely move. I can hardly breathe. I’m all but shaking with the effort of not thrusting my hips against yours.
I wonder how you’d react if I leaned in to whisper exactly what I’m thinking in your ear. How I want you to fuck me hard, right now, consequences be damned. How I want you to take me home, throw me against a wall, hit my face and fuck my mouth and please don’t stop just because I gag or choke or my eyes seem to be begging for relief. How I could almost come, right here, right now, without moving at all. How I don’t give a damn about my own orgasm: right here, right now, all I want is yours.
“I do want ice cream.” His voice is muffled by my skin. “We’re making ice cream. Is there a problem?”
I shake my head and pull away to lean over the stove. I need to focus: I’m tinkering with the methods in this recipe, cutting a step that’s meant to take an hour down to seven minutes. I have an excuse: it’s hot and humid, not good weather to hold cream at room temperature for long. Mostly I’m just rushing, anxious to get my hands on him again. The infusion is steaming well, but not boiling. I worry it’s too hot anyway, so I reduce the flame just a bit. He brushes his fingers down my back. It’s a warm day. I can’t feel the heat of him standing behind me. Can’t hear his breathing over the sounds filtering in from outside. I stop stirring, close my eyes, inhale. I can’t smell him. Steam redolent with ginger masks every other scent in the room. If not for his fingers sliding down to my hips I wouldn’t even know he was there. His grip turns firm, pulls me tight against him.
“You’re going to scald the milk.”
“Am not,” I say, but I turn my attention to it anyway, pluck a slice of ginger out of the mixture to see if it’s softened at all. It has, and I decide it’s infused enough. Scooping it out is trickier than I expected: some of the smaller slices keep slipping away and disappearing under the surface.
“Anything I can do to help?” I worry he’s asking because I look clumsy and incompetent chasing slices of ginger through the pot.
“No. Wait, yes. Bring me the eggs?” He does, and I separate them (too slow!). Whites go back in the fridge, yolks get a vigorous whipping with a fork.
“Here. I need you to pour about a quarter cup of this over the yolks.” He pours, I whisk. I thank him and take back my place in front of the stove. I start talking, something about the properties of eggs and preventing custard from curdling or forming a skin. I’m rambling. If I just keep talking I won’t be distracted by his breath in my hair. I won’t lean in to the too-light touch of his fingers on my spine. I won’t turn around and find his mouth with mine. Dear God, I’m talking about curd cheeses. Someone should make me shut up.
His fingers brush my hair to one side. His lips touch my neck, just behind the ear. They move slowly, back and down. I close my eyes, just for a second, blocking out everything but the trail of his mouth down the back of my neck. I feel teeth, gentle, teasing. I stop stirring and rest my hand on the lip of the pot. It’s hot, but not quite hot enough to burn. This damn custard will burn if I don’t get back to it. I stand up straight, pulling out of reach.
He peers over my shoulder. “Is it done yet?”
“I put the eggs in five minutes ago. It takes time.”
He groans, gripping my hips through too-tight jeans. “Try a higher heat.”
I duck down to check the flame. Just where it should be. (I can’t help but covet his gas stove.) “Nope, can’t. I don’t want the custard to break.”
He doesn’t answer. His left hand slides under my shirt to rest on my stomach. His right fumbles with the button of my jeans. I lean back to press against him from shoulder to hip. His teeth find the back of my neck. I’m taller than he is, much taller in these boots. To nip me there he must have his head back, throat exposed…
I roll my shoulders back, shake my head to clear it. I focus on the stove, this custard and its infuriating need for attention. If I weren’t so damn proud of my cooking I’d abandon it. His fingers work their way down the front of my jeans, pull them uncomfortably tight against my hips. He pinches my clit ring between two fingers, tugs it lightly. “These fucking jeans couldn’t be any tighter if they were painted on.”
“Are you complaining?”
“Nope. Is it ready to go in the fridge yet?”
I sweep a fingertip through the custard. It’s thicker, but not enough.”Not yet. Two, three minutes.”
He drops to his knees, hands moving down, pulling denim to bunch around my legs. I stumble, trying to keep my balance in stilettos while he pulls. He slides his body between me and the stove. His breath reaches my cunt an instant before his mouth does.
“Oy, hot stove. This seems like a dangerous idea.”
“Don’t care.” His voice is muffled by my body.
I grip the counter with my left hand, stir with my right. Three clockwise circles, a figure eight, repeat. I want to grab hold of him, pull his mouth even harder against me. “You can’t wait ninety seconds?”
“I can, but…” he doesn’t finish, just presses the heat of his mouth against me, his tongue moving firm but slow, too slow. Fuck it. I swipe a finger through the custard again. It’s not as thick as I’d like. It’s thick enough. Somehow I turn off the flame, add white chocolate and stir it smooth. “Done. Make room in the fridge.”
I have him backed into a counter with my legs wrapped around him before we even close the refrigerator door. He fumbles for it, awkward and sideways while I start pulling his clothes off. He laughs. “Now who’s rushing?”
“Hey, we’ve got a time limit here. Still have to make ice cream, remember?”
I’m seeing someone new, in an undefined sort of way. A friend. We’re sleeping together. I suppose that’s what the term “friends with benefits” is for. He’s said so little about what he thinks or wants in terms of our association, though, that it’s hard to be sure.
He’s wary. He’s seen jealousy with poly folks before. Been hurt. Seen others hurt. It makes him cautious. I’m glad of this, that he thinks of risk and moves slow to avoid it. It’s frustrating, too: too much caution holds him back. It isn’t shyness. I like shyness, all tongue-tied softness and blushing and peering up through eyelashes. This is different, wary, a fox hiding in the brush, waiting to see if I’m predator or prey.
There’s violence, just under the surface. I see it in the narrowing of his eyes when he laughs, in the set of his teeth when he smiles. This is a man used to being in control, who finds it not only comfortable but natural as breathing. But he turns docile when my teeth find his throat, makes soft sounds that send shivers across my skin. What was straining muscle a moment ago turns pliant and soft.
It makes me want to tear him apart.
We’re new to each other, tentative and shy. I see violence in him, reflections of the savagery I feel. The feedback breeds intensity. It grows into growling and bared teeth. I shove him hard against the wall only to hold him there, close enough to feel his shaking breath against my lips, not close enough at all. He is a mirror, or I am. If I crash into him, one of us will surely shatter.
I look at him and I see violence. He wants teeth in his flesh. He wants bruises on mine. But we’re too new for that. We’ve explored skin without learning the muscle and mind underneath. I don’t want to hold back. He certainly responds eagerly enough when I’m aggressive. I hold back anyway. We need to talk, not about what he’ll accept (“Don’t wait on an invitation or opportunity, take what interests you,” he says) but what we both want.
I have a feeling this conversation will be happening at least partly over text message. I seem to have a bad habit of kissing him and not being willing to stop once conversation steers that direction in person.
I sent him a message on Fet a few days before the party: How full is your card Saturday night? He had only planned a couple of scenes so far, and he’d want a break from fire. He agreed to pencil me in for a scene. I swap to text message to ask how long I could expect to be too sore to visit the gym.
“I dunno, are you looking for an excuse, or must the gym go on like the eponymous show?”
“Oh, the gym will go on. At least, cardio will, no excuses allowed. Still, there’s something lovely about being horribly reminded of a good scene every time I attempt a workout.”
“Well, in that case you should schedule yourself a long vacation.”
It’s something I know I’ll miss about him, how loose and flirtatious we can be with negotiation. I tease and goad just to remind him to play harder, and he’s happy to oblige.
After I tell the worst joke ever and arrange to have someone bring me a robe and room-temperature water when the scene ends, I find the Fireman rummaging through his bag for toys. SAP gloves. Walnut paddle. Another paddle, smaller and darker. Nothing so easy on either of us as a flogger: tonight is going to be rough body work, hard and heavy. My favorite.
“I brought the sandman, if you want it.”
He beams. “God, yes.” The sandman is the heaviest of my new toys, two feet of 3/4″ copper pipe filled with sand. I fish it out and choose us a station, one with an AC vent he can stand under but which won’t reach me.
He comes in before I finish undressing. I decide to lose the heels, but keep my socks. The floor is clean, but cold. I move to stand at the station, glance over to see what he’s doing. He’s taken off his overshirt, changed his shoes. There’s a small crowd gathering at a discreet distance. I face the wall, trying not to see them. I watch his shadow instead. He moves smoothly, with too much grace for a man his size. The shadow is distorted, foreshortened. I can see him lifting something from the table, but can’t tell what it is. I close my eyes and try to stop thinking. I refocus on my skin: the lacquered smoothness of the cross under my hands, the faint gusting of cool air across my back. I’ll be shivering in no time if he doesn’t get started.
He leans in close. I can feel his breath against my cheek, a heavily gloved hand on my hip. “Let’s see if I hit like a girl.” I can hear a laugh, barely contained in his voice. I turn my face to grin at him, just for a moment, before the slapping starts.
It’s not hard. He’s testing, seeing which bruises are superficial, which run deep enough to make me wince. I hiss when he hits my thigh over a bruise a week old and the size of a paperback cover, still livid. He laughs.
I watch his shadow when he moves away and lifts something from the table. There’s no more warm-up. He moves in rough and thorough, punching, paddling, caning while I dance from foot to foot and try not to scream. A solid blow to the thigh and I cover my mouth to muffle the shout. He leans in, lifts my face. “You okay?”
“Aside from the fact that we’re playing to the Pet Shop Boys, and some bastard keeps hitting the same damn spot, great.”
“The thigh needs a break?”
“Nah, keep going.”
I see his shadow take a new stance. Oh, fuck. There’s no time for a deep breath. The first kick to the ribs has me howling, struggling to stay on my feet. The next dozen hit the same spot, easy and precise for him no matter how I sidestep and twist. I find the rhythm to it, time ragged breaths to exhale on impact. I don’t want to avoid this pain but my body rebels, and I have to grip the cross hard to keep from covering my ribs with my hands. I’m staring at the speaker on the ceiling when it stops, and for the space of a breath feel the lack where pain should be.
He grabs my hair, twisted into a tight bun, pulls it hard to arch my back, until I’m only touching the cross with the tips of my fingers. With one hand still gripping my hair, he starts to punch my shoulder, the same spot, over and over again. I hear him growl under his breath and snarl back, earning a bite to the neck before he shoves me forward against the cross again.
I feel cool metal against my back. The sandman. It slams into me hard, too cold. With this he moves, from ass to thighs and back again, throwing a few brief flurries of hits against my calves. I bite my shoulder to muffle the screaming. I stamp my feet, claw uselessly at the cross, in some vain hope that moving will make it hurt less. It doesn’t.
He leans in close, running gloved hands over my swollen skin. I feel the heat of his body, smell clean sweat and copper over the polished wood of the cross. I lean back into him, press my bruised skin against his, wondering when he took off his shirt. His arm moves across my chest, holding me upright and slightly off balance. He’s breathing hard. I turn my face to his. His mouth opens to speak. I kiss him instead, hard, moaning into his mouth when his fingers find bruised flesh and push into it. I push back. Part of me wants to turn around and fuck him where we stand (not an option), another part wants him to start beating me again. I ignore them both: I’m not done kissing him.
He pulls away roughly, slams my hips into the cross so hard they bruise, and starts punching again. I lean into it, wishing I could hold back from shouting and groaning. He steps back for a moment. “God please don’t stop,” tumbles out of my mouth, and someone–not the Fireman–laughs behind me. I’m startled, but it’s only a friend bringing the Fireman water.
Something’s wrong when he starts again. Not with him; the pain is sharp and precise as ever. I breathe deep, stare at the ceiling, count silently to three. I feel–off. Slight vertigo. My hearing feels dulled. I’m not sure I can stand. “Wait,” I say. I’m glad it came out clearly.
He stops, steps forward with a hand on the small of my back. “Okay?”
“Yes. Bit dizzy. Is there water?” I drink, breathe deeply for a few seconds before grinning up at him. “Sorry. Continue.” We both laugh at that. It sounds too normal for such a strong moment. He starts in on me with the paddle. It stings before blending down into the heavier pain of fists and feet and metal. Then it sharpens. Every blow is almost too much. (Later he tells me he held the sandman behind his paddle to give it extra weight.) I hear myself sob, though there aren’t tears.
I know people are watching–I catch glimpses of them whenever I peer over my shoulder to smile at the Fireman while he pauses to switch toys or gulp down some water–but they’re far away, unobtrusive. All but one of them, that is. A redhead domme leans against the wall just a few feet to my right. Her stare is intense, unnerving. She’s like a lioness watching another predator with his kill, waiting for the right moment to snatch the carcass away. It’s unnerving, but I revel in it, stare back at her. Her eyes linger on my mouth when I gasp. It makes me smile at her. I’m immediately shy afterwards, and turn my face to the ceiling again.
He pauses for more water and she steps up, quietly offers to tag in while he takes a break. He grabs me by the throat and growls before I can laugh. He’s hitting harder now, on flesh already battered. His left hand moves slowly, sensuously down from neck to collarbone, breast to ribs. I sob in frustration, pushing myself into this too-gentle touch while his right hand continues to bring the sandman thudding down on my flesh. I scarcely feel the pain. I’m focused on the slow trawl of his glove, navel to hip to oh, please another inch–. The sounds I’m making plead. I don’t care. Neither does the Fireman. He laughs, low and quiet an inch from my ear and grabs my bruised thigh hard. “You bastard. Oh, God, you bastard.”
He laughs louder. I turn and hop down as he steps back, grab his water from the floor and drink. I know I’m dehydrated but it’s too cold and I only manage a few sips. I move back into position, bouncing on the balls of my feet. “Sorry, we’re good.” He shakes his head, smiling. Each blow is slower now, but just as hard. The next bout of kicking doesn’t last as long.
The sandman almost does it. I feel a tear welling up while he’s working my thighs. I wrap my arms around the arms of the cross, my legs thrashing too much to reliably bear my weight. Then the too-heavy sting of paddle-and-pipe hit again. And again. I realize I can’t feel all of it, that my body is moving as before but the pain feels dull, as if I’m wrapped in a thick blanket. The vertigo returns, stronger, and I hear the sound of rushing water. I say his name, quietly. He stops instantly, moves in to hold me up. “I think I need water. And to sit down.” He helps me to a chair before falling into another one next to me. He’s shaking and covered in sweat. “Are you okay?” I ask.
He laughs. “Beating you up is hard work!”
“I’m not complaining. Still think I hit like a girl?”
“Nope.” I look around. Robe and water had been promised, but not delivered. I stand up, marveling at the soreness of it. “Okay, I’m going to find my water. Shall I bring you one?”
“Nah, I’ll get it.” We both move back to the social area. I cover up, drink a liter in one long chug, and refill if from the tap. I’m shivering violently. I rummage in my bag for snacks: dried fruit and cookies.
I find the Fireman leaning exhausted against a counter, empty water bottle in one hand. I take it away and hand him a cookie. A good one, from a bakery he’s told me he loves. His eyes widen “Have I told you I love you recently?”
“Me, or the cookie?”
He says something around a mouthful of crumbs, but I’m distracted by the appearance of the friend who was supposed to bring my water. “Where did you disappear to?”
“I gave up after you started hopping around like a rabbit. I guess half an hour ago? If you can jump down for a drink and walk right back up for more punishment, you can get your own stuff at the end.”
“Wait, half an hour?” I look at the Fireman, confused. “That felt like it was near the end of the scene.”
“Yeah, it did. How long was that scene?”
“No idea. An hour?”
“Eighty-five minutes,” says a bystander.
Eighty-five minutes. The Fireman and I just stare at each other for a minute. “Jesus,” he says.
“I think that counts as your workout for tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but back to running Monday. No excuses, remember?”
“I don’t know, wait until you see how those bruises look tomorrow.”
It was four days before I could run more than half a mile. And well worth it. That was almost certainly the best scene I’ve had yet.
His fist is part of the pain is part of my shoulder. It lands again and again, knuckles conspiring with scapula to gnash like teeth at the muscles between. He punches the same point over and over, until I lean forward too far, trying to get away, not wanting to get away; until he pulls me back with an arm across my chest, until I lean into his fist again. The air feels too hot around my mouth. I gasp, filling it with curses, inchoate sounds.
He leans in. Asks “okay?” almost too quietly to hear over the music, over the quiet space settling around my mind. Harder, I think. “Good,” I say. He sits back. His fist is part of the pain is part of my shoulder. I hear the beat of music, feel it in the impact followed half a beat later by a fugue of white pain like a tooth cracked in half, nerves exposed. I hear voices, calm, sitting at the same table in matching chairs, hear my own voice curse softly in order not to interrupt their conversation. I move into the half beat between impact and pain.
He moves. Shifts to pummel the left side. Back and forth. Six beats on the right. Four to the left. I slip between. The music isn’t a phenomenon of sound anymore. It becomes the beat, the pain, the image of shoulder blade slicing through a pulp of muscle. I twist, lean forward, wish I were sitting backwards in this chair so that its back could stop me pulling away. His arm across my chest again, coaxing me upright. “Okay?” “Good.” I’m amazed that I can speak, even a monosyllable. Sound and pain and light and pain are blending into one sense that I can only describe obliquely. The surface of the table, the bodies in the room swimming across my vision like the green and violet fringes of a migraine.
His focus moves to the right again. It’s surer on that side, steady and bright and explosive; the silent, impossibly hot flare of a spark in a jar of oxyacetylene. I push myself back, towards him, though for a moment there is no him, only moments of bright impact followed by a welling up of soreness. I focus on breathing. I choose random numbers and convert them to base six. List favorite words beginning with P. Anything to keep my mind clear above the pain. Then his arm moves around me again, and stays there, holding my torso rigid and upright as he punches hard, harder, and I am pulled into it wholly. I try to bite back an unmistakably sexual moan, but my mouth won’t close. I let my head fall back against him, eyes closed. “Okay?” he asks. “Fine.” I know it isn’t the same as good, am not sure how much more I can take.
The impact is lighter now, no less pain but the force of it no longer shakes me from wrist to hip. I think I’m approaching a limit, like I’m surfing a good wave but losing my balance. The point of my scapula burns. It will crack from stress and heat, spill marrow, burst shards through skin. The sounds coming from my mouth are cracked already. His fist moves, not far, from infraspinatous fascia to teres major. I lean back into it and for a moment the fist-is-pain-is-shoulder bites down hard enough that I forget to breathe, only for the length of a hiccup, only until the next blow forces air out and I remember to bring more in after it.
He pulls me back against him. I hear song instead of beat, see objects instead of images. I relax. Sit up straight, rotate my shoulder to feel the damage. He flexes his hand, offers water, talks in low tones. I press the fingers of my left hand under my shoulder blade, twist my body to provide resistance. I hear a frown in his voice. “You okay?”
“Yeah. There’s a crunchy spot.”
“Like a knot?”
“Here?” Two knuckles, pressed against the knot.
“There.” He hits the spot, hard, precise, I don’t know how many times. When I rotate that shoulder again, it moves more smoothly.
A day later he sees a picture of the bruises, looking small and innocuous on top of muscles too sore to carry a purse without wincing. I get a message: “Note to self: SAP gloves and kicking next time…”