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Devotional 1. Midnight

Just as I am falling asleep the phone rings. I do not turn on the light, but lean over and lift the receiver.

The calls no longer frighten me. No one I love is dying. Or, everyone I love is dying, and so am I. But that is not why he is calling.

Once in the morning I found the receiver next to my head on the pillow.

He speaks to me in a low voice. He asks questions I cannot remember any more than I can remember my answers. And would I tell you? What good would it do you to know what he asks of me? Would you understand why I wake with glazed thighs?

But you are curious. I can tell you are thinking of questions to ask me. I see your eyes half closed like a cat in the sun. Your relentless questions thumb me until I am sore.

2. Beginner

Cara pulled her car into the spot next to the shiny black Mercedes sedan. She does not remember his face, and she wonders if she ever dared look him in the eye. On that day he wore an overcoat and carried a large dark gym bag.

She unlocked her car door as he approached. She repeated to herself like a mantra, “Stay in public...stay in public...stay in public.” She’d told herself that the diner parking lot was public enough, but when he got into the car beside her, she wished she’d insisted on meeting him inside.

She clutched the steering wheel with both hands. The car key was in her pocket, her purse on the floor near her door. Richard, he’d said his name was, held the gym bag in his lap.

“I thought you’d like to see these,” he said. He told Cara she would have to pay close attention. He reached into the bag. He pulled things out one by one and told her how they would use them. He spoke slowly, His voice was velvet and Velcro.

She remembers seeing on that first afternoon leather restraints, a dildo, condoms for the dildo, latex gloves, a leather mask, a funnel with a hose at its end, and a new bright red ball gag.

He explained to her again about the safe word. She wondered aloud how she would use a safe word with the ball gag in her mouth. He did not answer. He told her she must choose a safe word.

She chose “devotional.”

3. Hot Wax

A candle flickers on a shelf above the counter in the dimly lit room. A pot sits on a one-burner hot plate. The room smells like honey. Wearing a short white terry-cloth sarong, I stand barefoot next to the bed. I am waiting for Desirée.

She opens the door just wide enough to slip through and glances at a slip of paper she holds in her hand. I lie on the table and watch as she plunges a flat piece of wood through the crust on the hot wax in the pot and stirs. I have listened to Desirée as her marriage fell to pieces, and her revenge for having received my sympathy continues to play itself out in this small room. “Half-leg wax, bikini wax,” she says, “you go away with boyfriend for weekend?”

Before I must answer she continues, “Next time you get Brazilian wax.” Desiree smiles knowingly, “men love Brazilian.”

“Like doctor,” she said the first time that I opened my legs wide so she could spread the hot wax. She leaned forward, adding, “I see so much... I see nothing.”

As she tucks tissues into the crotch of my panties she tells me that one of her clients came in and told her to take all her hair off. Desirée says, “Her husband want it like little girl.” She pauses. “What you think of that?” Her voice is soft.

She pulls the leg elastic up and inward, and has me hold the cloth in place while she paints my bikini line and pubis with hot wax. When the wax hardens, she pulls it off, ripping out my hair by its roots.

She does this more than once. Each time the soothing warmth of the wax, then a flash of pain, sharp as thousands of hot needles. I have come to anticipate the pain. It fades slowly. Desiree powders me with talc as though I am a baby.

“You perfect now. Smooth. You go away with boyfriend for weekend.” Desirée does not ask me now.

“Thank you.” I say to her, for tonight I will talk with you. I will tell you all of this: How coated with hot wax I think of you as the heat enters my body. How I lie perfectly still waiting for the pain. Tonight on the telephone I will offer you my pain, my devotional.

4. Don’t

The last thing Cara remembered saying was, “Don’t.” But because it was not her safe word, the people who stood over her did not stop. They continued using her until each one had finished, and by that time Cara had lost consciousness.

Nothing like that is supposed to happen, of course.

Using the safe word is part of the ritual, but Cara’s master, D., should have been looking after her. In fact, he was looking after her, and in his judgment he was providing her with an experience of sublime surrender, yielding to his will, and through him to his friends. Her submission to them was another form of her service to him. And when they were satisfied, they left him alone with her. It was a matter of respect that was his due.

Mistakes will happen. To be sure, this scene was a mistake.

Even when Cara lay silent, limp, her master was not alarmed. He took a certain pride in his training. That Cara had endured rather than using her safe word, he saw as a tribute to himself. If Cara had known him in other circumstances, she would, perhaps, have realized that his personality was not suited to assuming responsibility for another’s well-being, for another’s pleasure. He was too selfish, too arrogantly self-absorbed to pay the necessary close attention to his slave.

And he did not appreciate Cara.

She came to him already trained, through Stephen who was a friend of Alan, who was a friend of Marta, who was a friend of Richard who had first fastened the collar on Cara’s neck. She had passed through their hands, being prepared, made ready for the next person she would serve.

She lay, her hands in bound behind her back, naked except for the black leather restraints on her wrists and ankles, and, of, course, the collar.

Her dark hair stuck to her body, wet with perspiration, tears, semen and saliva. D. stood over her. He prodded her abdomen with his boot. And then again harder. He would not have called it a kick. And again, an expression of distaste distorting his features. Cara lay on her back, her head tilted, her mouth slightly open. Her lips were pale now, a spot of dried blood where her lip was split.

D. took an ice cube in his hand and glided it over her nipples, which rose, puckering, as he made slow circles. Even unconscious she could serve his desire. Her eyelids fluttered open. He came slowly into focus, and she spoke only one word, “Devotional.”

5. The Collar

Cara walked down the set of steps and opened the door. Her pocket was stuffed with cash. . She’d done her homework and looked online, leaving, she knew, an electronic trail, but as with breadcrumbs she’d been unable to retrace her steps, to return home. Or perhaps she’d returned home changed by what she’d seen. Still, she didn’t want to use her charge card or a check here. Paying in cash meant shame. Shame was good. She wore it like a collar.

These days she dressed without looking in the mirror. No one else knew all the secrets she knew, and she could not meet her own eyes. In the world she laughed, answered the phone easily, bought skinny latte grande at Starbucks and joked with the barriste. In the world she was safe, had the illusion of being safe. Only occasionally did she meet someone who looked at her in the singular way she had come to recognize.

Only at home was she enslaved. Daily. And that is what brought her here. She had not been to a party in months. Ever since D. had left, the door shuddering when it slammed behind him, she had been without a Master. She did not seek a replacement for him any more than she had sought him. He had merely appeared as the others had appeared only when she was prepared for them and for her service. None had been as exacting as her Mistress.

No jangling bell announced her presence in the store. Here she was surrounded by the things she had seen for the first time in Richard’s car and later come to know: ball gags, dildos, leather, masks, the softest leather restraints, and collars. Richard had been her first teacher. After him there had been others. Each had been increasingly strict, more able to subdue her rebellion. The latest, most strict was D. When D. left, he took the collar with him. “You are not worthy to wear it,” he had hissed as he removed it from her bent neck as she stood before him, sobbing. Later she would not know if her grief was for him or for her lost service.

She hated living without a proper Master. But she refused to answer ads. When the calls came inviting her to parties, the first few times she explained that D. had gone. And then the calls stopped. She wondered who D. had sitting on the floor at his feet now. It didn’t matter. It only mattered that for some unbearable weeks she had wandered free, like a feral cat aching to be tamed. And so she yielded to the Mistress who now ruled her from the moment she entered what should have been her sanctuary until the time she escaped into the street and safety.

And it was to serve her that she was buying the collar. With the modest gestures to which she had become accustomed, she pointed to the collar in the case. The sales girl suggested a day-glow plastic dildo, which she swore was almost indistinguishable from the real thing. She took the neon green object from the case and held it up, bent it, held it out. “Touch it,” she said, Cara obeyed. “Basic. No motor. Natural, huh?” Cara had others, better, she thought, at home, but she fished into her pocket and pulled out more bills. The sales girl flashed a conspiratorial smile, and gave her both the collar and a new dildo still in its plastic case.

At home she washed the dildo with soap and water, held it up to the light. It was the color of a pitcher of lime Kool Aid in the sun. She tossed it onto the bed. It made a soft thud as it landed.

Cara showered, prepared herself as she’d been taught for an evening of service. It was no less than her Mistress required, but without the collar she had been unable to serve her properly. Now all was ready. Wearing a bath towel like a sarong, Cara stood in front of the mirror. Now her gaze met her own. She fastened the collar around her neck, which was still damp from the shower. That was a mistake. The collar would certainly chafe. But it was too late.

She stared at herself. The new collar was stiff, but she wore it as though she had always been encircled by its safety. The D rings gleamed in the lamplight. Cara hooked her thumbs into the towel, and with a single simple gesture she stood naked in front of the mirror. She stared into the mirror, wondering at her daring. “I am here to serve you, Mistress,” she said.

She would not need the lubricant. Within minutes her cries of passion filled the room. After nearly an hour of increasingly intense spasms, limbs flailing, she murmured her safe word and lay at last still. Had you been there you would have heard as I did, “Devotional.”

(c) 2004 Miriam N. Kotzin. "Devotional" was published in Absinthe Literary Review, in October 2006.