The muscle at the hinge of his jaw twitches beneath his skin. Only this subtle sign betrays his thoughts as the dinner party’s fatuous host holds forth with unforgivable ignorance on the subject of poverty. From across the over-lit lit dinner table, I try to catch his eye. To give him the sanctuary of my mind. To say, don’t listen, love. Please don’t listen. But I can see it’s too late. He’s too far gone.
The fingers around the stem of his wine glass are misleadingly languid. His expression placid, he lounges casually on the reproduction Chippendale chair. His dark, quiet suit contrasts starkly with the over-decorated rococo carving and the gilt finish of the furniture.
And all I can think, as the crisply uniformed maid brings in the dessert, is that no one around this table is going to pay for his forbearance. Still he hasn’t met my eyes, and now he won’t until it’s all over.
There is only hum of the engine. In the dark interior of the car nothing moves, no one speaks. The glow of the dashboard outlines his face. The tick by his jaw is gone but the expression hasn’t changed. And to the rest of the world, that calm immobility would signal nothing but the demeanor of a gentle, intelligent man. It took me a long time to read it better.
As we round the corner into our quiet street, I slide my hand over his on the gearshift. It’s a gesture born of a time before I knew him. It used to be my futile attempt to derail the train of events to follow. Now it’s an act of absolution.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, slowing down to pull into the drive.
Even before the front door has latched, his grip around my wrist is painful.
“I saw you,” he growls.
I step out of my heels, making a mental inventory of what I’m wearing: what is likely to get damaged beyond repair. The tiles are cool against my stockinged feet.
“Did you?” I say, keeping my voice casual, but even now I can feel the sweet worm of fear. From its nest in my tailbone it begins its inexorable ascent up my spine.
“Don’t play the coy princess with me.” He’s pulling me down the long, dark corridor to his study. “That prick of a lawyer. He was eating you up, and you were loving every minute of it.”
I attempt, and fail, to remember which of the dinner guests he is referring to, but it really doesn’t matter who it was. “Oh, yes. I didn’t think you noticed. Fuck, he was hot. I would have done him right there at the table.”
The study glows in the warm light of the shaded desk lamp. He transfers his hold from my wrist to the back of my neck. Cruel, warm fingers dig into the sides of my throat. Single strands of hair that have come loose over the course of the evening snap as he establishes his grip.
“God, what made you such a fucking whore, Lily?”
I know better than to try and respond to this. It’s a rhetorical question with a null hypothesis. But that doesn’t stop the word from sending blood between my legs and making my labia swell.
“You should have seen the hard on he was sporting when he got up from the table. Oh, you have no idea how it made my mouth water.”
Over the arm of the armchair I go and he pushes my face into the cool leather of the seat cushion.
“You cocksucking slut. Move and you’ll regret it,” he says as he releases my neck. The cool air slides over my ass as he pulls the back of my skirt up over my hips and I feel a sting of disappointment not to feel the impact of his hand. But I don’t get to choose and that’s part of the bargain.
The hinge on the armoire sobs as he opens it. I know he’s surveying his implements, considering each with due care. It isn’t until I hear the sharp cut of air and the dull snap that I realize what he’s chosen. The cane. The fucking evil rattan cane.
I hate the cane.
I love the cane.
I’ll never reconcile the paradox.
My muscles tense in apprehension. My cunt throbs and aches. I tuck my arms beneath my chest and clasp my hands together because I know I’ll instinctively try to shield my ass if I don’t, and a few angry red welts are better than a broken finger.
You think I’m resigned, but I’m not. My heart jumps and races with each whistling thwack as he tests the cane out on the side of his leg. Tears are already pushing through my closed eyes, and the “no” I whisper gets lost in the upholstery.
“You’re never, ever going to learn, are you?”
“No…” My voice louder, cracking, still muffled against the leather.
“Such a bitch in heat. You’d spread your legs for anything with a cock.”
I can hear the rage tainting his voice now. It’s still soft but there’s a cruelty gilding the tone of the words. If I want to stop it, I have to do it now. And this is what you’ll never understand – what even I don’t understand – I never stop him.
Instead I brace myself, my interlaced fingers locked tight, a smile pulling at my cheeks.
“I was born a whore. But I’m your whore.”
“Yes, you are,” he breathes out.
And it begins.
The first blow feels like a kiss of white-hot barbed wire. There’s shock and then the pain blooms like fireworks in a dark sky. There’s a second that seems like an eternity between the impact and my ability to scream in response.
We don’t go in for counting, and I’ve never understood how people do. After the third cane my ass is an entire universe of pain. I can’t determine where the blows land and I’m only vaguely aware of how many he’s administered. But the panic has faded. There is only a momentary dread of the next one and the exquisite blanket of stillness that slides over me after I scream.
Very slowly, my body goes limp. My cramped fingers relax. When I stop screaming and the huge gulping sobs take over, he stops. Perhaps because he loves my pain but not my misery. I’m not sure, but I love him for it.
“You’ve got to learn,” he says softly, pulling me upright and laying me down on the carpeted floor.
“You teach me.” The sobs still cluttering up my words and making them mush.
“I will,” he whispers and edges my thighs apart with his knee.
The voice is gentle, but he pulls my arms above my head with one hand while he undoes his trousers with the other. I look up into his face but there isn’t any point, he won’t meet my eyes yet. Not until it’s over.
“I’m going to teach you how to be a good girl.”
The lust that boils up at his words cuts through the hot throb of pain and wool’s stinging burn where my buttocks meet the carpet. Right now all those things are obliterated by an alternate fire. My nipples are tiny coals, burning their way through my bra, my dress. I’m so wet that rivulets of need tickle their way through my slit and begin to soak the wadded mess of my dress beneath me.
“I do want to be good.” My voice is wavering and childlike. If I heard myself speak like this at any other time, I’d check myself into a psychiatric unit, but now – right now – I am something small in the presence of something enormous.
He guides the inflamed head of his cock down my slit, teasing himself. I think it is my obscene wetness that lights the one last fuse of his rage before he forces himself into me with a thrust so brutal I feel the organs in my body shift. My cervix aches and, like key turning the lock on a pair of castle doors, the muscles of my passage contract around him.
“I’ll make you good, Lily. I’ll make you…”
I don’t hear the rest. Not when he takes me this way. All I know is that with each thrust a little of the rage ebbs away. He starts out separate from me and as it goes on the ice, the armor, the hatred melts away until his body covers me, his face is buried in my hair and I come so hard I fear I’ll hurt him.
“Good girl,” he says, lifting his head to gaze down into my eyes. “I’m sorry.”
I try not to picture the tear-stained, mascara smeared face he sees. Instead I draw up my knees, wriggle my arms free of his forgotten prison and forgive him with my hands as I slide them around his neck.
“I love you. Fuck me like you know it.”
And he does.