In which two jealous tyrants are taken down just one notch
I met Lisa the week before I enslaved Patrick. Mike and I were a technical writing staff of two, faced with the task of turning out fourteen manuals in four months. It was more than we could handle, so Lisa was brought on as a temporary hire to lighten our load.
A year younger than me, pushing forty, Lisa looked sometimes like a twenty-year-old in granny glasses and sometimes like a sweet little old lady, but somehow she never looked forty. For seventeen years she’d been exploring the North American continent and acquainting herself with its people, supporting herself as a freelance writer. She’d turned out a steady stream of magazine articles about the places she visited, the people she met, even the more unusual episodes of her love life. Occasionally she’d stopped long enough to do some work for hire—a family history commissioned by a Mississippi matriarch, an undercover investigation for a Tennessee newspaper—but she always wound up on the road again.
She had friends everywhere, but those to whom she was closest were a couple in Texas—Nancy and Dan. It was they who had received her mail year after year while she was traveling and read it to her over the phone; it was they who handled her bank deposits; it was in their precinct she’d been voting, usually by absentee ballot, since leaving her parents’ home in Idaho.
She had no quarrel with her parents—she used her friends’ address mainly to avoid paying state income tax—but she’d been back home only four times in twelve years because whenever her folks got the opportunity, they preached marriage to her. They didn’t condemn her lifestyle as sinful, or harangue her about the dangers of the road, but they were always warning her she’d wind up a lonely old woman with no one to care for her. She liked the way she was living and didn’t want to hear it.
Then, shortly before we met, Lisa realized that sometimes, when she looked in the mirror, she saw a little old granny lady. Suddenly her parents’ warnings took on new meaning. She panicked, falling into the common fear that age would soon make her unattractive, even to men whose experience and maturity were commensurate with her own. She decided to find a husband before it was too late.
Silicon Valley seemed the ideal place to look. Lisa valued intelligence and wanted that quality in a man. She aimed to get it by shopping computer companies; the computer industry is known for the mental prowess of its workers. She expected to support herself during the search by picking up short-term writing assignments with the very companies she intended to shop. Efficient.
During the four months Lisa and I worked together, she added me to her extensive network of friends; she did an impressive job on the manuals, especially considering she’d never done that kind of writing before; and she made the intimate acquaintance of five of my male colleagues (not Mike—he was already married). None of the men suited her and she moved on to another project with another company.
I stayed in touch with her. Every couple of weeks we’d have dinner together or go hiking, sometimes with Patrick, and she’d describe the progress of her search. Her second writing stint didn’t turn up anyone promising, nor her third, but her fourth did.
The company specialized in computer security. They sold consulting services and they built hardware and software for data encryption and access authentication—the stuff that makes your PIN work in the ATM while keeping it secret from the crew inside the bank.
Jason was one of their senior analysts. He designed data security algorithms and he went out on consulting assignments.
Lisa’s relationship with him began with a bang: a whole weekend—unplanned—of lovemaking, cuddling and intimate self-disclosure. By the time I saw her the following Tuesday evening, she was in love. From what she said, Jason was too.
Jason, forty-two, had high ideals of what marriage ought to be. He believed in commitment, loyalty and fidelity. He had been married once before, for twenty-five months, to a woman twelve years his junior. The marriage had ended in divorce two years earlier. His ex, whose name he never spoke, hadn’t lived up to his standards.
He married Miss Ex because he was in love and she seemed to be too. On that basis alone, he assumed everything would be perfect. He was open and honest with her, and he allowed her to handle their finances, figuring that if she used his working hours to manage the logistics of the household, they’d be able to spend all his free time enjoying one another.
Before marriage, Jason had no debts except his mortgage. His accounting was meticulous, but he handled money casually. He had plenty, so when he wanted something, he bought it with a credit card, then paid the bills in full when they arrived. Right after they married, he and Miss Ex opened a joint checking account with a starting balance of eight thousand dollars, almost all of it contributed by Jason. Another twenty-six hundred went in by direct deposit every two weeks when he was paid.
He told Lisa that though the marriage seemed to be going well, there were signs that something was wrong. He didn’t describe them, but he said they were so obvious, he was a fool to ignore them. Still, ignore them he did. He let Miss Ex fool him until he came down with lymphogranuloma venerium. Even then, he ignored the initial lesion and sought treatment only when the lymph nodes in his groin became tender and inflamed.
Once his doctor explained what was wrong, he could no longer pretend everything was perfect. Miss Ex had been unfaithful to him, and she’d been lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to pick up a sexually transmitted disease without developing symptoms. He investigated the best he could without alerting her. Their checking account balance was nine hundred dollars and their credit card debt exceeded twenty-one thousand, with two payments overdue. Most of the money seemed to have been spent on cocaine. Miss Ex was involved in at least five separate affairs, and coke figured in all of them. She was fucking two men who supplied her, apparently getting a small discount in return, and she was fucking three other men she found attractive, each time sharing a few lines at her own expense to ensure their continued interest.
When Jason’s investigation was complete, he closed all the credit accounts to which Miss Ex had access, closed the joint checking account, and opened an account in his own name. Then he filed for divorce.
The confrontation that followed was ugly in the extreme, as was the subsequent litigation. Through clever maneuvering, her lawyer got Miss Ex almost as much in the divorce as she had already stolen, but at least when it was over, Jason was rid of her.
By exercising unaccustomed frugality, he dug himself out of debt quickly; the last of it had been paid off two months before Lisa met him. He still dreamed of a happy marriage, but he’d picked up a heavy dose of cynicism and regarded it as a good thing. He was determined never again to be victimized.
Lisa, hoping to persuade him that she was the One, said she had always expected that when she was married, she would pay her own way as an equal partner.
“By living on the road? with a man in every town? And I’d just be the guy you slept with between trips?”
She was so happy he was talking about marrying her, so sorry about the betrayal he’d suffered at the hands of Miss Ex, that she overlooked the undeserved hostility. She assured him she wanted a traditional monogamous marriage as much as he.
He told her his sexual history. It was what one would expect, given his age—perhaps a bit more extensive in that it included a year-long experiment in communal living, back when he was twenty-four.
Difficult to reconcile with such an old-fashioned view of marriage, Lisa thought, but he seemed so sensitive on the subject, she didn’t dare question or comment. Instead she drew her own inference—that Jason’s accumulated experience and observation had gradually led him to the conviction that monogamy is the only way. It was what she believed too, with a convert’s zeal.
She had already told Jason she’d been moderately promiscuous on the road, and she interpreted his recitation of his own history as a request for the details. She started to oblige, but he interrupted her and said he preferred not to know.
Monday morning he left on a two-day consulting trip and “should be landing in San Jose right about now,” she said. They already had a date for the following evening and Lisa was looking forward to spending the night with him.
I next heard from her at four the following Saturday afternoon. Patrick and I were cuddling, exhausted, when she rang the phone and said she needed to talk. She sounded depressed, so I consulted with Patrick and we agreed that he’d nap while I tended to Lisa, whom I then arranged to meet at her apartment. I showered quickly, dressed, grabbed my helmet, and rode over.
I tried to guess what might be the matter, but it was impossible. Things had gone way to fast the previous weekend. By now, Lisa and Jason might be married and separated. I imagined Lisa, living and loving on the road and wanting her relationships to have some depth. Had she developed the facility of getting all her partners to open up so quickly? Was Jason wondering the same and feeling manipulated?
I parked the motorcycle, trotted to Lisa’s door, and knocked.
“Who’s there?” She still sounded depressed.
She opened the door slowly. Everything about her said doom.
I stepped inside and she closed the door.
“Hi! What’s the trouble?”
“I really screwed it up with Jason.”
“I’m sorry if it’s going badly.”
“I had this idea—I really thought it would turn out good, but I just screwed it up.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
She looked like she didn’t, but she’d asked me over, and it was the end of the world anyway, so she might as well.
“I tied him up.”
It was a promising start, but I couldn’t see how it related to her misery. I waited for more. Three seconds…four seconds…
“And he didn’t like it?” I ventured.
“I’m sorry. I told you I needed to talk, and I’m not. I’ll start at the beginning and maybe it’ll make some sense.”
The beginning was Wednesday evening. Jason took Lisa to dinner as planned, then to bed as she’d hoped. Thursday evening was the same. Lisa would have liked to do it again Friday and stay until Monday, but she had too big a backlog of chores and errands.
“Besides, I had this idea about tying him up. You know…” She studied me as if trying to gauge how far she could trust me, then seemed to remember it was doomsday so it didn’t matter. “I’ve always had these fantasies about tying people up or being tied up myself—sex fantasies. A few times I got to do it, but just a few, because it takes a lot of trust to do that with someone, and I didn’t have the kind of long-term relationships that build that kind of trust. Maybe I could have trusted the guys if I had a regular job and a bunch of friends who saw me every day, but living on the road like that, if someone decided to do a Jack the Ripper on me, it would have been a couple of weeks before Dan and Nancy got worried, and then no one would know where I’d disappeared from, so I had to be real careful.”
“You could still tie them up, couldn’t you?”
“I didn’t want to ask. They had as much reason to be scared as I did, with all the serial killers running around, and I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. Besides, then they could say they wanted to tie me up, and it’d be hard to say no.
“Anyway, I thought Jason would go for it. What I was hoping was that when he thought about it later, it’d sink in that I can be trusted—not just to tie him up, but all those other ways he has trouble with.”
“Sounds reasonable to me!”
“So I figured I’d give him a rest last night so if I did get to tie him up, he’d be horny enough to make love to, even if he was a little apprehensive.”
“Well, we made up that I’d be at his house at eleven and we’d have brunch, and I brought along a bag of stuff for the weekend, including some rope. The first thing we did after brunch was go to bed, and when we were both really turned on, I told him to wait a minute and I got the rope and I said, ‘Guess what I’m going to do!’ And he said, ‘You’re going to spread me out and tie me down?’ And I said yeah.
“So I tied him down. He didn’t try to stop me or anything, so I thought it was okay.”
“Well, when I was done tying him, I kind of got on top of him and tried to kiss him, but he wouldn’t let me. He set his mouth so it was all stiff and he looked at me with this really grim, stony expression. I just had to back off. And then he asked me why it was so important to have him tied up.
“I didn’t know what to say. The best I could do was tell him it wasn’t that I wanted him tied up, but that I wanted to make love to him while he was tied up.”
“Did that help?”
She shook her head and groaned.
“I guess it’s an awfully fine distinction for someone as badly freaked as he was.”
“Oh, it’s no distinction at all. I know that. I was just trying to play spin doctor and it didn’t work.”
“You mean after that?”
“I untied him.”
I looked at her questioningly.
“I was scared I was going to lose him, so I untied him.”
I was tempted to ask her how she knew her spin doctoring had failed, but I didn’t want to be giving her the third degree.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what were you going to do if he hadn’t freaked?”
“Make love to him.”
“Well, let me tell you the kind of thing I do; then you can see if we’re on the same wavelength.”
That seemed to catch her interest, so I went on.
“I like to tie up my boyfriends too—the ones who are into it, anyway. What I usually do is something like this: When I’ve got a guy tied down, the first thing I do is sit on his face and have him eat me. That turns him on and gives me a reasonable degree of satisfaction even if I don’t wind up fucking him. Then I sit next to him, facing his cock, and I tell him I’m going to play with it, say for twenty minutes, and if he can keep himself from coming for that long, I’ll fuck him; but if he can’t, I’ll keep playing with it a whole lot longer than he can stand—you know, most men get real sensitive after they come and they can’t take that.”
“I know how to stimulate a man so he’ll come even if he doesn’t want to, so I go to it, and I tease him about how he’s turning on to me and how he’s going to come even though he knows what’s going to happen. And what that does, is it embarrasses him, and his embarrassment starts turning him on too, all by itself—it just works that way. So it never takes very long to get him off, and then he’s been trying to hold back, so it’s always a big one. And as soon as it starts, I tease him about that—maybe about having me watch, or how embarrassed he must be, or not getting to fuck me, or how I’m going to torture him now—maybe a whole bunch of things together. I even tease him while I’m torturing him.
“What he gets out of it is a really exciting trip that he’ll be fantasizing about for the rest of his life. What I get—well, two things. First I get my femininity affirmed. I prove that he really can’t resist me, and it’s a good feeling. Second, like you said, I build a lot of trust that makes for a really close relationship. Once I’ve done that to a man, he’ll trust me to do it over and over, and he does trust me to know he’s turned on by something so embarrassingly kinky. He has no choice; I do know it, and he has to adjust. When he does, he’ll trust me with anything.”
“If I were to just tie him up and make love to him quietly—you know, let him close his eyes and slip off into his own world—he’d wind up fantasizing the same thing anyway, except then I wouldn’t be part of it because it’d all be in his head. Maybe his fantasy would be a little different—like he’s been abducted by aliens and they’re experimenting on him and they make him come—but there’d be something about losing control and being embarrassed about it.”
My dissertation seemed to revive Lisa considerably, and she answered in her own voice rather than the one she’d borrowed at the funeral parlor.
“The times I let guys tie me up, that’s just the kind of fantasies I had. And when I tied them up—well, I did let them go off into their own world, and I stayed in mine, having fantasies about doing the kind of thing you just described. I guess I was going to do the same thing with Jason—enjoy my fantasies while he enjoyed his. I hadn’t thought about making the fantasy real. The main thing was to show him I wasn’t going to hurt him.”
“Well, you did show him that, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t hurt him, but he acted like it didn’t make any difference. He made me feel I was doing something really bad.”
“But he does know you didn’t hurt him, and he knows you care how he feels even when he can’t do anything about it.”
“I don’t think that even crossed his mind. He just seemed so disappointed in me.”
“What happened after you untied him?”
“He said if I’d discussed it with him beforehand, he could have gotten into it. I thought we had discussed it, but I was too upset to say so. I got dressed and asked him if I could come back later. I told him I’d be back at seven.”
“He didn’t say anything else while you were getting dressed and ready to leave?”
“I don’t think he wants to lose you any more than you want to lose him. He’s probably worrying whether you’re really coming back. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”
“You really think so?”
“Well, yeah! People don’t just fall in love for a week and then snap out of it. Sure, he wants to control your relationship, especially after what happened with his ex—men are like that even under the best of circumstances—so when you tied him up, he got worried that you were taking control and he did what he had to, to stop you. But he can’t mean to reject you forever; he just wants you to worry about it.”
She breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief. “I hope so.”
When Lisa returned to Jason that evening, he was indeed happy to see her. He comforted her and admitted that, as I’d expected, he’d been worried she might not come back. They fucked and assured one another of their continued love, then stayed together until Monday morning.
Three weeks later she moved in with him. By way of preparation, she went through her clips and got rid of the ones that described her sexual adventures. She was afraid Jason would react badly if he found them. She didn’t give them to me for safekeeping, or send them to Nancy and Dan, even though all three of us had seen them. She threw them out.
When her stint with Jason’s employer was done, she paid a visit to the local animal shelter and adopted a dog—a gray female mutt about fourteen inches high with an irregular white spot on one side of its back. She named it Blotch. Though she hadn’t consulted Jason, he didn’t mind at all. He didn’t even suggest a doghouse. Blotch became a permanent member of the household.
Lisa convinced herself that the dog had to be cared for, so she didn’t look for any more consulting assignments; instead she went back to freelancing. She thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t. The road had been a mother lode of material that never tapped out. Jason and Blotch weren’t good for even one article—not an article anyone would publish. She found herself having to compete as one of many competent but dull writers in a buyer’s market, scrounging for the occasional idea that hadn’t yet been done quite to death and trying to make it seem interesting to a gauntlet of editors who knew better. By sheer perseverance, she snared a few assignments: a piece on the Winchester Mystery House; another on computer fraud, slanted toward women without technical knowledge; a third describing the garlic farms of Gilroy. It wasn’t much. After figuring costs for research and postage, she was barely clearing two hundred dollars a month. But at least she wasn’t doing what Miss Ex had done, and Jason seemed pleased even though she came nowhere near paying her own way.
About once a week, I’d call Lisa from work just to chat. If Jason was going to be out of town on a night I was free, I’d try to arrange dinner. Over one such dinner, when the future of her writing career looked particularly bleak—before she’d sold the piece on the Winchester Mystery House—she sadly described the limitations imposed on her by Blotch. She couldn’t do field research that took her away from home for more than a few hours, she couldn’t ask people for interviews and expect them to let her bring a dog, and if she never sold another article, she couldn’t take a job.
I was tempted to point out that millions of dog owners live normal lives, thousands live enhanced lives because their dogs serve as eyes or defensive weapons, and only four had been reduced to prisoners like her, but I thought better of it. I could see that the dog’s whole purpose was the shrinkage of Lisa’s world, and I feared that if I made an issue of it, I might never see her again. I didn’t want that to happen, partly because I liked Lisa and partly because I was fascinated by her continuing story in much the way one might be fascinated by a train wreck. I hastily negotiated a compromise and asked why she’d adopted the dog to begin with.
“I always wanted one.”
Having moved around so much for so long, and having grown accustomed to relying on her friends in Texas, Lisa at first made no effort to give Jason’s address to her correspondents. Most of her mail was still delivered to Nancy and Dan, who would open it, telephone her if they found anything urgent, repackage it (even the junk), and forward it with impressive dispatch. This bothered Jason. He felt that by allowing Nancy and Dan to open her mail, Lisa was granting them a degree of intimacy that should be reserved to him alone. He also found their willingness to do all that work, and to pay for the calls and postage besides, incomprehensible in any context save an ongoing sexual relationship.
Lisa assured him that the relationship wasn’t sexual and promised to give her current address to everyone from whom she received mail. She warned him, though, that it might take a while to get Nancy and Dan completely out of the loop because every now and then she got a letter from someone who hadn’t written in years.
He sulked. She Sulked. Eventually they made up.
That’s how it was done between them, over and over—how Lisa’s world disappeared, one piece at a time. Jason never raged at her, never gave her a direct order. He didn’t need to. All he had to do was be reminded of something Miss Ex had done, then suggest that his reminiscence had been triggered, however obliquely, by Lisa. He’d act hurt, he’d act disappointed, and of course Lisa would be hurt too, but in the end it was always she who changed to accommodate him.
Somehow she managed not to feel tyrannized. In the matter of Nancy and Dan, she brought herself round to the belief that it really was inappropriate for them to open her mail. When she’d got herself thus straightened out, she called Nancy and asked her to forward the mail unopened. Nancy agreed and the mail started arriving unopened—even faster than before, because Nancy and Dan could no longer identify low-priority items with any certainty. A month later, just to be sure, Lisa filed a change-of-address order with the Postal Service.
Much as she wanted to accommodate Jason, she couldn’t make herself believe she was sexually involved with Nancy and Dan. She knew Jason’s suspicion was unreasonable—she hadn’t been out of California since she and Jason met—but she justified his attitude as a natural consequence of what Miss Ex had done to him. She seemed to accept the idea that she was morally obliged to atone for the sins of a coke fiend she had never met—that it was fitting and proper for Jason to punish her for her predecessor’s misdeeds.
To be fair to Jason (and Lisa too), I ought to make it clear that Jason was genuinely in love with Lisa and, except for his occasional fits of paranoia, treated her well. He housed her, fed her, even took her clothes-shopping and seemed to enjoy it. Their lovemaking was always intense and emotional, never perfunctory. They seemed to have only one problem—the ghost of Miss Ex. Whenever Jason found himself in a situation where Miss Ex might stab him in the back, he jumped to the conclusion that Lisa had set him up for the same. At such times, he refused to remember that Lisa loved him. He intentionally forgot that Lisa wanted the best for him and for their relationship. He told himself that because he was even more in love with Lisa than he’d been with Miss Ex, he was that much more likely to overlook signs of incipient betrayal, and he therefore had to be hypervigilant to protect himself from his own proven stupidity. If he hadn’t got mixed up with Miss Ex first, or if he’d decided to give Lisa the benefit of every doubt as he’d given Miss Ex the benefit of every doubt, their relationship would have been truly idyllic.
(Hey! you ask, How do you know so much about what was going on in Jason’s head? I know because he was so stupidly proud of not being stupid anymore, he told her.)
From her side, Lisa didn’t feel like her life was the train wreck I was watching. The shrinkage of her world was so incidental to her relationship with Jason, I doubt she was even conscious of it. She enjoyed the love Jason gave her, the companionship, the attention—and that’s how it was most of the time. Besides, she believed she could atone for the sins of Miss Ex—that if she kept being perfect long enough, Jason’s paranoia would go into remission and he’d learn to trust her. She encouraged herself by noticing little improvements—situations in which he’d overreacted last month but not yesterday. Since my own impression, based on the general flow of Lisa’s stories, was that Jason was getting worse, I suspected that his little improvements represented nothing more than lapses in attention.
After five months in this state of bliss, Lisa and Jason were married. Two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, Dan came between them again. He telephoned to say that a jury summons had arrived for Lisa. The envelope was marked, “DO NOT FORWARD,” so the postman left it with him. He hadn’t opened it, but it was obvious what it was, and he wanted to know what to do with it. He certainly didn’t want the sheriff showing up with a warrant for her arrest and searching the house for her.
Lisa asked him to return the summons with a note saying she’d moved to California more than a year ago and giving her new name and address. He said he would.
“Who was that?” Jason asked.
“Dan. Called to tell me the mailman delivered a jury summons for Lisa Marshall.”
“He opened it?”
“No, he knows what they look like.”
“I thought you told the post office to forward all your mail.”
“I did. He said it was marked, “DO NOT FORWARD.”
“Why didn’t the post office return it?”
“I don’t know.”
“And I thought you told Dan and Nancy to forward your mail even before you told the post office.”
“I asked them to, yes; but Dan was worried that if the summons wasn’t answered, the sheriff would come looking for me, and he doesn’t want his house searched. That happened to a friend of his, when his wife didn’t show up for jury duty because her mother got sick.”
“What’s he got there? a bunch of milk-carton kids chained to the walls?”
She went into a sulk.
When he saw she wasn’t going to answer, he went on.
“Look, I just don’t want those perverts calling.”
She locked herself in the bathroom and he started doing chores. By evening, he was treating her decently and she’d stopped sulking, but the issue hadn’t been resolved.
When she told me the story, I remarked that it was unfair of Jason to hold her responsible for Dan’s calling; after all, she hadn’t made the call.
“I know, but after everything he went through with his ex, I can understand where he’s coming from.”
A few weeks later it was time to renew the insurance and registration on Lisa’s camper van. Jason convinced her it was an unnecessary expense and she wound up selling the van for four hundred dollars, which made it difficult to get around while Jason was at work.
The following month, Jason had to go on a business trip that spanned a weekend, and I took the opportunity to invite Lisa to join me on a hike.
“No, I don’t go anywhere the dog can’t go.”
“We can bring the dog, you know.”
“She’s not used to being out in the wild. I’m afraid she’ll get lost.”
I put it as diplomatically as I could. “It seems to me, it’d be awfully hard to lose a dog.”
“No, I don’t want to take the chance.”
Ah, well… if Jason could imagine a sexual relationship among Lisa, Nancy and Dan across half a continent, he could certainly imagine one between Lisa and me alone in the hills with only Blotch for a chaperone. No sense getting him started! Besides, maybe Lisa’s story wasn’t worth following any further; it was turning downright depressing.
But I didn’t want to give up on her. If I was ready to do that, I might as well try to sell her on female domination. At worst, the result would be the same: I’d never see her again. At best, she would regain some of the freedom she’d had when we first met. I suggested dinner the following Monday and she surprised me by inviting me over and offering to cook.
I arrived at her house at the appointed time and we passed an enjoyable evening fussing over Blotch, devouring an imaginatively seasoned roast chicken, and talking. She described a problem that had arisen between her and Jason with increasing frequency since their marriage: Men initiated conversations with her, and Jason didn’t like it.
Men had always initiated conversations with her. She’d learned to control these interactions while she was still in school, and on the road she’d polished her skill until it was an art. She could avoid unwanted intimacy, and she could manage it easily and gently, without giving offense. She knew how to reject a man’s most urgent advances, and do so repeatedly, yet remain on good terms with him.
As a married woman, she had to reject even those men with whom she would have eagerly jumped into bed in her previous life, but that was easy—as long as Jason wasn’t around. It was Jason who made things difficult. Often a man would chat her up while Jason was watching, and he’d always give her grief about it later, accusing her of encouraging the man’s attentions—sometimes even of making a secret date. He could see that none of the conversations included physical contact, but that didn’t help. Lisa assured him that she never gave anyone her address, phone number or even her name, but that didn’t satisfy him either; indeed he often made it obvious that he didn’t believe her, though without ever quite accusing her of lying.
What he wanted was for Lisa to reject men with such obvious contempt, disdain and hostility that he could see it from whatever distance; nothing gentler would do. But rudeness wasn’t Lisa’s way. It was simply contrary to her nature, and she couldn’t meet Jason’s demands. She explained this to him and tried to assure him that she was quite capable of guarding her chastity without confrontation, but he wouldn’t hear it.
Lisa wanted to keep the conflicts in her marriage to a minimum, so once she became aware of Jason’s problem, she tried to discourage men from approaching by giving them a wide berth and avoiding eye contact. It might have worked but for Blotch. Blotch wanted to meet every human she laid eyes on. Running free, she did—easily. On a leash it was harder; if she wanted to visit someone, she had to pull Lisa along, and Lisa was too big. But if she tugged with all her might, and barked, and wagged her tail, she could get most people to come to her. And since a friendly dog is one of the world’s most effective icebreakers, any man who found Lisa attractive had a perfect excuse to chat. There were also a few men who simply liked Blotch and talked with Lisa only to be polite, but they made Jason as jealous as the others; he couldn’t have told the difference even if he believed such men existed.
It was because of Blotch, too, that Lisa so often looked like she was alone when Jason was nearby. Lisa was active while Jason was sedentary. Often Lisa took Blotch for a walk on their street and Jason watched from the window. When they went to the park, it was Lisa who played with Blotch, running from place to place while Jason sat and read. Trouble brewed as if by ritual, the same way every time. A man, thinking Lisa was unattached, or perhaps not caring, would greet first Blotch, then Lisa. Lisa would exchange a few pleasantries with him, then excuse herself and make her way back to Jason, who would scowl, sulk, and indulge in an assortment of colorful delusions. He would nurse his imagined injuries for hours, advising Lisa what she ought to have done and telling her that her behavior was proof of habitual infidelity. Eventually, exhausted, he would say he was giving up because he loved her and had no choice but to accept her constant betrayals. Later still, they’d tire of sulking, remember that they liked one another, and resume the part of their relationship that kept them together.
What ever could I say to all that? Maybe, That’s men for you! But that isn’t men, just the insecure ones, and it wouldn’t be a helpful response anyway. Let’s see… How utterly tragic! More honest, but still so unhelpful as to be laughable. Jason is a horrible person and he should be shot! Thtpfft!
“Did you ever try tying him up again?”
“Maybe you ought to.”
“It would just be another disaster.”
“You could even turn him into your love slave. Like, put yourself in charge of all your lovemaking so he knows that whatever the two of you do is something you really want. Then when you have sex, he won’t be able to delude himself into thinking you’re just accommodating him so he won’t figure out how much you’re getting from other men.”
“Huh? That went by kind of fast. I think I missed something.”
“It’s something you could do—make Jason your love slave.”
“You start by tying him up, so he finds out how exciting it is when you’re in charge.”
“His paranoid index would go through the roof if I even mentioned that.”
“But the time you tried it, he said he could have got into it if the two of you had discussed it beforehand. And when he said that, you’d already given up, so he had no reason to mention it except that he wanted to keep the possibility open.”
“You’ve been watching too many lawyer shows.”
“Think about it. He wouldn’t have said that without a reason.”
“Maybe he thought tying him up was something I needed and he didn’t want to lose me if it was.”
“If he thought that, he wouldn’t have acted so hostile that you had to untie him right away.”
“Okay, you explain what happened.”
“I think he has fantasies of being tied up, but he’s too paranoid to let it happen. He always needs to be in control. Look at the branch of computing he’s in. Security. Controlling who’s allowed to do what. When he mentioned the possibility of pre-negotiating a bondage scene, it was because his natural self wants to do it, but his paranoid self wants to keep control over it. Now, we both know that’s impossible. He probably knows it too, which is why he never mentioned it again, but I’m sure he has fantasies. Even right now, he might be thinking, If she really loved me, she’d tie me up again.
“That doesn’t mean that if you do, he’ll be any more cooperative; but it does mean you can overcome his resistance and make him enjoy it in spite of himself. Just act confident. Refuse to be guilt-tripped. After a couple of times, he’ll learn he can trust you.”
“How do I get him to cooperate the first time?”
“There are two possibilities. One, you can remind him what he said—that he could get into it if he had a chance to talk about it beforehand—then ask him if he’s ready because you still want to do it. The other is, next time he has one of his fits and you both wind up sulking, make an issue of his distrust and refuse to make love until he lets you tie him up. Tell him it’s the only way he can prove he trusts you. Maybe the best strategy is to try the first, so he knows you’re thinking about it, then if you don’t get anywhere, do the second.”
“And how do I get from there to having him be my love slave?”
I described what I’d done to Patrick, but without saying it was Patrick I’d done it to. She asked the obvious question—why a man would continue to cooperate once he was untied—and I gave her the complete explanation, with three-part harmony.
“It sounds very appealing, very exciting,” she said when I’d finished; “but I don’t see how it’s going to stop him from acting the way he does every time some guy admires Blotch.”
“It won’t, all by itself. You’ll have to use your power over him to forbid it. You tell him you’re not going to have sex with other men, but you’ll talk with them if it suits you, and he’ll have to accept it. Warn him that if he gives you a hard time he’ll be punished—maybe with a period of abstinence, or by being tortured like I described, or having to play with himself while you watch—you’ll be able to figure out the details.
“If he’s like most men, he’ll wind up so in love with you—so addicted to what you do for him—that he won’t be able to leave you even if you are unfaithful. You could bring that right out in the open and tease him about it, then say you’re going to keep your vows anyway, by choice, and it would be decent of him to show his appreciation by leaving off his silly and boorish accusations.”
“Did anyone ever tell you you’re crazy?”
“It’s a different dynamic from what you’re used to with Jason, and you haven’t rehearsed it, but he hasn’t figured out how to respond, either, so you can stay ahead of him and keep him off balance.”
I returned home, typed the evening’s events into my floppy journal, and went to bed. I was just drifting off when the phone rang. It was one of the many incarnations of my old friend Crank. As soon as I answered, he hung up.
By the time I next spoke with Lisa, the call had been relegated to the darkest corner of my memory, but she shed some light on it.
Jason had called her shortly after I left and asked what she’d been doing. She told him I’d been over for dinner and he went into jealousy mode. He seemed to suspect I’d replaced Nancy as Lisa’s lesbian lover and he asked whether I was still there. She said no, but he repeated the question several times during their conversation, in a low-key but needling sort of way.
“You sure you’re alone now?”
“Georgeann’s gone home, eh?”
Oh yeah! I thought, Crank!
I didn’t tell Lisa about his call, but now I knew the reason for it. I was sure Jason would soon arrange my final ejection from Lisa’s world but I didn’t intend to make it easy for him. I gave Lisa another call two weeks later.
“Hi Lisa! It’s George.”
“I can’t talk now. I’m up to my elbows in wet scouring powder and I don’t want it to dry on the tub. Can you call me tomorrow morning about 9:30?”
“Thanks. Talk to you then!”
Strange, I thought.
I called the next morning.
“Hi! It’s George again.”
“Now’s not a good time either. Can you pick me up for lunch today?”
“Anytime. I’ll be here.”
“That’s easy! I’ll aim for 12:45 so we won’t have to fight the crowds.”
“Good! See you then!”
When I drove up, she was sitting on the doorstep. She got up, walked to the car, settled in.
“Hi!” I greeted her.
“Hi. Sorry I sounded so weird when you called, but Jason’s tapped the phone.”
“Yes! Maybe he’s even bugged the whole house.”
“What makes you think that?”
“There’s a locked box in the basement, bolted down in a corner where I’m pretty sure there’s a modular connector for a telephone. At least that’s what I remember seeing there before the box went in.”
“That’s something! Where should we go?”
“Mexican. In the opposite direction from Jason’s office.”
“You know a place?”
“I don’t either—not around here. We could be cruising a long time. Does it have to be Mexican?”
“Jason doesn’t eat Mexican. If anyone hears what we say, I want to be sure they never see me and Jason together.”
“Did you ask Jason about the box?”
“No, I don’t want to escalate his paranoia.”
“Do you know when he installed it?”
“Not exactly. Sometime after you were over to dinner. He must have done the work in little bits, while I was in the shower or out walking Blotch.”
“Could it be something innocent, like a backup of the stuff he’s doing at work or a coin collection or a gun or even some dope?”
“If it were innocent, he wouldn’t have concealed it from me, and he did conceal it. It’s not like it was just an accident that I missed seeing him put it in, because I’m always home. Besides, he doesn’t have anything like a coin collection, and he doesn’t use drugs, and I know where he keeps the backup and the gun.”
“Crazy! What are you going to do?”
“About the box? I don’t know. I do know I want to tie him up and make him my love slave, but I’ll need a lot of moral support along the way.”
“You can count on me for that! I’ll do anything I can!”
“It won’t be easy. I can’t talk to you on the phone.”
“How about I pick you up every Wednesday at 12:45, like today, and we’ll do lunch—at least until you get the tap off your phone. If there’s a week I can’t make it, I’ll call you in the morning and ask you how things are going, and you give me some innocuous answer. Then you ask me the same thing and I’ll give you the same kind of answer. That way you’ll know not to expect me, and Jason will be reassured what boring people we are.”
“I feel a little guilty, asking you for so much.”
“I’ll tell you what! You can repay me by telling me the story of how you enslave Jason. I love stories! You can give me a new installment every week, like a soap opera.”
“There’s a place!—¡Tres Señoritas!”
“Yeah, thanks! I missed it. I was on automatic.”
I parked and we went inside to continue our discussion over lunch.
I asked whether she’d got around to telling Jason she still wanted to tie him up, and she said she had. She’d even reminded him what he said way back when. His answer wasn’t encouraging.
“I guess what I meant was that I can relate to it as a fantasy, but it’s not something I’d want to do in real life….”
He went on, expounding the distinction as though he’d just invented it. When he thought Lisa had been lectured to distraction, he reached for his newspaper.
“I want to tie you up in real life,” she said.
“I couldn’t. I’d be too self-conscious.”
“Of course he’d be too self-conscious!” I said, interrupting Lisa’s narrative. “That’s the whole idea!”
I gave her a crash course in suggestion and encouraged her to raise the issue again.
“Then, when he refuses, tell him, ‘You’ll agree to it eventually.’ Tell him he’ll like it, too. If you have to, tell him that if you get frustrated enough, you’ll refuse to make love with him at all until he agrees. And if he tells you he’ll be too self-conscious, tell him, “Mm-hm! And I’ll get to see just how self-conscious!’ That’ll set him fantasizing!”
Lisa was staring at me. I realized I’d been ranting and decided to ham it up even further.
“Gung ho!” I almost shouted.
She took a quick look around to see what kind of attention I’d attracted, then burst out laughing.
By the following Wednesday, Lisa was on strike.
She had put my advice into practice Friday evening. Jason didn’t agree to be tied up, but Lisa was able to launch a steady barrage of suggestion—just what we’d expected. Sunday they took the dog to the park and some man started feeding it treats out of a bag attached to his wheelchair. Lisa exchanged some idle chatter with him, then led the dog back to Jason, who did his usual.
“He may be paranoid,” I said, sitting with Lisa in Tres Señoritas, “but at least he’s an equal-opportunity paranoid. The wheelchair didn’t make a bit of difference, did it?”
“I sure would like to write that man’s story. His bag is covered with campaign ribbons and medals, and his eyes look like he’s been through about sixty lifetimes. An interview would be worth eight hundred dollars, easy—maybe even a couple of thousand.”
“Did you tell Jason that?”
“Boom! His answer was, ‘And what would he get out of it? You?’ That’s what did it, really. I called him on it. I told him, ‘That’s not a real question. You said that just to hurt me.’”
“Good for you! How did he take it?”
“He pretended not to hear it. He said, ‘Look, I told you before, I don’t want you flirting.’ So I said I told him before, I never flirt. I talk with people sometimes, and half the people in the world are male, so yes, I talk with a man now and then. If I don’t talk with a man for a while, he starts getting suspicious of the women I talk with. But I told him that’s not the point. I said, ‘You said what you did just to hurt me.’
“He said he never says anything just to hurt me, so I repeated his exact words and asked what else he could have meant, and he said the same thing as before—that he doesn’t want me flirting—so we went round again. Then I tried a third time and he snapped—‘Why don’t you just lay off?’ So I said, ‘I’ll lay off as long as you like, but we will have to deal with this eventually. I’m not going to do like usual and pretend everything’s all right when I know you’re trying to hurt me.’ And George, I’ve been as stubborn as I promised. I’ve been sleeping on the sofa for three nights.”
“How does Jason take that?”
“He thinks it’s a big joke. His idea of a good marriage is, we don’t have sex with other people and we don’t look like we might be thinking about it. If we don’t have sex with each other, no problem!—just so we don’t do it with anyone else. If we don’t talk, that’s no problem either. He should have gone to India and married a tree.”
“Did he tell you that’s how he sees it?”
“No, but it’s obvious.”
“Did you tell him that’s how he sees it?”
“About that thing he said to hurt you—and I agree, he did say it just to hurt you—what do you want him to do? It sounds like you want him to admit he said it to hurt you, acknowledge that it was wrong of him, and agree to some rules of decency to protect you from having the same thing happen again. Is that pretty much it?”
“Did you tell Jason that that’s what you want?”
“What could he think I want?”
“Maybe a promiscuity license. And if he admits that what he said was inappropriate, that entitles you to one.”
“Different people have different styles of arguing. Usually they learn them from their parents and never examine them critically. Some people have a rule that says one person is right about everything and the other is wrong about everything. It’s a bad rule, best got rid of, but most people who are attached to it don’t even know they believe it, so they’re stuck.
“Anyway, from Jason’s point of view, the two of you were talking about whether you ought to be promiscuous.—”
“We were talking about an article I could have written.”
“That’s true from your point of view, but Jason is what’s called insanely jealous. That’s not an empty phrase. It means he’s jealous to such a degree that it’s obvious to the casual observer that his perceptions are out of line with reality. But from that insane point of view, you were demanding the right to be promiscuous.”
Lisa looked thoroughly bewildered.
“He didn’t believe you wanted to write an article. He thought it was just an excuse to get some time alone with that man. He probably thought you wanted to have sex with him; but if he didn’t, he thought it was the thin end of the wedge—interview the one man so that when another comes along who really turns you on, the precedent will have been set and you’ll be able to sneak off with him under the pretext of another interview.
“Now add to that the rule that one person has to be completely right and the other has to be completely wrong. If you say he was wrong to interject a remark that was intended to hurt you, it follows that his entire position is wrong and you’re entitled to be promiscuous.”
“But that’s crazy!”
“Precisely. Think about that box in the basement—all the planning that went into it, sneaking it past you, the work of installing it in secret, slinking down there every day or two to find out what you’ve been up to on the telephone. A sane person doesn’t do that. He’s crazy.
“What I think you ought to do is sit him down, tell him it’s okay that he wants you to be faithful, and then explain that you see that attack of his as a completely separate issue—one that needs to be resolved.”
“What good will it do? He’ll only accuse me of infidelity again and say he doesn’t want me flirting.”
“He probably will. When he does, keep your cool. Tell him you understand. Tell him you agree with him—as far as you do agree with him—but don’t tell him where you disagree. Tell him it’s okay that he wants you to be faithful; tell him you know you should be faithful; tell him you have been faithful. Don’t tell him he’s being unreasonable, at least while the matter of the verbal attack is still pending, and certainly don’t tell him you can be trusted to be faithful.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because he has the delusion that you can’t be trusted, and confronting a delusion directly is a strategy that always fails. I learned that from a friend of mine who’s a shrink. I’ve tested it on the few real nuts I’ve met since, and it’s true.
“You might also want to lead him into an examination of his belief that one person is completely right and the other is completely wrong. Maybe he’ll drop it and you’ll be able to settle your differences more easily in the future. Another thing you might want to examine is the idea that arguments can be won. They can’t, you know. It doesn’t matter whether you win and he loses or he wins and you lose; your relationship is that much weaker as a result.
“Then there’s this question of what it means to be married. Does he really believe that forsaking all others is the essence of marriage, and love, honor and cherish is a bunch of empty fluff? It’s possible, but I’d be surprised; and you seem a little bitter about it, so it’d be a good idea for the two of you to talk about it. As the saying goes, It ain’t the things you don’t know, what gets you into trouble; it’s the things you know for sure, what ain’t so.
“There’s a couple more things to think about, that have to do with your offer to tie him up. Like, one of the reasons this dispute may have dragged on so long is that he’s afraid when it’s over, the first thing you’re going to want to do is tie him up. It might help to start your discussion by telling him you miss your normal lovemaking and want to get back to it, but first you need to work out the issue of his verbal abuse. Then he won’t worry that as soon as the problem’s been dealt with, you’re going to do something terrible to him. That approach also helps convince him that you haven’t been getting your sexual needs met somewhere else.
“And one of Jason’s problems with letting you tie him up now is undoubtedly that he’s worried about the box. If the key is hidden, he might be paranoid enough to think you’re going to torture him into telling you where. If he carries it around, which is more likely, he probably thinks the first thing you’re going to do when you tie him up is look for the key and use it.”
“I already know he doesn’t carry it around. I went through his pockets while he was in the shower Thursday and Friday, and tried all the keys. None of them fit.”
“Then it’s hid. It doesn’t really matter.”
“I guess not. Either way, he’ll never let me tie him up.”
“There are a couple of things you can do. One is, you can make a date with him in advance and spend an hour or two beforehand lying in bed reading or watching television—maybe even take the dog for a walk. That way you give him a chance to set up whatever evasion he thinks is necessary—like maybe clear out the box and leave it open—so he won’t have that particular worry. Another way to get around it is take a weekend off and stay in a motel.”
Lisa was wearing a look of utter astonishment. I turned my attention to my plate and we ate in silence for a while. I expected her to say, It takes one to know one, but she didn’t.
“What’s the use of tying him up if there’s nothing I can do about his jealousy?”
“It’s a fun thing to do. You said it’s one of your fantasies, and Jason would probably enjoy it too. That’s enough of a reason right there. Besides, the love slave trip might be one of the few things you can do about his jealousy.”
“But you said he’s convinced I want to be unfaithful, and I shouldn’t confront his delusion.”
“Right! But the love slave trip doesn’t confront his delusion; it bypasses it. First, there’s what I told you last week: Being tied up gets him used to trusting you. Being your love slave gets him used to trusting you. At some point he realizes he’s so much in love that even if you told him you were having an affair, he’d have to accept it.
“But there’s something else, and it has to do with his view of the nature of the sexual experience. Right now, to him, sex means fucking—missionary style—and he assumes that’s what it means to everyone. He sees missionary sex as a transaction in which a man claims possession of a woman, and the woman gets bonded to him as a kind of appendage. If you have a sexual interest in another man, the natural thing for you to do is let him fuck you, and then he’ll be the man who owns you, instead of Jason, and you won’t be able to help but steal Jason’s money to pay for his cocaine—not to mention that you’ll be unspeakably defiled with enemy secretions.
“Okay. You start tying Jason up and eventually you get into the love slave trip, and now your lovemaking is different. You have him eat you; you bring him off by hand; maybe you even make him play with himself while you watch and tease him about it. Sometimes you fuck, but it’s almost always with you on top. Along the way, you let him know that this style of lovemaking suits you a whole lot better. Maybe it doesn’t, really, but you tell him anyway, and you act like it’s true, and he believes you—especially since you tried tying him up so early in your relationship. One of the things you do is play games with him, where he has to control himself and he gets punished when he can’t—like the one where I tell a man that if he can’t keep himself from coming when I play with his cock, I’m going to keep playing with it when he’s drained and it gets all sensitive—and you express lots of enthusiasm for the sense of power you get when he always loses.
“Now when he sees some guy saying hello to your dog, he doesn’t think, That son of a bitch is going to subvert my wife. Instead he thinks, That poor devil! What she’ll do to him if he isn’t careful! Instead of seeing the man as a competitor, he sees him as a potential victim, and it’s hard to be jealous of a victim. He might even develop a degree of pride in your sexual power, so if some man is really attracted to you, you’d be able to tie him up and play my favorite control game with him, and then brag to Jason that you tortured him so severely, he’ll never want to see you again.”
“You are crazy!”
“Sure! How else could I understand Jason so well without ever having met him?”
When I saw Lisa a week later, she and Jason had gone back to their ordinary ways and fucked a couple of times in the missionary position. Lisa had resumed her program of teasing suggestion and Jason had had one more fit of jealousy; mercifully it didn’t drag on. We had a pleasant, wide-ranging talk, concentrating mostly on communication styles, hidden assumptions, and the negotiation of ground rules for discussion.
Six days later, about two o’clock Tuesday afternoon, Lisa called me at work.
“Hello, this is Georgeann.”
“Hi! It’s Lisa. Got a few minutes?”
“Lisa! I didn’t expect to be hearing from you. How are you? What’s happening?”
“I found the key and opened the box and the phone isn’t tapped, so I figured I’d invite you to dinner this evening and tell you how it went when Jason let me tie him up. I can pick up some comestibles at the shopping center; I want to walk over there anyway to make a copy of the key.”
“Is Jason out of town?”
“Yes, he left yesterday and he’s coming back tomorrow evening.”
“What was in the box?”
“Yeah. A dozen boxes of .38 Special, fifty rounds to a box. Nothing exotic—just what he’d normally load in his gun. Oh, yeah!—there is a phone connecter inside, but nothing’s plugged into it.”
“Is that a lot of ammunition?”
Considering how much he shoots, I guess so, but not a shocking amount. Maybe it was on sale.”
On sale? I thought. Maybe in rural Idaho or Texas or some of the other places she used to hang out, but this is Silicon Valley.
“I guess it’s possible. I do want to hear your story. What time should I be over?”
“How about seven? That’ll give me time to walk both ways and cook just about everything.”
“Great! I’ll be there. See you then!”
About six, while I was running a stack of paper through the copy machine, it hit me.
“Hey!” I said, when Lisa and I had greeted one another and Blotch was reasonably calm again, “I figured out what the ammunition is for.”
“It’s to justify the box.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It’s like this: Jason decides he wants to spy on your phone calls, so he finds an out-of-the-way phone outlet, builds a lockbox around it, puts some recording equipment inside, and whenever it’s convenient, he changes the tape and listens to what he’s got—on the way to work, maybe in his office, I don’t know. Then you start talking about tying him up, and he gets worried it’s because you’ve noticed the box and you want to find out what’s inside, but he has just enough grip on reality to know that that’s probably not the reason. He hopes you’re going to lose interest, but you don’t, and when he sees he’s going to have to let you do it, he buys a bunch of ammunition, gets rid of the recording equipment, and puts the ammunition in its place. No loss there—he’s been listening to nothing for three weeks, and by now he doesn’t even expect to hear anything. Now if you ask him what’s in the box, he can tell you ammunition; and if you ask where the key is, he can tell you that; and if you open the box, you’ll see he’s telling the truth. And since he’s so security-minded, it’ll make sense that if he had that much ammunition, he’d want to lock it away so it doesn’t blow up if the house catches fire, or fall into the wrong hands. The only thing wrong is that if his purpose was really to secure the ammunition, he wouldn’t have built the box around a telephone outlet; he would have taken care to leave it accessible.”
“Come to think of it, when I opened the box I wouldn’t have seen that outlet, except I remembered it was there, so I moved the ammunition to look for it. I’m starting to see what you mean about having to be crazy to understand him.”
Over dinner, Lisa told me the story of her weekend with Jason. They hadn’t fucked since Tuesday, so he was horny and tried initiating sex Friday night. Lisa told him she was going to tie him up—he wasn’t going to get into her any other way. They discussed it at length, and he made several attempts to guilt-trip her into giving up again, but she wouldn’t crumble and he seemed to understand he’d have to go along. When he chose to go to sleep rather than let her tie him up right then, she decided I’d been right about his wanting to protect the box, so she gave him plenty of room on Saturday, staying as far from the basement as possible to let him make whatever preparations he needed.
In the middle of the afternoon, she was sitting in her workspace next door to their bedroom, trying to write a short story. (“I know I’m a little old to be learning such a difficult craft,” she’d told me the previous Wednesday, “but I’ve got plenty of material just because I’m so old. No research.”) For two hours the disc player had been shuffling through Jason’s collection of albums by his favorite pop sex goddess, presumably getting him in the mood while drowning out the sounds of his subterranean skullduggery. Finally she heard his footsteps nearby. She turned to greet him just as he entered the room.
“Come to bed?” he asked.
“Want me to tie you up?”
“No, but if you really must, I’ll let you.”
She led him into the bedroom, had him strip, tied his wrists to the legs of the bed.
She undressed, lay on him, kissed him. It went better than the first time; at least he didn’t set his mouth.
“I want you to lick me before I fuck you.”
“I do that even when you don’t tie me up.”
“I know. It’s still what I want.”
She sat on his face and he ate her. He seemed to get into it, same as always—watching her turn on, watching her come. When she decided it was time to fuck, he was ready. She impaled herself on his cock, leaned forward, kissed him.
He looked skeptical, apprehensive.
“Don’t worry. It’s only me, and I love you.”
She kissed him again.
“We’ll see how you like this.”
“I already told you.”
“Not how you say you like it, how you really like it. I’ll know. If it doesn’t work for us, we won’t do it anymore, but if you come like the big bang, I’m going to make love to you like this every chance I get.”
She started thrusting her hips, slowly, looking into his eyes, sometimes kissing him. He kept so still, she knew he was trying to resist, but it was no use. The chemistry between them was too strong, her pussy too insistent, his embarrassment too exciting. Soon he was making rasping sounds, his face contorted with lust. Seeing him like that, knowing it was all her doing, made her come. She kept fucking him, riding from one orgasm to the next, until at last he let loose a kind of wail, lifted his hips off the bed, pushed all the way into her, spurted. She sat up on him, pressing him down on the bed, and went to work on his nipples with her fingers. He wailed again and his hips bucked convulsively, making her come once more.
“Untie me!” he gasped, even before the spasms of their orgasm had fully subsided. “Please!”
She did. Immediately. As soon as his right hand was free, he started tearing at the knot binding his left wrist.
When she’d untied the lower ends of both bonds, she asked, “Are you okay?”
“That’s too scary. I don’t want to do it anymore.”
She lay down next to him and waited while he finished untying his wrists.
“How are you now?”
“Of course you’ll live, silly. Would you like to snuggle?”
They did. His heart was beating way too fast. She waited some more.
“That was the big bang! I’ve never felt you come like that. Thanks for letting me be part of it. It was beautiful.”
“It was scary.”
“I can’t explain it.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“No I won’t. I want us to make love like normal people, not like the psychopaths I read about in the newspaper.”
“Psychopaths don’t make love. Maybe they go through the motions, but they don’t feel what we do. That’s what makes them psychopaths.”
He lay quiet for a moment, then held her tight.
“I love you,” he said. His voice was shaking.
“Trust me too?”
“I’m doing the best I can.”
“I know. It’s okay. I love you.”
I offered Lisa my congratulations on the great start she’d made, and on the brilliant way she’d lured Jason into struggling to control his responses without threatening him beyond his severely limited tolerance. What she’d done was take the common-sense approach to any new experience (try it once, then do it again only if you like it) and reframe it as a control game (if this makes you come really hard, you’re going to have to let me do more of it). It was so obvious that the game was nothing more than a rewording of the common-sense approach to any new experience, Jason couldn’t reasonably object. If he freaked, Lisa could simply point out that what she’d told him is the common-sense approach to any new experience, no more menacing than, Taste this sliver of cake, and if you like it, I’ll give you more.
When he cooperated, Lisa accomplished three things. First, she got Jason used to control games. On subsequent occasions, both the control required and the consequences of failure could be escalated until the games were like mine or worse. Second, when Jason started losing control, he couldn’t help but be embarrassed. His embarrassment fed his arousal, and he fell into the Loop. The Loop is addictive, so when he was horny again, he’d want more. Third, Jason’s attempt at control was just successful enough that he didn’t come until his sexual tension had built to where his orgasm was truly overwhelming. As Lisa had warned when she set up the game, the intensity of his orgasm would later justify her insistence on tying him up again. And though he didn’t realize it while he was still so shaken, he’d soon find himself craving orgasms of that intensity. To get them, he’d have to give Lisa control of his sexuality.
I myself had never thought of manufacturing a control game out of nothing at all. I would have dismissed the possibility on the grounds that no man could take such a game seriously. Jason, though, was so frightened of losing control that he did take it seriously—at least on an emotional level, which is where it really matters. Lisa chose the game perfectly. At that point in their relationship, Jason couldn’t handle the threat of a significant penalty for losing; a heavier game might have left him unable to trust Lisa further.
I also told Lisa how wise she’d been to refrain from discussing their future lovemaking while Jason was satiated. Negotiations would go much better when he was horny and he’d spent some time fantasizing the pleasures of being dominated. Lisa told me that indeed they hadn’t discussed it further until the eve of Jason’s departure.
Sunday had been a good day for them. A persistent drizzle kept Jason indoors while Lisa took the dog on a series of brisk walks around the neighborhood, undisturbed by admirers.
When they went to bed, Jason started into his mating ritual. Lisa cooperated until he moved to climb on top of her.
“I really ought to tie you up again.”
“No! I don’t like it!”
“Yes you do. I saw how it made you come and I’m going to keep doing it. I can be very stubborn.”
“I don’t want to argue. I’m not going to see you for three days. Can’t we make love normally? Talk about your need for perversion when I get back?”
“No! I don’t like making love normally!”
“You seemed to, for over a year.”
“I love you, and you raised such a ruckus the first time I tied you up, I thought you really didn’t like it, so I reconciled myself to giving it up so I could have you. Now I know you do like it, but you just don’t want to admit it. Since we both like it, I’m going to see that we do it. I like it much better than missionary sex.”
While he was still trying to figure out what to say, she wrestled her way on top of him. “I’ll tell you what. We’ll pretend you’re tied up this time. We’ll do it for real when you get back from your trip.” She held his forearms against the bed and kissed him.
She had to release him to get his cock into her, but she pinned him down—pretended to, anyway—all through their fuck. She could see he had mixed emotions, at least until he came; then he was blown away again—not like when he’d been tied down, but definitely second place.
Lisa was more determined than ever to make Jason her slave. It would take time and effort, she knew, but it was worth it. She really preferred the kind of lovemaking they’d got into over the weekend; her enthusiasm wasn’t just put on for Jason’s benefit. Besides, she needed a handle on his jealousy.
We agreed there was no further need for me to pick her up for lunch on Wednesdays; we could go back to talking on the phone. Neither of us expected Jason to bug the line again, but Lisa planned to check the box every morning.
Over the next few months, Lisa steadily increased her sexual control over Jason, raising the stakes of their games and teasing him incessantly. He became hopelessly addicted.
She didn’t try to deal with his jealousy until her control was solid. Then she told him that what he’d been doing was unacceptable and warned him he’d be punished unless he stopped. He said he still didn’t like her flirting, but he promised he’d try to control himself. He knew what Lisa could do and how much he needed her, so he felt he had no choice.
At first he didn’t succeed very well. Whenever he witnessed one of her inconsequential little encounters, he managed to convince himself there was something so outrageous about it, something so different from any interaction he’d observed before, that it justified an exception to his resolve. Lisa never agreed, and Jason wound up taking a great deal of punishment. Forced abstinence seemed to hurt him the most; Jason had changed radically since the days when he didn’t care if Lisa spent three nights sleeping in the living room. When he couldn’t have her, he became so desperate, he’d beg just to be allowed to lick her pussy.
Despite the punishment, Jason’s thinking didn’t seem to be changing in the way I’d so optimistically predicted, so Lisa decided to give it a nudge. On the particular day she chose, their car had been first in line to use a section of road narrowed to a single lane by repaving, and Jason was having a fit because the flagman had struck up a conversation with Lisa.
“What are you worried about?” she asked. “Do you think he’s going to invite me to tie him up, and I’ll decide I like torturing him better than you?”
He was so impressed, he stopped talking and thought about it (she knew him well enough to tell the difference between thinking and sulking). Then, over the next few weeks, his displays of jealousy decreased in intensity. He didn’t really make an honest effort to eliminate them; what he did was figure out just how much displeasure he could express without being punished. When Lisa talked with another man, he’d go exactly that far and no further. Lisa knew what he was doing, but she left the threshold where it was; she figured he needed a safety valve and she preferred not to be punishing him.
I wish I could report an equally happy resolution to the matter of Lisa’s incredible shrinking world, but I can’t. Even though she’d told me about most of the individual cuts, Lisa never acknowledged that her world had in fact been shrunk—perhaps not even to herself. I always felt the subject was taboo, so I never mentioned it. When last I saw her, more than a year after Jason’s enslavement, her world was only slightly larger than it had been the day before he tapped the phone.
The dog continued to hold her prisoner. She wouldn’t leave it home alone for more than four hours, she wouldn’t let anyone else watch it, and the places she wouldn’t take it were coincidentally the places Jason never wanted her to go.
On the plus side, Jason had bought a new car and Lisa had been assertive enough to express her displeasure with the hardships she’d endured since selling the camper van. She asked him not to trade his old one, but instead hold on to it for her use. He agreed. He kept it filled with gas too. And to be sure she never ran out, he looked at the odometer every day or two. Whenever he noticed that it had been driven more than a couple of miles, he questioned her, so she never forgot how crazy he was. Still, emergency trips to the store were no longer difficult and she was able to use the public library. Once she even met me for lunch near my office.
She didn’t go back to writing magazine articles even though the car would have made research easier; instead she continued her experiments with the short story and eventually sold a couple. Her writing kept her busy and she was happy to be published again, but her income barely covered supplies. Though she’d never expected to wind up being supported by a husband, she wasn’t unhappy with the way things had turned out, and Jason seemed to prefer it too. She probably never would have said anything about expecting to pay her own way, except that she always had, and she thought it was what Jason wanted to hear at the beginning of their relationship.
Once I got brave and asked her whether she still had any contact with Nancy and Dan.
“Not in a long time,” she said. “I’ve been neglecting them terribly.”
Lisa’s power over Jason was great indeed, but she used it sparingly, only for things that were really important to her. She knew—wrongly and preconsciously, I suspect—that her marriage depended on her willingness to live in a shrunken world. And she adapted. She insisted on her own style of communication, but she accepted the necessity of dropping all her friends and making no new ones. She insisted on having access to a car, but she accepted the severe limits Jason placed on its use, even convincing herself that his odometer inspections were nothing worse than an endearing quirk.
Could Lisa have regained the freedom she’d enjoyed at thirty without losing Jason? Probably most of it, but I don’t think she wanted to. The only credible explanation for Lisa’s train wreck is that her life was scripted, much as Ralph’s was. If she lived to forty, she was required to marry into a shrunken world, and she recognized Jason as well-suited to the complementary role. There turned out to be a few burrs in the fit, and Lisa used the techniques of female domination to file them down. I count this among my vicarious successes, but I wish I could have freed Lisa from her script rather than just helping smooth the burrs. Unfortunately that’s not what she wanted, and I certainly wasn’t going to take it upon myself to force freedom down her throat.
Kathie, another woman with a jealous husband, was something else. I’d met her a decade earlier, when I took a job with the company she worked for. During my first week, I saw her only in passing—a lanky figure, six foot two, large hands and feet, long straight hair, pretty face, no makeup, faint scars; T-shirts, faded jeans, work boots, a tool kit hanging from a men’s wide leather belt. Her only concession to convention was an unneeded bra.
I asked about her and learned that she was the person who kept all the office equipment running—computers, printers, copiers, everything. The company had a lot of it for those days, and Kathie was something of a legend. Most of the machines were intended to work together, and there had been a time when almost none of them would even work separately. They’d been bought from different vendors, and every service call turned into a finger-pointing contest; it took days to get anything fixed, and the repairs didn’t last. Kathie asked for the opportunity to set things right, and the head honcho said yes. Contrary to expectations, she succeeded, and succeeded quickly. Now all the machinery was hers, and she took care of it without help.
On Tuesday of my second week, a few minutes after eleven, my office mate headed for the men’s room as was his custom. Kathie walked in ten seconds behind him and closed the door.
“Do you party?”
“I smoke grass when I get the chance, but that’s about all.”
“That’s what I got. You want to go out at lunchtime and catch a buzz?”
“Sure! Just come get me when you’re ready.”
And so we became drinking buddies, with an improvement on the drinking. We’d go out two or three times a week, pick up sandwiches and sodas, then drive someplace where no one could see us (Kathie knew a dozen good hideouts near the office) and eat our sandwiches, smoke a couple of joints, and drink the sodas. When we’d been out about fifty minutes, we’d drive back to the office and resume our duties. Every couple of weeks I’d buy an ounce from her. I used most of it with Matt and our friends, but I carried one joint back to work each day so I could share it with Kathie and not be a mooch.
As we ate and smoked, week after week, Kathie told me about the world in which she lived—a world completely alien to me. I picked up quite an education, and it struck me more than odd—spiritually significant, I’ve often thought—that the reason all this fascinating knowledge came my way was that I was in the habit of wearing jeans and T-shirts, and “looked like I party.”
Kathie grew up fighting on the streets of Philadelphia and fled west by thumb at the age of seventeen, living on money she’d made selling dope. Her first week in San Francisco, she met Rick, then twenty-two, also a dope dealer. She became his live-in lover the same day. Rick had a day job in a home-improvement chain store, and many of the people who bought drugs from him lived in Silicon Valley, so when the chain opened a new store here, he applied for a position as manager of the automotive department and got it. He moved south, taking Kathie, whom he had wed five months earlier, and their three-month-old son, Sean.
They settled in the sort of seedy area where endless comings and goings would be well tolerated. Kathie, who hated pretense and saw it everywhere, was comfortable there and got along well with her new neighbors. A few of them seemed trustworthy and were willing to take care of Sean for a reasonable fee, so Kathie decided to get a job. She figured office work would bring her in contact with people who needed a reliable source of dope, and indeed it did. She also found that she enjoyed the novelty of getting a paycheck. By the time we met, though, her main reason for working was that she liked the responsibility.
She’d started out doing clerical work, but it was too easy for her and she got through it so fast that she was always left with spare time, which she contrived to spend with the techies. There was always at least one who was willing to teach her some of his skills and jargon, and she wound up learning a great deal about the workings of small computers and other office machinery.
After changing jobs a few times, mainly to expand her drug clientele, she found her niche, and there she intended to stay. She could dress and act as she pleased, and she was convinced that no other company would have her unless she agreed to become a phony.
Over the years—Sean was nine now—Rick had become increasingly jealous. He suspected and hated every man with whom Kathie worked. He had never met one, but no matter. It was a class war thing, really—the same hostility Kathie felt toward women who wore conventional business attire—but it was stronger, and it came out as jealousy vented in Kathie’s direction. It was a royal pain (in Kathie’s words), especially since she wasn’t at all inclined to stray and Rick had no evidence on which to base his suspicions.
Over lunch she would tell me the stories. I remember one that said it all: Kathie was in the habit of showering before work. Almost every morning, Rick would come into the bathroom and say something like, “Get your pussy all scrubbed up, now, so you’ll be all nice and sweet for Jim and Brian and Sergei. You got a big day of whoring coming up.” In the evening, he’d follow up with more of the same.
It was crude, it was ugly, it was pointless. Unlike Jason, Rick never hinted that Kathie might pacify him by doing things differently. He was insecure, and he was going to take it out on Kathie, and that’s all there was to it.
In response to Kathie’s complaints, I offered first sympathy, then my usual prescription. Though I knew less about female domination at thirty than at forty, I taught Kathie more than Lisa, simply because Kathie and I spent so much time together. Kathie usually listened with interest, interjecting questions and comments that reflected a high degree of understanding, but sometimes she became irritated by the suspicion that my techniques were based on an affectation of femininity rather than on femininity itself. Affectation was anathema to her. I did my best to dispel her discomfort, but it returned from time to time, and even when she was most at ease with my advice, she seemed disinclined to take it.
Kathie might have tolerated Rick’s abuse forever, but she got word he was having an affair with a woman at the store, name of Carol. The rumor was, Rick and Carol were getting together whenever they could, but they had a standing date for Wednesday evenings. Kathie believed it. Rick had been out every Wednesday for three months. He’d accounted for the time by saying he was delivering drugs, and indeed he might have been, but not for as many hours as he was gone.
The next Wednesday evening, Kathie came home to Sean and fixed three hamburgers. Kathie and Sean started on two, and Rick arrived while they were still eating and had the other. As soon as they were done, Sean left to visit a friend; then Rick undressed and went into the shower. When he came out, he handed Kathie her evening ration of abuse.
“You have fun with the jokers at work? Get yourself knocked up yet?”
While he was rummaging for clean clothes, Kathie came up behind him, reached her right hand between his legs, and grabbed him by the testicles. She squeezed just a little.
“Real slow now, walk over to the bed. And don’t even think about getting loose.”
When he got to the bed, she changed hands so she was holding him from the front. Then, to be sure, she brought her right hand around so she had one testicle in each hand.
“Okay, turn around and sit down.”
He did. She knelt on the floor between his legs.
“Now move back so you’re lying down. Keep going till your head is all the way to the edge of the bed.”
She liked the way he followed her orders. Even more, she liked not having to take his usual sarcasm.
“Good!” she said when he’d complied.
He was lying on his back with his legs apart, knees bent, feet flat on the bed with his toes at the edge. She was kneeling on the floor between his legs, a hand wrapped around each testicle.
“Put your pillow under your head. I want you to look at me when I talk to you.”
“I’m sick of taking all your shit! Your balls are mine, and they’re going to be mine! And you’re going to show me some respect! Am I right?”
“All the way, Kathie! Sure!”
“You’re going to stop accusing me of screwing around at work. Is that right?”
“I didn’t accuse you. I just asked, because I know everybody wants you and I get worried.”
She tightened her grip.
“Aagh! Okay, I’ll stop!”
She released the pressure.
“And you’re going to be my sex slave, too, aren’t you? And do everything I say.”
“Good! You can start by jerking off! Right now!”
“I can’t! Not with you holding on to me like this!”
She squeezed hard. He doubled over on his side with a loud scream, kicking her in the head. She didn’t let it bother her, or so she said.
“I’ll squeeze ’em till they pop, you fuckin’ bastard! You do everything I say, or your voice is going to be higher than mine!”
“Okay,” he whimpered.
She relaxed her grip again.
“Now, slow! Get back like you were! I’ll give you a minute to catch your breath ’cause I’m such a nice person—but no more shit or I’ll fix you good!”
He rolled onto his back. She waited until he’d relaxed as much as he was going to.
“Here, I’ll even get you started.”
She leaned over and took his cock in her mouth, using her tongue to stimulate the head. When she was satisfied with the result, she let go.
“Even like this, you can’t help turning on to me. Get started before I do something that hurts!”
He did it.
“Embarrassing, isn’t it?” she teased as he came.
When it was over he cried.
“I’m going to let you go, but don’t try anything or you’ll really be sorry! Don’t ever talk to me like you’ve been, either, or think you’re going to get out of being my sex slave, because if you do, you’re going to get hurt real bad! Understand?”
“I didn’t mean nothin’,” he sobbed.
She let go and he turned on his side with his knees drawn up, still crying. She went out.
When she returned, he was gone; Sean was back. After a few minutes, the boy went to bed; then she did. Still later, Rick came in, lay down next to her, and fell asleep.
The next morning was like any other, except there was none of Rick’s usual sarcasm.
“Weren’t you worried what he might do later?” I asked.
“No, he knows I can handle him. Back when Sean was in first grade he tried something. Got mad and hit me. Well, there was this lamp? on the table? made out of clay? with a lampshade?”
“Well, I picked it up and broke it over his head. Yeah. Blood everywhere. Then I drove him to the emergency room to get sewed up. That’s the last time he ever tried anything.”
“Yeah, I got three inches on him too. I’ll be okay.”
The following Saturday afternoon, Sean went out with his friends, leaving Kathie and Rick alone. She sneaked up on him again and caught him in a hammerlock, then fastened his hands behind him with a pair of handcuffs she’d borrowed.
“What do you want? I didn’t do nothin’,” he whined.
“You’re still my sex slave, remember?”
“I like when you can’t help turning on to me, so I’m going to make it happen again.”
“I wouldn’t have tried to stop you. What do you need the handcuffs for?”
“Oh, I think you would have tried to stop me. Because I’m going to lay you down and fuck you, and if you come before I say, I’m going to shave off all the hair you’ve got, from your waist to your knees.”
She backed him up to the bed and pushed him down. He started crying again. She could imagine why, but she didn’t say anything. She worked his jeans off, then got undressed, ate him until he was hard, and fucked him. I’d told her what to expect, but she was still surprised by the intensity of his orgasm.
“I really move you, huh? Maybe it’s even worth losing your hair for.”
She climbed off him and got a pot of warm water, some shaving cream, a couple of disposable razors, a towel and a washcloth; then she cleaned him up and shaved him. Finally she rolled him over and undid the handcuffs. She felt bad about the bruises—she hadn’t thought about that—but she knew that what she’d done was necessary.
During the following week, she heard that Rick and Carol had had a couple of big fights and broken up. Rick seemed distracted for a while, but continued to treat Kathie respectfully.
In no time at all, their sexual relationship settled back to its former tedium. Kathie never again reminded Rick that he was her slave, nor did she tease him anymore. She acted as if nothing had happened, and so did he. It makes sense, in a way. Kathie was never really comfortable with sexual intimacy. She tried my techniques only because they promised to end Rick’s affair and stop his abuse. When that had been accomplished, Kathie’s new role became a liability. A dominatrix has to talk to her slave, especially about sex, and Kathie didn’t want to do that. She wanted a relationship in which sex would just happen—quietly, mechanically and without emotion—often enough so she wouldn’t have to think about it. She didn’t want to get horny and be distracted from the things that were important to her, and she certainly didn’t want to fall in love and get pulled into a truly intimate relationship with its attendant risks. Indeed she had many of the attitudes toward marital sex for which men are notorious. Rick had always suited her perfectly, satisfying her physical needs without getting really close, and she intended to let him continue.
The techniques Kathie used during her four-day career as a dominatrix are obviously quite different from mine, and I don’t recommend them. If the average woman were to do what Kathie did, she’d get killed, beat up, or arrested for domestic battery. Kathie’s position was highly unusual. She wasn’t going to get beat up because Rick knew she could outfight him. She wasn’t going to get killed or arrested because Rick was a professional criminal and had fallen into the habit of evaluating every course of action in terms of its potential for attracting the attention of the police. Most men don’t operate under such constraints, and even some who aren’t brutes will turn violent after a stunt like Kathie’s.
But though Kathie’s position was highly unusual, it’s not unique. I’m sure there are other women who can use her techniques, who can succeed with her techniques, who can succeed only with her techniques, who need her techniques. For what it’s worth.
To Chapter 18
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