Archive for the ‘BDSM’ Category

A Splinter of it all at Arkakao

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

So many mornings my natural instinct to rise once I'm awake is simply gone. I don't want to remember what's happened, much less accept reality as it now stands. At least, in sleep, I'm either confused enough to dream him into being, or flatly, blissfully out, unaware. In one such brief pause of unconsciousness this morning came the memory, unbidden and seemingly related to nothing at all, of an odd woman we'd met --or, rather, been forcibly met by-- at a coffee shop in Buenos Aires.

I suppose it's not entirely fair to call it "a" coffee shop; in truth it was a sort of salon de residence, a place so fondly loved as to become something of an extension of our apartments. We discovered it one day on a long stroll through Recoleta --the walks in Argentina's capital afforded double-digit kilometer journeys by foot on the regular, with enough confangled and poorly-designed twists and turns of street and sidewalk to make every pass a little different. It was near a grassy nothing of a neighborhood park approached by a multitude of streets at crazy angles, and for the first few months after it was found I struggled to get us back there, even with a few editions of hand-drawn maps.

But we pressed through, and made the place a regular haunt. It was a gleaming white palace of coffee and confections, particularly ice cream. Buenos Aires being unrivaled in ice cream throughout the world as far as I know1, Arkakao was the top of its class in the city. This, on quality alone, but what really cemented the shop as a favorite was its respect for its own craft and presentation. I do not exaggerate when I say that the vast majority of such offerings in BsAs are shoved into ten square meters of space, or else serve ice cream and coffee only in cheap plastic cups with sporks and a zillion packets of splenda, or else have literally no reception at all, like a wheeled cart that somehow got stuck on the road and opted to pretend itself a cafe.

Arkakao was comfortable, an important point after hours of treading the often rough pavements of the city. The ceilings were high, the windows were large, and a polished gold samovar dominated the room, from which all good things flowed and around which all goodies were arranged. Arriving there felt akin to reaching an illuminated page in a long book; it was a sensual idea tucked into the string of ideas that tied the man and I together as we walked, and talked, and he told me things I'd never known nor known I hadn't, endless twists of mysteries and histories that taxed my imagination and memory more than the walk could ever tax my feet, even though they sometimes bled.

One such evening, halfway through a cup of turkish fig ice cream and cappucino, as he was teaching me about the nature of nuclear explosions with many a scribbled napkin of mine in tow, a woman walking strangle side-to-side approached us with a wide, conspiratorial smile. We looked up from the discussion and acknowledged...nothing in particular, no change in expression, just an inching ever closer and closer to our table --so we left her to her strangeness and went back to our business.

Except she just kept coming, until eventually she was practically part of the table, a standing woman in varicoloured streams of whatever fake silk, the sort of pashmina or katan or whatever garments make up the bizarre fashion vocabularies of the menopausal. On finally being proffered a "Yes?" from the man, she introduced herself, not that I can say I remember her name, and she announced that she'd just had a grandchild, whose name she didn't give. That was why she was so excited, she said, though I would not have been at all surprised if it turned out she'd simply laced her ice cream with valium and confused an alleycat with some new progeny. Then she stepped back, as if to take us in, and said that she was happy for us, because she could tell, "It's gonna be good."

It had been, and it was, and I can feel naught but profound gratitude for every moment I had by his side, under his hand. I can't imagine anyone on this earth has had it half so good as to love and be loved by someone so singularly great, to be wholly owned by someone willing and capable to rip anything and everything out, or to emplace anything desired. Save time, I could not have asked for more. All memories, microcosms of the splendour of life with him: of which this, amidst the chaos and clamour of Buenos Aires, our favorite ice cream shop, its extravagances, and its fortune-telling extrovert, is but one of the uncountable many.

  1. And while perhaps not exhaustively, I do know. []

The Sand Dollar

Thursday, August 26th, 2021

The temperature dials are still set to twenty-two degrees. I wake, breathe, falter, hold in the chaos as though it were filling some invisible but palpable bladder, always on the verge of bursting. I water the flowers --the new and the old, the ones that knew your appreciation and the ones that, like strangers, do not. I force myself to talk to people. The fact comes out of me like water pouring from my mouth: hello, my name is Hannah, my Master just died. In one way or another, everyone knows who I am talking about. Everyone takes a little step back, and puts some platitude between us, though I don't know what else I'd expect. Nothing. Nothing changes.

Nothing changes, and yet everything has. The temperature dials in the car still sit at their appointed twenty-two degrees, but now and then, as if in mechanical refusal to accept reality, the car won't start. I wake, and breathe, and forge, and falter, but beneath the surface of action there is storm, not calm; more questions than absolution. You, Master, are life. How can a single thing dare to go on living?

Some months ago, a stretch of time measured hilariously past when time has, for anything that matters, stopped, we went to the beach. The same beach, one of many times at that same beach, and after seeming ages of that dance with death in the waves, we went for a walk on solid ground. The tide was out, yielding a glistening path on the shore in which tiny geometric rivulets of water coursed to or from the sea, reflecting all the while the peach and dust rose tones of the approaching dusk. Master bent over and picked up a sand dollar: perfect, pristine white, entirely intact, a holy relic for they who search the surf for natural treasures. He'd found so many, and my fellow slave too; but this one he gave to me, and told me to safeguard it. I'd broken the last such specimen in my fist while unthinkingly catching some tossed trinket with the other, some time past, a little shattered testament of my own motor confusions.

I brought it home safely and we talked of how to maybe make a necklace or some other decoration of it. I placed it on my boudoir bureau, on a little purple velvet cloth passed down from my dead grandfather, next to friendly rocks and knick-knacks, the egret statuette where sit my rings, small oil bottles, a cup holding various brushes. And there it sat, for months, until....

I brushed my hair one morning, and replacing the instrument in its woven cup, let go, not fast enough to catch it falling back out and onto the velvet cloth, its tip directly against the sand dollar. As though it had been shot, as though some sniper had expertly found its very center and triggered true, the holy relic broke into thousands of pieces, shards and dust, chunks and granules, irretrivably other than what it had been. I swore at myself and made a fair fuss. Master saw the misfortune and soothed me, let me not think too much of it, though each new time I saw its pieces or picked up my brush I felt a little loss.

I felt a little loss, and then, not much later, came the largest one, the largest loss possible, greater than myself, and all else, by such orders of magnitude I shudder at the mere contemplation: him. I see my life in the ruined sand dollar: irretrievably other than what it had been, recognizable perhaps in pieces but undeniably broken. At the worst of times, I imagine I see him in the ruin, too; but he is as far from shattered as he ever was. His deeds still sing their strength and glory, far past the bounds of my memory and beyond, into the world that somehow dares to keep on spinning --perhaps a mere homage, perhaps no more than medium to bear the testimony of difference: then, when he deigned to walk it, and now, when he does not.

Droning down

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Fear seems a ridiculous concept, and yet I do: fear reality returning to the plastic facsimile it was before we met. I listen to the droning on of the people I've asked to fill my ears with their droning, an attempt to drown out the terrible quiet. The sudden quiet in the absence of your voice, joyous, deliberate. I listen to the droning on and find remarkable how little there is to care about. How little there always was. With you, next to you, under you, everything was interesting --all things, capable of being considered. Discarded quickly, perhaps, or shrugged away, but still a thing under the sun of your gaze, even if for a fleeting moment. I suppose the consideration for all perdures, but the algorithm that's different; the thing itself was examined before, and now, it's the relation to you, or more often, the lack thereof, that's under the lens.

What can I say about someone else's vague story of a house, or the wind, or a mood, some inconsequential scrap, except for what it might've been in your hands? What can I care for anything but where it might have lived in the annals of your life? Nothing means anything without you in it, and so I am so grateful for your presence in everything, everywhere. The exuberance, the willingness of you made all things yours, and so they remain. I realize they, and I, and life itself, cannot return to what they were, and so I need not fear it --but missing the energy you brought to every moment, we are all less vivid. And I long to be washed away.

A few steps.

Friday, August 6th, 2021

Things fall apart, the poet said, before there was what to fall, before the deliverance from sloth and ignorance, homogeneous ruin.

I remember the early days; the miles walked, desperate to keep up with him. His steps, like letters on a rolling printing press, wrote in sidewalk echo the narratives that poured forth from his mouth, his hands, as the world passed beneath his feet. The soft sound of his footfalls stopped now here to smell some roses, now there to point out some crack in the familiar world, a shoddy roof, an accomplished ant trail. Or the toes would turn to me and I would stand before the reprimand; for not knowing my basics, for speaking out of turn; or he'd kiss me with his eyes lit up and open, all space beyond a foot from us receeding into nothing, never, what and wherever.

Across four continents I walked with, for, because of him. His walks made me become myself, because my self was forced into shape in the space between his strides, in the striving to match his pace, the will to follow his lead, in the perception of how beautiful any, every step with him could be. In palaces and through favelas, to tango and manele, noon and midnight, asphalt and jungle, sand and stone, we walked.

I am but one of many, I know, who learned to walk with him. Who learned a deeper love, or, rather, were left with no choice but to learn a deeper love of him through distances in time and space spent covering the world, real and abstract. My odometer gave up long ago, but the memories, I hold still, and know in other hearts and minds who knows how far away fundamentally similar if inescapably distinct memories float on, full of him. There is nothing in the world I should like better than another walk with the man. To walk forever, into the end, together.

Or just once more. Just one more walk.

Three Motes of the Master's Passing

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

I watched a swoop of swallows circle round the mountain tops and jungle outgrowth of the enchanted lands beyond the window. They described a churning vortex in the air, delighting in the current afore a storm, then soared towards nearby skies above the town where so much recent life played out. A funnel of sharp-winged birds, inching gradually west, until at last a final visible few turned some trick and just like that, blinked out of view.

They flew like a turn of phrase. They twirled in fluid zeugmas recalling the joy of structure and diction when blessed by the grace of his hands.

***

Crickets greet the steely blues of falling evening with a filigree of song. Their indistinct orchestra fuzzes out the sound of civilization, groaning, unbearable, where beings play, pretend, or posture towards some semblance of his soul. It cannot be pronounced by them, but here and there, the crickets try, with innocent motivation, sending tiny notes of peace to my ears.

***

"Do you think the geckos will miss us?" he asked that fateful morning, before the sun and all the savage senselessness it had to show us. "What do you mean?" I asked, and he said he thought they noticed when we were gone. I watch them traipse the odd trail along the window panes, cackling questioningly in demonstrative mourn. The newest, perhaps too new to know, patrol ineptly in the crease of ceiling, cocking their tiny heads. Where is the booming sound of his laugh? Where, the benign, the open greeting?

The flowers do not nod, but seem to curl on themselves, abashed at perhaps not being now as beautiful. All that he touched, and saw, or smelled, or bit, I know now measures less, to itself, despite ever having been more than everything else.

Called

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

Around the turn of this year, Mircea Popescu and I wrote a book together: Dangerous. He described it as the greatest challenge of my life at that point, and he was right; just as he was right that it was my greatest joy. He wrote,

"For let it be known and trumpeted across the lands -- this is the life of the slave, the true life of the true slave. You wake one day and you are called, and it's always squarely outside of the reasonable, the reasonably expected, the what you thought might happen."

It was a rare day indeed, in my fifteen years under his hand, that I didn't meet with some new challenge, some task that took me beyond my comfort or natural inclinations (and how often are these things one and the same!). The disruption --difficult, often enough (but not nearly always, especially with time) sensually unpleasant, unwieldy-- grated sometimes more than others, but always required an essential thing: it made me open myself, somehow, in some way, to some degree, whether symbolically or literally or otherwise1.

On a Halloween's evening one year, we went out to a self-proclaimed costume party populated by some sort of theatre coven, where a selection of the more artfully attired were gathered on a stage. We watched for a few minutes as they went about their awkwardly-organized attempt at a contest, with voting and all, until MP grew sufficiently bored, and simply picked the most interesting of the girls there arrayed and told me to go ask her if she'd like to come out for coffee and cheesecake with us. "...you mean, when they're done?" "No, I mean now." I hesitated --a frequent fault, forever capable of some measure of harm and no measure of good and yet so often at the ready anyway. "Go on, who cares about their derpy show or whatever it is. Ask her." That feeling of opening pinpricked its way down my limbs as I walked directly across their stage in the middle of their presentation to have an apparently private conversation with the girl, who was standing next to her boyfriend, even. It could have been humiliating; that's what the ego wanted to believe just before it was forced to act, anyway. But it wasn't. All it did was make me more capable: of doing, for him, of answering, to myself, of confronting, others.

Soon after moving to Romania, and while I yet could speak hardly more than a few standard phrases, he pointed me to a certain radio station that played nothing but recitations of hymns. "Pick one," he said, "and write it down." "But I don't know what they're saying!" "Just write down the words you hear," he said. I knew only English, then. Lacking the mental gardens of language, I couldn't even really muster a verbal grid on which to fit the sounds that seemed to come in endless flurries of syllabic chaos, a deranged sort of musical scale: "sa la re na fa ma ca guh shtu fuh le me re deu meu zeu". I tried, more than once, to apologize out of it; clearly I wasn't good enough yet for this task, look how ridiculous, surely he wants me to stop now and be ashamed? "The whole thing." It stung like alcohol poured on a fresh cut that expected only a tentative, split-second dab, but then it stopped, and he laughed and he laughed, and as I recall he even telephoned some relations of his and read it to them so as to laugh with them at me, together. And the vulnerability cast me deeper in love, his control of the space within me, his to laugh at even, intoxicating.

I had a dream, once, that my master said: "Go and document all the water". And my panic was two-fold; on the one hand, for the difficulty in finding a way to even frame the project. On the other, the absolute knowledge that in any case, it must be done. Asleep or awake, in a day's work or in those tasks he gave me that took months or years to carry out, the ways that the man called me inexorably made me, make me, who I am.

And so as I rail against whatever medium will let me --the sky, the sea, the floor, the smiles of strangers who don't know, the watered eyes of those close to me who do-- pressing or cleaving or trying to extract from them what, what, what possible way could I have to meet what I'm called to do now, to witness his death, to exist in the world without him, I am compelled to remember that one essential thing: to make myself open. It's neither pin-prick nor sharp-sting, but a feeling more cutting, deeper and sicker and unbearably strong than anything I'd ever imagined before. It's so far outside of what I thought might happen that I find myself truly doubting it every other second, then reliving it the next. But I am here, and I will let it do what it will, to let it shape me or maim me or kill me or whatever besides, because it is what I have been called to do, and there is nothing else.

  1. I suppose, otherwise as in metasyntactically? Heh. []

Five days after the end of the world

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

Motto: "It all feels like the same scummy scuzzy sludge of drudgery."

Leaving the house, the candles blown out, the dogs approach but sense our sadness and turn, panting towards more living things. For we must count with the alive, and yet, we're not; not quite, ghost processes with all the bells and whistles of life but no real vigor. The town is robed in fog or blanched in sun; all the same. The faces, the voices of others grate, melded sameness of not-him, portals to worlds in which he did not tread, and so into which we cannot care to gaze or listen.

Inside our walls some hollow's sturdied up, like wooden rods supporting rag dolls. We muster and step. Muster and step. We make endless lists, holding hopeless tasks, some of which still seem hopeless when the day, whatever that can be, is done --and some of which are conquered. And when, after some hours spent in Master's unmade bed where we dig our faces into the mere visage of sleep, we rise, the realization somehow comes again, anew: life's gone, askew.

We tell each other to keep focus. We push for either to be strong. But the morning comes, and the mourning comes, and the world's now and forever wrong.

Goodnight, sweet Master

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

The greatest man who ever lived died this morning doing one of the things he loved best: playing in the ocean. It was the Pacific, that endless expanse that taught him how to love the sea, where he jumped the waves with his newest slavegirl and retired to epicurean picnics. A gliding threesome of pelicans crested the breaking waves in that spot where he defiantly breathed his last, skimming the water in a final winged salute.

Mircea Popescu did what he loved, did what he knew to be right; these were, almost without exception, the same. Unhesitatingly he gave all of himself to whatever work was at hand, whether it was comfortable or not, whether it came naturally or not, whether he knew it could be done or not. The result is that in the history of this earth, an earth not quite enough to serve a man so true, there has never been a greater example of any of the things that he was. A writer, a master, a tactitian; a manager, a cook, even a puppeteer. The work he has left behind is a remarkably vast and inequitably brilliant heritage, even if those left to attempt to appreciate it fall immeasurably short of its worth.

This was the man who took the head of the Romanian Academy to task, who exposed the broken Romanian baccalaureate and actually broke wikileaks, the man who identified countless scams in Bitcoin's nascent turmoil and the creator of its first and only true exchange; the man who forged a republic and when it proved impotent, had the strength to burn it down, the creator of Eulora, the author of more and better books, short stories, prose and poetry than any other who took up the pen. He touched essence and distilled it, and often in multiple languages. He did not merely gleam, he was resplenduminous, and at every point where his indomitable mind sparked against the medium of life, he left eternal fires in word and deed.

The world, indeed, was not enough, though he had it. Few and far between were the ones devoted and stalwart enough to let the man shape them with his many hammers. So very many tried, yet fell, and did not get to meet the unabashed glory of his love. For his love was the purest of miracles, capable of bringing beautiful things into being just as it was capable of razing them to utter destruction. It was only a force of nature itself that could have claimed him, and the rip tide that did was a furious exemplar in a place famous for dangerous waters. Dangerous, but fantastic; how he could possibly have found more suitable a place and a means to die is utter mystery.

But this most poetic death, mimicing the butterflies' final flight over the ocean of which he was so fond, came so soon on the line of his life as to render it the worst of all thefts. His life was robbed by the water, and the world entirely robbed of its light.

I do not need to record for you all that Mircea Popescu did and was, lists and rooms and great halls full of works that span subject and style and yet never fail to be excellent, because by his very nature he proclaimed it; loudly, freely, amply. That nature will ring out for all time.

From his work, 'Stop all the clocks (again)'

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent each dog from barking with your own hip bone.
Break all the strings, drill out the tuba and with muffled drums
Bring out the coffin, set ablaze the slums.

Let halves of aeroplanes turn overhead
Their smoking, broken cockpits dripping "He Is Dead",
Put dark crepe bows through every single feather of each single dove,
Gift each policeman one black velvet glove.

No further want for stars, go put them out ;
No roundness left for Moon, the Sun we'll do without.
Go pour the ocean in a cup and let it be misunderstood
After today, nothing can come to any good.

There can no further be such thing as song
I thought that love would last for ever. I was wrong.
It's time to swallow caltrops and wash them down with bleach
There's scarcely any further point to speech.

The sea you see was gloomly cried in place,
There used to be much sweeter water in that space.
The eagle's flight is broken and all geometric figures shattered
There's nothing left in place of all that ever mattered.

And so goodbye, there's nothing left except the time to die.

I'm not from there but it's where I was born

Friday, April 9th, 2021

The little apartment was set in the village of Giroc; a tiny, dusty, and thoroughly alien enclave possessing, at the end of a long poplar-lined road that connected it to the city, a single, pell-mell grocery store, and a rusted bus stop. The trees were uniformly coated with whitewash to two feet of their trunks. Their branches were uniformly pruned back with a severe hand, leaving little, it seemed, for the poor plants to work with. Heavy dust from the fields nearby joined with the constant autumnal chimney smoke to make the atmosphere thick and fragrant, and the sun in the afternoons was a ruddy blanket filtering redly over the rooftops.

On my first day I was taken to the house of the landlords, on the large property that sat behind the little cluster of efficiency apartments. The woman of the house ran it: kitchen, children, expenses, renters, conversation. Her husband receeded into the background like an overstuffed piece of furniture, while his parents, superlatively wrinkled, superlatively silver and white, tried with gummy smiles and incomprehensible interjections to goad me to speech. I could understand neither them nor the landlady, of course, nor my master, who spoke to them loudly, and apparently with great hilarity. They laughed often, and I tried to match my face to theirs --why, I do not know. Later I was scolded for not talking. I was told that people would think there was something wrong with me if I didn't "join in". I wondered how I was expected to join in a conversation in a language I didn't speak. It was not the first of what would grow to be many guilty confusions, but it was, perhaps, the first time I had felt it so personally, publically. I was quiet and ashamed.

Inside the apartment was a small folding bed, an antique wooden desk with great drawers capable of organizing much more than I had, a stand-alone closet, and two small chairs with a table. A window over the desk looked out onto a desolate strip of dirt and retaining wall, and the view reached over and into the street if one stood up while approaching it. Two identical doors at the far end of the room led to either a tiny bathroom or a tiny kitchen, each with tiny appliances. The shower consisted of a quarter-circle marked off in one corner with a faucet above it; the kitchen held a two-burner camping stove connected to a compressed gas can, and a miniature refrigerator.

After introducing me to the main house and walking with me to the small disorganized market --where he bought farmer's cheese, sour cream, bell peppers, and bread--, master spent a few moments with me in my new home, which primarily consisted of showing me how to make sandwiches out of the bought ingredients. I found them strange, randomly composed, but palatable. He left, taking a set of keys with him, and I wrapped myself into my oversized velvet trenchcoat, and willed myself to sleep.

I slept, over the next four days, in strange fits of time unbounded to the light outside, or lack thereof. Near-total silence entombed the place, such that the odd, distant echo of some other tenant's phone call, or the passing of a lonely car down the dead-end road in front of me was eventful. I popped up like a prairie-dog to see if such cars were maybe a taxi, bearing Him. I squinted against the foreign sounds of speech, as though by listening harder I would understand more. There was no internet connection; I had no outlet adapters for my laptop anyway. Disconnected from the world I had left, and with nothing to mindlessly entertain me in a familiar and thus comfortable way, I wandered airy halls of thought that eclipsed the small room I was in. I wondered what would happen, and how long it would take to occur; just-so, wonder without speculation, unspecific. I wondered why I was alone. I wondered what the people I'd left were doing, thinking.

Eventually, somewhere in the marginless soup of days I took out a paper bag-wrapped book my Dad had given me when I graduated high school. It was his journal from the first years of my life, written for and dedicated to me, and after a later childhood pockmarked by his near-total departures from my life, I coveted it. I pored over stories of his arguments with my mother, of his descent into drinking himself sick, of his many attempts to climb out of it. That I could read, in his own hand, his own thoughts, usually so inaccessible behind a wall of appearing well, and that so often, too, his thoughts had been about me --at least for the purposes of the book-- was the most indulgent, gratiating catharsis I could've imagined, then. I read through it several times.

It was almost a week before I saw my master again. He'd wanted to let me catch up on sleep, he said. It felt like a sort of abandonment-by-caring, a strange thing, but then I didn't have all that much time to dwell on it. As the visits came, my ventures out into the alien landscape really began, and intensified. I quickly discovered the scrawled, highly abbreviated schedule written, crossed out, and written over again endless times at the bus station was something I had to memorize. At seemingly random times of the day, my master would command me to meet him in the big town of which Giroc was a tiny satellite, and I'd have to tell him when I'd be taking the bus to get there. The first time he asked, and I didn't know, he had me walk the couple of miles to the station to look. In the time it took me to get there and back I missed the relevant bus trip. I was punished.

At first I took a picture of the schedule. But when he'd ask me when the bus going back was arriving in town as we were walking, my fumbling for the camera and sorting through pictures to find it proved unacceptable. So I wrote it all down on paper, though I transposed some numbers a time or two and finding the folded-up bit in my purse wasn't particularly better than spelunking for the camera. I committed the thing to memory. The departure and arrival times were wildly different from one day to the next for no apparent reason. I struggled, but after days of treating the schedule as the most important thing in my life, I got it down. A week or so later the man announced in town that he was going to come "back home with me", a rare and highly prized event. I told him when the bus would be there to pick us up; ten minutes late, the bus still hadn't come. Another five after that, he told me how disappointing it was that I couldn't handle such a simple thing. He took the pound of cookies we'd bought and turned on his heels, walking away without a goodbye, the typical foreboding cloud of deep trouble to come later on. I rebelled furiously but silently, hot tears immediately washing over my face. But like a miracle, the bus appeared rounding the corner, and I shouted for him, eventually daring to use his name as I waved my arms and pointed to the big yellow savior.

There were other actors in the bizarre stageplay my daily existence had become --at least, on those days when my master came, or called me out, and took me out of the tiny apartment in the hazy orange fields. He had hired a lawyer, for reasons I didn't at all understand, who likewise was responsible for so many tasks that our visits to his office were done multiple times each week. In later years we would become friendly, but during that hard initiation to life, he didn't look at me when we entered his office. He didn't speak to me --in fact, nobody in the office did. I sat off to the side and tried to pick Romanian words out edgewise from the ensuing storm of their conversations. Once in a while I managed to hear an "and", or the polite form of "you" (a blessing of five syllables, making it hard to miss). Or I tied myself in knots attempting to remember the lecture I'd just received on the walk over --these were always expected to be remembered verbatim, and just as often they seemed orders of magnitude beyond my ability to recall for both length and complexity. What I knew best was that I knew nearly nothing, but here were explanations of air insulation, microprocessor fabrication, comparative ethnography, the cellular level of kidney functioning, metaphysical notions of the self. I was spellbound but helpless. Climbing the crumbling, ricketty stairs to the lawyer's office, my eyes would frantically wander over the penciled graffiti and penknife-carved lettering covering the handrails and the walls of each floor's landing, as though somewhere in there I'd find a helpful note, a clue to unlock the mystery, or at least, to lock my memory to it.

Often the lawyer visits were accompanied by trips to the bank. The banks employed women only, from tellers to managers, and they were uniformly overdressed, overperfumed, and unsmiling. One male was allowed --a silver-haired security guard, who looked utterly incapable of confronting a conflict either with deed or word. Here too was a place where none of the staff either talked to or looked at me. Though I was glad of it, the bank being an interminable waiting room in which everything that was done required multiple stacks of paperwork and at least three different kinds of stamps --sometimes from my master himself, which was especially perplexing. At one point, after spending nearly an hour at the bank despite there having been no other customers, I remarked that he sure did seem to buy a lot of boats --for I couldn't imagine what other transaction could possibly require so much paperwork.

More inaccessible and mysterious still than any of these actors was the woman I knew my master was living with. After the tumultuous failed meeting six months before and half a world away, I still did not meet her, or hear much of anything about her. I was ravenously curious, but I kept myself from prying in the hopes that by being civil --a thing I equated mostly with being quiet--, I could encourage an eventual resolution, and maybe even friendship.

Slowly I began venturing outside on my own when the man wasn't taking me out, though I stayed squarely within the confines of Giroc.

I walked the dusty grid of homes that made up the village. A few seemed lived in lovingly; a couple or a few decades old, inaugural painted motif still visible above the garret window, grape vines covering little trellises outside with the early, fresh sort of maturity that only such vines can evoke. The rest of the houses were either so old their patched roofs sagged and caved faster than repairs could be made, piles of bricks, shingles, wooden shutters, and peeled paint gathering at the corners and doorframes, long-established garrisons of weeds daring the trespass of maintenance. Or they were new and awkward, betraying strange geometries that broke the eye and especially the spirit of the village. Their roofs were oddly slanted, their windows narrow and long or round and convex. Everything about them was purposefully mismatched, as though blindly chosen from some catalogue of parts --which is precisely how they were built.

Dotting this admixture of the ancient, the infantile, and the lonely in-betweens were the hobbiest erections, the houses-to-be. Great slabs of gray concrete festooned with rusting rebar jutting angrily in all directions, these buildings were always the most visibly occupied, for there were groups of men climbing them or huddling around the screaming concrete-mixers sitting in their yards. Now and then a bare bulb from such a property sliced through the gloom of my walk's dusk, sharpening the universally creased and consternated faces of the workers and casting inky shadows across the vague dreams of happiness being built there.

The penetrating scent of burning wood pervaded all. The garrish, new homes --like mine-- were fitted with gas heaters, but the rest were warmed by ceramic fireplaces. These churned through massive piles of freshly cut wood stacked on the sides of older houses, and the thick heady smoke threw all of Giroc into a more distant century, in a place further still from civilization.

It was on one such walk that I was first accosted by a local male. Frustrated, perhaps, or maybe merely acting out the social imperative dictated to him by the rest of the place. He was a short man, bald, but not apparently old enough to be so. His shiny, dark brown skin stretched tautly over his face in a permanent collection of smiles. He dressed up by Giroc's standards; his black shoes always glistened, his pants were pressed and bore a razor-sharp crease. I ran into him several times in the village's infinitessimal convenience store, a closet in a small corner house which opened up to the street, where you could buy a piece of candy or cigarettes, or use the much-loved instant coffee machine. Sometimes while on a walk and wishing to warm my hands, or growing bored at the bus stop waiting on a late trip to town, I would duck in for a completely objectionable, chemical cappucino --and often, the man was there, chatting up the unresponsive clerk, or standing just outside and smoking, waiting for someone to show up so he could launch interminable volleys of smalltalk at them.

For me, the smalltalk was useful. It taught me new words without being so advanced as to instantly kill communication. I was embarrassed of myself, of my poor grasp of the language. I blushed and laughed and was interested enough in his banal offerings that I hardly wonder at all whether I gave the wrong impression. One night, walking home from the bus stop, the man asked me over to his house. It was the largest, newest atrocity in the village, a shining, slanted modernist wreck that commanded the awe of the villagers. I declined. He insisted, for coffee, just like at the convenience closet; he had the same brand of cappucino at home, he told me, with a conspiratorial smile. I told him, as I had several times before, that I had a master, and that I couldn't go to other men's houses. He was quiet a moment, then shook his head emphatically and wrinkled his brow while he pantomimed sex with his hands --with one fist he made a hole, and with a clump of stubbly fingers pierced it with the other again and again. "No, no, no," he said as he gesticulated, and then his face brightened again. "Cafea." And his hands flattened and flew to the sides, dismissing their puppet play. When I declined again, he made a gruff little noise somewhere in his throat, and after a moment threw his arm out and grabbed my breast in his hand. He squeezed it frantically for just a second, then turned on his heel and wordlessly walked away towards his home. He never spoke to me again.

My first months in Giroc --almost entirely out of touch with the world I'd grown up in, with a new latitude, a new language, a new relationship, a new purpose-- found their focus not as much in acclimation as in backtracking. Twenty-two years of an American life had persuaded me into a certain slowness of thought and movement, a certain mindless adoption of mores and taboos that I wasn't especially well-equipped to investigate, much less defend. I was embarassed of myself, shy, and yet pretentious; the sort of life that depends on the implicit agreement of the surrounding society to not ask prying questions, and to never suggest unwholesome motivations.

Mortification was an essential ingredient, then, of my delayed coming-of-age. The first party I was taken to --the party's party, some thinly-veiled excuse to drink publically thrown on a docked boat by the local national liberals-- was an introduction to the kind of shedding that would be required to survive, over and over again. I dressed up; it was a thrift-store find I'd gotten somewhere in Ohio, black with red trim stitching, its halter strap and bias-draped skirt vainly hoping towards flamenco. My master came to pick me up. At the threshold of the apartment gate he cut a deep red rose from the vine and put it in my hair. I felt more beautiful and bashful than I could ever recall having felt. We walked, we caught a taxi, we arrived at a haphazard collection of stairs and terraces by the river that lead down to the softly lolling boat. Inside it looked much like any other bar there: a long rectangular room, some smattering of mismatched furniture pressed up against one length, with a tiny desk at one end where beer taps sat poised for duty and real alcohol presumably hid somewhere on an inner-shelf, well-obscured.

There were very few people yet there. My master sat himself on an overstuffed couch near the door, easily the best seat available. I sat next to him; he ordered variously; I asked for rum and cokes throughout the night, against the straight vodka and cognac that constantly replenished on the table. It was October, not quite cold enough for excuses, and yet everyone smoked inside. I happily joined the frenzy, keeping my hands occupied with glass or cigarette, or both.

People came and sat next to us, struck up what seemed like smalltalk. I practiced the few sentences I was learning. I apologized for not being able to understand much. After an hour or more I was sent on another trip to the bar to order drinks. When I returned the question was why I'd just gone to the bar --why wasn't I dancing? In truth, I'd done my best to avoid noticing the handful of people awkwardly foot-shuffling to the stultifying ecclectic mix of old pop duds wafting through the room. It was the least interesting thing going on, and I'd assumed my Master thought the same thing. Not so; he admonished me harshly for not having started dancing as soon as we'd arrived, and told me how disappointed he was that he'd finally had to say something at all. Humiliated, dripping with shame, I stood near our table and willed myself to dance.

It was the empty-hearted, self-aware sort of dancing that betrays deep disenjoyment, and I couldn't fake it better. After a few songs, the man grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me down to him, and pointed out a verbally obnoxious woman I'd thought he didn't like --he told me to watch her, and to dance like her. My humiliation deepened. But I watched, and wondered what it was that made her something to emulate. Nothing was particularly striking, except the sense that she was genuinely enjoying herself, something I knew I couldn't make myself do. I tried. I drank more, I tried to dance with the woman herself, who refused to look at me and eventually walked away. I asked for a break and was denied. I complained that this was the strangest, most awkward social situation I'd ever been in, and to please have mercy on me. I was sent back to dance. Eventually, thoroughly mentally exhausted and not too physically fresh either, I was called in, and made to sit in silence while my master fumed next to me, too disgusted, it seemed, to speak.

We left and he walked me to the taxi station a few miles away, towards Giroc. He wanted to know why I hadn't told him I was so terrible at dancing. He told me I was the worst he'd ever seen. I protested that I'd grown up in dance classes, and had never had a problem before --but that I didn't really listen to that sort of music, nor did I ever try to dance to it, nor did I much enjoy normal people --the sorts of people who went to political party parties in jeans and t-shirts, the sort that made smalltalk. What's more, I didn't understand them and they didn't understand me. Surely these gaps were the problem.

Not so. He insisted the problem was how completely incapable I was of dancing. I protested that I could bellydance; he ordered me to on the spot, in the street. I protested that I had no music --he didn't care, and I couldn't produce anything past my enduring shame and embarrassment. We arrived at the taxi stand and he sent me off with the sort of soul-crushing sendoff that had no embrace, no gentle look, no smile or sweetness or allusion to the future in it. I got home and realized he still had my keys, since I'd given them to him to pocket while I danced, and hadn't asked for them back. It was three o-clock on the morning. I had to wake up my landlady and her family to let me in.

The next morning, the horrors of the night were found far from faded. If anything, they'd put down roots and were now working on foliage and flowers. Over online conversation, my master demanded I make sense of the rift between my terrible performance and my notions of competence. I eventually arrived at the unpleasant realization that I must've been lying to myself, and thus to him, one way or another. The unavoidable truth was that when given the opportunities, I couldn't dance. It didn't matter that I thought I could do better, or ought to have been able to, or that I thought I did at some other time, before. What mattered was that when the time had come to show it, I had nothing to show, and the only possible explanation was something like deception.

The conversation abruptly ended and I knew the man was going to appear. I prostrated myself, naked, on the floor, pointed towards the door, waiting. I was terrified of my realization, confounded by what it might mean. How had I managed to lie when it was the last thing I wanted to do? Why did my intention to be pleasant company and to have fun end up buried in humiliation and failure? Was he going to forgive me? Was I forgivable?

I heard the keys thrust faultlessly into the lock in the plastic door, and then he was in. Tall and swift, like an electric wire in his winter coat, bringing the sweet blue crispness of the autumn cold into the room, he wordlessly whizzed past me and into the kitchen. He retrieved the old plastic soda bottle full of tuica, the local bootleg brandy, from on top of the mini refrigerator, and walked over to my desk and chair, unscrewing the cap. I smelled it. I thought, "He's going to cover me with that stuff and then light a match. He's going to set me on fire, he's going to kill me." Waiting, I don't know how long, kneeling with my wrists and forehead on the floor, my mantra had been "I can get through anything. Any form it takes is fine." And yet...would it be fine if I was drenched in brandy and set on fire? I thought about how I'd look with no hair or eyebrows if he did it and I survived.

"Ahh." He'd taken a drink. He re-capped the bottle. I wasn't going to die. "What the fuck am I going to do with you," he began, and a series of pointed questions and fumbling, unsatisfying replies followed. These exhausted, he stood and tied my ankles together, then my wrists, and knocked me onto my back. He retrieved the long white extension cord I'd been using to keep my computer facing away from the room's window, on the desk. He wound it a few times round, making a bundle of two or three loops. He beat me hard, and yet somehow summarily, on the legs, and on the back when I reeled over as though to escape the hits. He spent what seemed like a long time beating the soles of my feet, screaming at me to shut up when I screamed myself, in pain.

He untied me, and forced my fists into a pair of votive candle holders, binding them to my wrists with several layers of duct tape, rendering them closer to hooves than hands. He put down a dog dish on the floor and filled it with kibbles. He ordered me to eat. I half-chewed, half-gagged the acrid, metallic chunks of dog food, unable to use anything but my mouth to scoop them up. The bowl seemed endless. The more I ate the more I seemed incapable of producing the saliva needed to get it down. He sat at the desk, doing something on the computer, occasionally scolding me to eat faster, reminding me that he didn't have all the time in the world. Nearly done but with a few kibbles still left in the bowl, I began choking on a hair of mine that'd gotten into my mouth. I thrashed and spat and tried to expel it but couldn't, not without hands. I begged for help. My master stood before me, took out his cock, and told me he needed to pee, and ordered me to drink it. I took it into my mouth and tried to swallow the stream fast enough to keep my mouth from overflowing. The strong taste of the urine and the twinging of the still-present hair down my throat repeatedly made me gag, and I asked for a bowl so I could throw up. The man just looked at me. I begged for a bowl. Finally, unable to keep it down, I vomited on the floor, gagging and gasping.

"Eat it," he said, and I both believed him and couldn't believe him at the same time. I was disgusted, and yet somehow the sheer disgustingness of it all soothed over the edge, as though there were nothing capable of making me afraid, or doing me any harm, past this. It took me nearly an hour, but I lapped it up and ate it all, while he watched with a face full of what looked like crystalized disdain. I hadn't noticed, but he had put down a camera when he took his drink of tuica, and had recorded the ordeal in its entirety. When I was done eating my own vomit he replayed the video for me while he fucked me over the chair.

Cold Knocks

Monday, May 4th, 2020

I told him once that I'd always wanted to walk through a city like I owned it; no one on the street, no cars or noise or closed doors.
"I've done that," he said,
"It's easy when you're in a war zone."

The snow that day had no trace of warm tones in it. The sun was smuggling light and heat to and fro somewhere far above the clouds, which reflected the same uncaring blue and gray that were all the banks and blankets of snow had to offer. My legs were already hard and numbing under their thin nylon veil by the time I'd walked the three kilometers to the meeting place, an ugly intersection whose several bus and tram stops marked "The Hammer". I was fifteen minutes early, as was my habit. The time was usually spent preparing my mind for the meeting; sweep off complaints, tidy a few topics, put something interesting to rise in the oven. But there was no oven that day, and the rest of the work was thought through quickly, so I walked a while through the frozen paths that wound around The Hammer's blue-gray concrete apartment blocks.

The meeting time came and went without event. I paced the building's fronts now, eager for a sighting of him. "Any moment now," I told my legs, which insisted on taking more steps, no matter how small, so long as something in them kept moving. "We'll be off in just a moment," I told the rows of pigeons huddling together above the doorways. An hour passed, an absurdity made undeniable in ten minute increments by forlorn references to my phone (which neither rang). Though each minute taxed me, it delighted me all the same with the promise that it couldn't be much longer.

Another hour turned my hope to endurance. I ducked into the decrepit magazin on the corner and pushed myself slowly down each aisle, pretending to consider the junk on offer. It was all TO-CE-HD goods; to be torn open, contents enjoyed, husk discarded, like me. I didn't have what with to pay for any of it, not that I would've wanted it anyway --nor that I'd've been allowed to. I could feel the clerks staring down my suspicious perusal. I made elaborate scripts of finding some (nonexistent) text on my phone, rushing out to meet the sender, not finding them, and going back into the store. But this only worked, inasmuch as it did, a couple of times. Eventually the hostile atmosphere was worse than the biting cold outside.

I traced the snow-capped tramlines two blocks, always circling the focal intersection. My parabolas were punctuated in the landing alcoves of half-crumbled hruschebas, where I turned down several offers from old women sweeping the steps and wiping down the trash cans to let me into the buildings --for the view'd be too narrow, and I'd miss him, and it would only really be two or three degrees warmer in the stairwells anyway.

Finally, like the sun through the mountains, like a first kiss, I saw him, his familiar shell, the outline of a hat and coat, the brisk and even movement that's always identified him past any particulars of shape or size. Had the delay been my fault? It wasn't my fault, but some broken piece of equipment, which was now all settled, and being done, the first point of the agenda was to go to the lawyers'. Except my frozen legs and feet would not cooperate with his speed over the ice, unaccustomed as they were to the slick frost. I grew up on the beach, and to this day don't really know how to walk on snow and ice --especially at anything approaching a normal human pace. So I slipped. I slipped and slipped again, I slid around like an idiot only occasionally catching up with him to hear an admonition or three and then fall behind, panting and barely not wiping out on the sidewalk.

He had enough, and told me to lead him to the nearest cab station. Hadn't I mapped out and memorized the locations of all the (informal, unmarked, a quintessential Romanian strategic delight) cab stations? I hadn't. I had no idea. I had panic, and the complete abandonment of feet from reality --nothing useful. I had nothing useful to give.

He told me to walk to the north train station, another four kilometers or so across town. The rush of my remorse, huge and all-enveloping, was still not fast enough, and he was gone, turned on his heels, before I could say anything more than "okay" (not that anything more would've mattered, as I knew, as I know). I let myself fall into a slow and mournful gait in the right direction. The blue and gray world congealed with brown as I neared the city's center and the traffic sent mud mixing into everything. "He'll meet me there," I said to myself between bitter oaths against the local cabbies. Bitter oaths against myself. Wild but silent protestations against my intentions being so terribly, utterly divorced from what I actually did.

On the right street but still considerably off my target, my phone rang. "Where are you?" A clumsy report, insubstantial on the second pass and finally clear about my insufficiency on the third. "It's been half a fucking hour, how slow are you?!" I should have actually calculated it, but such obvious things weren't obvious to me then. What was obvious to me then was that I was sorry, which is what I said. "Walk to the cathedral downtown". "Which one?" No answer came back. I had heard a gentle music in the background over the call, and drifted into wondering if he was at home, that home that I had never been to, some set of walls that existed somewhere unknown in this city, a nirvana entirely closed off to me, secret and of course tantalizing. What color were its walls and were there plants? Which way would the windows face and how would the light fall in his room, did he have pajamas? I searched after useless, unknowable details, ignoring the very real ones in front of me. I lost my way.

The phone rang again, the adrenaline cutting through my daydream and dividing the warmth of fabricated reverie from my frigid path. I knew where I was; it wasn't right, and it wasn't far, but it wasn't enough. "Jesus Christ, so go to Badea Cartan, and hope you get there before nightfall." Was it almost nightfall? Almost. The crows were beginning their chorus of vespers; the traffic was peaking. Badea Cartan, the market, was far, and I wasn't at all sure I knew how to get there --not from where I was, anyway. Through the stiffness of cold I forced myself to map out how I'd get there from somewhere else, and how I'd get to that somewhere else from here, and how I could trim off excess streets, because by then, at least, I'd understood that if I didn't get to that market before the next phone call I was going to be walking the streets forever.

I tried to shut out the impending sense of doom and focus on walking faster as I moved through less familiar routes. The sky was turning pathetic shades of winter's sunset, and sent along a steady sheet of frozen sleet, soaking my hair and running down into the collar of my coat. The air thickened to stew, the world outside a meter's bubble incomprehensible. I had long since stopped being able to feel much of my legs, or my face, and my fingers hardly knew how to hit the right button when the phone rang a third time. "Well, so are you there?" "No!" was all I could muster, over and over again. The line was dead before I had them all out, before I offered up my fear of being well and truly lost, this time.

But I was only a block away; as I pressed on the market revealed itself through the slurred atmosphere. Really I had been across the street and some short paces away from that open-air sailboat of a building, whose peaks were now obscured in the storm. I wanted to call back but knew I couldn't. I wanted to claim victory, and I hung onto the tiny almost-fact of it as everything else in me slumped towards defeat. I sat down at the bus stop on the corner and took off my fingerless gloves, laying them on my face, trying to feel the softness of their wool against my cheek, and to hide the tears that I'd been fighting back for five hours.

It grew earnestly dark. The sleet crystalized, hardening everything that was wet, clawing deep into my bones, rattling my teeth. The odd car stopped at the intersection next to the bus stop, and people stared at me from inside their warm sedans. I stared back. I didn't want to be in their position, but I didn't want to be in mine --I wanted my living room heater, and a bath, and I wanted to be fast, and intelligent enough to never have to do this again. I wanted not to die at the bus stop by Badea Cartan. A drunk man in winter rags --which is not at all to demean them, they were far more adequate than mine-- approached me and told me I could be his, I was for him. I asked him to leave me alone and after a few circlings-back he did, disappeared to someplace better than my frozen stoop. I waited. And waited.

The phone rang. He asked me if I was going to get better. I said yes. I wasn't worried; I had no doubts. It was too cold. He told me to go home. "You don't have to go fast," he said. I raced back, completing the circle around the city, to my apartment, touching my gloves against the rusted railings of the traintrack overpasses, blessing the cold objects of the place with their promise of impending relief. "I'm going home." It was the sweetest mantra I could imagine, and after I desperately closed the front door behind me, I ran to my living room heater, and spent an hour pressing against it gratefully.

The next morning at six I was sent out to list, map, and memorize every cab station in the city....