You swallow but your throat is acrid with tension. You cannot make out the details of the people watching you, only that they are there. The gown continues to shift up on the back of your legs, adding self consciousness, drop by drop, over the stir of emotions that collide and change within you.
‘To complete processing, you will undergo a cursory medical examination and a bathing procedure. Once those are complete, you will be assigned sleeping quarters and then left to your own devices until tomorrow morning.’
You narrow your eyes against the light. The voice has retreated behind an air of routine and its emotional content is all that you have to go on in terms of figuring out what is going on here. How much trouble, you potentially are in depends on what information you can glean from your present circumstances.
‘The correct response is yes sir.’
Your heart beats hard and faster. There is a low murmur of conversation, and a stifled giggle which rakes its nails down your spine. A hot flash of humiliation bursts in your stomach, a perfect emotional time travel, taking you back to high school again. The spotlight is hot, and you can feel perspiration beginning to teem underneath your arms and at the small of your back. At this precise moment, every sense is sharpened, ready to cut like a theatre of eager surgeons. Whether it’s you or someone else, depends on the response you give.
You raise a hand and a titter snakes through the audience.
‘Am I being held here against my will?’
The laughter grows and someone calls out ‘not with those thighs, dear.’ Your cheeks burn with blood and tears well in the corners of your eyes.
‘Don’t laugh at me.’
That draws a series of oohs.
‘What upsets you more, being held here against your will or being laughed at?’
The voice comes through, silences the others in its wake. The way a comet burns up air on its passage through the night sky.
‘Don’t play doctor with me. I want an answer to my question.’
The voice gives a dark chuckle that makes you shiver to be its subject.
‘What if you had already been asked that question?’
You frown, aware that the spotlight makes every expression exaggerated. Another ripple of laughter starts up. It hurts more than the first time and you start to back up.
‘Stop right where you are.’
You jerk at the change in tone and volume and in response, the back of your gown hitches up a centimetre, highlighting the backs of your thighs where they meet your ass. You give an involuntary yelp, which fuels the embarrassment even further.
‘I wouldn’t, there’s nothing wrong with me.’
He pauses and the laughter dies away again. It’s application reminds you of a whip or a paddle and its sting unsettles rather than the pure, stable joy of pain that you enjoy. That you recognise this comes to you unbidden and without import.
‘My point, exactly.’
A wall to the left bursts into brilliant, white light and coalesces into a screen. A series of numbers dance across, teeming in patterns of deliberate complexity before it opens on a woman’s face, smiling.
‘Hey, look you’re probably freaking out about now, but that’s kind of the point. I am you and you are me, before all this starts off.’
You watch yourself give your name, date of birth, social security number, mother’s maiden name and that you have paid to experience SIR, signed a raft of paperwork to avoid indemnity and that you should just relax and go with it.
Offscreen, a female voice asks you onscreen how you heard about SIR. You smile, and you recognise yourself, the telltale blink that you give and the bitemark on the inside of your lip that you could probably slip the edge of your front teeth again and find the indentation by instinct.
Your capacity to tear yourself to pieces without cause, a thought arises, might be part of why you are here.
Not that you are sure what here means.
‘I go to a munch two towns over once a month and one of the subs there went. She did not stop talking about it so I looked into it and -‘
You watch yourself spread your arms and grin. A hopeful light twinkles in your eyes. If this is not you, then it’s terrifying in its accuracy.
‘Here you are. Or I am. Sorry, I get tongue tied with things like this.’
The interviewer chuckles and you join in, a little ahead of the beat and the audience in the room follow along. The screen fades into black.
‘We’ve installed a block on your memories. We don’t change anything about you, and at every turn, we’re a bit like the opposite of a supermarket. We always offer choice. You are here because you want to be, but part of what makes this so popular and so important to maintain discretion is that we agree that this is all part of the play.’
Your breath is molten in your lungs and a heat begins to pool in the pit of your stomach, drawn downwards by gravity and you clench your thighs together to make the sensation flare deeper and warmer.
‘So, I volunteered for this?’
A hum fills the air and you experience the interview directly again. The leather chair underneath you, the scent of the Ethiopian coffee that you were offered on arrival and the drive over, calculating how much this was going to cost you. Chrissy had said it was ‘life-altering’ and you knew that your life could use some of that.
Some people went into simulations about the zombie apocalypse, you came here.
‘Does that answer your question?’
You stare into the darkness. The want is bolder than your fear, it puts a leash on it and a muzzle. The courage hardens your nipples, relaxes the muscles between your thighs, opening and transforming the emotions into fuel for the engine of your desire and your fear and your need.
There have seldom been clear distinctions between them and that, you know is part of why you are here. You smile and lower your head. Deferment is part of it, and you know that there is expectation and a responsibility here for you. It is a misconception that the submissive is powerless, and you stopped explaining this to vanilla types a long time ago. Here, you have the power and the voice, the eyes in the darkness are asking you to take it.
‘Yes, where do we start?’
The table is wheeled in with stainless steel stirrups mounted on telescopic stands mounted on the ends, a section cut away in the middle and velcro straps at the top end. A second table is brought in with a bowl of steaming, lilac and coconut scented water and a natural sponge. You run your tongue over your lips, and your heartbeat drowns out the thoughts in volume and rhythm.
No one is laughing at you now. Which is a good place to start.
‘Whenever you are ready.’
TO BE CONTINUED.
I love his movies.
I liked his book.
It is a disturbing, technically detailed, visceral read. It manages to check off a range of taboo subjects, I learned about a few fetishes that I added to my mental list of things you never want your mum to google as well as some interesting ideas about consumerism and philosophy. It’s dense, uncomfortable and as I learned yesterday morning, not the book you want to read with your breakfast omelette.
I respected it rather than enjoyed it. Liked it rather than loved it.
It lacked a solid story. The details, the characterisation all were impeccable and he managed the trick of complex, selfish, damaged characters that were actual people rather than a collection of traits like a NPC in a role playing game really well. However, it ended really abruptly as though this were a misprint.
I respect Cronenberg immensely, I love that he’s captured his obsessions on paper and at 71, it saddens me that we won’t realistically get as large a body of work in print as we have in his films but this book is something to respect rather than love. Sure, it’s disturbing but there’s a ton of stuff out there that does that, written by hotel receptionists during quiet hours and gas station attendants at four in the morning. No, it’s David Fucking Cronenberg and he jobbed the ending. It frustrated me because it was damn near perfect at points, a chilly unnerving ride through the cold places in our culture and yet the ride stopped too early to appreciate it properly.
I am open to narrative experiments and the sheer freedom of formats in literature, but you finish what you start. This kind of shut off, like a child called in from playtime to eat. Shame, really as I was enraptured by it at points.