The Girl in Prague
You tell me there was a girl in Prague, a "memorable hook-up" at a legendary bar mentioned in a Nick Cave song; it was there in your "expat days" in the early 1990s but is gone now.
I ask you to tell me about the girl in Prague and you say it's a long story, and you tell me about the kinky things you've done, litany of orifices, bodily fluids, roles you've played, but you don't tell me about the girl in Prague.
I asked Bart about her the second time we met. We were in the anonymous restaurant in the Hilton near where I work. The restaurant, like the Starbucks, is inside the hotel, just off the lobby where you check in. The restaurant must have a name, but I've never known it, and Bart and I have never called it anything.
Bart demurred, said he had to be in the appropriate mood to tell the tale.
"It requires me to conjure up old ghosts," he said.
"Sure, don't worry about it; no problem," I chirped. In every exchange between us, you can see our differences. There's Bart: mysterious, worldly, cherishes his idea of himself as a libertine. There's me: over-polite and eager-to-please, ingenuous. I think he likes to imagine that he's living in a black-and-white movie, maybe one that takes place in Weimar Republic-era Germany. That was a louche and nihilistic era, I've read. Sometimes I'll say or do something that drags us back into reality, and I can tell that this irritates him. For example: One time online, before we met up in person, he said he'd like to see me in garter belt and thigh-high stockings, "a la Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour." But when we met in person, I was wearing fishnet tights, with an unromantic elastic waistband that leaves a thin mauve groove in my skin. Modern, bourgeois, dorky tights.
He's the master/sadist to my submissive/masochist, but there's always an aloof part of me that's getting a kick out of him. There's a part of me that's smirking, tongue in cheek, pitying his need for illusion. There's a part of me that feels superior to him because I have no such need.
I asked about her because it's unlike Bart to be sentimental, to single out any one of his many lovers as special. He's married, but the sex is vanilla, so he frequently meets up with girls like me. If it weren't for his mention of the girl in Prague, and his reluctance to talk about her, I'd think he had no emotions. He seems to imply: Emotions are for the weak, philistines; I'm above them. And so, in order to be his playmate, his worthy opponent, I try to be above them, too. I try to get on that stoic plane of being with him, if only to prove that I can.
I have to be in the appropriate mood to talk about the first time with Bart. I've only told one person about it.
The second time, and all the times after that, we've rented a room in that Hilton near where I work. Bart is not above going Dutch on the room. We're only there for an hour or two in the afternoons--workdays, lunch break, a few times a month--but we always pay for the whole night. At night, Bart goes home to his wife, and I go home to an empty apartment. It's occurred to me that I could use the hotel room on the nights we've paid for it, but I've never done this. It would feel like sitting in a theater hours after the curtain has gone down.
He hunted me, his gleeful prey. It began with flirtatious remarks he made online after seeing snapshots I'd posted to an online profile. There was one of me lounging demurely on my unmade bed, wearing a tight top, a knee-length skirt, and high-heeled Mary Janes, my legs crossed. "I love the ankle straps," he'd typed in an IM. "So submissive." I picked up on the cue, and told him that I would love to be dominated in bed. We talked every day after that, and he told me I "intrigued" him. He said he fantasized about taking a younger, inexperienced girl and guiding her through all sorts of kinky lessons. "Like in Les Liaisons Dangereuse," he said. How Bart loves to show he's cultured, especially when he gets to do so in a European tongue.
Online, and then in person at our unnamed restaurant, he shared his stories. There was a former nun in San Francisco who loved mock rape (she would consent to him beforehand, and only pretend to resist). An orgy in Vienna. The girl he fingered for an hour while riding in a seat next to her on the Metro (they'd agreed to the plan before either of them set foot on the train). The girl he instructed to bend over and grip a cold radiator as he whipped her with his riding crop. The girl he pissed on.
It was the audacity and detail of his stories, as well as his way of seeming to not want to brag while doing exactly that, that convinced me he wasn't making any of this up. When I met him, I had no stories of my own. I was inexperienced. It was what he most wanted to hear.
In the rooms we rent at the Hilton, it's lite S&M play followed by sex. It's been this way for months, although he keeps hinting for something more. He instructs me, he insults me. He hurts me--he pulls my hair, he pinches my nipples until I wince and cry out, he bites me--but he always tests my limits beforehand. Bart's S&M etiquette is unimpeachable.
A secret I keep from him is that I'm not as masochistic as he is sadistic. We're unevenly matched. I get no physical pleasure from pain. For me, it's more like accepting a dare, or proving to him that I'm not a wimp. He'll whip me to the edge of my endurance, and my legs will shake and I'll squeeze my eyes shut and bite my lip, not wanting to have to ask him to stop, not wanting him to win.
He has used the riding crop on me. He likes to leave lashes on me, licks of pain that burn for days afterward. Before he used the crop, he e-mailed me a picture of it. In the picture, it was next to a pair of boots. I asked about the boots, and it turned out they went with a uniform, a vintage German military uniform he'd acquired (he didn't say how). I asked to see a picture of the uniform, fearing it might be a Nazi one. After all, Bart had told me that he liked extreme role-playing--master and slave, German soldier and Jewish prisoner. When he first told me about the role-playing, he said, "I've never done 'Daddy and daughter,' but oh, so filthy." I guess one kind of person would have been shocked. I almost laughed. Again with the pity: Poor Bart, trying so hard to push to the extreme. Poor Bart, needing to push to the extreme. Why? Were lovemaking and sensuality and affection not enough for him--or repugnant to him? Was he desensitized to anything that wasn't shocking? But then, who was I to ask these questions?--I was here with him, too.
He sent the picture, and the uniform wasn't a Nazi one; it was only one from the former East Germany.
He tells me his fantasies when we meet for a quick drink at the restaurant before getting a room; this talk is almost as good, for us, as the sex itself. We sit at our usual table, he in the comfy seat against the wall, me in the hard-backed chair. Here are some things Bart wants to do to me: Drug me with amyl nitrite so my body will be relaxed enough for him to enter me anally. Piss on my naked body, and have me drink it. He wants me to piss on him, too--he suggested the hotel-room shower stall as venue--and to drink it. He hinted, in an online conversation along these lines, "I hear Diet Pepsi makes it taste sweeter." He was not above typing a winking emoticon after the statement. I was at my computer at work when I read this, and I laughed. I couldn't help it; for a while after that, I couldn't see a can of Diet Pepsi without laughing.
Lately he's been obsessed with fantasies that involve humiliating me, which necessitates the presence of other people. I don't like this idea. I like the neat symmetry of two people, dominant and submissive, yin and yang. I like the intimacy of sharing a secret world with one other person. With Bart, the addition of other people is escalation, heightened sensation. He wants to take me to a "sex party" or a "sex club," a place where everyone present is game, everyone is potential audience and participants. He wants me to take on two men, or three men, at once, one in each hole. He likes that word, "hole"--"You're nothing but a hole," he'll say to me sometimes when he fucks me. He says it matter-of-factly, not with anger (anger being an emotion). He's talked about fucking me while I'm wearing a mask, negating my individuality, my soul. So far, this hasn't happened.
Although he spins fantasies about watching me with other men, what he really keeps hinting for lately is another woman. "It's too bad you don't know any women who could play with us..." he said to me one time in the restaurant, minutes before we would take the elevator up for the customary whipping and fucking. I grew apprehensive when he mentioned that he'd met a couple of girls who were "interested" in "playing" with us. (Were they hotter than me? Better in bed than me? Bottom line: Would he like one or both of them more than me?) When I didn't jump at his announcement, when I didn't get excited and try to pin down a day and time to meet them, he cooled off, and we returned it to the realm of fantasy, where it was safely abstract. In his criminally sexual purr, he suggested ways of humiliating me with another woman--such as having me watch as he fucks her--and I took up the game. It became one-upmanship, brinkmanship. Who could think up the meanest thing? He thought of fucking the other woman as I lick his asshole, and afterward having me lick his cock clean and tasting her juices, then having me lick her clean, too. In other words, he won.
I'd been thinking about my old friend Bridget. More of an old acquaintance than a friend, really, from high school. She was overweight and had flunked a year or two and wore Renaissance-style clothing to school. My friends and I never invited her to sit with us at lunch, but one day she did, and we were all too polite to say anything, so she continued to sit with us, every day. She would stand in our little group in the halls, walk to classes with us—I don’t think she had anywhere else to go. We were nice but a little ashamed of her. She was a theater dork, one of those kids who were so earnest and enthusiastic about drama class and school plays that you were embarrassed for them. She spoke in loud, vaguely British, clearly enunciated, from-the-diaphragm tones even offstage. You'd have to explain jokes to her, and she'd rip you off--appropriating a saying, a band or book you liked--without acknowledging it was you she'd ripped off. She did this to me most of all, and I was both flattered and annoyed.
I had run into Bridget recently, a few months after our ten-year reunion, which neither of us attended. She had lost a lot of weight. I found an online profile. She had posted pictures of herself in corsets displaying her deep cleavage, provocative poses. She was listening to industrial and death-metal music and was trying to present herself as shocking and dark. It seemed like a pose, like her latest ploy for love, and it struck me as pitiful. In one of the photos, she was kneeling, her wrists handcuffed behind her back. I remembered the power I'd had over her in high school. I sent her a message asking if she'd like to meet Bart.
"Tell me about yourself, Bridget."
Bart's voice is so low, so soft, that sometimes you have to lean in to hear him. I've often wondered whether this is deliberate. Can everything about him be deliberate? Is it possible that he merely enjoys being an encyclopedia of the arts, that it's not a pose? There are elements of his seductiveness that are too natural; they can't be affectations. The way he moves like liquid, like dark syrup. That baritone purr, the perfect voice for instructing a girl to remove her clothes for him. No, the voice is not a put-on.
I could tell that it disarmed Bridget. Poor Bridget, who was expecting someone more like us. He doesn't look older than we are--he's ten years older--but there's that languor, the way he cocks his head and says witty things to which Bridget had no response except a goofy laugh at how she had no response. I was embarrassed that I'd brought her, embarrassed to be associated with her--until Bart looked at me once. It was after Bridget had said something about some old ‘80s toys of hers she’d found in the attic (she still lives with her mom). She'd looked away for a second, and Bart had given me a grin. It was a grin that said, You and I are in this together. I used to take up for Bridget when people excluded her in high school, but I liked this, being in a two-person club with Bart. I grinned back at him.
Bart grew quiet and got a faraway look. Preternaturally calm, he doesn't explain it when he does this; he's not one to chatter to fill in awkward silences. Bridget looked from him to me, her eyes wide. Bart and I had ordered our usuals: gin and tonic for him, punch with vodka for me. These drinks are right for us. His is clear, astringent, with a sour lime that he squeezes with his long, nimble fingers into the drink, and mine is pink, with a panic of vodka, a quick remedy for the nerves I always have around Bart. Bridget had gotten here early and ordered a caramel frappuccino with whipped cream at the Starbucks, not knowing we'd end up in the restaurant. It looked pathetically kiddie next to our drinks.
I was proud to know what he was thinking. It made me feel like his accomplice, like some sister-wife of a pharaoh, that much in sync with him at times like this. I translated for Bridget. "He's thinking of where we should go."
Finally, Bart spoke: "I'm thinking into the woods." Bridget gushed--as I could have predicted she would--about how "Into the Woods" is actually the title of a play she loved in high school. I cringed at her mention of high-school theater; the things Bart could tell her about the history of theater, about avant-garde theater, about theater around the world. Then I thought about where we were going, and I could swear I saw Bart grin at the fear in my eyes.
One day, after the first time with Bart and before the second time, I checked my e-mail and saw this message from him:
"Fucking slut, you're just a dirty little whore. Nothing."
It was the "nothing" at the end that got me.
Sometimes I feel this hole where my heart should be, a hole with cold wind howling through it. "You're just a hole," Bart says as he fucks me.
Once, on a balmy Friday night when I was a teenager, I put on a tight top and a miniskirt and went walking downtown by the river. I was alone, and burning for male attention. I walked to the edge of the pier by the seafood restaurant that's shaped like a lighthouse. An old man stood beside me. He asked if he could hold my hand. I let him, feeling his dry, crepe-like skin against my palm. He asked if he could hold my body. I let him, and he pressed me up against him hard. He groaned in desire. "Can we go back to my place?" he asked. At this point, I pulled back and dropped the act. It had felt like a prank until then, like playing the role of a naive, slutty young girl, just to see what that role felt like. I could see him following me to my car, in the shadows of phone poles and trees. I checked my rear-view mirror compulsively as I drove home.
When I met Bart online, he seemed like a guide into an underworld, one that I wouldn't have been able to enter without him. It was like I needed him to get me there--I didn't know the secret knock or password, I didn't know anyone else like him. He would say things like, "Do you have a safeword chosen for your foray into the depths of sadomasochistic sex?" He was confident, darkly alluring, yet he tested my boundaries with the quality of attention of a scientist in a lab. I thought it was almost generous of me to share him with Bridget.
But the real reason I invited Bridget was because she was no threat to me. That grin at the restaurant guaranteed it.
Sometimes I have this hazy, appealing notion of Bart somehow destroying me through sex. It's as if I think that suffering will purge me of my sins. As if the lashes are punishment for being the kind of person who would be here with a married man, even if the punishment and the sin are the same thing. But do I really think that -- or do I just like that it sounds dramatic? Maybe I want what most women want: a strong man who desires me feverishly, who will take me, caveman-like. But what about the desire for him to be cruel to me? Deep down, do I want him to feel bad? Do I want him to see that he's hurt me, and to take me in his arms and love me? How darkly Bart would laugh at this.
Here is what I wrote once in response to a message from Bart, who had imagined me into a scenario in which I had to hitch-hike back from somewhere, sucking off men to earn a ride. He was going to drop me in the middle of nothing, without any money.
"Yes, don't leave me any money. That way I have to let them fuck me in my pussy and my ass, because I'm nothing but a hole to them. I'll suck off man after man until I make it back home."
It was an unseasonably warm day but the trees were barren. Bart drove us to the park, me in the passenger seat, Bridget in back. Bart and I were quiet, and Bridget babbled--about how she had modeled in a goth photo shoot in the fort ruins along this parkway, how she has an uncle who lives down that street, blah blah blah. As he drove, without looking at me once, Bart slipped his fingers up my skirt, inside my panties and inside me. I didn't make a sound, not wanting Bridget to know what we were doing, not wanting her to feel left out but not wanting to include her either. We were almost at the park, the one with the lot where we could leave the car before going into the woods, when I realized that Bridget was blabbing so much because she was nervous.
We had discussed the details at the restaurant, Bart instructing, me listening, Bridget giggling. Each of us knew what role to play. Bridget was to be both guest star and initiate; we would go easy on her. There was nothing in the car to give away Bart's personality or the fact that his wife or anyone else ever rode in it; it might as well have been a rented car. No CDs, no air freshener or bumper stickers. The only thing was a small bottle of antibacterial hand gel in the glove compartment, which he always uses on the drive home, to get the incriminating smell of me off his fingers.
We parked in the farthest-back lot, away from the joggers with dogs and families at picnic tables. Sun sparkled irreverently. We waited for a gang of Rollerbladers to vanish over the horizon before crossing to the edge of the woods. Puppy-like, Bridget tramped through dead brown leaves behind Bart. I hung back, a force repelling me. I took a step. I couldn't.
Bridget stopped and turned, then Bart. "What's wrong?" Bridget said. She looked from me to him, him to me. I was glaring at him. "What?" Bridget kept saying. Bart held my gaze. He said, "Maybe we should do this some other time." He drove us back to the Hilton in silence, both hands on the wheel. After he had let us out, Bridget pestered me for an explanation before sulking off to her parents' Taurus that she'd parallel-parked by the hotel. She'd probably worn her best black lingerie. That's what I'd done, too, the first time, when Bart took me into the woods.
Bart never told me about the girl in Prague. But I eventually told Bridget about that first time with Bart.
It was my first time.
Beforehand, I'd played the game, told myself how it was going to be, just as I do now when I meet up with him at the hotel. I'd girded myself: I would have a heart of steel. It would be dirty, playful sex, just sex. That first time, in the woods, he broke a switch off a tree, told me to lift my skirt, bend over and grab onto my ankles, and he whipped me. "Dirty slut," Bart said. On the lichen-coated log of a tree that had fallen to the ground, he fucked me. He slammed so deep into me, me on his lap, fucking me through a gaping hole he'd torn in the crotch of my disappointing fishnet tights, my breath hiccuppy from the rough motion. I'd felt a strong urge to hold him, but I'd held back. He pulled out, peeled off the condom, and came in my mouth, ordering me to swallow. I apologized each time I gagged. Afterward, in the car as he drove me back to work, I'd searched his eyes, his voice, for some hint of tenderness. I went back into the woods alone a week later. There was an about-to-snow sky, I had a cold, I was wearing a puffy winter coat. I found the log. The condom wrapper flapped in the nearby creek, caked with mud. I lay sideways on the log for a long time, the duration of my lunch break, listening to birds, looking up at a blank godless sky.