No Mercy

No Mercy

by Pat Califia, Patrick Califia-Rice
     
 
This long-awaited collection of short fiction by world-renowned leatherdyke author and activist Pat Califia author and activist Pat Califia combines pornography, science fiction, romance, fantasy, fairy tale, and horror into a potent cocktail for queer grown-ups who have been very, very bad and aren't one bit sorry. When Califia opens the doors to her imagination,

Overview

This long-awaited collection of short fiction by world-renowned leatherdyke author and activist Pat Califia author and activist Pat Califia combines pornography, science fiction, romance, fantasy, fairy tale, and horror into a potent cocktail for queer grown-ups who have been very, very bad and aren't one bit sorry. When Califia opens the doors to her imagination, there is no predicting what might spill out: A submissive female android turns the tables on her abusive master in the very funny and nasty "Dolly"; Little Red Riding Hood gets a millennial makeover; and two 1950s teens discover the front seat of the car is a lot more fun than Your Hit Parade. Continuing the boundary smashing tradition of Macho Sluts and Melting Point, No Mercy is leather-flavored fiction without a safeword-smart, challenging, intellectual, funny, transgressive, and hotter than the gates of hell. For her legions of fans who have been panting for more, Pat Califia is back with a vengeance!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The veteran sex-radical author (Macho Sluts; Doc and Fluff) reveals much more than a saucy and scandalous imagination in her 18th book, which depicts expected variations of s&m dynamics and sexual politics as well as breaking new ground in exploring transgender issues. Flexing considerable muscle, many of this collection's most original tales are set in futuristic dystopias. "Dolly" is an android created to exhibit perfectly submissive sexuality in a society that crosses The Handmaid's Tale with The Stepford Wives. Because of one crafty lesbian's subversive programming, Dolly doesn't behave like the machine her sadistic programmer expects her to be. In another, less erotic, but more brilliantly imagined futuristic world, the protagonist of "Skinned Alive" logs on to find the illegal sexual experiences he desires. The twin tales titled "Mercy and "No Mercy" chronicle a more down-to-earth relationship between a loving butch, her imperious girlfriend and a wise, sexy body piercer. And along with the requisite s&m scenario (a pretty submissive proves her devotion to an exacting Master in "Too Much Is Almost Enough"), the author surprises with a canny version of "Little Red Riding Hood" with the heroine recast as a werewolf and dominatrix. Pushing the boundaries of sex writing even further, "Love Sees No Gender" meditates on the complexities and possibilities of sex with a lover who was once female, and is now male. Closing her collection with a candid personal essay, Califia discusses her son; her chronic, disabling illness; the death of her mother; her love relationship with her transsexual, female-to-male partner; and her own gender dysphoria. Revealing her real-life vulnerability and changing politics, Califia's uncommon clarity offers insight into the burgeoning transgender movement, while delivering 11 raunchy, confident tales merging her radical feminist politics seamlessly, if pointedly, with transgressive, graphic sex. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555835422
Publisher:
Alyson Publications
Publication date:
06/28/2000
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
260
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 8.39(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


MERCY


    There it was, revealed at last: the exquisite white skin that had been pampered with milk baths and massage, the slim back that had been clothed in the most expensive silks and brocades, now stripped of the coarse linen prisoner's shift. Even without stays, her waist was still shapely, so tiny that it emphasized her round buttocks. Those haunches had bewitched a king (and a discreet handful of aristocratic admirers). It was whispered that the queen preferred the love of women to the love of men, for pregnancy would never betray the pleasures she took with another woman.

    The prisoner made as if to turn around, and her jailer, Françoise, called out sharply, "No!" She meant to take the queen from behind, not to humiliate the fallen royal, but to conceal her own burning gaze, her shaking hands, the trembling fullness of her heart. But a glimpse of her breast, the nipple pink as a rose, made it impossible for Françoise to swallow, difficult for her to breathe. She would crush the frail beauty of those nipples so they would no longer disturb her dreams!

    The passion that she felt for the enemy she should have despised was intolerable. Repugnant! Françoise began with blows instead of kisses, quickly bringing a blush to the porcelain skin that was the product of a hundred years of Austrian inbreeding. When the revolutionary did not immediately receive the satisfaction of a cry of pain, she struck harder. Finally she jabbed her hand between the prisoner's creamy thighs, and discovered (twisting herfingers) the reason for this silence: The queen enjoyed being spanked. Enjoyed it as much as she enjoyed eating cake.


    It was a hot summer afternoon, made even more uncomfortable by guilt. Theresa Barsini was vaguely aware of a little pain between her shoulder blades, mirrored by a thin trickle of sweat that ran down between her breasts as she typed faster and faster. She had no idea how hunched over she was or how much tension her body was carrying. Theresa was a short, round little dyke who hated her name almost as much as she hated her unruly dark hair, which had grown out to an uncomfortable length—too long to slick back in proper butch fashion, too short to tease out into big-haired femme glory.

    Her lover Heather said that Theresa was an elegant name, and refused to shorten it to the masculine diminutive, Terry. Heather was like that. A tall, striking blond who had majored in community relations at Smith, she had strong opinions about a lot of things. She was fond of saying, "Your first impression is your last impression." She thought Theresa would make a much better first impression with longer hair. "Flattops and shaved heads are such a cliché," she sniffed whenever she saw someone who in her opinion looked a little too obvious. Not that there was anything wrong with being a lesbian, of course, but why did we all have to look the same? Wasn't that just a setup for not being heard, not getting what we wanted? Heather felt it was important to give people half a chance to give her what she wanted. Her trust-funded wardrobe guaranteed her a hearing at her job with a company that marketed E-mail greeting cards. And she was more than willing to share the benefits of her good taste with Theresa. After Theresa's half of the bills came out of her unemployment check, there wasn't much left over, so they went shopping at Goodwill for something appropriate for her to wear to job interviews. (One of Heather's favorite words was "appropriate.")

    Theresa unconsciously shuddered at the memory of having Heather "do her colors." It had been a hellish three hours of having various colored fabrics flung under her chin. Heather would then view her under sunlight, incandescent light, fluorescent light, and halogen light, contemplate her visage, utter a disparaging verdict like, "That makes you look green," then make a note on a sheet of paper. At the moment, Theresa was not wearing the tones that were appropriate for a "summer," or for a job interview, for that matter. She was wearing a white tank top (with no bra), cutoffs with frayed edges, and red Converse sneakers with no socks and holes in their toes. On the desk to her left sat the Help Wanted ads, neatly folded and highlighted by Heather that morning. Theresa was supposed to be putting a résumé together and sending it out to those companies. Heather had suggested that since Theresa didn't have the kind of job experience that downtown was looking for, she should reframe her résumé and think of it as a list of job skills rather than a history of occupations.

    Theresa knew it was important to call the ads and start the painful process of looking for a job. She had only two more weeks of unemployment left. But this morning she had woken up with a line of dialogue in her head. "I am worse than you, for you love the lash and pant for the touch of another woman, but I love someone who has crushed a nation beneath her satin slipper." She had a painful need to see who had said such an outrageous thing, and why. The idea had kept its vitality throughout Heather's breakfast routine (one half an organic pink grapefruit, sectioned and sprinkled with a hint of Nutrasweet, accompanied by half a plain bagel, toasted fill it was ecru, no butter) and the inevitable tiny crises that erupted in sending Heather off to work. Theresa sighed, wondering how any woman could manage to communicate so much without speaking a word out loud. Just by the way she changed the battery in her cell phone, Heather could let Theresa know that her unemployed status was making Heather's high-pressure middle management job ever so much more difficult.

    Heather would probably be home in about ten minutes, and she would want to know why dinner was not ready. She would also want to know why the dishes had not been done, and a host of other household chores. Theresa knew from bitter experience that if she started doing housework, she would not be able to do any writing that day. It had occurred to her more than once to ask Heather why they could not hire somebody to come in and clean once a week, but the question stuck in her craw. That was Heather's money, and Heather had explained more than once that it just wasn't "appropriate" for Theresa to control her finances.

    This story had taken shape so nicely. A ragged revolutionary, now in charge of female prisoners at the Bastille, had fallen in love with the incarcerated queen. How was this perilous affection, this potentially tragic reversal of loyalty, to make itself known or play itself out? Theresa was so far into her characters' heads that she had made herself cry twice that day with poignant speeches they made to one another. She had no idea who would publish such a story, of course, given the fact that both characters were women, and their sexual proclivities were neither subdued nor vanilla. If she let herself, she would hear Heather saying, in her most maternal voice, "Sweetie, I just don't think your cute little stories have any commercial possibilities. When are you going to write some real fiction?" Lately, however, that honeymoon sentiment had changed to, "You know, you could always write in your spare time, after you became a network administrator and started bringing home a decent paycheck for a change. I want you to have abundance and prosperity, sweetie, don't you want that too?"

    Hence the rush to drive as many words out of her head and onto the page as quickly as possible, as if she were herding steers away from the threat of mad cow disease. Mad cow disease, that was good. "That's what I've got," Theresa said to herself, and winced as the front door opened and changed the air pressure just enough to make her ears ache. The guard was about to lay down her life in order to facilitate an escape attempt. Theresa was pretty sure the queen would perish as well, distraught at the loss of her tender captor. Telling herself that she could flesh out the ending tomorrow, Theresa forced herself away from the desk and into the foyer to take custody of Heather's undyed leather briefcase, laptop computer, camel-colored cardigan, the Hermes scarf with a tiny cigarette hole that was a present from her mother, navy blue thermal lunch bag, and Emporio Armani sunglasses. It was Theresa's job to put all these things in their preordained slots around the house. Otherwise, they would disappear forever, because Heather could not find her own Prada pumps two minutes after she'd kicked them off.

    Fresh from her vicarious experience with utterly altruistic love, Theresa saw her lover with more compassionate eyes. It was the Friday before Father's Day, and the greeting card company was swamped. Heather had two new employees so the queue of service requests was scary. There were faint stress circles under her eyes. Theresa led her into the bedroom, where she carefully removed Heather's celery linen suit, cream camislip, high heels that Theresa privately thought were the color of stomach acid and cardboard, flesh-tone Safeway panty hose, champagne Wonderbra, and matching panties. Then she brought her a silk kimono. Heather sighed gratefully and seated herself at the vanity table. Theresa took a quick side trip to the kitchen for a tall glass of iced tea, then went back to the bedroom to remove Heather's makeup and put her hair up in a ponytail so she could feel a little cooler.

    Heather's declawed lilac point Siamese cat jumped onto the vanity bench, perching as she had been trained to sit, beside Heather rather than on her lap. As Heather gave the cat a few gentle strokes, both of them closed their eyes, and Theresa was amused at their nearly identical facial expressions of self-satisfaction. She had wrung out a cloth in cool water, and applied it to Heather's neck, then dabbed at her eyes.

    The two of them had met while they were in college. Heather had been at Smith for her master's degree while Theresa struggled to finish a BA in social studies at Columbia. Both of them had traveled to New York City for the big queer march that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Theresa had attended the alternative march, which was organized by some boy lovers, transsexual activists, and other troublemakers who were angry about being excluded from the larger event. She figured everybody who rocked in queer theory would be there, and hauled a bunch of her books there in her backpack. Got a lot of them autographed too. Heather marched with PFLAG in the official event and later said she hadn't realized anything else was happening. She had, she said, planned to march with the leather contingent, but was put off by a swaggering uncouth six-foot-tall diesel dyke who was bullwhipping a couple of boys while angry leathermen with New York accents yelled at her to stop.

    Both of them managed to make it to a dungeon party at the same time, a boisterous event held in a mildewed and cobwebby club that was normally populated by a few professional dominatrices and a lot of submissive men wandering around in grubby Y-fronts and laced-up business shoes. The battered Mafia-owned venue hardly knew what to do with such a diverse crowd of enthusiastic perverts. Theresa had been scared to death. Her only S/M experience, if you could call it that, was reading Trish Thomas's story "Wunnamyfantasies" out loud to a former girlfriend who had masturbated frantically, then scolded Theresa for "identifying with perpetrators." Heather was wearing a shiny latex dress that laced up the back. She looked like she had never been afraid of anything in her life. Her refined yet lush curves played hell with Theresa's young butch pulse. Theresa did not know until much, much later that this was the first time Heather had ever played too. At the time, she felt so underdressed, wearing the same jeans and rainbow suspenders that she'd worn to the march, that she just assumed Heather was leagues ahead of her in pervy experience.

    There wasn't much space, so their scene consisted of Heather grabbing Theresa by the throat, saying mean things in her ear, letting her go to kiss her, twisting her nipples, then grabbing her throat again. Well, there were also a few strokes with a riding crop, borrowed from an amused, gray-haired dungeon monitor. This luminary's leather vest was thickly populated with enough motorcycle club run badges and pins to make her look like some sort of demented "Ride Hard, Live Free" Girl Scout. Theresa had known better, even then, to explain why it all gave her the giggles.

    By the time they returned the riding crop, the crowd was thinning out, and they both got a little freaked out by the dank odor of the place and the guilt-ridden attitude and fuzzy paunches of late-arriving kinky suburban johns. So they went back to Heather's hotel room and did a lot of body worship. Or rather, Theresa did a lot of body worship. Heather fell asleep right after she came, and could not return the favor in the morning since they had overslept and were in danger of staying past checkout time.

    It had been difficult to keep their relationship going when they lived in two different states and attended different schools. When it was time for Heather to graduate and she announced her plan to move to California, Theresa didn't even think about leaving her degree program one semester short of graduation. It was just a bachelor's degree. She could always finish it later. Somehow, once she was caught up in the domestic routine of life with Heather, she never checked out local schools. The thought of sending for applications or transcripts just made her feel exhausted and blue.

    "So what are we having for dinner?" Heather purred, opening her big green eyes, which were only slightly enhanced with colored contact lenses.

    "I thought maybe we could order Chinese food," Theresa blurted without thinking. Heather abruptly pushed the cat off the bench and stood up. It meowed in the despondent and off-key way of its kind, then sped out of the room with its expensive ears pasted flat to its inbred narrow skull. Uh-oh. Trouble in paradise. Theresa was briefly afraid she might throw up.

    What followed was not a fight as much as a lecture, weakly punctuated by Theresa's protestations, which were ignored much as a tractor ignores the weeds beneath its enormous tires. Later, Theresa could only remember certain key phrases that were like crescendos in a piece of music, bringing the heat of the argument to a series of peaks, uttered in Heather's merciless voice of pure calm rationality. "We had an agreement ... fulfilling your obligations ... necessary to merit my trust ... our contract ... you have certain obligations ... responsibility is not inconsistent with creativity ... you promised me ... I have a right to expect ... consistency ... how hard I've worked ... how patient I've been ... laxness and unreliability ... willful and provocative!"

    The exclamation point after that last phrase brought Theresa up on her toes, her spine rigid and her eyes bulging with shock. She had an ugly feeling that she knew what was coming next. Heather was going to punish her. A year and a half into their relationship, this sort of scene was happening more frequently, but Theresa knew she would never get used to it. First there was a sense of injustice that she could not seem to quell, no matter how much she loved Heather as her mistress and wanted to please her. A rebellious part of her kept on asking, like a small child denied an outing, "Why must I be punished for working on my story? Don't you even want to read it? Why aren't you happy for me, that it turned out so well?"

    Nevertheless, she bit her tongue and went to fetch wrist cuffs and riding crop. Heather had learned a great deal since Stonewall 25. For one thing, she had discovered that after the thrill of losing one's "flagellation virginity" dies down, very few masochists enjoy being lashed with a fiberglass stick, even if it is encased in black leather. Therefore, it was the appropriate choice for aversive conditioning. They could not have screw eyes in the doorway, since Heather's parents visited frequently. The brass bed was more than adequate for restraint. Theresa sighed, shrugged out of her clothes, folded them, put on the wrist cuffs, lay down on the bed, and clipped her chains around the nearest brass rail.

    There was another lecture and a list of her shortcomings. Whenever Heather paused for breath, Theresa said one thing and one thing only: "Yes, Mistress." She pitched her voice low and quiet, to show as little emotion as possible. Perhaps Heather would think she was submerged in remorse. In fact, Theresa was on extreme-resentment autopilot, and barely caught herself in time to change her response to "Please, Mistress" when Heather told her she had to ask for her correction.

    The narrow strokes that followed were nasty out of all proportion to their width. But for some reason, Theresa could not scream. The screams came up to a point just below her throat, and melted away like cotton candy in spit. Heather had a good ear for the difference between melodrama and genuine suffering. Like all tops, she wanted to know she was making an impact. Impressive sound effects would sometimes take the edge off her wrath. But Theresa just sent herself someplace else. For some reason, she remembered a play party they had attended, before Heather decided the local leatherdyke "support group" was run by downwardly mobile refugees from the '80s with serious personality disorders. Just the phrase "support group" gave Heather hives. "As if it's some kind of New Age halfway house," she said scornfully. "If everybody in a group is dysfunctional enough to need support, sweetie, it's going to be a short, fast ride into hell from there." They had left the party shortly after Heather observed one woman getting clobbered by four tops who left her ass a bloody mess. Theresa had wanted to stay. She wondered what it would feel like to get fucked in that many orifices simultaneously. Heather had been adamant. Her verdict: "This is about as entertaining as America's Most Wanted. I'm not ashamed to speak out when I think certain people have gone too far. What will you want to look at next, Theresa, monster truck racing?"

    Now, in the part of her mind that was not off in the ozone layer, Theresa knew that her butt was getting pulpy. She visualized the slightly sick look of horrified fascination that Heather had fastened on the gang-bang bottom's black and blue cheeks. Heather usually did not mark her. Well, if she was doing it now and making herself sick, it was just deserts. Let Heather reap what she had sown.

    Some instinct of self-preservation warned her to say "Yes, Mistress" when Heather, out of breath, intoned, "Do you think you have had enough?" Identical answers followed the questions, "Have you learned your lesson?" and "Will you endeavor to do better in the future?"

    Then they got up and ordered Chinese food. Heather was being very affectionate, Theresa noticed, but she herself still felt far, far away. Using the pretext of obedience, she slipped away from Heather's embraces and left her on the blue-and-white striped sofa with the TV remote control while she went into the kitchen and washed dishes. The hot water and soapsuds were soothing. She had almost come back to herself when the deliveryman rang their doorbell, and she had to go ask Heather for cash or a credit card. Heather grimaced, then gave her permission to go into her briefcase and extract her wallet. That little moue of rosebud-frost disapproval sent Theresa's soul right back to a barren place that was the same temperature as Antarctica.

    They ate together, chopsticks clicking, and Theresa submissively opened her mouth, chewed and swallowed anything that Heather deigned to feed her. She really doesn't know that anything is wrong, part of her said in amazement, while another voice said, Am I going crazy?

    After 20/20 was done, Heather motioned for Theresa to kneel on the floor at her feet. "I think I know what the problem is," she said, speaking in the unctuous tones of an Evita or an Imelda.

    "What, Mistress?" Theresa asked, not liking the way the Berber carpet felt to her bare knees and shins.

    "We have a big piece of unfinished business," Heather said. Her pink mouth was crimped into a little circle of seriousness, and her thin eyebrows gathered up a pinch of white forehead between their dark bows.

    No, Theresa groaned internally. Don't go there! No-o-o.

    "I don't think you are going to be able to behave yourself until you feel that you really belong to me," Heather said self-righteously. "I blame myself, really. I made you a promise ages and ages ago. If we're going to do this at all, we should do it right. How would you like to get your hood ring tonight, my hot little one?"

    I am not little. I do not belong to you, Theresa said inside, while her mouth went through the motions of, "Whatever pleases you, Mistress." Yes, she did want her clit hood pierced. She wanted it the way she had wanted a bicycle when she was 11, the way she wanted to play football when she was 14, the way she wanted to be a writer now. But there was nothing on earth that scared her worse than needles. They had tried to do this three times already, and Theresa had always safe-worded out of it, in hysterics.

    Radiating generosity like Santa Claus, a student loan deferment, and a big refund from the IRS all rolled into one, Heather brought Theresa to her feet and escorted her to the bathroom. While Terry stood in the tub, Heather washed her labia with Betadine. The disinfectant stung a little, and Theresa had to grab the towel rack with both hands to keep herself upright. Her knuckles were white, and she wagered they matched her face. She made herself go into the bedroom, where Heather had laid out a surgical drape for her to lie upon. Then she was restrained, wrists and ankles, and this time Heather attached the chains herself. Heather brought a TV tray in by the bed and covered it with a sterile drape. There was some business about not having the right size of latex gloves; then those were discovered. As each implement hit the tray (piercing forceps, needle in a paper autoclave envelope, bead ring, packets of long, fat cotton swabs impregnated with more povidone iodine) a new wave of nausea hit Theresa. She swallowed over and over again, willing her stomach to stay down.

    Heather took long strips of black latex and bound back her labia, wrapping the stretchy straps around her upper thigh. Theresa knew she would have to hold very still now, or the rubber would slip, and Heather would be plexed. The surgical marker descended, leaving two small dots to guide the needle. She kept her equilibrium when the soft grips of the piercing forceps descended upon her clitoral hood and lifted it slightly. She even remained calm when she spotted the sparkle of a descending needle out of the corner of her eye, and felt the bite of its point in the most sensitive part of her body. It would only take a few seconds of pressure for the needle to pass through, creating a passageway for the jewelry she coveted. Theresa wanted so badly to hang a little bell from her clit and go dancing. Let everybody wonder where the secret music that inspired her joy came from.

    Whomp! It was as if the pain of the cropping had been bundled up and thrown into Theresa's central nervous system, like the biggest bowling ball in the world making a strike out of all 120 pins at once. Suddenly, the pressure of her own weight upon her injured buttocks was enough to squeeze cold tears from the corners of her eyes. The idea of taking even a single second of more agony, which was all the piercing would entail, was intolerable. Theresa screamed her safe word as if Satan himself were taking a venomous big greedy bite right out of her ass. "Griffindalydworkin! Griffindalydworkin! Griffindalydworkin!"

    The bondage was gone, she could not remember when or how, and Heather was hugging her. The tray was gone too, like the fairy castle that will vanish if you tell the name of your immortal lover. "Sweetie, hush, hush, it's OK, stop screaming," Heather said over and over again, anxiously. Her hair, Theresa thought, smelled like too many different kinds of perfume all mixed together. Then she realized Heather was crying. "I know I'm a terrible mistress," she wept. "But I just can't do something to you if you hate it that much. I have to give in. I have to show you mercy."

    Then Theresa began to cry too. She cried about being laid off at the printing company. How could it hurt so much to lose a job you hated? She cried about the rejection slip she had gotten from Libido. She wept for the way hope kept turning into bitterness in her relationship. She cried about not being allowed to go to her father's funeral. She sobbed about Sister Mary Andrew being expelled from the convent and about having to take the GED exam instead of being able to finish school. She cried about a dog that followed her home when she was six, only to be driven off by her father, who threw rocks at it and cursed, then slapped her for screaming at him to stop. This deluge of new grief linked to old in a continuous hot fountain of tears went on for two hours, until a fit of hiccups jolted Theresa out of it. Heather made her drink a glass of water upside down to stop the hiccups, then dosed her to sleep with a shot glass full of valerian extract.

    After Theresa passed out on her back, Heather lay awake, kept open-eyed by her lover's snoring. But she felt far too guilty about this fourth episode of botched piercing to nudge Theresa and tell her to roll over and stop making such a racket. She had plenty of other things to keep her awake, anyway. Lots of problems that just seemed to keep adding up and adding up. Problems she couldn't even discuss with Theresa, much less get help with.

    Rent on the town house had gone up again, and Heather was afraid the landlord would eventually try an owner move-in eviction. If she had not been living with Theresa, she was sure her parents would loan her the down payment to buy her own place, but they were not going to subsidize an "unsuitable arrangement." She'd dented another car in the parking lot this morning, her second fender bender in as many weeks. Car insurance premiums were already murder. She was over her head in credit card debt amassed while she was in school because Alex and Petra, Mummy and Daddy, had, without warning, stopped paying off her American Express card. All it would take is an extra hundred dollars in expenses every month and her student loans would go into default because the parental units weren't helping out with those either.

    Theresa was always making deprecating comments about class privilege, but she had no idea what it was like to grow up with certain expectations and then get frozen out because Petra was not going to get to plan a white wedding and Alex was not going to get to bounce a grandson in a little sailor suit on his knee.

    The job situation wasn't exactly peachy either. Gregory in sales kept asking her out, and she was running out of excuses. What was worse, dating a coworker or letting everybody you worked with know that you did not go out with guys? Theresa would have only two solutions: punch him in the nose or quit. As a middle manager who was female, overeducated, unmarried, and childless, Heather was already isolated from the other employees. People left the lunchroom when she came in for a cup of coffee.

    At school she had not exactly envisioned herself working as the manager of technical support for a company that sold greeting cards. If there was a more embarrassing form of E-commerce, Heather was sure she did not know what that might be. What had happened to her commitment to social justice? what had happened to her creativity? But she couldn't drop down to part-time work or go back to school or look for a job at a nonprofit or take a year off and go to Europe and paint, not with a partner who was out of work. When was Terry—Theresa—going to get off her ass and start showing up with a paycheck again? Her COBRA conversion had almost run out, and nothing scared Heather more than the prospect of life without health insurance.

    The fact that Terry had escaped from her Italian Catholic family of nine children and made it into college when neither of her parents had even finished high school amazed Heather, but also appalled her. Growing up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, a fireman's daughter, being out as a dyke in high school, having an affair with one of the nuns—Heather knew she would never have survived the first rock that was thrown at her or the scandal of being caught in bed with her gym teacher. Never could have forced herself to go on living if she had had to eat corned beef and cabbage or Spam or never wear anything that was new except underwear because (as Terry had explained to her) thrift stores do not sell underwear. Heather did not want to live like that, thank you very much. And she didn't understand why Terry seemed to be so feckless about money. She knew what it was like to be poor, really poor. So why wasn't she more motivated to better herself?

    What had happened to the dapper young butch she had fallen in love with? If Heather had known that being a top was going to be so lonely, she might have insisted on interacting with the other end of that riding crop. She had read all the books, even gone online to ask advice from people in a B&D chat room. As far as she could tell, she was doing everything right—consent, negotiation, safety, limits, equality outside of the bedroom, never play when you are angry, and so on. Why, then, was she bored and resentful? Why did she feel burned out and overextended? She didn't know if she wanted to end their role-based relationship or make it more extreme. Would their life together be any easier if they never did S/M? Or if Terry became a real submissive and had to obey her for a change? What was the point in sticking out a tough ten-hour day with rude, stupid users and Goth computer geeks who would rather listen to Bauhaus than take calls from the rude, stupid users if you had to come home to a dirty kitchen and no hot meal?

    "I sound like my father," Heather said, and there was no black pit of despair any deeper than that. So she too finally slept and was spared the indelicate knowledge that she snored even more loudly than Theresa.

To be continued ...

Meet the Author

Patrick Califia is a noted pornographer and cultural critic whose writing and activism have revolutionized queer sex. Among his most noted books are Coming to Power, Macho Sluts, Melting Point, No Mercy, and Speaking Sex to Power.

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