Flash Fiction: Looking Glass

Side view of a man and woman having sex in a window for Flash Fiction: Glass Houses by Malin James

Image via @A_man_within

They haven’t been dating for all that long. Two dates. Maybe three if coffee counts. Three dates…. Is that dating? It’s hard to tell. Who knows.

Two dates. Maybe three. Some kissing. No sex. But the kissing is good. Really, really good. Quick tongues. Swollen lips. Nails on his neck. Then he says goodnight like he’s closing a door. She stays cautious and light on her feet.

They have their third date (maybe fourth?) on the hottest night of the year. Dinner and drinks. Maybe dancing. They both like dancing. They talk about dancing a lot. It’s a handy metaphor.

Do you dance? Where? What do you like?

Oh, you know…depends on my mood.

She wishes they’d just have sex. Sex is her looking glass. It lets her see who a person is, (or rather who they are with her). It lets her see who she is with them. She wants that view more than she wants to get off. She wants to see if they fit. Normally, it doesn’t matter so much – sex has told her a lot and it’s not always good. But she wants to see with him.

They have dinner and drinks. They talk. A lot. But she can’t stop watching his mouth. Good conversation. Great wine. Killer food. Enjoy the evening for this. She addresses herself in the ladies room but she knows it won’t do any good.

He pays the check (he insists, which is lovely), but dancing is a no. Early morning, he says. Brunch, work-out, weekend routine…. Sure. She has one too. They head off down the street.

The night is brown and murky with a filthy, electrical buzz. The grid is overtaxed and the city’s power is low. No air conditioners. Sluggish fans. People tumble around the street—it’s too hot to be inside.

They’d parked their cars several blocks away in a tall, glass monolith. As they walk, their knuckles brush, comfortable and easy, but he doesn’t take her hand. That would maybe be too much. After awhile, she pulls her phone out of her bag so it has something less awkward to do.

The parking lot is deserted. He hits the button and they wait. The elevator takes ages and their easiness drains away. A thick, gray silence expands and takes its place. It’s not a sexy or promising silence. It’s dense and pre-emptively sad.

Cool sheets, breakfast, dancing, fucking…she imagines these things while the elevator drifts…slow, slow, slow…considering the universe at every floor. For one irrational moment, she wishes they’d never met.

The elevator arrives. It’s steel and glass and disturbingly hot inside. Like a greenhouse, she thinks, which would make them the plants. It’s a weirdly appealing thought. She swipes her hair off her forehead and hits the button for level six.

“I’m on six too,” he says.

She smiles. “That’s good.”

“That’s good” is not what she’d meant to say. She’d meant to say something clever but she’s tired and hot. Her grid is overtaxed too.

Flickering lights. The elevator stops. It jerks and she stumbles. He reaches out – reaches out but doesn’t touch her, as if he’d brace her with the Force.

“Power outage,” he says.

She feels heat coming off him. The nape of her neck is salty and wet, and her cunt is a swollen ache. He’s close. Too close…and not close enough. She’s stupidly wound up and now they’re stuck in a small, glass box.

“Fuck, me,” she mutters.

“Sorry, what,” he says.

She watches his fingers skim over the phone. Blunt tipped. Strong. Decisive.

Fuck it. She wants to see.

“I said, fuck me.”

He looks up. Her cultivated, quippy, clever voice has dropped into her chest. She sounds like a woman again. Not a placeholder or a diplomat. She sounds like the woman she is.

He puts his phone away.

“Hello,” he says.

His teeth catch her bottom lip.

“Hello.”

She leans in and bites him back.

A generator kicks in and the elevator fills with a dim, green glow, but it’s still dark down on the street. People wander around, checking their phones, waiting for the light.

“Someone could see,” he murmurs.

“Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

They lean back into the glass.  If anyone looked up they’d see him lifting her skirt. She smiles and tilts her hips.

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

It’s a breath against her neck. She’s wearing nothing underneath. No knickers. No bra. Just the dress and her favorite heels. Maybe she’d hoped a bit….

Sweat drips between her breasts as he crushes her close. He’s stronger than she thought. Then his hand is on her warm, bare hip and his mouth is hard on hers. Her legs want to spread. She kisses him back and turns to face the street.

The glass is soft beneath her palms. She’s wet, so wet she can barely feel his fingers until they’re deep inside her cunt. Little sighs. Little moans. Her hips begin to thrust. She’s hoping, hoping someone will look up. Then he’s in her, fucking her and she’s fucking him back. Their eyes meet in the glass. Intense, happy…she likes the view. She had a feeling that she would.

Sinful Sunday: Selfie

I take selfies for a lot of reasons. I’ve sent them to partners, lovers, friends and family (look, mom! I was here!). I’ve posted some and keep others in a  file that no one will ever see. When I look through the selfies I’ve sent, I remember how I felt at the time – the mad attraction, the contentment, the sense of a start or an end. I remember the impulse that prompted the shot. I remember a shard of time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 10.32.30 PMDespite the fact that I’m posting it here, I took this last night assuming that I wasn’t going to show it to anyone. I’m preoccupied and tired from not sleeping enough but, for the first time in a couple of weeks, I felt still and relaxed. I just wanted to remember that.

More than one article has asserted that selfies are a form of self-objectification. Inherent in self-objectification is the treatment of your body as an object and, in the case of this photograph, it’s true. I did make my body an object – I made it a memory aid. And given that it is my body to do with as I choose, I’m perfectly fine with that.

To see more Sinful Sunday, click the pretty lips….

Sinful Sunday

On Submission, Strong Women & The High Alpha Male

Black and white of a woman wearing black boots and ball and chain by Ellen von Unswerth for On Submission, Strong Women and The High Alpha by Malin James

Ellen von Unwerth, from Revenge

I had a brief conversation the other day that got me thinking. I’m going to paraphrase chunks of the exchange rather than quote directly (because consent), but I’ll stick as close to the original as I ethically can.

So, here’s the opener:

Hi Malin. As a high-alpha male, I appreciate strong women. Dominant women are a rare challenge. I love your work – it gives me a lot of insight into how strong women tick. 

Given my initial response, the smart thing to do would’ve been to ignore it and move on. Unfortunately, those three sentences annoyed the fuck out of me so I responded with this:

A rare challenge…interesting. Care to unpack that?

Here’s his response:

Sure! For alpha males there’s nothing as exciting as an alpha female. Alpha females handle themselves, which is great (and rare with women in my experience, IMHO), but even more exciting is the challenge I mentioned. When a strong woman breaks and submits to you, that’s the biggest high you can get as a Dom. All women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man and being the only man that an alpha female submits to is a fucking high.

So…setting my visceral response aside, what he’s essentially talking about is a fetish for strong women. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Strong women rock in all kinds of ways because there are all kinds of ways in which women are strong. Where it goes wrong for me is in why he appears to fetishize a particular kind of female strength.

He doesn’t love strong women because he thinks strong women are interesting. He doesn’t love strong women because he wants to submit to a worthy Domme. He doesn’t even love strong women because he thinks an alpha female is the only kind of woman who can match his “high alpha” self. He loves strong women because they’re a challenge.

Let me rephrase that. He loves strong women because making a strong woman “break and submit” to him is a challenge.

The attraction isn’t in the woman. It’s in a narcissistic fetish for a certain kind of power. He wants to be the very special, uber-alpha male who breaks an unbreakable woman and makes her submit. He’s not fetishizing her strength, he’s fetishizing the idea of being the only one who can strip her of it.

Needless to say, I’ve got a few issues with this. The first is that it devalues the actual submission of actual female subs (many of whom are fucking bad-asses). The second is that it makes the “strong woman” in question a challenge (ie: a thing to surmount) rather than a person, and any view that reflexively turns a person into something other than a person is pretty much a no-go for me. The third is that this appreciation for strong women is entirely ego driven. Here’s what I mean….

If you work from the stated assumption that “all women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man” (*eye roll*), you get the implication underlying the attraction –  that any guy can make a submissive woman submit because women are, by nature, submissive. It takes a “high alpha male” to break the “rare” dominant woman.

That particular appreciation for female strength has nothing to do with respect or actual, you know, appreciation. It’s a purely reflective thing – the value of her strength is in how brightly it highlights his.

Full disclosure: I have a button here. Though I’m not a Domme, I am naturally dominant with a wide streak of  don’t-tell-me-what-to-fucking-do. I’ve written about how my natural dominance attracted an ex who was, to put it bluntly, a diagnosed sociopath who loved me best when I was needy (“but only for him”) and who wanted to “crush me and break me and make me his”. (Direct quote. Fuck it).

That’s not to say that this gentleman is a sociopath. To be honest, I don’t think he really understood what he was saying. It just rubbed my fur backwards and, once I got over my initial annoyance, I didn’t like how it unpacked.

Essentially, this kind of attraction turns a very specific form of female strength into fetishized commodity while dismissing all the other ways in which women are strong. In other words, it turns female dominance into a kind of drug that makes a certain kind of man feel special. It has nothing to do with the woman or her dynamic with that man. It has to do with the ego boost that comes from fucking her in a particular way.

It also turns the “rare” alpha-female one of two things:

  1. a disposable experience, or
  2. a possession to groom and keep.

Either way, it’s no good. Every woman does not crave submission, and those that do should have autonomy within their submission. Anything else falls back on a cultural mode that normalized a husband’s right to spank his wife for failing to make the perfect pot roast.

In the end, there’s a fundamental difference between spanking Lara Croft and spanking Lara Croft’s alpha female glory to the breaking point. The spanking isn’t the issue – it’s the motives behind it that makes the difference between awesome and toxic. If a dominant woman (or man) trusts you enough to submit to you, even if only for a night, that should speak to the connection and trust between you, not to your prowess as an alpha.

Fetishize power in a partner. Revel in it. Love strong women. Love strong men. Just don’t turn whatever happens into proof of your Domminess. Don’t fetishize the ego boost that comes with “breaking” someone you perceive to be strong. Sex and submission aren’t about how alpha you are. They’re about feeding off each other’s strengths – that’s the real fucking high.

NB: I realized after I posted this that I should clarify some terminology as usage in that conversation got fairly muddy.

“Alpha male” and “alpha female” don’t equate to Dom and Domme (or sadist or top). All alpha means it that someone has what might be called a dominant personality. Some alphas have personalities that are more dominant than others, as do some betas, etc. All dominant people are not alpha, nor are all alphas dominant.

Alpha, dominant and Dom are often equated in casual conversation, which is fine insofar as it goes. It’s just important to acknowledge that a person’s alignment in social hierarchies may differ than their (natural or chosen) position in sexual power dynamics.

As for the term “strong women”, it most definitely does not apply exclusively to dominant women or alpha females. Some of the strongest women I know are subs. Sexual wiring has little, if any, bearing on a woman’s integrity, resilience or strength.

On Validation

Black and white photograph of a woman's back as she looks out of a window, for Validation post by Malin James

Photograph, Malin James

There are things that I’m painfully aware of. One of them is my deep, long-standing need for validation.

It’s gotten worse in the past few years. I’ve always had it but, recently, it’s kept me from taking risks. The need for validation has drawn me away from projects that would further my career because long-term gains haven’t been able to compete with that short-term need.

That impulse has kept me safe in the cocoon of a loving community, which is a comforting alternative after years in the less friendly world of literary fiction, but at something of a cost.

It’s a strange thing. On one level, I give zero fucks what anyone thinks. This is the level I try to live on. But beneath that is the fact that sometimes I give way too many fucks, which is why I can’t say that I don’t need validation for my work. The brutal truth is that I do and the same goes for my worth in relationships.

I grew up having internalized the idea that my primary value was in my face and, even more toxically, that the value of my face was arbitrary because I relied on a choreographer, director or photographer to decide whether or not I was right for a call or a role. It’s a conviction that dogs me even now, and the result is an over-reliance on what other people think.

That need for validation shows up in all kinds of subconscious ways. It’s in how I engage social media and how I blog. It’s in what I write about and when. It’s in whether or not I compromise myself in relationships and for how long. It’s what drives my inner sadist – the one who loves to rake my inner masochist over coals.

The need for validation is natural. We all feel it. But the degree to which I’ve allowed that need to dictate my professional, creative and personal choices disturbs me. The primary reason I stopped acting was because my dependence on external (and arbitrary) validation wore me down. Unfortunately, I’ve created a similar framework for myself by reinforcing a comparable need in my writing and relationships.

I’m ok with wanting a certain amount of validation. Like I said, it’s pretty natural. But I’m not ok with needing it to the point where it compromises my emotional autonomy. Validation is, essentially, a salve – an illusory guarantee that everything is ok. In my case, this is what validation usually looks like:

Yes, your writing matters.

No, you aren’t wasting your time.

Yes, he still wants you.

No, you aren’t a disposable fraud. (This one comes with a nice dose of self-loathing. Self-loathing fucking sucks).

The real problem isn’t wanting validation, it’s misunderstanding what validation does. It’s like ointment on a cut – it’ll soothe the surface, but it doesn’t address the bleeding you can’t see. For me, the internal bleeding is the fact that sometimes I give too many fucks, and that those fucks aren’t even the right fucks to begin with.

What makes validation so addictive is that it acts as a short-term guarantee that everything’s ok. And sure, everything might be okay – for now. But what about the next now? And the next? Pretty soon, validation stops being a relief and becomes part of a feedback loop, one that slowly blows everything out of proportion and gets you stuck on a hook, one where your insecurities take over and drive your behavior.

So, when you put all that together, my need for validation is the subjective measure of worries that are way more existential than concrete:

Is everything okay?

Am I okay in the world? (Or this job, or relationship, etc.)

What the hell does okay even look like? I don’t know but please make it okay….

Those worries aren’t something that should shape your work or relationships because the only thing that can comfort them are guarantees, and the bottom line is that there are no guarantees. There is only the fleeting right now, and no amount of validation can get you off that hook.

It’s a big, ugly, exhausting tangle, but I can’t be a productive writer or a fully present person if I don’t stop chasing false guarantees – guarantees that, for me, define okay as the external validation of my value.

I will always need to feel valued, especially by people I care about and respect. That need is carved into me like grooves on a record. But for all that, the fundamental validation I actually need, the one I’ve been chasing my whole life, is my own.

My need for validation isn’t about the story or the editor or the relationship. It’s about me. And because it’s about me, it places pressure on situations and relationships that shouldn’t have to bear it. That’s why self-possession and emotional sovereignty are so important to me. The weight of that need is, ultimately, my responsibility. It’s up to me to decide (logically, rather than reactively) how many fucks I want to give.

Flash Fiction: La Belle Dame

Black and white image of a woman in a black coat standing in a doorway for Flash Fiction La Belle Dame by Malin James

Photograph by Marco Sanges

 

I have him chained to the wall. I always do. Strong backs pinioned to cold, hard stone. It’s an exhausting position. I know.

“You’ll learn to hate me,” I say.

Learn…hate….

My voice sounds strange. A stranger’s voice. I almost never speak. The words drop into the silent room, dense as mercury.

He tenses but doesn’t look away. None of them do. He smells hot and metallic, like coal-covered iron. Sharp ribs. Sharper hips. There’s a beautiful vein in his neck. Beautiful and thick.

He watches me approach, very proud. A man held together by his father’s influence…. Borrowed influence. I bring my face to his. He strains at the chains, but they pull him up short. Rattling, lunging, he spits his frustration. Laughter tumbles out of me, clean and cold as ice.

He doesn’t expect the blow.

It lands across his cheek, a delicate lie. He smiles, as he’s meant to. But the second lands hard. The third cracks his head back against the wall.

“Harder.”

It’s an empty challenge, full of ego and pride. Like that, my interest fades. Had there been something of his presence in that single word, had he shown me something true…. But, his strength is a lie he tells himself, the blown-out shell of an egg. There is mercy on my tongue for an honest man. But breakable things should break.

He snarls and pulls and bares his teeth. What a sad, ridiculous show. When I hit him again, I draw blood. He blinks. Poor, bewildered boy.

What follows is routine. There are implements on the wall and I take one down. A knife with a handle sloped like a woman’s back. I show him the arching blade, the metal that parts skin with civilized grace. Now, he looks away.

I watch him, wondering…. But no. His eyes when they find mine are blazing and empty. He bares his teeth to speak.

“No,” I say. “That’s enough.”

I kneel and consider the knife.

Very gently, like a mother, like a woman made of light, I slice through his rags and watch his skin ripple, as his clothing falls away. His eyes grow calm, as the rest of him stills. His defiance is in stasis, a delicate, crushable thing, arrested by the reality he finds himself in.

I look up at him and smile, the smile a kneeling woman gives a standing man. It’s cruel and unnerving. It’s meant to be. I continue to smile my mocking smile as I bring the blade to his skin, skin no blade should touch.

His cock stirs, making its final appeal, and I wait for him to shift and rattle and beg. It’s what always happens next. But he doesn’t. He stays quiet and very still. I press harder with the blade, curious. I want to see what he’ll do.

His muscles tense, but it’s autonomic. There’s nothing but calm from him.

I look up and meet his eyes. They are waiting for mine. He has great respect for the knife. His eyes tell me this. His eyes tell me things that sink through the silence and fill the room. There is a person in there now.

And, like that, my interest is piqued.

What May Sound Like a Stand-Offish NB: Though the trajectory of this piece was unexpected, I both stand by and am proud of it. That said, I am not personally into castration fantasies. While I respect them as a kink, please don’t feel obliged to send them to me. 

How Do I Love Thee: On Comparing Relationships

Sepia historical photograph of a woman dressed as cupid next to a lion for Post How Do You Love Me by Malin James

Woman with Lion, courtesy of the Getty Museum

Every so often, my daughter asks me if I love her best.**

This is a tricky moment as a parent, because my impulse is to say, Yes! Of course, I love you best. It’s the answer she’s looking for and by far the simplest to give. But as much as my love for her is one of the most overwhelming things I’ve ever felt, to say that I love her best does something that I’m not quite comfortable with – it accidentally reinforces a way of thinking about love that can lead to insecurity later on.

I realize that I might be overthinking this. Is there really any harm in telling her that I love her best?  There are so many things I don’t bother worrying about, like Santa’s existence or whether or not she believes in god. But reinforcing emotional comparisons feels oddly dangerous to me. It implies that love is a zero-sum game and, as Exhibt A wrote, it isn’t. Survival is, but not love.

Love, like so many things, is contextually unique. For example, a person’s love for their child can be catastrophically powerful, but what if you have two or more children? Who do you love best then? That question is almost impossible to answer (without screwing up one of more of your kids), which is why “I love you all differently” is such a great response. It reinforces the love while avoiding the comparison.

Why is avoiding comparison important for all relationships (not just those involving multiple kids)? Because when you start to comparing the different loves you feel, you risk diminishing all of them. Love isn’t measurable or quantifiable, but comparing relationships with the intention of weighing who is loved best imposes finite limits on an emotion that is naturally infinite.

The real question is what underlies the comparison. Not to get all cold and pragmatic about it, but what it really comes down to is resource distribution. We’re a fundamentally competitive species because our survival depends on it. We commodify resources because resources, whether emotional or physical, have a value rooted in survival. That’s about as fundamental as it gets.

So where does love fit into that? Love is a resource too, or rather, the safety love signifies is. As a species, we evolved through dark nights full of predators that wanted to eat us. Abandonment = death. We are literally hardwired to fear being cast aside, and one of the best guarantors of that not happening is love.

When my daughter asks me if I love her best, she’s expressing a really basic concern: If a lion grabbed Daddy and me, would you save me, even if it meant not saving Daddy? (For what it’s worth, the answer is yes. Her dad’s okay with that). The anxiety that underlies the question is instinctively human – so much so that it shows up in all kinds of relationships, not just those between a parent and child, but friendships, business partnerships and romantic relationships.

I suspect that I’m hyper aware of all this because I’ve been poly for so long. While love is definitely not a zero-sum game, survival is, and at a very basic level, we have tied security to love and pain to exclusion. That’s why, in poly relationships, it’s important to be patient with a partner’s fears and insecurities. That sort of status anxiety is hardwired into us and, for most people, it takes a bit of effort to work through.

The impulse to compare is an instinctive attempt to see if our position in the relationship is safe. Unfortunately, it’s also a great way to torture yourself into fearing that it’s not. In the end, it’s about security. The surest way to avoid the trap of comparison is to address the underlying concern. If a person is secure in your love for them, they are less likely to be worried about your love for others.

In the end, it’s not about who is loved best, but how you are loved. Are you  loved well? Is your person’s love a revelation? A homecoming? A whetstone? Is it a soft blanket on a rainy night or a delicate porcelain vase? The how says so much more than any comparison could. The how is about the two of you. The how is solid ground.

**NB: Chunks of Browning’s Sonnet 43 are the answer I give my daughter when she asks me how I love her…that and “I love you bigger than the galaxy and 9 million stars”, which is really pretty big. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.36.51 AM

Erotic Fiction: The Gift

Black and white photograph of vintage decadence at a black tie party for The Gift post by Malin James

Photograph by Marco Sanges (2014)

On the evening of her birthday, Sabine’s husband gave her the gift of a slave.

So kind, you might be thinking. So generous to give his wife another man to fuck. Sabine’s husband was, after all, several decades her senior, and the possessor of certain appetites that did not suit his foreign wife. The gift was surely a generous act, especially at that time, when flesh cost more than gold.

Generous, so generous….

Generous. But not kind.

Sabine’s husband trafficked in humans, a practice she abhorred. The gift, presented with torturous ceremony before a roomful of guests, was an insult—one so subtle that her husband would look like a king while delivering a barb she couldn’t ignore.

Unhappy but silent, Sabine watched a handler lead the blindfolded slave to the center of the room, trailed by a clutch of cilevore—sentient bonds that resembled the vines of a thick, tenacious plant. Another cilevore bound his wrists, making itself both the manacle and the leash by which he was led.

Sabine eyed the creatures, which brought to mind a cluster of eels with their slithering, muscled strength. Swallowing her disgust, she turned her attention to the slave, who was tall and blond, like the men of her faraway home.

They had brought him in naked, of course. A leather cord—the sign of his station—encircled his scrotum and cock. It was a pretty picture he made. Against her wishes, Sabine’s body quickened. The slave was beautiful and masculine—the most masculine thing she had seen since she’d come to her husband’s house. Her husband liked boys and soft, young girls. This slave, with his hard, uncompromising frame, would never have been bought if not for her.

“Well, my darling,” Sabine’s husband said, pitching his voice to the room, “care to try your new toy?”

The guests tittered. A slave such as this was only meant for one thing. Who wouldn’t want to watch?

Sabine lifted her head, winter pale and calm, as the handler sat the slave down in a carved wooden chair. Then he signaled to the cilevore, which slithered up over the slave, coiling around his ankles and wrists and binding him in place. Unable to see through the blindfold he wore, the slave flexed against his bonds. The cilevore tightened in response. Noticing the shift in the bonds, the handler slapped his cock. Once. Twice. The slave’s jaw tightened. Satisfied, the handler stepped back.

The slave’s breathing was deep and even; his face calm beneath the mask. But to the watchful, (and Sabine was watchful), the man was in distress.

The cilevore flexed, addressing the strain his body could not hide—pulse, heart rate, nerves…. He vibrated, clearly longing to rip the creatures off. And yet he continued to sit, unchallenging and calm. Disciplined, she thought. Or experienced. He was either very skilled or used to biding his time.

“Come, my dear,” her husband continued. “He is fresh from the auction block.”

“Disciplined, then,” she murmured, as her husband’s voice echoed, bluff, indulgent and utterly false. Still she did not move. Her husband’s face took on a look of gently wounded pride. He is losing patience, she thought.

“Well,” he said, as if he were coaxing a cat with cream, “I suppose if you don’t like it we’ll have to send it back.”

The handler stepped forward, unsheathing a knife.

“No,” Sabine said, surprising herself.

The guests went silent as they watched the awkward tableau. She could almost hear the slave’s pulse. It would be stressful. Very stressful. The knife was very near. One needn’t see to know. That, at least, she understood.

“I accept your gift,” she said, denying her husband the reaction he’d paid the flesh-price for.

His smile faltered but did not fail. Sabine approached the slave while the guests clapped politely, like the spectators they were. Sensing the change in the room, the slave’s fingers twitched though he did not challenge his bonds. The cilevore tightened regardless, rustling organically as Sabine came near. She ignored them. She wanted to see his face.

His white-gold hair curled softly, like feathers. Silky. Like her own. Suddenly, almost violently, she wanted the blindfold gone. Reaching out with a cool, steady hand, Sabine removed the mask, revealing an angular face with a scar along the jaw. Then the slave opened his eyes. No blinking. No panic. Just a pool of angry blue.

I am sorry, she wished to tell him. You were not meant for this.

The slave narrowed his eyes and nodded, as if he’d heard her thought. All the while, his cock rose thick above the leather thong.

To her shock, Sabine’s nipples peaked and she grew instantly wet. Without removing her gaze from his, Sabine acknowledged his nod. Then, lifting the heavy silk of her dress, she mounted him, gracefully, without revealing her arousal to anyone but the slave.

Sabine’s body flushed as she slid her swollen cunt along the length of his shaft. Her breath caught. His jaw tightened. She struggled for control as the scent of him went to her head. Then, thighs trembling, Sabine sank down, taking him into her body as her fingers knotted in his hair.

The slave’s body tensed and the cilevore shifted, sensing his impulse to touch her. She could feel his need to touch her vibrate through his skin.

“Release his arms,” she whispered.

She’d assumed the bonds would ignore her, but they dropped away, only to wrap around his waist. Wrists or no wrists, he would not be permitted to move.

Sabine grimaced. Even the manacles in her husband’s house were perfectly trained. But then slave’s hands gripped her through her dress and she fell into her body, light as snow. A sigh escaped her and gentle laughter filled the room—teasing laughter at her husband’s expense. Her thighs grew slicker at the sound.

Sabine began to move, slowly at first, then more quickly, working his shaft as she rose and fell, loosening her limbs and warming the body her marriage had turned cold.

Her focus narrowed. The room, the guests, the handler disappeared. Only her husband’s image remained sharp in her mind, and even that wavered when she looked at the slave. He was silent, watching her, hands just beneath her breasts as his thumbs rubbed her nipples through the bodice of her gown.

He is not a slave, she thought. That was not something that slaves did. Slaves followed instructions. They did what they were told. But this slave was watching—watching and responding. He did not need to be told.

Sabine rocked her hips, taking pleasure in her body as she took pleasure in him. And all the while he watched, muscles working in his jaw as his hands cupped her neck and steadied her waist. He was taking his pleasure in her. Her lips parted, lush and hungry, as her head tilted back. He was taking his pleasure in her.

Sabine moaned as he strained against his bonds, seeking her mouth with his. Had they left him his tongue, she wondered. Please, let him have his tongue. They muted slaves so often…she had not kissed him yet to know.

But she wanted his mouth. She wanted his kiss even though she feared the hollow she might find. It was defiance – of her husband and his culture and her own shameful fear – that drove her to his mouth. But all that fell away as he touched her tongue with his.

She lifted herself, rising up above his body until the tip of his cock rested at the opening of her sex. Her cunt clutched and ached, desperate for his girth, but she held herself suspended as the slave bared his teeth, squeezing her waist so hard she feared she would break.

He could crack her in two with those strong, scarred hands. He could snap her like a stick. Thoughts of her husband filled Sabine’s head. His cruel tastes. His lie of a smile. Her husband who trafficked in flesh. What might he do if confronted with such large, disciplined hands?

It was that thought, as much as the strength in his hands, that pushed her over the edge. Her legs buckled and Sabine sank back down. For the first time in her life, she gave her body free rein and she writhed like a whore, but Sabine was well beyond caring. She writhed and savored as the slave beneath her moaned. It was a sibilant sound, low and sweet—a sound for her alone. It shuddered over her skin.

Sabine arched her back and came, filling the room with a shriek so rich and obscene the slave’s handler flushed. It’s me, she thought. I am making that sound. Her cunt clutched harder and she came again, imagining herself soaked in his seed.

“Come,” she whispered into his ear. But the slave shook his head.

It was only then that she remembered he was not allowed release. She could fuck him all she liked, but he could never come. Slaves didn’t. Not male ones. It was taboo. She looked into his eyes, into his anger and need. Then she reached down between them and unknotted the thong that constricted the base of his cock.

“Come now,” she said. Her voice filled the room. “Come now for me.”

There were gasps of genuine shock. Ignoring the guests, Sabine began to move, splaying her body as he bucked and thrust against the cilevore at his waist.

Sabine’s husband said something. The handler shifted. They were running out of time.

Sensing the handler’s approach, the slave crushed Sabine to his chest, pressing her down and securing her with every single thrust. For a moment, all she heard the rush of her pulse. Then the slave’s breath hitched and he groaned as he soaked her with his cum.

Slowly, their breathing evened and their bodies calmed, and Sabine became aware of a buzzing, like wasps, in the room. No, not wasps. Nothing so dangerous. Just her husband’s guests.

Swallowing her apprehension, Sabine brought her mouth to the slave’s. She lingered a moment, drinking in the taste of ice and snow and home. Then she rose and straightened her skirts as the cilevore slivered back to his wrists.

“No,” she told the handler, who stood awkwardly near.

The handler looked to her husband, eyes weak and small as a pig’s. Her husband did not respond. Her husband, she thought with his grim, angry face, lined hard like the cracks in a bowl. Before either could respond, Sabine cut them both off.

“I will not have him bound.”

The cilevore receded, curling up on the floor as docilely as cats. The slave watched them settle and then looked at her. She nodded. He rose and crossed the room until he stood just behind Sabine.

Sabine thought of the slave’s deceptive calm and the crush of his hands on her waist. She’d have bruises the following day. A smile curved her lips. Gifts have power. By the rules of her husband’s culture, the giver cedes control of an object the moment it is given. The slave, one of her countrymen—was just such a gift, one that was part of a larger game. For the first time since marrying, Sabine felt that she might win.

“Thank you, dearest,” she said to her husband, who appeared to shrink and age. “Thank you for your generous gift.”

Sinful Sunday: My Hands

My hands aren’t beautiful. They’re smaller, female versions of my dad’s massive paws – strong and wide, not elegant and long. But that’s why I love them. They’re good and reliable. They’re sensitive and brave. They express things I don’t have words for. I love the way they touch. They aren’t pretty but I trust them and that means a lot.

And following on the theme of Favorites, this photo was taken while I was thinking about one of my favorite things…. I’ll leave it to you to imagine what that is. (For I am a kind and gentle, heartless tease).

Picture of Malin James's hand for Hand post Sinful Sunday

To see more Sinful Sunday Favorites, click the pretty lips.

Sinful Sunday

The Goblin Market

A pre-raphaelite painting of a woman holding a pomegranate for The Goblin Market by Malin James

“Proserpine” or Jane Morris & the Pomegranate by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1847)

I’ve been sick the past few days, which has given me an unusual amount of time for listless thinking and wool gathering. In and amongst the drift of fairly useless thoughts came the realization that, for me, there are two kinds of erotic reading – stories that focus on sex, and stories that achieve a raw, nearly sexual intimacy, despite the absence (or near absence) of sex.

The first sort of reading is pretty obvious. It’s best characterized by stories like this and this. In fact, a lot of what I write for this site would fall into that category. The other kind of eroticism is harder to qualify, but it shows up in pieces like this, as well as in many of my non-erotic stories, which is why they’re often read with a sexual undercurrent, even when there’s no sex in them.

Instead of being expressed in an overtly sexual way, the intimacy in those stories comes out as a sort of shared ache – a sympathy between characters that is, hopefully, transferred to the reader. That affinity triggers something like an erotic response, one that’s subtly sexual and emotionally intimate. The latent sexuality in that response is what comprises the second sort of eroticism – one that’s emotionally sexual and not obvious in the text, but simmering beneath it.

“Goblin Market”, by Christina Rossetti, drips with limpid, super sensual imagery and includes a final scene that could be a portrait of sexual ecstasy, except it isn’t. The ecstasy isn’t sexual. It’s the culmination of devotion, sacrifice, and love between two sisters whose affinity is so strong it pushes their bond to lover-like levels of intimacy while remaining uncompromisingly platonic.

How Rossetti managed to blend the sensual with the sisterly is a bit of a mystery to me, even now. There’s nothing concrete that I can point to in the poem, no line on a map marking the territory between sexuality and emotionality, but it exists all the same, which is why I think of that shared territory as the goblin market. The goblin market in narrative creates a tension that works on the reader without any conscious effect, yet you put the book down feeling lush and keenly aware, like Persephone when she finally gives in and eats the pomegranate’s seeds.

For me, one author achieves the goblin market better than anyone else. If you read anything by Angela Carter you’ll feel it, but it’s especially effective in her collection, The Bloody Chamber, which I’ve pushed mentioned before. The title story is fantastic I’ve already fangirled all over it so I’ll focus on a different story from the same collection – “The Tiger’s Bride”.

“The Tiger’s Bride” is one of the sexiest stories I’ve ever read, yet it contains no sex.  What it does have is massive amounts of emotionally charged intimacy unpinning a story in which masks and identities are stripped away. It isn’t until a tacit understanding is reached between the tiger and his captive that a shared ache develops, but when it does, it makes something that should have been ghastly, (the tiger licks her human skin away, revealing golden fur), unbelievably erotic.

The narrator’s affinity for her captor can’t be expressed in words (he speaks in low growls, translated by a simian valet), which is just as well. It’s the silence of their understanding that transforms what could have been yet another variation on “Beauty and the Beast” into a story steeped in animal sexuality. Its lack of obvious eroticism heightens, pretty fantastically, the latent eroticism of the text.

I’m finding more and more that I need this second, more subtle, emotional component for the erotic aspects of a story to work for me. While I still love straight up filth, it doesn’t tend to stay with me. It’s the stories that weave tapestries of sex and emotional intimacy that I come back to again and again, whether they’re called erotica or something else.

This shift in my reading is something relatively new. While I appreciated the goblin market from an intellectual perspective when I was younger, it never touched me the way that raw sex did. Now it’s quite the opposite. It would be easy to say that this shift is the result of getting older, but I suspect it has less to with age and more to do with me. I’ve always had an emotional intensity that I was never completely comfortable with, especially in conjunction with sex. I suspect that my growing attraction to stories steeped in this kind of emotional sexuality is, more than anything else, a sign that I’m finally comfortable with my own goblin market.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite goblin market stories, along with links to where you can find them (some for free!). And if  you have any books you love for this kind of read, tweet me or leave them in the comments!

POETRY:

“Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti

COLLECTIONS:

Winter’s Tales by Isak Dinesen – “The Invincible Slave Owners” and “The Heroine”

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – “The Tiger’s Bride” and “The Bloody Chamber” (and most of the others, to be honest).

Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor (The first story is a really subtle, really sexy adaptation of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”).

The Lure of Dangerous Women by Shanna Germain

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

NOVELS:

Atonement & The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (I fangirled the film here. And to be fair, there is fairly explicit sex in this book, but its punch lies in the emotional intensity behind it).

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Angels and Insects & The Game by A.S. Byatt

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch

The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy by Nick Bantock

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox (courtesy of Tamsin Flowers, who was lovely enough to give me a copy!)