Stories

Images of Cruelty – Gia Furs

Last Tuesday, Terese had gone to get her nails done for the first time in months. ‘I can tell you’ve been walking too much’, the pedicurist had said. ‘Too much dead skin on a young girl like you.’

‘Who hasn’t at this point?’ she’d snapped in defense.

In her heart, though, she knew her walking habits were beyond the boundaries of normality. In the bitter cold of winter, she’d regularly completed two-hour walks down to Greenwich to see a man who treated her with utmost malice. The summer before, she’d discarded her crutches and forced herself to walk on fractured shins. Whenever someone offered to buy her an Uber, she naturally recoiled. They were not meant for her – hers was the domain of trains & buses & dirty soles.

She preferred men who never even asked, who didn’t stop and think about how she moved her body to and from their apartments. It meant less pressure to come up with excuses. Women never let her get away with it so easily. Promise me you won’t walk home this time, they would plead. It’s so late. I don’t like you taking the night bus, it’s unsafe. Please let me get it for you if you can’t pay. She frequently resorted to lying, saying she’d booked an Uber and slipping outside to turn half the streetcorners of the city until she made it home. It was a point of pride.

Still, that evening, Terese accepted the Uber. Her date was ludicrously rich, a man she would only ever sleep with for the possibility of capital gain. Unlike in regular dating, there was no illusion of level ground. She had to at least try and claw her way up, even if she already knew the task was Sisyphean.

She got into a car with darkened windows and breathed in, out, in, made awkward small talk with the driver – Look at all the people packed into that pavilion, dancing like they’re above it all – It seems they’re filming a movie – Well that’s no excuse. You a key worker too, Miss?

Unsurprisingly, the man turned out to be small. a lowercase daddy. The bookshelves in his cavernous living room were decorated by art auction catalogues and photographs of his children. Terese averted her eyes, straightening her navy sailor dress while he finished up an important phone call. She watched cubes of ice melt into her glass of diet coke, handed to her by a pretty eastern European maid.

‘You’re exactly Anthony’s type,’ she had informed her in a dating app message that morning. ‘Rare.’ 

They could have switched positions so easily. Terese imagined herself in the maid’s collared little dress, spending her mornings looking up girls her boss might like to fuck online, her evenings handing out little drinks to them. How she would learn to view women as sets of attributes, ticking off things he found attractive. What was it about me? Should I thank you for the privilege? The maid was smiling at her, saccharine sweet. Terese wanted to enter a mirror.

She was alone with Anthony, now.

‘You seem nervous,’ he said.

‘I’m not used to this,’ she said, fidgeting with her hands on her lap.

‘To meeting new people?’

‘Yes.’

‘Tell me about your studies.’

‘I’m writing my dissertation about muzan-e.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Art history. Images of cruelty.’

She had graduated two years before, with honours in pure mathematics.

‘Like what?’

‘Pregnant women strung up in fishermen’s ropes and flayed alive. Innocent civilians beheaded on the street by bored samurai. That kind of thing.’

Anthony smiled beamingly. ‘I’m into that.’

Do you realise you’re the butt of their joke? She didn’t ask, naturally. She smiled and played with her hair until his hands crept on her thighs. His fingers were shorter than hers.

When he kissed her, Terese tried to make herself feel grateful instead of recoiling. He is just making space for me in a world that is not mine.

‘Can I hurt you now?’ he asked. She nodded and followed him into another room.

‘Take off your dress.’ He was putting on a stern voice that did not suit his little body. She pulled the navy dress over her head.

‘I like your corset.’ He unlaced it to insert metal clamps on her nipples and her clitoris.

In pain, she watched him do three lines of coke. Terese liked thinking of her pain as a gift. Anthony was looking away, failing to fully receive any of it. Without audience, her eyes watered. It was simply a resistance test. She knew she could take it. She could take anything.

After she’d passed the probe, Anthony gave her some drugs, but they did nothing for her. It was extremely difficult for her to experience a high; taking pain was the most effective way she’d found to get endorphins into her bloodstream. She looked at Anthony’s glazed eyes and knew he would be unable to have sex with her. Small mercies.

‘Have you ever tried a Sybian?’ he asked.

She shook her head at the alien word. Smiling, he walked to a cupboard and pulled out a black suitcase.

‘Open it for me, baby.’

Inside was a little sex machine, a saddle-mounted dildo. He handed her a remote control with two circular knobs. ‘I want to see you come.’

Never, Terese thought and turned the knobs to maximum intensity. She remained very still, relishing the punishing grate of hard plastic against her insides.

‘Good girl.’ He was taking a video on his iPhone.

She could turn this into an endurance test, too. Some time passed – three or ten minutes, a small eternity.

‘Do you feel close?’

‘No.’

‘I’ve never seen anyone use it this long,’ he said, frowning at her.

The machine was loud enough to drown her whimpers. She wondered which would come first, bleeding or blacking out. Anthony skulked out of the room and left her to her own devices. She was convulsing electronically. She was brimming with spirits. She knew that for sure when they started streaming down her cheeks. After she flicked the switch into the ‘off’ position, lightning bolts kept running up and down her spine, lashing between her shaky legs. It was a triumphant feat of alchemy, to neutralise the threat of pleasure by turning it into nothing, or something she had no name for.

On the cab ride back home, Terese rested her hot forehead against the window and looked up. It was not stargazing, because the sky had turned into a negative space, black as the ink of lecherous octopi. She knew it was not empty.