The Beginning of the End

woman's neck in blue by sunlit curtains

Tchaikovsky was a genius. The sheer curtains are billowing like Odette’s skirt as The Dance of the Swans plays on the stereo. The spring flowers in the side garden are dancing along in the breeze. Claudia wonders what would happen if she stood up and started dancing around the room. She loved ballet as a child, but she hasn’t danced for years. Master says that it would make her fibromyalgia pain much worse, even if she doesn’t think so. But what was the point of being an owned person if you didn’t obey your owner?

The man in question looks up from his paperwork and frowns at her soft sigh. Much of the time, her job is to be seen and not heard. “Turn that off, please,” he says, before going back to the paperwork that seems to be annoying him so much.

“Yes, Master.” She rises from her kneeling position near the door. The ice cubes in his orange juice aren’t melted, so there’s no need to refresh the glass. She returns to the doorway and sinks back to her knees. No music. No dancing. Definitely no sighing.

Master hisses between his front teeth, and marks off something angrily on his papers. As long as he has to work on them, she’ll have to kneel in her silence by the door. Russell Derleth, her Master, has played a lot of classical music for her son Lucas, he’s told Lucas stories about the lives of the composers, but Claudia suspects that he doesn’t like music much. Opera gives him headaches, but he goes anyway. He loathes modern music even more, calls it noise. Somebody like Mahler, barely mid-century, is beyond his patience. The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, he patronizes them all, but she suspects that it’s business, not pleasure. He always comes back late from intermissions.

She’s not sure she gets his lack of enjoyment, she loves the Philly Orchestra; their chief conductor is a genius. The critics rave about how S. David Smith rebuilt the orchestra from squabbling factions, but where it tells is in the music. Claudia likes the conductor’s choices on what to emphasize, his understanding of how themes rise and fall, the surprising places he makes something clear in music that people haven’t heard before. Yes, that’s how it should be, at so many points that she just floats home afterward, very much as if she’s been dancing herself. She’d attend every single performance if she were given a choice. Good live music is bliss.

ballerina in feathers
Swan Lake

Kneeling in her owner’s presence is far from the bliss she feels at a concert. It’s an exercise in mindfulness and obedience. Master has told her that she should be grateful for the opportunity to be in his presence so much of the time that she’s required to kneel. He wanted her to cultivate a Zen-like calm, and felt that this was the best way to go about it. She’s overheard his boss criticizing his methods, but that only makes him more obstinate. Besides, he says, what would Regent Matheson know about training a slave, anyway?

Still, she certainly doesn’t feel serene or enlightened today. She just feels bored. And restless.

There’s a little puff of breeze, fluttering the sheers near her, and again Master glances up in irritation. A muscle in his jaw twitches as he glares at the curtains. She makes a note to check on those papers and find out what’s so infuriating, see if she can forestall it happening again, as with the household expenses. She’ll have to break out the lavender and chamomile blend that she keeps on hand for his tension headaches. That is, if he ever allows her out of this corner.

woman's hands in deep lace cuffs
Venetian lace cuffs
She makes a mental note to find out what Master’s working on that’s annoying him so much. If it were something that she could help with, he would have just handed it to her with instructions. She already handles all of the household accounts, but she’s forbidden to look at his work papers. He hates paperwork, and his job as a Knight of Saint Christopher generates a lot of the stuff.

Perhaps he wouldn’t be so crotchety if his boss the Regent weren’t breathing down his neck all the time. He’s supposed to be coming by in the next day or so, so that may be what the push on this paperwork was all about. She swears that Regent Matheson spends more time in their home than he does in his own. Perhaps he’s lonely, but it would be easy for someone like him to find companionship. He’s rich, handsome enough for an older man, and possessed of the sort of affable charm that some people find irresistible. He winds all the dance and orchestra people around his thumb like so many sycophants.

Regardless of his charms, Claudia doesn’t like him. He makes things harder, riling up Master so often about some mysterious business things they’re working on. He’s always watching her, and not in a flattering way. He makes suggestions about her training, even though he’s made it clear that he’s not into kink of any sort. When she’s in another room, he’s pretty sharp with Master about what he’s not doing, where he’s not making enough effort to educate her in the proper subjects. He dares to suggest that she’s not getting enough of the right kind of exercise. He thinks Master keeps her shut away in the house too much, or sometimes too little. She feels like some sort of zoo animal when he’s around. Creepy.

She briefly imagines a Spinosaurus breaking through the window frame and eating Master whole, just plucking him up from the chair and tossing him down. Amusing, but hardly fair. If she was feeling disgruntled, what was she doing here? She has a purpose in life, a place to live, security for her son Lucas. If things were lacking, wasn’t that just part of life?

Why couldn’t she just relax and think child-thoughts, as he’s sometimes advised her to do? Goodness knows Lucas is a cheerful, loud model. He’s doing really well at the Montessori school. He’s a happy, bright child with lots of friends. Matter of fact, he’s at a play date right now. She suspects that the little blonde girl, Aspen, has a crush on him. They were funny at this age — another couple of years and you wouldn’t be able to get him near a girl. He’ll probably come home chattering up a storm, and Master will smile indulgently. He never complains about Lucas making noise.

So why is she so restless this afternoon? She searches her memory for a precedent and finds nothing; he sailed through adolescence without so much as a detention or a missed curfew. There was a vaguely respectable boyfriend, grades solidly in the top third of her class, a place on the junior varsity girl’s basketball team, ballet recitals. She hadn’t talked back to her parents, she hadn’t gotten in trouble with the police. The only drama to mar her parents’ proud and placid regard had been her announcement that she was pregnant. Just out of high school? It just wasn’t seemly.

Then she met Russell Derleth. He knew what she wanted, what she needed, even if she didn’t. And he had explained it all to her, slowly and patiently, shown her all about his secret world, the world of dominance and submission. And suddenly everything made sense. Master showed her it wasn’t just an idle daydream. It was a way of life.

woman in black riding habit on bay horse
Poise and Balance

Not that everything is perfect all of the time. Her master doesn’t seem to be interested in sex, much as he isn’t interested in music. She tried to seduce him a few times, with a spectacular lack of success. He told her her attempts had been pitiful, and that she should be ashamed of herself. She certainly wasn’t permitted to go out and pick up anybody. How could she ashamed, when he gave her absolutely no chance to practice seduction? He simply would not stand for it.

But that’s a minor thing. Lucas takes up most of her energy, and all the rest goes to handling things for Master. Besides, Claudia suspects that perfection would be a disappointing state; it’s striving for it, working toward it, that interests her.

Her parents, now– there’s an area which could use improvement. Maybe her parents sensed that theirs was not a love match. In retrospect, Claudia never should have told her mother about the master and slave part at all. But she had been so thrilled about striking out into this new and tantalizing territory, and she had no one else to talk to.

She never expected the nuclear meltdown that had ensued over the phone. Her mother had argued, and threatened, and cried, and eventually she’d contacted lawyers and friends of friends who knew deprogrammers. Her parents never seemed to understand that this was the life Claudia had chosen for herself, that this was what she wanted. In the end, their relationship had been strained to the point of fear.

She was afraid to trust Lucas with them, knowing that they had filed papers twice to have him taken away. It was a good thing that her owner knew a competent lawyer or two.

She still couldn’t understand why her parents couldn’t be happy for her. Finally, she knew what she wanted. She knew where she belonged. And if it wasn’t perfect, well…

What was?

She adds more horns to her Spinosaurus. And gives it a neon pink hide. And has it screaming Broadway show tunes at the top of its considerable lungs. Or maybe Mahler would be nice…

ballet corps in white onstage
Timing is Always First
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