Private Function (Part Two)
Sarah is jumping with excitement when we wrap up there. She drags me over to the sandwich table again. The next workshop, she explains, is by the man who runs “Bound2Please” — a Vancouver Island based company that makes floggers and restraints. She works for him, enjoys working with the leather and suede. His name is Gord, and he will walk us through the proper use of various floggers, paddles, whips and canes, with Sarah as his assistant. “I’ll be mostly naked,” she says, not seeming to mind much.
Gord is tall and thin, with greying hair and a nice, if mildly mischievous, smile. It is obvious from the way they banter at the front of the room that Sarah feels safe with him.
The layout has changed in the hour between workshops. Gord stands in front of a table that is covered in leather toys of all shapes and sizes. A St. Andrew’s Cross, complete with rings to attach wrist and ankle cuffs, stands to the side.
After a brief introduction, he grins at Sarah and tells her to hop up. Her smile is the smile of someone who has agreed to go skinny-dipping in the dead of winter — equal parts anticipation and what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into. She pulls her dress over her head, unhooks her bra, and steps up to the cross.
“I’m not taking my socks off,” she announces to the room. “It’s cold in here!”
There is good natured laughter from the room at large, and I am surprised by the lack of cat-calling. The faces around me are entertained and interested.
Gord secures her wrists to the top of the cross, then begins to tell us about some of the toys on the table. He tells us which areas on the body to avoid (kidneys, the inside of joints) and how important it is not to let the tips of the flogger swing around the shoulders and sting the neck. Sarah looks quite comfortable.
He uses a few paddles first. They are flat and black, made of leather, not held together by metal studs, but stitched. I wonder, as he strikes Sarah’s backside with a resounding “thwack!”, whether my friend helped make some of these.
Sarah winces a little at the first few blows, and suddenly yelps. Gord grins and tells us, “I call that ‘the same fucking spot.’” He smacks her again and asks, “Is that it?”
“That’s the one,” Sarah says. Her voice is ruefully amused.
The atmosphere between Gord and Sarah has not changed, does not change. He works his way methodically through the different toys, striking Sarah’s back, her behind, her thighs. He pauses to check in with her, which he does quietly and seriously, and also to ask for questions from the group. He tells us what sort of quality markers to check for when buying toys, explains how important rounded edges are. Sarah’s skin is soon quite pink.
The last toy he uses is a brown leather flogger that is almost as long as I am tall. When the demonstration is over I will ask to take a closer look at it; when I hold it at my chin, the tassels will brush the toe of my shoe. For now, Gord tells us that it is nicknamed “The Carwash.” He uses both hands to hoist it, brings it carefully and firmly down on Sarah’s shoulders. She is rammed hard into the wood of the cross with every blow.
When he asks her how she is, her tone is different than before. She sounds dreamy, relaxed, blissful.
I would expect this scene to be sleazy, but somehow it is not. The comfortable candour between Sarah and Gord helps to put me at ease, but that is not all. They approach this fetish, this demonstration, from the standpoint that flogging is a good thing that can be a great deal of fun, but that it is also dangerous and must be done properly.
When he lets her down from the cross, they hug. I am surprised by how touching I find it.
The Play Party
The middle-aged woman at the front of the room flashes her showman’s smile and tosses her jacket onto a coat stand, then begins to dance suggestively with it. She dances for a while, rolls her magician’s hat along her arms and flips it back onto her head. More clothes come off. I try to negotiate my caesar salad without blushing. What is the etiquette for eating dinner while watching a circus-themed striptease?
I’ve enjoyed my day so far. Although the sudden and casual nudity of the workshop assistants was a little jarring, their lack of embarrassment, as well as the acceptance of the people around them, made it easy to get over. I’m worried about the next part of the evening, though. While the workshops had an undertone of sexual energy, they were mostly about learning. The party is where the serious “play” will be happening; already people around me have been popping into the washrooms to change clothes, emerging in corsets and collars, tall boots and short skirts. Everywhere I look there is leather.
Sarah — my babysitter for the evening — catches my eye and smiles. In anticipation of my discomfort, she’s signed me up for a shift in the kitchen once the party starts. Mostly, she tells me, this will involve selling pop and keeping the fridge stocked. “It’s the best way to have something to ‘do’ while still meeting people,” she told me earlier.
Right now that kitchen shift is all that’s keeping me from fleeing. I have more than enough to write an article about, and my anxiety levels are rising. I’m already unsure as to how to conduct myself over dinner; how will I know how to behave at the party?
“I’m just going for a walk,” I tell Sarah, and she nods.
Outside, the sun is shining. I follow the narrow road a ways, revelling in the silence. The evening is warm, still. It eases my mind to remember that the outside world is still here, just a few doors away. I am calm when I return, although everyone seems much nakeder than they were a half hour ago.
I navigate the edges of the main hall, passing the elderly man in a red g-string and the naked man mummified in saran wrap.
I retreat to the “conversation” section of the hall and find somewhere to sit. I am almost immediately ousted by a couple wanting to use the area for bastinado. I retreat, five minutes early, for my volunteer shift.
The kitchen is comfortable — surprisingly so. As a woman alone in a bar, I am assumed to be straight, single, and interested in being chatted up. As a woman alone here, I could be straight or gay or bisexual, a slave or a dominatrix, single or spoken for, interested in sex or play or nothing. No assumptions are made, and I am not bothered. Furthermore, the cash box, which overflows with twenties, is directly beneath the counter. I am surprised by how trusting these strangers are.
From my position here, I can see the tall, statuesque woman by the opposite wall. She stands about 10 paces from her friend wielding a whip, the end of which cracks down on her exposed cleavage. I can hear it clearly above the noise of the room. Soon she is shrieking at every blow.
Twenty minutes later the tall woman comes to the counter to buy a drink. Long red welts stand out in relief against her white skin. It looks as if someone has dripped wax across her chest.
“Look at your chest!” I tell her, admiring and sympathetic at the same time.
“She made me come three times with her whip,” she tells me, unconcerned.
When she leaves, I go back to my people watching.
A man in very tight, small underwear is being flogged against a cross by a woman in leather. I am too far away to see for certain, but it looks as if he may be crying. When they finish she unhooks his wrists and he turns and steps down into her open arms. They stay there for a few long moments, swaying in place. It is a scene of comfort and kindness, made neither more nor less poignant by the leather strap in her hand.
Sarah stops by to check on me, and to let me know that she’ll be doing some needle play in half an hour, just when my shift ends. I’m welcome to come and watch.
The next person doesn’t show up for kitchen duty, but I am reluctant to leave my sanctuary anyway. I can see Sarah on a table in the next room. Two people — a man and a woman, both around her age — stand above her; they look like doctors or mad scientists. I hear a muffled squeal from Sarah, followed by her familiar giggle. As the minutes tick by, her noises become louder and louder. I am reminded again of someone plunging into very cold water.
When I am finally freed from the kitchen, I make my way to where Sarah is lying. Things seem to be winding down now. She is mostly naked again, with needles threaded through the top layer of skin on her breasts and ribs. The woman mad-scientist does not notice when I sit on a nearby table to watch. She is focused entirely on her gloved fingers, which are slowly drawing the metal out of Sarah’s skin. The man, however, smiles distractedly at me. There is a little blood on Sarah’s skin, and he is wiping it clean.
When he has finished, they sit her up very slowly, supporting her from both sides. The woman fetches a plaid fleece blanket, wraps Sarah carefully in it and sits her down next to me. The two of them sit as well. They smile politely at me, but their focus — relaxed but attentive — is on Sarah. One of them brings her a bottle of water.
“Are there any cookies left?” she asks me. She is quieter than I am used to, more relaxed. The smile is still there, but it is sleepier, calmer.
The cookies have been gone for a while, I tell her. I feel tentative — unwilling to disturb the quietness of the scene, but wanting to ask what it was like. Whether she enjoyed it. I fumble with my words, but when I finally force out a question she grins, tilts her head to the side, and tells me it was “intense.”
The two mad scientists are keeping an eye each on Sarah as they begin to clean up their tools. The bloody tissues go directly into a plastic bag, followed eventually by their latex gloves. Everything is disinfected.
Sarah and I sit quietly as they work. I am enjoying the calm. Today I have watched a man light his sex partner on fire. I have seen welts like lines of red wax on the chest of a stranger, and heard her express pride in them. I have seen my friend publicly bound and beaten. I have seen her bleed. Oddly, though, what stays with me is the care members of this community extend to one another. The prevailing image of the evening is that of the strangers I watched on the St. Andrew’s Cross, hugging after their flogging session. I keep seeing the woman open her arms, the trusting way the man stepped into them.
I remember Sarah telling me how respectful the environment was, how she felt safer at a play party than she did at a bar, and I am surprised to find that I agree. It seems to me that everyone here has been attentive to my body language, my signals. I have said all evening, without saying it, that I am fascinated and curious, but not interested in “playing.” No one has questioned that, no one has pushed.
But as much as I have enjoyed myself, the party has been overwhelming. When I look up from my quiet conversation with Sarah, I see that the hall has begun to empty. No doubt some people will stay till the bitter end, but I decide I have seen enough. I hug Sarah, make my way through the hall and to the parking lot. The setting, which struck me as incongruous two hours ago, now seems quite apt. It is a community hall. Whatever else Cornucopia is about, whatever kinks and quirks its members may have, it seems to me that it is, first and foremost, a community.