Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Travelogue: Chapter 2, Part 2

(To start with Chapter 1, see the sidebar)

The voice was unrecognizable. “Penny.” She opened her eyes to darkness. Where was she? And then her eyes opened again on the white room, still awash with the clear grey light of a cloudy summer afternoon. Mr. Craness was standing in the doorway. She wanted to stretch out her arms to him like a child but her limbs were still too heavy with sleep. “It’s time for dinner,” he told her. The door shut again.

It was hard to pry herself out of bed, but her stomach growled and  she knew Mr. Craness was waiting. The morning came back to her, along with a sinking feeling of embarrassment and anxiety. He hadn’t told her if she could put her underwear back on. Were they going out to dinner? Which dress should she wear? When she sat up her insecurity was allayed. An outfit had been laid across the back of the armchair. To her further relief, he’d included panties. She dressed quickly, spent a few moments in the bathroom with her lipstick and comb, and stepped out into the living room.

Mr. Craness was in conversation with another man whose back was towards her. Penny hesitated in the doorway a moment, but Mr. Craness caught her eye and lifted his chin slightly to coax her forward. Penny took a step. At that moment, the second man turned towards her. Her next step hung in the air, then her foot swung backwards instead. It was Marco.

“Penny!” Marco cried warmly. He strode forward and embraced her. Despite her confusion, it was good to have arms around her. She hugged him back. As he stepped away again, her balance faltered. He caught her arm, looking down at her with concern. “Penny, I startled you! I’m so sorry. Come and sit down,” he said.

Mr. Craness stepped forward and took her other elbow. He had that amused look in his eyes again. “I think a meal will steady her, Marco. Lead the way.”

The three headed down the stairs and out to the street, Marco ahead and Penny on Mr. Craness’s arm. Her mind was awhirl. Had Mr. Craness known she sat with Marco on the airplane? Of course he knew, he must have--in fact, he must have set it up! It couldn’t be an accident. But Marco’s questions on the plane--she’d so completely fallen for his patter! It was humiliating.

Penny hardly saw her surroundings as Mr. Craness steered her over uneven pavement through the cooling evening air. She was glad to be walking as she turned recent history over in her mind. With a chill, she recalled Mr. Craness’s seemingly innocent questions about her flight. She had been dishonest! And he had known it all along.

She felt sick. What exactly had she said? For a moment  it was hard for her to recall their conversation. This morning seemed like days ago. But there was no question. She hadn’t merely omitted meeting Marco, which would have been bad enough. She had definitely lied. And then... it was after that, she thought, that Mr. Craness had told her his rules. Respect. Honesty. She thought there were two more, but they were unimportant now. Why had he not confronted her? Maybe this transgression explained his distance?

At this point in her anxious meditations Mr. Craness steered her to a stop. They were in front of a small Indian restaurant.  Marco asked for a table for three, and they were seated around a square table near the window. The geometry of the table increased Penny’s discomfort. Marco was at her right, and Mr. Craness straight across from her. She felt chilled in the spot where his hand had been while they walked. Her shame at being caught in a lie and the unsettling way Mr. Craness’s had treated her were augmented by the sense of dislocation and unreality caused by travel and jet lag.

She opened the menu and gazed at it without reading. The waitress brought her water. She could feel her first cold sip travel down to her stomach and sit there. Mr. Craness and Marco ordered a number of dishes and the waitress went away again without consulting her. She barely noticed. She wanted the meal to be over, to face whatever consequence or confrontation awaited her. The men seemed in no hurry, though. They talked and laughed and gestured as they ate.

Marco poured her a glass of wine and a vivid memory of their evening on the airplane returned to her arousingly. He was so charming. Her distance began to  melt a little as the two men turned their attention to drawing her out. Mr. Craness told anecdotes of his move to London 20 years ago, and Marco told of his first visits a decade later. Penny found herself laughing and drinking a second glass of wine.

“How did you and Marco come to meet?” she eventually asked.

Mr. Craness’s face became serious. “We met him towards the end of my wife’s illness. She was in a lot of pain—” he paused, his lips momentarily tight, but then continued evenly enough. “Marco provided her with relief. A great deal of relief.”

Marco gave Penny a small smile. “Hypnotism has many uses,” he said.

“He was more than a hypnotist. He gave us both comfort. And he’s become a very dear friend.” Mr. Craness squeezed Marco’s arm. For a moment Penny felt the warmth between them. Her chilly dread receded in the face of real emotion. They might be playing an all-consuming game, but the players themselves were not merely plastic markers.

She remembered, comfortingly, that before she’d become his protégé, Mr. Craness had been her friend and confidant.

Dinner soon came to an end. In the street, Mr. Craness tucked her in between himself and Marco, and they walked back to the house arm in arm. Penny’s laughter now was unforced, as the two men told stories of late-night misadventures. The bodies on either side of her were solid and masculine, their arms affectionately buoying her up when she stumbled on the uneven pavement. Mr. Craness took her arm when they reached the stairs. Penny giggled when Marco fondled her bottom as he followed them up.

Her laughter ended as the door shut behind Marco. Something about the spare, modern space didn’t seem conducive to laughter. And Mr. Craness was looking at her with that deceptively friendly grin again. “This way, my dear,” he said, and led her along the hall to the master bedroom she’d peeked into before. There, again, was the straight-backed dining room chair. It had been set out in the middle of the excessively spacious floor between the window and the bed. “Does anyone really live here?” she found herself wondering, picturing her last apartment’s clutter.

“Undress,” Mr. Craness said, bringing her sharply back to the present. “And sit in the chair. I’ll be back.” She began to undress. He hadn’t said how long he’d be gone. It seemed best to move quickly. She began to sit down, then bent to pick up the clothing she’d dropped on the floor. “Leave them,” said Mr. Craness, reentering the room. She sat down.

The chair was cool against her skin. Penny shivered. Thankfully the  day had been warm and the room wasn’t chilly. “Now, I want you to sit up straight. Good posture is paramount.” She straightened, pushing her shoulders back and down. Her breasts felt embarrassingly exposed. “Good,” he said. “Now, hands behind the chair.” She positioned herself obediently, wrists crossed against the wood.

“I’m not going to tie you,” Mr. Craness said, looping something fabric around her wrists. “I think if you try you’ll find you are quiet able to remove your wrists from this band.” She moved a little and found the binding firm but elastic.

He knelt in front of her and pushed her knees apart. Her body jerked surprisingly. The phantom of his earlier caresses made her suddenly deeply aroused. Mr. Craness efficiently looped a band around her left ankle and the corresponding chair leg, then did the same on the right. “It’s the same material,” he said as he rose. “I’m certain you can get out of these bands whenever you choose. They are merely to help to remind you of my instructions, should you become distracted.”

All of Penny’s dread had returned. Her knees shook. “Are you going to punish me?” she asked.

“Punish you?” Mr. Craness gave a tolerant smile. “I think you would enjoy that too much. No, I’m simply going to ask you to sit here until you are released. ”

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” Penny said.

“I’m sure you will be,” said Mr. Craness. “We talked about respect, Penny. It is my Only rule.” He cupped her face is his hand, stroking a tear away from her eye with his thumb. “You’ll be a bit lonely here, I imagine. Later on I’ll tuck you into bed.” He looked down at her kindly, and she couldn’t help smiling back at him.

“Now,” he said, moving towards the door. “I want you to practice your posture, and leave your arms and legs where I’ve placed them. Marco and I are going out for drinks.”

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