:: Article

Chicken Soup for the Sadomasochist

By Tom Barlow.

Donnie begs Alicia to heat the alligator clip over the flame of the stove burner before she pinches it onto his nipple.

“This is not my idea of a date,” she says, bouncing the clip in her palm. “How about I just put a dry cleaner bag over your head and go home?”

Face-up, naked, roped at two, four, eight and ten o’clock to the legs of the dining room table, Donnie is unconsciously wriggling one chaffed wrist. For a self-professed pain junkie, he has little control over aversion reactions.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination.” His voice sounds like gravel tossed down a dry drainage pipe. Hours of July heat trapped inside the house, windows shut to muffle his screams, and he’d made her promise — no water. He’d ordered her to fix herself a pitcher of iced tea and drink it slow, inches from his eyes.

“This is excruciating,” she says, picking up the tea pitcher. She holds it over his foot, tilts until a thin stream of liquid dribbles onto his toes. Slowly, she starts up his leg.

“You promised to hurt me.”

She pauses for a moment, entranced by the goose bumps emerging along the tea line. “Sorry. I only promised what I could imagine.” She resumes the pour, now inches above his knee and heading north.

“I told you I was a sick fuck when we met.” He had stopped sweating an hour before, but now his forehead is glistening again.

“Yeah, but I thought you meant an ordinary sick fuck. What kind of a come-on line is that, anyway?” She changes course slightly, following the perimeter of the pubic zone.

“God, that feels good,” he says, “and not in a bad way. Stop it.”

She takes a slight detour north and lets the trickle fill his navel. When it starts to overflow, she leans over and sucks it dry. Salty, sour.

She says, “I hate it that after you told me you were a sick fuck you waited to see if I was still interested.” She starts down the line of stomach hair leading from his navel to his groin. His penis is retreating, like the head of a turtle pulling back into its shell.

“You hate yourself for not walking away?”

“Would rejection have made you happy? Happy about being sad?” She dips her hand in the pitcher, grabbing several ice cubes. “Can we ever be happy together if I don’t hate myself too?” She presses her palm to his forehead, trapping the cubes against his skin.

“God, that feels good,” he says, his hands kneading the air beyond the zip ties. “Quit it.”

“Shush,” she says. “Give it a minute. So you need pain because, what, you’re happy but you don’t deserve to be happy? But if torturing you is making me miserable, that makes you happy, which is sad? I don’t think it’s possible to be a sadist and a masochist at the same time.”

She can tell when the ice cream headache begins by the way his eyes bulge. “Oh, fuck me, that hurts. There isn’t a person alive that isn’t a mass of contradictions.”

“You’re welcome.” She picks up the pitcher, sloshes it a bit to distribute the coldest tea, then, winking at him, dumps the entire contents on his crotch. Donnie’s eyes roll back into his skull for a moment, then reappear, tears swelling at the corners. He’s gasping for breath.

“You are so good,” he says when he finally regains his voice. “You’re the best ever.”

She lifts her hand, letting the ice cubes roll off his forehead. Picks up the filet knife from the counter and circles the table, cutting the rope bonds.

“What’s wrong?” he says, rolling heavily onto his side.

She picks up her purse from the counter, shaking it once to locate her car keys. “I can’t stand a Pollyanna. I’m too good for you, you know?”

“Wait. You didn’t take me seriously, I hope?” He sits up, hands cupping his frozen balls.

“Honey, there’s not enough pain here for the both of us. You know what I feel when you’re screaming at the top of your lungs?”

He shrugs, eyes still watering.

“Self esteem. Now who’s the sick fuck?”

She pinches him on the arm, hard, as she walks out, relishing the look of longing on his face.

Other stories of Tom Barlow’s may be found in The Apalachee Review, Hobart, The Duck & Herring Pocket Field Guide, Hiss Quarterly, Thieves Jargon, the Steel City Review and many other magazines, as well as print anthologies including Book of Dead Things, Desolate Places and Hard-Boiled Horror. His story “My Daughter of Many Colours” was recently named a Notable Story for 2007 by the Million Writer’s Award, and his story “Call Me Mr. Positive,” which appears in the anthology Best of the Intergalactic Medicine Show, was called “brilliantly sardonic” by Publisher’s Weekly. He’s a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, January 16th, 2009.