Playboy Fiction: Safeword

By R.O. Kwon

A vanilla husband wants to please his kinky wife. Can Mistress Ava help?

After some discussion, they decided they’d both benefit from professional guidance. It was like doing yoga, they figured. Hazardous, at first, to go through the poses without an instructor’s help. The woman who opened the door was shorter than her pictures had suggested she’d be. But on her website she’d been dressed in black pours of single-piece latex; now, in a buttoned white shirt with rolled sleeves, a simple black skirt and calf-high boots so shiny Ken could see his blurred reflection, she looked less like a Mistress Ava Adamson than she did like a normal person, almost.

“Hello, Ken,” she said. She took his hand in a predictably strong grip. Dark hair cupped her jaw, the tips curving under her chin like a gladiatorial helmet. She was roughly their age: still young, as opposed to young, period. “And you,” she said, turning to Jenny, who was standing half a step behind him, her hand in his. “I’m so glad to see you. Come along.”

She turned and left them. Still holding hands, they followed the dominatrix. Down the long hall, then they were in a dim room flashing mirrors and—contraptions. Everything was an elaborate variation on something else, something he understood. A black padded massage table, but sturdier, buckle restraints hanging from its corners. A cross, but X-shaped, also dangling restraints. At the end of the room, something like a throne, high-backed, theatrical, gilded, the center of its seat cut away. Then what looked like a cat’s scratching post, except that it was human-sized and, again, equipped with restraints. A mess of whips and crops, canes and paddles lined the walls. Jenny’s grip on his hand had gone loose.

“May I take your coats?” the dominatrix said, smiling. Tattoos shimmered through the thin fabric of her shirt.

She’d be right back, she said. As soon as the door closed behind her, Jenny turned to him. Her eyes were wide and urgent. “The envelope,” she whispered.

“Oh, right,” he said, pulling it from his pocket. The website had instructed them to leave their payment—their “tribute,” what the fuck—out in plain sight at the start of their session. “Why are we whispering? Where am I supposed to put this?”

“Maybe on that—that table?”

He smoothed out the envelope and left it on the modified massage table. This woman was making more per hour than most bankers he knew. Jenny was hugging herself, looking down. She’d agonized that morning over what clothes she should wear, which was pretty funny, since, as he’d pointed out, she probably wasn’t going to be in them very long. After five, six outfit changes, she’d ended up choosing the first thing she’d tried on, a slim wool dress with stockings, an ensemble at least 15 degrees too flimsy for the day. But now, underdressed, clutching herself, she looked tiny, miserable. He closed his arms around her, warming her up. He almost asked if she was all right, but maybe it was insensitive to imply there was any reason for her not to be all right, and why would there be? Here they were, in a dungeon in Chelsea, a dominatrix on her way: What could be off about this? So he kissed the top of her head, the white pure line of her part, and hoped the touch would say what needed to be said, whatever it was. He was so tired, he realized, of not knowing what he was supposed to do or say.

So much was his fault. Like a jackass, he’d pushed her and pushed her. A month ago, he’d interrupted the back massage he was giving her—“harder,” she kept saying—to ask if there was anything else she wanted to try in bed.

“Jenny?” he said, after a moment. It was possible she was asleep, but it was even more possible she was pretending this wasn’t happening. They were like two thirds of a bar joke: He was an ex-Pentecostal, she was an ex-Catholic, and though she’d been with him for three years she still refused to let him in the bathroom if she was so much as taking a piss.

“Jen-ny,” he repeated, running a knuckle up the long knobbed curve of her neck. He was straddling her; she was lying on her stomach in her bra and panties.

“No, I’m fine,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Really, there’s nothing?” he said. “Come on, there must be some fantasy you’ve never told me about. There’s not even one other thing you want to try?” He’d brought this up as a joke, mostly, and also of course because he kind of wanted her to ask him what other fantasies he had, but now that she was being so evasive he had to wonder: Was she lying?

She twisted her neck to look up at him. “Ken,” she said, too gently. “Are you bored?”

“No,” he said. Quickly, before she had time to think, he said, “But you are.”

Then came the denials, the expostulations, the what-the-hell-are-you-talking-abouts, and then, if only to prove him wrong, she pulled off his boxers and bounced on top of him for a long, athletic display of just how bored she was not. But after she’d fallen asleep, her head huddled under his chin, he lay awake, wondering.

“ The dominatrix had Jenny bent over the table, her ass upward. “I’m warming her up.

A year married, three together. Say they had sex every three days, on average. Once every three days, 121.7 fucks a year, so 365 times they’d played hide the salami, the same stick in the same hole, the stick in the hole, the stick in the hole, the stick in the—who wouldn’t feel bored? The fact that he hadn’t, yet, meant nothing. He was an outlier. Recently, he’d eaten the same deli pork-belly-and-pickle sandwich every weekday for a month, because it was good. Tasty, filling, reliable. Why mess around? Maybe he should make the straightforward effort and believe his wife when she said she was fine, but now that he was thinking about it he couldn’t, not really. She was so kind to him that she couldn’t be trusted.

Over the next couple of weeks, he brought up the question every now and then, teasing her, and though she brushed him off each time, he shouldn’t have been as surprised as he was when, one night, she shook him awake. It couldn’t have taken long—he slept lightly, fearfully, because anything could happen. He opened his eyes, and Jenny was sitting cross-legged, her hands folded in her lap. “Fine,” she said. “If you really have to know. I think it’s gone but it comes back.”

“What?” he said, thinking she’d had a bad dream. It was only when he reached for her hands, her palms damp and electric, that he realized she was crying. “Jenny, what is it? What comes back?”

“There’s something a little wrong with me,” she said, each word enunciated, as if she were reciting a speech. “You’re going to hate this. Sometimes I really need you to hurt me.”

The door flung open. Ava swept in, chattering, something about how she’d just gotten back from a trip to Buenos Aires, she’d hitched a ride on a Peruvian cargo ship, it was her new favorite way to travel, then, “Ken,” she said. “What do you do?”

“I work in finance,” he said, after a moment, flustered. She was still looking at him, so he added, “I’m a vice president at a fund. It’s too boring to talk about.” This last bit he said with a laugh—it was his usual sidestep, meant to prevent the blank look people got when he mentioned his job. Oh, great, another overpaid bozo in finance. It was a lie, though. It wasn’t boring at all. He loved it, the numbers whizzing past, the rush of the transaction, the pure, exquisite logic of the math, all of it at his fingers and under his control.

The dominatrix let her eyes linger on Ken another long moment—it was stagy, her menace; she was an actress who’d said her lines too many times—then she nodded. Turning to his wife, she flashed a smile and said, “I really do love seeing couples. So often my clients are these lonely guys hiding from their wives. This is so much nicer. Jenny, I’d like you to get rid of your clothes.”

So he’d been right. He got to think about that, how right he’d been, as Jenny slipped out of her dress. She stripped down to her panties, a little black cotton thong, but then she hesitated. Thumbs hooked in the waistband, she looked up at Ava. “That’s fine,” the dominatrix said. “Good. Now. Come here.”

That first announcement of Jenny’s had felt like a rehearsed speech, he’d realized, because it was a rehearsed speech, a set piece of pure bravado, nearly exhausting what she had to say. That night and over the next few days, he quizzed Jenny, and as she tried—halting, wincing, tearing up—to answer his questions, it was slow going. Jenny wanted: to be beaten. She wanted: rules—control—punishment—correction—pain. Ropes. Blindfolds. Whips. Not always, but in the, well, the bedroom, yeah. It could take her all exasperating evening long even to begin to answer a question as basic as, Exactly what kinds of rules do you want? They were both second-generation Americans—his parents had moved from Montreal, which counted—and though they shared the immigrant’s skepticism of psychotherapy, it didn’t take a shrink to guess why she was so shy: what with the nuns, the Catholic boarding schools, the subsequent renunciation of the Catholic schools, the shame, the counteracting feminism, her quasi-Victorian and entirely Korean squeamishness regarding anything having anything to do with the body, and all this heaped for decade upon decade on top of the great hungry beast of sexual desire—well.

Worse yet, he blundered from the start, asking her why she felt she needed to be hurt. “Why are people gay?” she shot back, suddenly unshy. “Why does anyone have a foot fetish? One of my earlier memories is of looking up words related to—to this, in the dictionary. It just happens, you know?”

No, he didn’t know: That was the problem. His fantasies were confined to, oh, an occasional longing for a threesome. His memory of a certain sixth-grade teacher, the pony-tailed Miss Berrymore. An unindulged appetite for pigtails and, unoriginally enough, for Natalie Portman. “Is this—something you’ve done before?” he asked her.

“God, no,” she said.

So—his idea—they turned to outside sources. Huddled together on their couch, they watched Belle de Jour and Repulsion. They watched Secretary, and they tried reading Fifty Shades but soon dropped it; it was so badly written that it made her laugh. Also, they studied a different book, a sort of how-to manual with diagrams, titled Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns. (“You don’t like roses?” “Oh, I like roses.”) After closing the book, after switching off the movie, he asked her what she’d liked about what they’d read or seen. (“Do you want us to get a cane?” Head nod for yes. “Do you…want to have mud thrown on you?” Head shake for no.)

Just once, he asked why in three years she’d never told him any of this.

“I don’t want to be this way,” she said, turning toward him her pale, determined face. “I’d rather not be this fucked-up.”

By now, the right reply came automatically. “You’re not fucked-up.”

The dominatrix had Jenny bent over the black table, her ass soaring upward. With quick, rhythmic slaps the dominatrix struck her well below her tailbone. “I’m warming her up,” Ava explained to Ken, who resisted the juvenile urge to say he knew that already.

Mistress Ava Adamson was attractive enough, he supposed, in a sturdy way that wasn’t his thing, but some guys would be into it, with her strong calves showcased by the short boots, the clusters of muscles sleek in the low light. Big breasts too, tucked away in that no-nonsense shirt. The dominatrix was more muscular than he was, admittedly. He used to work out a lot more, then one day he caught himself fondling the flat planes of his abs and stopped, embarrassed. What was the point of all these muscles? It was the body of a thug, miscast in the life of a—fund manager. Brawn wouldn’t maximize the possibility that he and Jenny would have long and happy lives; money would. He had no romantic illusions about money, but he understood its ability, so he went less often to the gym and spent those saved hours at the fund instead.

In one of the dungeon mirrors, he caught himself looking worried. The high flushed forehead settling into its first wrinkles, the disappearing hairline, his entire reflection these days a memento mori. He felt old, and tired. This was the thing about being an ex-Christian: Like that, your life expectancy went from eternity to 70-odd years. A death sentence on you and on those you loved. He tried not to think about it; he thought about it all the time.

“Up,” the woman told his wife. Her ass was alarmingly red, and all she’d had was a so-called warm-up. “Jenny, turn around. Look at me. You know, don’t you, that we’re just getting started? And you can’t do a thing about it. Scream if you like, and no one else will hear you. If you try to get away, Ken and I will stop you. You’re not going anywhere.”

Jenny looked—glassy, as if, Ava’s threats to the contrary, she wasn’t entirely here. “Are you okay, Jenny?” he said. “Is this what you want? Is there anything else we should be doing?”

She blinked a few times, and shook her head. “I’m all right,” she said, the words sluggish. A glance at him, and back to the dominatrix.

“Poor little Jenny,” Ava said, in singsong. “You’re such a very submissive little girl, aren’t you?” She spoke over her shoulder to Ken. “Your wife doesn’t want to be asked what she wants. What she wants is to be told what to do.”

“How do you know what she wants?”

“For one, because your wife told me so,” she said. Ava had required a half-hour phone consultation with Jenny before the session. “Plus, you see how she can barely talk? She’s so high on endorphins, they’re scrambling her brain. It’s beautiful to see.” Smiling at him, Ava added, gently, “She’s been like this her whole life. In all likelihood, she’ll stay this way. People don’t change.”

Something inside of him flailed, upset. He hadn’t even realized he’d been hoping that, somehow, all this would go away. That they’d have their little excursion into the foreign land in which he was expected to beat his wife, then they’d come back to their cozy, normal life in which they took care of each other. But the dominatrix was still talking. “Right now, she just wants to be good, isn’t that right, Jenny?”

Of course, if he’d known what to expect, they wouldn’t have had to come here. A week ago, he’d stolen out of the office early to get to stores before they closed. First to an equestrian shop on the Upper East Side that, according to Yelp, was the best in the city. He selected a few sturdy crops and whips. On second thought, he also picked out a zippered kelly green canvas bag, to hide his purchases. Next, he rode the subway downtown to a sex shop on Sixth Avenue, where he bought a gag, a blindfold and handcuffs. They sold whips there too, but he knew—from his research—that they would be badly made, too flimsy to be functional. One last stop at a hardware store for a length of rope, and he was back on the subway, going home.

Jenny called to say she was running late at the office. He waited in an armchair, drinking his Laphroaig and trying to read the Journal but failing: nervous, though he shouldn’t have been. He had it all planned out. He was going to astound his wife. He was Mister Fucking Poppins, and when she walked through the door and he greeted her with the canvas bag, and she unzipped it and said, “Oh,” and sat on the floor, like a kid, he figured, or, at least, he hoped, that everything was going to be all right.

She lifted her head, and her eyes were shining. “You’re sweet to me,” she said. He smiled at her. Then he frowned. Sweet, an adjective fit for puppies and, what, figs. Wasn’t his role now to be mean?

Soon he had his wife trussed to the four posters of their bed, facedown, crops lined up at her side. “Jenny-girl, I’m—going to hit you,” he announced, like an idiot. The back of her head, banded electric pink with the blindfold, nodded her assent. Shostakovich was playing, in case of neighbors. Her hair split away from her head like black wings, but he knew she didn’t want to fly away, so he raised his hand and let it fall on her trouser-covered ass.

Things went well enough, as far as he could tell, at first. Per the instructions in Screw the Roses, he steadily increased the intensity of his blows. At some point, he started wielding the lightest of the three crops. He could feel the scotch; still, his aim was good. Jenny wiggled, and cried out a little, but the knots held—he’d studied that too—and they’d agreed on a safeword, “red,” if things got to be too much for her, and it was crazy, frankly it terrified him to hurt her, but it was like trying to speak in tongues for the first time when every other believing kid but him could do it, his father telling him all he had to do was loosen up, open his mouth and let God in, let God work, so he gave it a try, jumbling together consonants until he was yelling out something that sounded about right, and since doubt was the work of the devil he kept going, telling himself that what sounded like squeals of pain were actually squeals of pleasure, and, in fact, he was starting to feel pretty good, getting into a rhythm, crop down, crop up, like Romeo-plus-a-whip, when she squeaked, “Red!”

“What is it?” he said, at her side, pulling up the blindfold. Her face was twisting with pain.


“What’s wrong?” he said, desperate, fumbling with rope knots. “What did I do?”

“Don’t you know? It’s unsafe,” she said, wailing until he finally got her free.

So now Jenny was fastened onto the black table, bottom up. The heels of her feet were dry, haloed in white bits of skin. A strap. A flogger. A belt. A leather paddle. A crop. A Lochgelly tawse. A ruler. A wooden paddle. A Lexan paddle. (“What’s Lexan?” he asked. “A kind of plastic,” Ava said.) A rattan cane. A Lexan cane. This is how you hold it. This is how to strike from the wrist. Make sure to avoid her kidneys. (“Where, exactly, are her kidneys?” “Right here,” she said. “And here.”) Swing from the elbow. Now from the shoulder. Try her thighs. Yes, she’s tender there. You can hit harder, if you like. That’s it. Again from the shoulder. Don’t mind her—it’s good for her. She likes it. Isn’t that right, little girl?

Jenny was yelping, her toes curling piteously into the soles of her feet. But no pleading, no safeword. Her ass was tingeing from red to bluish, which worried him. At some of Jenny’s screams, Ava tipped back her head and let loose a big laugh. He glanced at Ava, fascinated. The dominatrix wasn’t faking it—she loved hurting his wife. Was he supposed to enjoy it too, and how much further was this going to go, and exactly how often did she want to be hurt, and if he couldn’t keep beating her up, then what, and what about his needs?

With each instrument, after a few strokes, Ava handed it to him, guiding him. She ran long fingers over Jenny’s skin, pressing marks and ridges, inspecting. He hesitated, and she urged him on. At some point, he noticed Jenny had soaked through the cotton, and there was a small puddle under her half-covered crotch. So this was why Ava had had Jenny keep her panties on. He hadn’t even known that could happen outside of the porn film demimonde, let alone with his wife. They kept an economy-size bottle of lubricant in a bedside table because of how slow her body could be, sometimes, often, to respond to his.

Jenny was gulping, possibly hyperventilating. He stopped hitting her, but before he could get to her, Ava was there, bending down until her face was level with Jenny’s, which lay flat to the side, her mouth open. She raised the blindfold and said, “Breathe. Deep, long breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. That’s a girl. I want you to keep doing that. Okay? You’re all right. Shh. That’s a very good girl. You’re okay.”

With each word her voice got lower and her face closer to Jenny’s until her lips, almost whispering, were no more than another reassurance away from kissing his wife. Her dark hair swung forward, a curtain. Jenny inhaled and exhaled, visibly obedient. His prick, infuriatingly enough, was perking up, interested. Something about the two women, one little and Asian, one Amazonian, almost kissing. He’d have felt self-conscious, but hey, they weren’t going to notice. Another few breaths, and Jenny said, “Okay. I think. I’m all right, Mistress.”

Ava laughed again, the loudest yet. She stood and said, “Of course, you’re all right. I wasn’t asking you, I was telling you.”

He was tired. His right shoulder hurt. He didn’t want to hit Jenny anymore—he wanted to get out of here. He wanted to untie her and take her home, soothe her and have sex with her, his wife, whom he loved. But he kept going. Finish the session, he told himself. He got through the next round of implements, through Ava’s jerking Jenny’s head up by a handful of hair and informing her it was a lucky thing her husband was so nice to her. “If you were mine,” she said, “I’d string you up by your toes.” She got out a paper-wrapped package of jagged plants—stinging nettles, she said—and next he got through seeing her stick the stems into Jenny. Now there were nettles sprouting from his wife’s ass, then came Jenny’s gleeful screams, and Ava’s laughter, and which of the two was crazier, he didn’t know, but because he was finishing the session he got through that too.

On Ava’s recommendation, Ken and Jenny stopped at a pharmacy on the way home and picked up arnica gel, a homeopathic treatment that was supposed to reduce bruising. Once they were home, Jenny rolled off her stockings, wincing as the elastic rode over her skin. Then she grinned—she was in such a good mood. When she asked him to help her put the arnica on, he sat on the couch and she crawled over him, positioning her ass over his lap. He smoothed the gel over the discolored, swollen mass of her, and she sighed.

He was applying the gel to her thighs when it occurred to him that she was in a classic spanking position. If Ava were in his place she would give Jenny a few more smacks, now, for fun, to hurt her just when she thought she was safe. Ken raised his hand. From behind, his wife was unrecognizable. He raised his hand higher, then he put his hand back down to the couch.

“Up you go,” he said, and she thanked him, patting his thigh as she pushed herself off his lap. She stood, stretching, and she moved away from