Emerald sat on the park bench staring at the magazine.
It had been left by the previous occupants of the bench, two student-looking guys wearing T-shirts that seemed to advertise heavy metal bands. The cover didn’t appeal to her, but she’d been curious.
The photo had resurfaced. It was on page 35, the lower half, as part of an advert.
It was evidently being used as the cover image of a book. No. 1 bestseller! the billboard announced. Sex, Scandal and Sadism in the Swinging Sixties. The title was in a script that was harder to read – she hadn’t brought the right glasses – but had been positioned strategically to cover her nipples.
The ad evoked a rush of memories, emotions, reactions. They didn’t come in any particular sequence or order. They didn’t tell a story. They were just elements in her life, no join-the-dots connectedness to them.
The picture came from 1965. She’d been 21 at the time.
The original showed her hands tied behind her back; ropes around her upper arms and breasts; knees and ankles tied together. It was technically a hogtie because a rope ran from her ankles to the small of her back, pulling her feet behind her. But she’d been lying on her side. Nude, of course – Jon always preferred to shoot her nude. But the shot was taken from a low angle, with her looking back – or up, from her perspective – at the camera. Her face and tits had been in the foreground, with the rope around the tits.
He’d used a Hasselblad. State of the art for the period. All of her body was in focus, including her toes, visible behind her head. NASA had used Hasselblad cameras on the first Apollo missions.
The shoot had been in colour. Jon spent a lot of time messing with a red light in front of her, and a blue light – an ordinary bedside light with a silk scarf thrown over it – behind her. But the finished product, half-page in a pulp magazine, had been in black and white.
The mags had started to decline in popularity in the late sixties, and some of them had turned to explicit photos rather than artwork to reverse the trend. She couldn’t remember the title. It was in the weird menace, murder, horror and sexploitation end of the market.
Was Jon even alive, still? She hadn’t seen him since the mid-seventies. God knew who held the rights to the picture now. She’d been paid five pounds for the shoot, which in those days was a week’s wage packet for a lot of women.
He’d gagged her with a piece of cloth ripped from her kaftan mini-dress. The kaftan had cost seventeen shillings and sixpence from a shop in the Kings Road, this being in the days before decimalisation when shilling and pence were still in use. She’d insisted on being refunded the cost in addition to the five pounds.
After the shoot she’d walked home naked under her raincoat.
The pic was one of a set. He’d shot maybe three dozen and come up with five he really liked. The others were of her from a low angle, full-frontal; from above, looking down as he stood over her with this shadow falling across her thighs; close-up of face and breasts; and one shot from by her knees, showing exposed buttocks, arms behind her, ropework.
This was all done in the days before Japanese bondage became popular. No kinbaku, no shibari. Not many people had heard of John Willie. There was no aesthetic of jute and hemp: it was all damsel-in-distress and white cotton rope, the kind used for window sash cords. You could buy it in any street-corner ironmongers.
Every parade of shops had an ironmonger in those days. Everyone needed coal scuttles, dustbins, nails, washing lines, rope…
In the picture she was crying. The tears were real. The terror was real. The bastard wanted her to look terrified. He’d told her about a serial murderer who tied his victims up exactly that way, and carved messages to the police on the skin of his victims. Then he’d thrown a cut-throat razor onto the floor next to her. That feeling of the story being a wind-up, but at the same time having an emotional effect because she was vulnerable, stayed with her a long time.
The razor had been cropped from the cover picture she was looking at.
They’d had sex when he’d finished the camerawork. He’d untied her ankles and knees, rolled her onto her back, on a blanket, and spread her legs. Her weight pressing on her wrists had made every thrust excruciating. But the fact she was still tied meant the pain didn’t matter. The fact she was still crying because of the murder story and the razor didn’t matter. Sex after a photoshoot was ritualistic, a way of bringing the whole encounter to a form of closure. The sex was a way of grounding the emotions generated in the session, like his cock was a fizzing bolt of lightening and she was the channel for it to reach the earth.
About six months after the shoot, she’d bumped into Jon again. Gone back to his place to see the magazine. She couldn’t remember the story the pictures were supposed to illustrate, though it wasn’t the one Jon had told her during the session. Then they’d had sex. It was the last time they’d had sex because by then, she had a boyfriend. After sex with Jon she’d gone home, still feeling horny, and persuaded her boyfriend to have sex with her as well. She’d given him a blowjob – ‘giving head’, they called it back then. In those days giving head was something rare and special, maybe just something you did for thirty seconds as part of foreplay. It wasn’t the normal, natural part of sex it seemed to have become now.
The shoot had been in the garage of Jon’s house. It had a cold concrete floor and despite the blanket under her when they had sex, small pieces of grit dug into her shoulder blades and buttocks. She barely noticed them at the time, but they left a rash of tiny purple bruises that took several days to fade.
It wasn’t the first time she’d been tied up. Wasn’t the last time either. The sense of helplessness always got to her, though not always as intensely as the photoshoot had done. Being taken captive had been a fantasy from a young age. French arthouse films had confirmed it wasn’t just her being weird, but a deeper part of the female psyche. The tricky part had been finding partners whose sadistic and dominant tendencies she could trust. Partners who do the things she fantasised about, but without the gruesome consequences.
The shoot had been part of a chaotic time of her life. In the sixties she’d been a wild child. It wasn’t easy being wild, you had to work at it. Not because of the drugs – she’d been a secretary in music company at the time and they’d always had a bowl of coke on the table in the meeting room and ready-rolled joints in a drawer of the reception desk. Emerald doubted anyone would believe those stories now. The company didn’t start cleaning up its office until 1967, after the Rolling Stones arrests. No, the hardest parts of being wild were the four-day parties in the country and the condition of the various squats she and many of her friends lived in.
She’d been 21 in 1965. She was 68 now. The years between then and now had seen her married, bringing up two children, divorced, remarried, bereaved. She’d had two affairs – or was it three? – and spent several years going to swingers’ clubs with her second husband. She’d enjoyed bondage sex, but the last time that had happened was going on three decades ago.
The picture was a moment in time, not a summary of a life. It was a paid photoshoot to illustrate a story she couldn’t remember, maybe hadn’t even read the whole of; it was Jon’s conception, inspiration and staging. It was a five-minute wank for unknown thousands of men who’d now be the same age as her. And yet there was a sense in which, even at this distance in time, it defined something essential about who she was.
She wondered what had happened to the other pictures from the shoot, and whether she’d ever see them again.
Unhurriedly and with the trace of a smile on her face, Emerald put the magazine in her shopping bag. She stood, smoothed the front of her raincoat in a reflex movement, and walked slowly out of the park.
You may see a longer version of this story in a collection at some point in the future…