Just like any other morning, she picked the letters from the box and shuffled through them. Then she stopped, the action frozen, her gaze caught and held by just one letter.
Quite ordinary in appearance, it radiated an aura: she knew instinctively that this it, this was the call. Her grip loosened on all but this single plain envelope, letting the bills and circulars flutter to the carpet. She held it unmoving for ages, gazing at it, her pulse racing, mouth dry, that special excitement churning her bowels. She fingered the smooth pale blue paper, sensing his touch. Read the neatly typed address. Imagined his eyes scanning the paper as the letters appeared.
With trembling fingers she pulled open the flap.
One single sheet came out, matching the quality of the envelope. No address, no date, a few terse lines plus a very short shopping list:
'You are to come on Tuesday. Travel by bus and alight at Spencer Street. Walk from there. Arrive at 7.00 p.m. promptly.
Purchase the clothes listed below from a charity shop. Wear only these things and nothing else. Have your hair cut short.
When you reach the house enter by the side gate. Once inside the gate remove all the clothes and deposit them in the dustbin. Knock at the rear door and wait patiently.
If you fail in any of these instructions you will not be admitted. Should you not arrive there will be no further invitation.'
She read the words several times in obsessive fascination, investing them with a hypnotic quality, hardly able to believe what she read after so many days of desperate longing.
She gathered the fallen mail and cast it down on the Tudor chest that did duty as hall stand, grabbed coat and handbag from the closet, and rushed out, thrusting the precious letter into her bag as she went.
The Golf GTi purred instantly into life.
Calmly she looked at the clock. It was almost five now. Her calm was only outward, for internally she was quivering with excitement and anxiety. She was poised on a threshold, close to her deepest desire, keenly facing many tests, fearful of failing.
Taking one more turn around the kitchen to ensure its tidiness she made a sound of satisfaction and passed through into the hall. It was cool and pleasant as always with the delicate scent of jasmine that pleased her so much. She set her brief note on the chest and moved on. Walking steadily she climbed the stairs entered the bedroom and undressed. She folded her discarded clothes neatly ready for the washing.
Moving into the bathroom she took a careful shower, dried herself and dusted down with a light talc. Back in the bedroom she found yesterday's purchases and laid them out. She had travelled out of town to find them preferring to avoid the inquisition in shops where she was known. It had been difficult trying to match the visual image he would be holding from the meagre description he had provided.
She surveyed her naked body in the mirror, turning herself to subject it to the severe self-criticism. Her figure was good, but like most women she was overtly conscious of her faults. Any other woman viewing her would have been consumed with envy.
She was not tall, but her proportions were near perfect. Of an age that retained the fresh firmness of youth augmented with the confidence of growing maturity, she carried herself with elegance, her shoulders and head held firm. Well-rounded breasts tipped with dark prominent nipples found a perfect visual balance in the powerful taut buttocks. The slight curve in her belly enhanced her femininity, leading the eyes down to where a delicate growth crowned the altar of a generous vulva. Superb tapering legs, elegant ankles and delicate feet completed the visual harmony.
Dark hair, nearly black, shaped close to her skull, lent her rounded features an elfin look that was amplified by big dark laughing eyes. This was an alluring woman she saw in the mirror: strong, and sensuous.
The turmoil of fear, excitement, anticipation, trepidation, longing and guilt was boiling up inside her. One part of her conscience told her she was being self indulgent, another persuaded her that it was right to acknowledge fundamental needs, her rational self said she was mad. Her imagination was in stampede.
Exercising a determined self-control, she drew off her wedding and engagement rings and placed them in her jewellery casket with her wristwatch. She closed the wardrobe on the designer dresses, the shoes and the exclusive knitwear, and dressed herself in what she had bought.
The raincoat was shabby and short. Was it short enough? The sandals were a size too large, but they were the only ones that had come anywhere close to his specification. And the headscarf looked as cheap as it was. The prospect of going out so meagrely clothed appalled her. It also added spice to her excitement.
Taking just enough coins for her bus fare, she gathered up her soiled clothes and took them down to the laundry where she set the machine to an automatic wash and dry programme. That done she slipped out of the side door, snicked it behind her and set off into the gathering November gloom.
The bus deposited her at the end of Spencer Street and swept away leaving its aroma of spent diesel and hot wet rubber lingering in the damp misty air. The main road was well lit and at this hour was still busy, traffic swishing noisily past. No-one gave her a second glance. She found his road easily: the landmarks were very clear in her memory. It was a wide road with big detached houses of a certain age set well back behind thick mature hedges. The majority had been converted into flats or bedsit complexes, the lair of students and their like. Here and there lights scattered about the many windows betrayed the nature of their occupancy.
She walked uncertainly, shuffling in the ill-fitting sandals, and anxious about the time. She hurried past hedges, lingering at each gateway lest some incautious inmate had the TV or radio volume set high to allow a clue to escape. High in her concern was the fear of rejection: she must not fail this crucial test in any detail. She was near to the house now, recognising the sign for the adjacent retirement home. She began to fret the more not knowing whether to run or dawdle. He was sure to be watching.
Stealing over the glistening rooftops came the echoing chimes of a distant church clock. At the sound of the first cadenza she began to run, the loose sandals clacking on the paving stones. Into the driveway, behind the gloomy laurels, scuffing across the loose gravel and straining at the tall side gate stiff from neglect.
The strokes began, the first of seven. She groped for the dustbin and tore at her loose coat, tugging it off and thrusting it beneath the lid, shoes and scarf following. With clammy mist moistening her naked skin she reached the darkened door and knocked loudly.
The seventh stroke lofted through the air, tightening her nerves.
Stoically she stood, motionless, cold and damp, but resisting the urge to shiver lest the action be wrongly interpreted as impatience. From the distance came the hum of traffic: sounds muted by the blanketing damp and the thickness of surrounding trees and shrubs. The garden around her had the fetid earthy smell of encroaching winter: she could hear moisture dripping from the branches.
Time was suspended.
The door was set back into the house slightly, its recess offering some shelter against the bite of incipient winter. Her nakedness accentuated her smallness and vulnerability, but she pushed the thoughts firmly to the back of her mind and set her feet firmly upon the flagstone. If necessary she would stand here until she froze to the spot. She was committed to her course of action, resolute in her desire.
A light came on, spilling from the windows onto the ground about her. The door opened.
He stood before her, solid and immutable, ageless, magnificent, magnetic. He wore the inevitable grey tracksuit. For a moment no words were spoken.
"Who sent you?"
She melted. That voice, controlled, rich and resonant dissolved the last lingering doubt. She must serve, must obey, She groped for the right response, in dread of rejection yet.
"Do you come freely and willingly?"
"What is it you seek?"
"I come to learn and to serve."
He studied her for moments that seemed each one like an eternity. She held her breath, hoping.
"These are my rules:
From this moment you have no rights and no property. You will wear no clothing or decoration of any kind except what I may choose for you.
You will remove all body hair and maintain scrupulous personal hygiene.
You will obey all instructions instantly without hesitation or question.
You will not initiate any conversation either with me or any other person. At all times answer simply.
Any disobedience or causing of displeasure will be punished severely. In addition I may choose to punish you without cause or reason.
You must permit any act upon or intrusion of your body without resistance.
You will address me always as Master.
The dustbin is emptied at nine-thirty tomorrow morning. Until that time you are free to leave. If you choose to remain after that you will do so until I decide the time of your departure, whether that be hours, days, weeks or months.
Do you understand these rules? Speak now or accept the consequences of your choice."
"I understand and accept, Master."