map The Hookup

by Danny Nguyen

Published in Issue No. 243 ~ August, 2017
 You are waiting for him, the man who has promised to bring ropes to tie you up, you naughty thing you. It has been arranged. You placed an ad on a website for like-minded kinky men—the tagline: Good Looking Guy In Need of Being Tied Up, Willing to Host—and he responded, interested in playing.

“I’m not looking for a romance,” you wrote in your email reply to him. Then, when you spoke to the man over the phone, after making certain he was no sociopath or killer: “I don’t want a date. I want to be controlled. I like being restrained by cuffs, metal or leather, but mostly I love being bound up with ropes.” He has agreed. He assured you that he is good at what he does, this business of bondage. That commanding gruff in his voice felt assuring as he said, “I’ve got everything you’ll need. Going to take care of you real good. Be ready at three o’clock.” This confidence is important to you.

He will be here in half an hour.

To prepare for his arrival, you get your home in order. You close the blinds and pull out a chair from the dinner table in case he might want to tie you to it. You go to your bed and smooth out the blue sheets so they are as wrinkle-free as you can manage. The mattress is made from soft memory foam—it is so comfortable, you hope the man will use you upon it for hours. You can already see your pliable body being twisted into multiple poses on that bed.

Tidying up does not take long because you live in a studio: the bedroom is the living room which is also the dining room, and the tiny kitchenette might as well be part of all three. You appreciate this sort of convenient simplicity because now it is almost 2:45 and you want to take a quick shower to be extra clean for the man. You want to smell pleasant without relying on fragrances because he said that hygiene is important to him but that he is allergic to sprays. You are such a considerate person.

In the shower, under the falling water, grip your wet arms spindly tight like spider legs. Appreciate how this man will take you, fully clothed, and render you naked, helpless as a small pet. Hopefully he will have strong, large hands. You rinse off suds; your heart drums an excited dance beat in your chest. Practice the way you will whimper when the pressure of ropes cut into your chest and wrists, legs and pits, the softness of your stomach. It would be nice if, at the end of your session, when he releases you, the ropes emboss themselves onto your skin like the indentations of licorice vines. Little souvenirs across your body.

Now step out. Dry yourself off. Get dressed.

At ten minutes past three o’clock, you like that the man is running late, though it also worries you. You sit on that chair you had pulled out, thinking that it is good that he is not punctual because he thinks he can hold you off, that he is the one in control. But you’re concerned as well because what if he will not show up at all? What if he chickened out, or worst yet — is a phony. After all, the internet is full of flakes who lead others on. People who send pictures that are not their own; men who say they are thirty-five years old and gym-toned from working out five days a week, when really they are in their fifties and collect trans fat in their gut and double-chin. You ask yourself aloud, because sometimes you talk to yourself, “Is this too much to ask for?”

The wind blows outside and through your windows you hear the only reply: rattling tree leaves and wind chimes from a neighbor’s porch. The metallic sprinkling reminds you that you are the only one left here. Your last lover abandoned you, and being forced to remember this makes you feel bad about yourself. This is when you walk over to your computer to reread the man’s response to your ad post. “You sound like a hot submissive…” it starts off, but you cannot concentrate on the rest of the message because now you are thinking of that last lover. The one with the flat nose and hazel eyes which were amber in the center around his pupils. He wanted to cuddle all the time and kiss you across your body, slow and sensual and sweet, but you wanted someone rough. You wanted ropes. He was a traditionalist with a pleasant voice and wanted to sing songs he made up about you and make you feel worshipped. His tenderness bothered you. It made him seem weak and whenever he held you too tight, all you could think about was a blanketing flub of skin that suffocated. So you pushed his body away from yours, then pushed his being away from your being, and now he is somewhere else — you do not know where. You are not even sure you want to know. What is certain in this: since he has been gone, you talk to yourself more and more frequently to fill the silence. You narrate your actions, such as in this moment.

Hush these thoughts. Tuck them away. Think of ropes. How good they will feel. Any moment now, the man will surely arrive.

When you finally hear a knock at the door, do not rush. Show some restraint; wait a few seconds and then calmly go to answer.

Open the door to find a tall man. Taller than you expected, which you find quite attractive, actually, but on the skinny-lankier side, which is not bad, but also not what you expected either. You invite him in. He says “Thank you” with a meek head nod, polite as a well-mannered schoolboy. He is wearing a plain black T-shirt and jeans. As he walks past, notice a tattoo peeking from beneath his sleeve (the bottom half of a yellow smiley face). He is not carrying a bag of bondage equipment and, as much as you wish for it to be possible, there is no way that yards and yards of rope can fit in those tight pockets of his.

As he looks around your home, ask him, “Did you bring the ropes?”

“Yes, they’re in the car,” he replies. He goes ahead and sits on your bed, sinks into the mattress beneath his weight.

“That’s memory foam,” you say. “It senses your heat. It molds to the grooves of your body.”

“Very nice,” he says. He pats the bed, brushes his long, furry arms out around him with his eyes still on you.

He leans back on his elbows, propped up at an angle. You fiddle with the blinds—open, closed, open—and look out the window to find his car but the sidewalk is empty. It is a nice day out with a cloudless clear sun, though not a single car or person passes by on the street.

“You look very handsome,” he says—not in a tough voice like on the phone before, but as if he is trying to win over your favor. Turn back to him. Say, “Thank you.”

“I just thought we’d talk for a little first,” he says. “Get to know each other.”

You nod, though this is not what you want to hear. You expected to be turned into a toy under a pair of meaty hands by now. You said so in your ad, then in your email correspondences, and again over the phone. “This is how I want the scenario to play out: You come in, strip me, then tie me up and do what you please. The safe word is ‘Hello Kitty.’” And he had promised he would deliver all this, didn’t he?

You look at the man relaxed before you. He has taken the liberty of sprawling out and giving you that adoring look. As if he were your lover and you have just come home to find him waiting in the bed that the two of you share together. But this man is not your lover. Your lover was your lover and he is long gone now, and this is just a stranger who is not fulfilling your fantasies. You feel a sudden rising desire to hurt him somehow.

You say, “I think you should leave,” with your voice frosted over.

He does not look disappointed, let alone surprised, to be kicked out. He is still the same tall skinny man with the calm demeanor he had minutes ago. He does not even try to mend the situation by suggesting that he could go retrieve the ropes right away. Even if he were to do so, you would not be willing to go through with the hookup anymore.

At the door, he tries to hug you, but you do not return his embrace. His palm is warm against the small of your back. He sniffs your neck and tells you that you smell good and all you give back is a smile with no teeth and no words. He leaves. Through the window blinds, you watch him walk away, becoming a smaller and smaller blob down the sidewalk.

You turn around to face your apartment again. Your computer is still there, its fan whirling steadily, and the chair stands unused. Your bed is the same, though more wrinkled than before. You are alone again, to think whatever private thoughts you want, and what you think of is as sudden as this: once, this place felt loved and lived in and now there is a chair standing in the middle of the room like a throne to the kingdom of nothing.

So you run to the door. You swing it open and dart outside barefoot. The tiny pebbles on the pavement walkway stick to the soles of your feet, prickling. The sun is raining down in full light. You breathe heavily while running; it is your first breath of fresh air all day, coolness spreading in your lungs. You turn searchingly down the sidewalk but find no one. “Hello…” you call out. There is no reply, only wind chimes serenading from somewhere else. “Hello…” you say again, the word ‘Kitty’ caught in your throat.

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Danny Thanh Nguyen is the editor of AS IS, an anthology of Vietnamese American art and literature. His stories and personal essays have most recently appeared in Gulf Coast, New Delta Review, Hyphen Magazine, among other journals. He received his MFA from Indiana University and is currently a Kundiman Fiction Fellow.