This knife gets me into a lot of trouble, for such a small knife. A black lacquered steel tanto given as a gift by Boy Wonder and loved ever since. It's a cunning knife, looking and feeling much sharper and much more dangerous than it actually is. For me, it's an ideal play-tool. The perceived impact is much greater than any risk of injury. The point and edge feel sharp, but in actual fact I expect that to do any damage I would actually have to bludgeon someone with the hilt. For public play, in loud and dark situations (a pox upon clubs and dungeons with black walls and red lighting) it is ideal.
Knives make me a little giddy, I'll admit. I love them and they give me butterflies both to wield and, in times past, to experience. The cool, silvery blades flash under lights like eyes glinting with desire. I love the way that feather-light touches can melt people into butter. They are objects of power, full of potential violence and menace. Shining fetishes that reach through the skin, through the flesh and deep down into the animal hind brain. I can spend a very long time playing with knives and they bring out a certain kind of focus in which I get a little lost in myself, and in the beautiful flesh before me with its perfect offering of fine, red lines. Like a child with an etch-a-sketch I will sit, absorbed.
He's sweating, lightly. Presto, with his eyes closed and deep, gorgeous pouting mouth lightly open. I can feel his breathing slow as he gradually relaxes, fading away beneath the movements of the knife. His back is smooth and an ideal canvas for what I want to do. I build up the alterations of motion. Slow and fast. Light and harder. Pressing on the throat. Hold. Hold. Hold. Release. Watch the breathing change. Different edges on the knife: the point, the blade, the reverse of the blade, the flat of the blade. The red lines appear, lightly, I coo over them: half to myself, half to him, enjoying what we are creating.
Earlier, he told me he wanted no permanent marks, and certainly that's something I'd be loathe to do to anyone, let alone someone else's partner, here in a club. But the game of marks is a different thing. I've played with him before, at Chiaroscuro's house and harder than this, with wickedly sharp needles that can do a lot of damage. We've exchanged the odd email and had a few discussions so I feel confident in what I'm doing. Idyll is watching him, watching both of us. I take a couple of breaths and catch her attention.
"Let me make him yours." I say, or words to that effect. To be honest, my focus was so entirely on the knife and his body that my words floated around me, lost. I use the tip of the knife, pressing hard enough so he can feel but knowing full well that the point was too dull to actually make more than transient marks. Certainly unable to cut the skin (like all my toys, I've tested extensively on myself). I write her name. We smile.
I hug both of them, and leave them to themselves whilst I return to Ganymede. watching him fuck Blush with a violent energy that makes me grin and think "look, no hands." Later there is water all round.
But later still, something is wrong. Presto and Idyll are crouched together upstairs. He's obviously upset, but I can't really get a response, and I'm conscious of not treading on her toes, of letting her give him whatever care she thinks he needs. They leave, and I'm conscious that things are not quite right. When Ganymede and I eventually make it home, there is a message waiting for me.
My heart sinks.
Something did go wrong. Eventually, after a series of messages, both with Presto and Idyll, including a very good face-to-face conversation we got to the bottom of it. And it raises an interesting series of points about trust, fear play and reactions. Presto started to feel very shaky and unhappy not whilst I was playing, but later, when I'd finished. Initially it was because he had thought I had actually marked him, and his fear of permanent marks runs deep, deeper than I had known. He was shaken, understandably so, at the thought that I had deliberately done something he had specifically asked me not to. When it transpired that I hadn't, his worries became guilt. Guilt that he hadn't trusted me to look after him, to listen to him and to accept his boundaries. He then became upset at his own reactions, at how his body was responding to play - both during and after. We worked out that the reason I had thought everything was fine during the episode was because at that point, everything was fine. The problems came later.
Guilt is something we all experience when we play with intense experiences. And this was a situation in which we all shared in that guilt. Me for feeling I'd caused the problem, him for his own reactions and Idyll also, because he is her responsibility and when your partner is unhappy that weighs heavily, especially when you feel it is out of your control. I also felt guilty for any upset I might have caused her. Guilt is bound up in trust and care. We don't really experience much in the way of guilt over things we don't particularly care about or feel connected to. The guilt was about perception of broken trust, of damage done to relationships as much, if not more so, than any damage done to bodies.
So therein lies my guilt. The fabled Dominant Guilt. The feeling that we have done too much, pushed someone too far, inflicted actual damage (physical or emotional) and let someone down. That our desires are "wrong" and that we are "bad" people. Worse still, because we didn't stop, we didn't read the signs that someone was in genuine distress we worry that we will not be able to do so in the future. Guilt is an ongoing risk with dominance.
It's a knife edge. For a dominant, we need to be absolutely aware of what we should and shouldn't do and then fuck with it. But not too much. And in the right way. And frankly, there is no way of being 100% sure that you are always playing in exactly the right places without agreeing every single act beforehand. And that would not work, for either the dominant or the submissive. It's a knife edge on both sides. From a submissive point of view, the difference between blissful subspace and shouting a safeword can be minuscule. It can be caused by all kinds of factors, not all of which you can be aware of in advance or forewarn anyone about. And these factors are unpredictable and will change according to context. Like the situation with myself and Presto, he had no idea he would react like that, so when he bared his back to my knife he couldn't prepare either of us for it. Similarly, my own experience of playing with him had "told" me that what I did was fine, because it was less than we'd done before.
Whenever we play with someone we enter into a relationship of trust and take on a duty of care. We agree, through whatever methods, whether actively negotiated or based on shared understandings, to go "thus far and no further". As dominants we also agree and, are in many cases expected to push towards those boundaries whilst remaining safe within them. If we always do what is entirely anticipated, there will be no thrill, no fun. The joy lies in not knowing. We use limits and negotiations to create edges for play, but not to make explicit scripts which are easy to follow and predict. Predictable is dull. We don't want to be dull, like knives, we want to be shiny. So, when we play our games with people's desires and emotions we don't reveal our cards until it's too late. That's where the power lies, and where the excitement lies also. It's also where the problems can lie. Because in order for the game to work, we need to lie. Whether with our hands as we pretend to do something we are not in fact doing, or with our words, when we tell you that we are about to do something we have specifically promised not to do, just to see you squirm, to hear you scream. And for the pleasure when we do something that feels almost identical but, crucially, is not the same thing.
Did we break your trust? When you thought that we were going to, even though we didn't? We put you through exactly the same emotions, a facsimile of the situation. We are liars. We do it on purpose. We hurt you. And although we know, intellectually, deep down, that this is all fine, this is all agreed, this is all consensual. Still, we lie, we hurt. And we like it. We tell ourselves it is a consensual lie and that we are both pretending but as time goes on I'm less and less sure about this because when I play, I'm not pretending to hurt you. I am hurting you. And you are not pretending to be hurt, it is hurting.
I'm still not sure of the answers to these questions, and I'm even less sure of what to do about it, other than keep talking, keep exploring and keep trying to balance on that knife edge.