Ruby is looking for something that will take her beyond her humdrum life. She’s already experienced and enjoyed BDSM and fetish, and she’s surprised to meet an older man in an art gallery, of all places, who seems to be very experienced in that world. He tells her stories about how, in his youth, BDSM was simply one part of a wider and more spiritual quest. Ruby sets off on a journey to discover some enlightenment of her own…
Like everyone these days, Ruby is a bundle of contradictions. She’s pagan but not a witch. Gregarious and sympathetic, but doesn’t like people. Wide-eyed and looks innocent, but she’s done perverse things that amaze even her when she thinks about them. Doesn’t like modern society, but has a thing for industrial music and latex clothing. Bisexual, but she’s never actually slept with a woman. Feminist in everyday life, but looking for a dominant man who will make her sexually submissive.
It’s a Saturday afternoon and Ruby is in an art gallery, looking at the pictures. She’s having naughty thoughts. These are not naughty thoughts about sex or shoes or chocolate, though she has those from time to time. They are naughty thoughts about pain and degradation.
She hasn’t experienced pain and degradation for some time. She misses them, sort of. However, what occupies the front of her mind is the picture she’s looking at, which is an abstract. It’s large – about ten feet by six – and appears to be in what artists like to call “mixed media”, which in this case means it has random things splodged into the paint. Some rope, apparently; below some wavy flesh-coloured lines there is a pair of women’s shoes mounted on the canvas somehow, and in the bottom left hand corner a crumpled dress that hangs off the bottom edge of the painting.
The label says the picture is called “Untitled No. 41 (1989)”, by Joshua Cesario.
Ruby consults her mobile phone. The display should tell her the time, but it’s blank. The battery’s died.
A few other people are in the gallery. One is an older man, sitting on the leatherette bench in the middle of the space. He’s looking at the same picture.
‘Excuse me,’ she whispers. ‘What’s the time?’
He looks at his watch, casually. ‘A couple of minutes after three. Are you in a hurry?’
She’s not. Though she was planning on buying some shoes and chocolate on the way home.
‘You’ve been looking at the picture for a while,’ the man observes. ‘Do you know much about it?’
‘Why? Are you the artist?’
He chuckles. ‘Much as I’d like to, I don’t paint. I’m an aromatherapist.’ Figures: for the first time, Ruby notices a faint scent of rosewater in the air. ‘But I did know him, for a time. I first met him at a party. This was maybe 20 years ago.’
‘Oh?’ Ruby’s interested, but not yet hooked.
‘You’ve no doubt worked out that despite being abstract, the picture’s about sex. Specifically, about sex and bondage. It was … How shall I put this? It was that kind of party. Fetishistic. Orgiastic.’