An Instruction in Sin
Amy Paine © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Benita lay naked on a chaise longue by the narrow French hotel window, primed and waiting for her lover. She’d had so much sex she was satiated and floated in a post-coital afterglow, her limbs drugged, her mind softly intoxicated. It was like floating on a cloud.
Suddenly, her eyes were covered by a pair of hands that were much smaller and shapelier than hers. Millie’s hands. Hands as white as snow, the skin covering them so thin Benita could see every blue vein beneath. She rubbed her thumb over them, experiencing a familiar surge of passion. She loved the sensation of them twining through her hair, caressing her naked body, and plunging into all her concealed places—the deeper ones—where they were capable of giving exquisite pleasure.
She grabbed Millie’s fingers and held them. She was so much stronger, afraid she might break those delicate digits, yet the fragility made her feel fiercely protective.
Millie had always been as skinny as a bird but, for some reason Benita could not identify, she seemed frailer these last few weeks.
“Oh, be careful,” Millie chortled, her voice half laughter, half reprimand.
“Take me again, en flagrante delicto?” Benita murmured huskily. “Do as I command. Pose for me.”
“My dear, you can be so vulgar.”
She opened her eyes to see Millie standing in front of her. Millie had bathed and wore a fine negligée of sheer material that showed the dips and shadows of her body. Her hair fell around her shoulders, surrounding her face in a blonde cloud. She looked like an angel and not human at all.
They were so diametrically opposed. Benita termed herself voluptuous, while Millie was this beautiful wraith, this pale moonbeam of a woman.
“We really must resist,” Millie said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Sometimes I think it’s so wrong to indulge like this. In fact, I know it is. We behave like a pair of heathens.”
She was often so naïve in her statements, so innocent, so seemingly perfect in her behaviour, yet Benita saw another side to her unleashed on the Midi, where she rubbed shoulders with her beloved film stars and ravenously consumed the newspaper articles and endless gossip about them, even persisting in talking to the point of obsession about the bawdy parties and partner-swapping that apparently went on profusely.
“What’s the matter?” Benita asked.
Millie seemed slightly crestfallen, as if she didn’t want to be entirely here when, an hour earlier, at the mercy of Benita’s instruction in sin, she had thrashed and entwined her limbs dramatically in the silk sheets.
Benita experienced a flush of mixed emotions. This sexual greed, then despair—the vicissitudes of Millie’s emotions and needs—controlled her, making her life, at times, like hell. She had never anticipated being like this, allowing herself to feel so utterly directionless. But love had taken her over in such a short space of time, she feared she’d lost her sense of who she was.
The control was subtle, Millie tirelessly giving the impression it was Benita who led the way, but not concealing her manipulations. She was as conniving as a rake and created an illusion of submission that allowed her to imprison her lover. In the beginning, she had seduced Benita remorselessly. After Millie married James, though, and their sinful liaison deepened, it was she who acquiesced willingly to Benita’s game of domination. Yet, even within that world of new sin—of dipping her toe into the waters of carnal need, embellished by Benita’s dirty role-play—she held yet more direction. Millie fascinated, and that was control. She fascinated Benita by being as dirty as dirty could be, and begging her for her toys—for whip, chain, and pain.
The fact she thought she held power when she actually didn’t at all was alternately grim and pleasurable for Benita. Each day, she endured a ride of longing and excitement, swiftly followed by terror and a pain that, while excruciating, was also exquisitely masochistic. The only time she could ever be certain she led the game was during sex, and that made her violently demonstrative and her behaviour more imaginative and profound than she could ever have imagined.
Her secret places moistened just thinking about it. Millie was insatiably thirsty when it came to sexual experimentation. She exhorted Benita to tie her with scarves and ropes as tightly as she could, the pain a seeming penance for something Benita did not understand. She would squeal and thrash as Benita bathed her in kisses and the administrations of imaginative tonguing. Then Benita would tantalise her with her forbidden toys, the ones she kept carefully hidden, only bringing them out when she wished to amaze and incite ecstasy. That Millie asked Benita to fuck her harder with these toys on each occasion only heightened her love and desire for her mercurial lover.
Was this that most elusive of things, true love, she wondered? Was it possible for love not to be soft, but to be all about this obsessive need to control? The feeling was definitely more powerful than she had imagined it to be. This was not the gentle, deep thing the writers and poets spoke about. This was hot, trembling, and violent. A raw mixture of jealousy, rage, and a desire to give vent to her caged emotions that fed a fire without equal, deep inside. The highs of this passion were exquisite, how she imagined flying above the clouds would be. Soaring towards a searing, bright sun, warmed by it, wanting to be consumed by the heat and thus transformed; feeling light and free and so inexpressibly happy, until the fall back down to earth, the drifting through the continually oppressive and thick atmosphere as she anticipated hitting the ground with a bump.
Whenever they parted, she was tormented and captured by a tragic sense of loss that ripped her emotions into shreds and left her doubting her position in her lover’s life. In these moments, it seemed Millie loaded the dice of the game in her favour.
Millie might argue she was equally in ferment, but she never seemed to be. She only vented her passion when restrained. When she departed from whatever venue they were at, she would again be remarkably within herself and constrained, as if she lived life in two forms of bondages. One controlled by Benita, the other by her husband.
Benita was constantly insecure. At the back of her mind, she knew that if she jeopardised Millie’s marriage, Millie would walk away. She had made that clear enough in her veiled comments.
These fearful thoughts pounded away at Benita like breakers on the shoreline, until the situation drove her mad. They were in love. Both of them, equally but in different ways, absolutely and utterly, and yet their relationship was so precarious it was like walking a tightrope.
“It’s simply that…do you suppose they guess?” Millie queried. “I mean to say, the people here at the hotel? Even the little man across the road at the café seems to look at us intensely.”
“Oh, you are silly. You have nothing to worry about, you know. Always it’s as if you’re so concerned what others think. Of course they know. But what do they care? We are hidden, we are discreet, and that is all they would ask of people coming here for assignations… And we did know this was a place for that, didn’t we? That’s why we chose it.” Benita’s heart contracted, then expanded as Millie, whose eyes were excessively large and luminous in her pained face, stared at her.
“Do you think so?” There was a doubtful edge to her tone.
“We are completely safe, and I will protect you. I will never let anyone know. If I detect just a whiff of someone finding out, I will erase it. Anyway, no one would ever guess it—the reality of what we are to one another, that is. I am staying with you and James at the villa, so I must appear like an old friend, almost a sister—a gooseberry to two people so evidently in love.”
Benita hadn’t been able to help saying that. It was a deliberate dig. She did it often, as if she was fishing for a truth, hoping to observe a breakdown in Millie’s cultured façade.
“I do so wonder sometimes. I think I see people looking and speculating about our relationship. It’s fine at the villa, but I worry about it when we are in town. It would seem so unlikely for us to come here, two women on our own.”
“Oh darling, how could they possibly realise anything? They simply see we are close. That is what we have told them. What close friends we are, and it’s not so terribly odd. Lots of women have intimate friendships, even to the extent of sharing a room. It is nothing out of the ordinary.”
“I know, I do. I just worry such a lot. It’s so terribly important to me that—well, you know…that what we have remains secret. And you must admit, if someone did see us, it would be so positively awful.”
“No one will. We are exceedingly careful and this place is so off the beaten track.”
Again, the stabbing pain. Sometimes Millie talked as if she was ashamed of what they had together, but perhaps that was Benita’s paranoia and she read more into it than there was.
Anyway, she was sure they were secure at the hotel. It was a tasteful, hidden gem, a hideaway for movie stars and the well-to-do, and notable for the concealment of affairs. For that very reason, it could be found only by the circumnavigation of narrow streets.
Millie twined her hair around her finger, then she shrugged.
“I know, but still…”
They were so at odds, so different in their reactions to their affair. While Benita couldn’t care a fig about anyone finding out because she would easily field the gossip and to hell with it, Millie fretted to the point of hysteria.
Benita bit her tongue. She found she had to do it more and more often lately. If she didn’t, she knew what might happen. Millie was tense enough and the culmination of her fretting—a tirade of unconsidered words, said on the spur of the moment—could tumble the house of cards of Benita’s love and bring disaster in its wake.
It made her ice-cold to think of it. To even consider the possibility that, one day, Millie for all her protestations of devotion might come to her and declare that she had to consider her life and her position as a married woman. It did not matter that she had so often reiterated that she couldn’t let Benita go, not ever. She could no longer continue that delicate balancing act she fulfilled each day, and would have to say good-bye.
The savage battlefield that was James had become an increasingly complicated series of strategic moves that drained her. In the beginning, Millie had not mentioned him, which had made it easier. Now she did, and with increasing frequency. These remarks hurt so much, it was as if Millie were stroking Benita with a hard, abrasive brush that made her skin sore and percolated down to tear at her soul.
“The staff are not allowed to know,” she reiterated. “That’s their job here. That’s why this place is special.” Benita’s voice held an edge of hostility. It had been with her all day; it came from sitting in the shadows last night, enduring the sight of Millie dancing with James. A severe doubt had risen up in her. Sprouting like a wayward plant, it threw off leaves until it grew out of all proportion, sowing doubts in her imagination about how a man and a woman could dance together like that—twisting and turning and engaging in flirtatious laughter—and not be in love when their bodies spoke of lust. Those tender moments, when Millie was in the arms of her husband and seemed to adore him, wanting to kiss and touch him, put her through agony. The pit in Benita’s stomach opened wider, in tandem with her aching heart.
Her generally buoyant spirits sank further. She’d been melancholy ever since they’d stepped off the ship. Her initial enthusiasm for the sinful holiday she and Millie had cooked up together was jaundiced by James, who seemed to want to prove something to his wife in front of Benita. It was as if he’d grown envious of their womanly closeness. This was strange in itself, as he had always encouraged them to be together. Nonetheless, he seemed to be putting on a performance in front of her, as if to say, “This girl belongs to me, and woe betide you if you try to take her.” It was utterly ridiculous.
How could she ever be secure, in this mingling of woman-and-woman and woman-and-man?
Benita burned with the jealousy she hated herself for. She should not feel such jealousy towards someone she loved. But seeing them together as man and wife, doing the things two such people did, made her wild. It drove home to her that Millie did not belong to her, and, with the best will in the world, probably never would because of so many factors. Millie’s social position for one.
And supposing James left Millie at some point—or Millie left James, as improbable as it seemed? Even so, Benita wondered if she could ever be as she dreamed—like the woman she had once seen in the seedy club in Soho. The one in the suit, her cheek pressed close to her lover, who wore a filmy dress. It had been easy to imagine herself like that in the future.
The savage stab of emotion made her breathless. Sometimes it was better to just blot it out, as the whole thing was simply too awful to face up to. The threat of unrequited love: too catastrophic, and a vast ocean of possible pain.
Jealousy and insecurity were wounds that smarted. She wanted to bathe them, put a salve on them, and bandage them away out of sight so that they would heal, but that was next to impossible. She hated the way Millie aroused her, made her feel strong and yet feeble at the same time. The trouble was, the stronger her love grew, the more her doubts squeezed her to the point of pain.
She ought not to doubt her lover, but such was the nature of love she couldn’t help it. She had only to remember the day when they’d met in the railway carriage. An almost-dalliance between travelling companions, of the most obscene and out of character sort. Perhaps, in spite of everything, Millie was callous and played her for a fool. But she could not be that wicked, could she? Benita sometimes wasn’t so certain. It was true she was inclined to be a predator. She had been in the beginning; that was the trouble. It was Millie who had started it, after all, the whole passionate chain of events. She wants the best of both worlds. She is using me as a means to satiate her needs. Her needs to have a woman’s body as well as her husband’s and the things that husband can give her: a home, an income, security.
She tried to push these troubling thoughts away. She was seeing obstacles where there weren’t any. She was simply a fool in love and, as a consequence, her active imagination worked overtime.
Millie gave off an alluring aroma of musky womanhood mingled with Chanel perfume as she stepped closer.
“You are so beautiful,” Benita said.
“I am not.”
“Yes, you are.” She sat up and drew Millie onto the couch, encircling Millie’s wrist. She wanted to tie her again, and do all the things to her that her imagination forced her to do. She wanted to make her acquiesce so she belonged again, needing to eradicate Millie’s thoughts of James. She wanted to force her to writhe and squeal from her instruction in sin, as if she were a wild creature.
“Why are you smiling?” Millie asked.
“Nothing. Only that I want to possess you again and again, and I wish that I could climb inside you, like…” She couldn’t stop herself. “Like he does, like James. To possess you. I wish I were a man with a man’s penis. I want to feel my skin in contact with the essence of you. Only then can I truly possess you. Perhaps without a penis, I’m lost. What do you think?”
Two high spots glowed in Millie’s cheeks and her lips tightened into a firm, hard line. The blush was the ember of desire. Benita could also read a stubborn tilt to the chin that meant Millie would not be drawn further with this particular conversation.
“Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not silly.” Benita slid her hand beneath the negligée, cupping Millie’s buttocks. She had discovered her lover’s penchant for pain quite by accident. It was as fierce as hers was, and only required a swift clasp of the fist and dig of the nails. Her body moistened further at the thought of chewing on Millie’s neat, pink nipples, and how those nipples became rigid, her body arched and held as tight as a bow, as she quivered on the cusp of release.
“And when you speak like that it’s so vulgar.”
“And you love it. You cry for more. If you recall, you screamed and shouted so loudly you had to bite the pillow an hour ago.”
“Oh, that.” Millie turned and looked out of the window. She couldn’t meet Benita’s gaze. It was as if her passion embarrassed her. “Yes, well, if I am guilty of behaving like that, it’s because you’ve made me like it.”
If only she were a man, Benita sometimes thought. She longed for each new day with a trembling craving, akin to a man’s need for release. And if only she had the means to give Millie what she had to have. Her whole life, these days, was governed by fantasising over ways in which she could be more, make a better and more powerful life for herself, so that one day she could win Millie. It was infantile, but she had to do it. One day, Millie’s mother would die; in fact, she was already growing increasingly frail. When she did, Millie’s marriage would not then be so important to her, would it? That was why she had married James, after all: to save her mother and herself from poverty. To salvage them, when only she had the strength to.
She hated thinking these thoughts, but she invariably did following good sex.
“You are so gorgeous,” she said. “People stare at you because you’re like an angel. They stare at me through curiosity.”
Millie said nothing as she combed her hand through her hair and coiled it onto her head. She reached onto the bedside table to take her tortoiseshell combs and secure them in place. She knew she was beautiful; naturally, she did, and so she ought.
“Did you see her come in?” Benita said, wishing to change the subject and referring to the actress she’d noticed earlier.
“Elicia Pride, you mean? Move over, old thing.” The change of subject had worked, and Millie nudged her. Benita wriggled away, making room for her to lie down beside her, then embracing her with her long, languorous limbs. The contact blurred the jagged edges of doubt in Benita’s mind. That was how it was. Maybe it was what made their relationship so hazardous. The way Millie could anaesthetise her to anything other than the rapturous sensations inside her. She wondered if Millie ever felt the same and ever feared the end. She liked to talk about how she felt in love, but Millie didn’t much. It was expressed by the reactions of her body and her moans, garlanded by purrs of delight.
Words rose up in her throat. They were the ones she wanted to ask Millie on a daily basis and which she felt she could not. “Do you truly love me as much as I love you?” There, she had thought them, and today, for some reason, before she knew it, she had said them. She needed to hear Millie’s vocal reassurance, although doubts would still assail her, no matter if Millie said it.
“Oh, silly thing, of course I do.” Millie curled closer, like a kitten, and Benita trailed her hands around and across her nipples, while she used her thighs to draw apart Millie’s legs. Normally, her lips would follow the trail of her hands, but today they didn’t. Millie was more reticent than usual and less soft. It was as if something had hardened her overnight in some way, or perhaps it was simply Benita’s imagination. Whatever the reason, it made Benita draw back.
“It’s not the same implying it. Sometimes it would be nice for you just to say it, as you must say it to James.”
“It is not a question of rationing the words.” Millie seemed amused. “Not one for you and one for him. Besides, you know I do. You know how we are.”
Benita waited a moment before replying. She could sense her anger rising insidiously. The sensation of having to take second place, of being practically reprimanded all the time, grated on her, and it was happening more and more. She rarely felt angry with Millie. You could never be angry with the person you loved more than anyone in the world. But it niggled her and concerned her. She thought the world of her, and yet she did not seem to mean the same to Millie as Millie meant to her—the beginning and end rolled into one. Her love for this woman crippled her, even to the extent of calling off her relationship with her lover, Laurence. She had done that because Millie was the entire world to her. But Millie’s world was shared with James, and thus she was subsidiary to his power.
There was no point churning it over ad infinitum, she thought as she stroked Millie’s hair. She lived within a singularity and Millie lived within a duality—her life with James and her life with Benita.
Oh, how she hated James’s influence. Now she had thought it, she felt guilty and blamed herself for being the kind of woman she hated. Petty, insecure, and demanding. It was hard dwelling on things. In fact, it was the slippery road to despair and if she persisted, her thoughts would spiral out of control.
“Coming to the hotel feels increasingly dangerous,” Millie carried on. “Would it not be better, if, well…we stayed at the villa? It would be so delicious, as a matter of fact. I dream of you when I’m in bed with James. It’s almost unbearable the feelings I have. When he touches me—which, by necessity and being my husband, he must do—I imagine it is you, darling, always you.”
Right when everything had seemed poised on the turn of a screw, at the moment of maximum jeopardy, Millie had cleverly pulled it back.
“What a clever, what a positively fantastic idea.”
“James spends so much time down at the harbour lately with his new friends, and I have no inclination to go with him. That means we would be alone, darling, doesn’t it?”
She had called her “darling.” Benita felt a wave of sublime bliss. Millie was soft and warm again, as changeable as the winds that blew across the ocean here, and it was a fabulous suggestion. She would be happy to have Millie to herself at the villa. The Villa Lavende was so lovely, so isolated and private and improbably lavish, hidden as it was from prying eyes.
The bougainvillea-garlanded gardens tumbled down the hillside in fuzzy multi-coloured hues. The terrace had a striking view of the sparkling sea and the harbour, with its clusters of houses hanging to the precipitous hills, and the odd yachts that dotted the tranquil azure field of water, as placid as a millpond.
Benita’s back window faced none of that. Instead, it looked out over the hills. But she loved the view. She adored the copious folds of the Midi, like the flounced skirts of a dress spread out in dips and hollows, and smelling divine when the resinous branches of the wild herbs bled their infusions into the wind. One could walk for miles over the Provençal hills, and she had done so, because here she found solace.
“Yes, I had noticed he did. Silly man.” She couldn’t help the comment.
Benita wanted a cigarette but she dared not move. Instead, she stroked Millie’s hair, as Millie condescended to curl against her catlike, purring with a small sound she made in the back of her throat.
“I do hate the Preslins.” Millie referred to the new friends James had made in their time here. “Belle Preslin is so vain and vulgar, and as for Lance…” Millie said it quietly and thoughtfully as her thumb traced Benita’s nipple. There was an odd note to her voice: not anger, not jealousy, but perhaps both of those things mixed in with incredulity and sorrow. “They’re the most horrible people, Benny.” Millie called her Benny when she was disturbed. It seemed to be the pet name she had acquired during their games.
“Mmm. Personally, I find them rather interesting,” Benita replied. She didn’t want to sting Millie, but it was true. She did find the couple thrilling as they were so avant-garde. They were extravagantly rich and inclined to scandalise. Belle Preslin was impossibly glamorous, with an angular beauty that was noteworthy even in a resort full of beautiful people. She strutted around, vocalising madly over any subject that was likely to inflame. As for Lance Preslin, he was another matter entirely: the personification of sin and sloth. Somewhat portly now in middle age, yet still stunningly attractive. He was a magnet to women who found his sizzling American accent and plucky repartee hard to resist.
It puzzled her the way James had gravitated towards the brashness of these people. You could hear the Preslins for miles—Lance’s voice jocular and harsh, Belle’s almost laughing, like a tympanic accompaniment.
Because they did not seem like the sort of people James would choose to hang around, it made her pause for a moment. Something about that mixture seemed volatile, and so did Belle, come to that.
She had noticed a predatory look in James’s eye whenever they bumped into Belle Preslin. The attraction of the species had its secret code written down and conducted from between the pages of its own rulebook. Belle was so unlike her angel, so striking in a way Millie could never be. She was highly intelligent and had the dark looks of the Jewess, with interesting slanting eyes and a wide, generous mouth that doubtless James had thought capable of doing other things. Her humour was ribald, and frequently Benita had overheard Belle teasing him about things Millie couldn’t have got away with.
A tingle surfed over her skin and it was one of illicit excitement. She felt bad about the direction her thoughts were flowing in. It was not that she wanted to see Millie heartbroken by an affair, but it was as if she willed a flame to dance between Belle and James. If it did, it could provide her with a tool for possible leverage. Millie had put James on a pedestal he was not worthy of standing on. Men would be men.
James fancied Belle, and Belle fancied James. Millie was an idiot if she did not know, but maybe she did and that was the cause of her sorrowful voice. Millie might endure it, though; she did seem blinded by her husband’s saviour-like qualities and those might cancel out his bad points.
Millie pillowed her cheek on Benita’s light-brown breasts and, as her arm wrapped around her and drew her closer, a charge surged through her and she tingled from top to toe. She hated her body seeping fluids and emanating the soft, gentle smell of longing. It had never responded like this for anyone else. It was as if she possessed a dim, glowing light of sin that burned continually in the background. She was a tinderbox around Millie: primed every instant, ready for the strike.
Millie, always perceptive and lately frighteningly so, sat up and peered at her.
“What is it, darling? You are so strange lately. So thoughtful.”
“Nothing.” Benita forced a weak smile.
“Yes, there is. There is something terribly wrong. Aren’t you happy here with me?”
“Don’t be silly.” Benita glanced out of the window, aware of the forward march of time and how much she loved being here, encapsulated in the hotel that had become their sensual refuge from the world.
They were not the only ones who enjoyed their surroundings. They’d become quite friendly with a middle-class couple, who had the suite next to them and who had sex constantly, much to Millie’s mirth. Sex was thirsty. It consumed and swallowed you down like a drug that you couldn’t get enough of. Whenever the four of them met, they exchanged knowing smiles. The couple were open and pleasing to Benita. They were fellow conspirators in the never-ending circle of love, trapped in its vibrant rotation, spinning so fast that they couldn’t end the crazy merry-go-round ride without falling off and perishing.
“I think it will be so marvellous back at the villa, don’t you? There will be so much more opportunity to be together. This is a bit seedy, don’t you think? That’s how it feels to me.” Millie chuckled quietly, showing her even, white teeth.
Benita dandled her fingers over Millie’s smooth, scented skin. She knew each cosmetic Millie used. Every soap, talc, perfume. She could not breathe them in without experiencing a pang of longing.
“I shall miss it, though,” she said sadly. “It has been disgustingly dirty, but it’s nice in that it makes me feel like a thief stealing something precious.”
Millie’s frown drew her brows together into the familiar V. “You’re so poetic, but as I belong to you, you cannot steal me.” Then she swung the subject away. “In many ways it reminds me of how we met. The train was rather dirty, wasn’t it?”
She disengaged herself from Benita’s grasp. Benita was reluctant to have her go. She could lie with her all day. She would never get tired of the feel and smell of her, and yet all good things had to come to an end, or so they said. And despite their love, there were so many endings and beginnings. In fact, every day was an ending and a beginning simply because they couldn’t belong to one another in the way they would have wished.