Threshold guardians

Threshold guardians, those three-headed slavering dogs that keep the world at bay. In the Hero’s Journey these are the creatures that try to put you off, prevent the Hero from crossing the threshold into the world of adventure.
Once when Sam was trying to explain agoraphobia to a friend, she said: It’s not that you literally can’t go out the door. It’s more like – imagine there’s a terrible thunderstorm. You could go out in it. It would be possible, just very unpleasant. You’d rather not. You’d put it off. Make do with what you had inside. Or – this person had a phobia of snakes – imagine there were snakes coiled up on your doorstep and you had to step over their twined forms…
There’s no phobic solidarity. Your phobia is special and feels frighteningly real: other people’s are irrational and strange.
What’s all this got to do with threesome?
It started with a text from Fireman John. She’d met him at the New year do, when she’d been with someone else. She was blindfold at the time, but he seemed capable enough. She’d stayed the night with Magnus and tested one of his dafter contraptions: a breast compressor made from a couple of wooden coat hangers and two long screw threads. Imagine a cider press – no, don’t bother. Magnus was brim full of ingenuity but somehow never quite… She’d come away from that encounter with a small niggling bruise. Sadomasochism’s one thing – and she was as much an admirer of the cherry-cheeked buttock at the next man – but rope burns and pinch-bruises, they were just a pain – and not in a good way.
Then Magnus had offered to do her housework, cross-dressed, and it was tempting. The housework bit, not the cross-dressing. Paraphilias, like phobias, are too individual to inspire fellow feeling. If Magnus wanted to dress in a frilly apron and fishnets, she wouldn’t stop him, but it was the cleaning she was interested in. Blessed irony: she’d feel she had to clean up before the cleaner came. Which rather defeated the object. It wasn’t that she couldn’t clean up herself. She was capable. She’d just rather not.
She ran it by Simone, who had this to say:
It’s about attention. Your ‘maid’ wants the thrill of being controlled by you. If you just want your cleaning done so you don’t have to think about it, it’s not going to work.
As soon as Simone had said this, Sam knew. Also Magnus would cock it up. His efforts always scored high on enthusiasm, low on execution. She didn’t have any precious vases to smash, but he’d be sure to find something.
So she’d agreed to meet Fireman John. In a little tea room on the Parade. It had come, by a series of accidents, to be her place of assignation. This was the third would-be Master she’d interviewed here. Something about negotiating boundaries, while the elderly ladies took advantage of the mid-afternoon tea and scone offer, tickled her. Chintz, china and violet wands.
John was an ex-fireman and, she learned, had a wife. Not so good. She could do without the complication. Especially after Starman’s wife went mental last summer and smashed up his shop. Now they were friends and had played nicely together at the last Club Lash, but she’d learned her lesson. You could never believe what anyone said about their wife being OK with it. Best not to risk it.
Then he’d started talking about the Wench – and Sam couldn’t help but be interested. The Wench was new to loving the ladies but very keen to explore. When, a couple of days later, a message appeared in her inbox: Be Your Slave? Sam was won over. The Wench had her face on her profile pic, which was unusual, and she was pretty. Fireman John had been right about her being keen!
Then the text had come: 3some. free weds? Mff. Mff? Sounded like the noise you make, with a leather glove clamped over your mouth as you’re pulled backwards by the hair into a torture chair.
Didn’t understand the message, but free Wednesday. What time? She’d texted back. She didn’t really do textspeak: it seemed more of an effort to change to numbers than to spell the word correctly in the first place. But she didn’t want to be one of those reactionary old biddies who write to Radio 4 to complain about the use of ‘hopefully’ and ‘disinterested’. She imagined the letter:

Dear Sir,
It is with increasing displeasure that I note the spread of ‘textspeak’ among the older generation. I recently received a message from a gentleman of my acquaintance introducing the subject of troilism, with the unspeakable word ‘3some’, that is, number three, S-O-M-E, all lower case…

Hopefully, the Wench could do Wednesday. Otherwise, Sam was not interested. Not ‘disinterested’, note, but uninterested.
Later, a text arrives – spelled in English, he’d obviously got the message: threesome is off. I could come over to yours.
Why does this message induce a shudder of distaste, rather than a shiver of excitement? She doesn’t want him to cross her threshold. Agoraphobia in reverse.
There is, of course, the issue of cleaning, but that’s not it entirely. Her three-headed dog doesn’t want strangers in here touching her things. Which is odd, as they have touched more intimate things outside. It is as if, outside, even as she sheds her clothes, in a dress that is more air than there, she dons an invisible armour. This is not me, Sam. This is a projection. Mistress Xanthé. You cannot touch me.
So, Sam texts back: I’d have to clean up. Don’t much fancy that. Sorry. X

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