The apartment where O lived was situated on the Ile Saint-Louis, under the eaves of an old house which faced south and overlooked the Seine. All the rooms, which were spacious and low, had sloping ceilings, and the two rooms at the front of the house each opened onto a balcony set into the sloping roof. One of them was O's room; the other, in which bookshelves filled one wall from floor to ceiling on either side of the fireplace, served as a living room, a study, and even as a bedroom in case of necessity. Facing the two windows was a big couch, and there was a large antique table before the fireplace. It was here that they dined whenever the tiny dining room, which faced the interior courtyard and was decorated with dark green serge, was really too small to accommodate the guests. Another room, which also looked onto the courtyard, was René's, and it was here that he dressed and kept his clothes. O shared the yellow bathroom with him; the kitchen, also yellow, was tiny. A cleaning woman came in every day. The flooring of the rooms overlooking the courtyard was of red tile, those antique hexagonal tiles which in old Paris hotels are used to cover the stairs and landings above the second story. Seeing them again gave O a shock and made her heart beat faster: they were the same tiles as the ones in the hallways at Roissy. Her room was small, the pink and black chintz curtains were closed, the fire was glowing behind the metallic screen, the bed was made, the covers turned back.
"I bought you a nylon nightgown," Rene? said. "You've never had one before."
Yes, a white pleated nylon nightgown, tailored and tasteful like the clothing of Egyptian statuettes, an almost transparent nightgown was unfolded on the edge of the bed, on the side where O slept. O tied a thin belt around her waist, over the elastic waistband of the nightgown itself, and the material of the gown was so light that the projection of the buttocks colored it a pale pink. Everything - save for the curtains and the panel hung with the same material against which the head of the bed was set, and the two small armchairs upholstered with the same chintz - everything in the room was white: the walls, the fringe around the mahogany four-poster bed, and the bearskin rug on the floor. Seated before the fire in her white nightgown, O listened to her lover.
He began by saying that she should not think that she was now free. With one exception, and that was that she was free not to love him any longer, and to leave him immediately. But if she did love him, then she was in no wise free. She listened to him without saying a word, thinking how happy she was that he wanted to prove to himself - it mattered little how - that she belonged to him, and thinking too that he was more than a little naive not to realize that this proprietorship was beyond any proof. But did he perhaps realize it and want to emphasize it merely because he derived a certain pleasure from it? She gazed into the fire as he talked, but he did not, not daring to meet her eyes. He was standing, pacing back and forth. Suddenly he said to her that, for a start, he wanted her to listen to him with her knees unclasped and her arms unfolded, for she was sitting with her knees together and her arms folded around them. So she lifted her nightgown and, on her knees, or, rather, squatting on her heels in the manner of the Carmelites or the Japanese women, she waited. The only thing was, since her knees were spread, she could feel the light, sharp pricking of the white fur between her half-open thighs; he came back to it again: she was not opening her legs wide enough. The word "open" and the expression "opening her legs" were, on her lover's lips, charged with such uneasiness and power that she could never hear them without experiencing a kind of internal prostration, a sacred submission, as though a god, and not he, had spoken to her. So she remained motionless, and her hands were lying palm upward beside her knees, between which the material of her nightgown was spread, with the pleats reforming.
What her lover wanted from her was very simple: that she be constantly and immediately accessible. It was not enough for him to know that she was: she was to be so without the slightest obstacle intervening, and her bearing and clothing were to bespeak, as it were, the symbol of that availability to experienced eyes. That, he went on, meant two things. The first she knew, having been informed of it the evening of her arrival at the cha?teau: that she must never cross her knees, as her lips had always to remain open. She doubtless thought that this was nothing (that was indeed what she did think), but she would learn that to maintain this discipline would require a constant effort on her part, an effort which would remind her, in the secret they shared between them and perhaps with a few others, of the reality of her condition, when she was with those who did not share the secret, and engaged in ordinary pursuits.
As for her clothes, it was up to her to choose them, or if need be to invent them, so that this semi- undressing to which he had subjected her in the car on their way to Roissy would no longer be necessary: tomorrow she was to go through her closet and sort out her dresses, and do the same with her underclothing by going through her dresser drawers. She would hand over to him absolutely everything she found in the way of belts and panties; the same for any brassieres like the one whose straps he had had to cut before he could remove it, any full slips which covered her breasts, all the blouses and dresses which did not open up the front, and any skirts too tight to be raised with a single movement. She was to have other brassieres, other blouses, other dresses made. Meanwhile, was she supposed to visit her corset maker with nothing on under her blouse or sweater? Yes, she was to go with nothing on underneath. If someone should notice, she could explain it any way she liked, or not explain it at all, whichever she preferred, but it was her problem and hers alone. Now, as for the rest of what he still had to teach her, he preferred to wait for a few days and wanted her to be dressed properly before hearing it. She would find all the money she needed in the little drawer of her desk. When he had finished speaking, she murmured "I love you" without the slightest gesture. It was he who added some wood to the fire, lighted the bedside lamp, which was of pink opaline. Then he told O to get into bed and wait for him, that he
would sleep with her. When he came back, O reached over to turn out the lamp: it was her left hand, and the last thing she saw before the room was plunged into darkness was the somber glitter of her iron ring. She was lying half on her side: her lover called her softly by name and, simultaneously, seizing her with his whole hand, covered the nether part of her belly and drew her to him.
The next day, O, in her dressing gown, had just finished lunch alone in the green dining room - Rene? had left early in the morning and was not due home until evening, to take her out to dinner - when the phone rang. The phone was in the bedroom, beneath the lamp at the head of the bed. O sat down on the floor to answer it. It was Rene? who wanted to know whether the cleaning woman had left. Yes, she had just left, after having served lunch, and would not be back till the following morning.
"Have you started to sort out your clothes yet?" Rene? said.
"I was just going to start," she answered, "but I got up late, took a batch, and it was noon before I was ready."
"Are you dressed?"
"No, I have on my nightgown and my dressing gown."
"Put the phone down, take off your robe and your nightgown."
O obeyed, so startled that the phone slipped from the bed where she had placed it down onto the white rug, and she thought she had been cut off. No, she had not been cut off.
"Are you naked?" Rene? went on.
"Yes," she said. "But where are you calling from?"
He ignored her question, merely adding:
"Did you keep your ring on?"
She had her ring on.
Then he told her to remain as she was until he came home and to prepare, thus undressed, the suitcase of clothing she was to get rid of. Then he hung up.
It was past one o'clock, and the weather was lovely. A small pool of sunlight fell on the rug, lighting the white nightgown and the corduroy dressing gown, pale green like the shells of fresh almonds, which O had let slip to the floor when she had taken them off. She picked them up and went to take them into the bathroom, to hang them up in a closet. On her way, she suddenly saw her reflection in one of the mirrors fastened to a door and which, together with another mirror covering part of the wall and a third on another door, formed a large three-faced mirror: all she was wearing was a pair of leather mules the same green as her dressing gown - and only slightly darker than the mules she wore at Roissy - and her ring. She was no longer wearing either a collar or leather bracelets, and she was alone, her own sole spectator. And yet never had she felt more totally committed to a will which was not her own, more totally a slave, and more content to be so.
When she bent down to open a drawer, she saw her breasts stir gently. It took her almost two hours to lay out on her bed the clothes which she then had to pack away in the suitcase. There was no problem about the panties; she made a little pile of them near one of the bedposts. The same for her brassieres, not one would stay, for they all had a strap in the back and fastened on the side. And yet she saw how she could have the same model made, by shifting the catch to the front, in the middle, directly beneath the cleavage of the breasts. The girdles and garter belts posed no further problems, but she hesitated to add to the pile the corset of pink satin brocade which laced up in the back and so closely resembled the bodice she had worn at Roissy. She put it aside on the drawer. That would be Rene?'s decision. He would also decide about the sweaters, all of which went on over the head and were tight at the neck, therefore could not be opened. But they could be pulled up from the waist and thus bare the breasts. All the slips, however, were piled on her bed. In the dresser drawer there still remained a flounce and fine Valenciennes lace, which was made to be worn under a pleated sun skirt of black wool which was too sheer not to be transparent. She would need other half-length slips, short, light-colored ones. She also realized that she would either have to give up wearing sheath dresses or else pick out the kin of dress that buttoned all the way down the front, in which case she would also have to have her slips made in such a way that they would open together with the dress. As for the petticoats, that was easy, the dresses too, but what would her dressmaker say about the underclothes? She would explain that she wanted a detachable lining, because she was cold-blooded. As a matter of fact, she was sensitive to the cold, and suddenly she wondered how in the world she would stand the winter cold when she was dressed so lightly?
When she had finally finished, and had kept from her entire wardrobe only her blouses, all of which buttoned down the front, her black pleated skirt, her coats of course, and the suit she had worn home from Roissy, she went to prepare tea. She turned up the thermostat in the kitchen; the cleaning woman had not filled the wood basket for the living-room fire, and O knew that her lover liked to find her in the living room beside the fire when he arrived home in the evening. She filled the basket from the woodpile in the hallway closet, carried it back to the living-room fireplace, and lighted the fire. Thus she waited for him, curled up in a big easy chair, the tea tray beside her, waited for him to come home, but this time she waited, the way he had ordered her to, naked.
The first difficulty O encountered was in her work. Difficulty is perhaps an exaggeration. Astonishment would be a better term. O worked in the fashion department of a photography agency. This meant that it was she who photographed, in the studios where they had to pose for hours on end, the most exotic and prettiest girls whom the fashion designers had chosen to model their creations.
They were surprised that O had postponed her vacation until this late in the fall and had thus been away at a time of year when the fashion world was busiest, when the new collections were about to be presented. But that was nothing. What surprised them most was how changed she was. At first glance, they found it hard to say exactly what was changed about her, but none the less they felt it, and the more they observed her, the more convinced they were. She stood and walked straighter, her eyes were clearer, but what ws especially striking was her perfection when she was in repose, and how measured her gestures were.
She had always been a conservative dresser, the way girls do whose work resembles that of men, but she was so skillful that she brought it off; and because the other girls - who constituted her subjects - were constantly concerned, both professionally and personally, with clothing and adornments, they were quick to note what might have passed unperceived to eyes other than theirs. Sweaters worn right next to the skin, which gently molded the contours of the breasts - Rene? had finally consented to the sweaters - pleated skirts so prone to swirling when she turned: O wore them so often it was a little as though they formed a discreet uniform.
"Very little-girl like," one of the models said to her one day, a blond, green-eyed model with high Slavic cheekbones and the olive complexion that goes with it. "But you shouldn't wear garters," she added. "You're going to ruin your legs."
This remark was occasioned by O, who, without stopping to think, had sat down somewhat hastily in her presence, and obliquely in front of her, on the arm of a big leather easy chair, and in so doing had lifted her skirt. The tall girl had glimpsed a flash of naked thigh above the rolled stocking, which covered the knee but stopped just above it.
O had seen her smile, so strangely that she wondered what the girl had been thinking at the time, or perhaps what she had understood. She adjusted her stockings, one at a time, pulling them up to tighten them, for it was not as easy to keep them tight this way as it was when the stockings ended at mid-thigh and were fastened to a garter belt, and answered Jacqueline, as though to justify herself:
"Practical for what?" Jacqueline wanted to know.
"I dislike garter belts," O replied.
But Jacqueline was not listening to her and was looking at the iron ring.
During the next few days, O took some fifty photographs of Jacqueline. They were like nothing she had ever taken before. Never, perhaps, had she had such a model. Anyway, never before had she been able to extract such meaning and emotion from a face or body. And yet all she was aiming for was to make the silks, the furs, and the laces more beautiful by that sudden beauty of an elfin creature surprised by her reflection in the mirror, which Jacqueline became in the simplest blouse, as she did in the most elegant mink. She had short, thick, blond hair, only slightly curly, and at the least excuse she would cock her head slightly toward her left shoulder and nestle her cheek against the upturned collar of her fur, if she were wearing fur. O caught her once in this position, tender and smiling, her hair gently blown as though by a soft wind, and her smooth, hard cheekbone snuggled against the gray mink, soft and gray as the freshly fallen ashes of a wood fire. Her lips were slightly parted, and her eyes half-closed. Beneath the gleaming, liquid gloss of the photograph she looked like some blissful girl who had drowned, she was pale, so pale. O had the picture printed with as little contrast as possible. She had taken another picture of Jacqueline with she found even more stunning: back lighted, it portrayed her bare-shouldered, with her delicate head, and her face as well, enveloped in a large-meshed black veil surmounted by an absurd double aigrette whose impalpable tufts crowned her like wisps of smoke; she was wearing an enormous robe of heavy brocaded silk, red like the dress of a bride in the Middle Ages, which came down to below her ankles, flared at the hips and tight at the waist, and the armature of which traced the outline of her bosom. It was what the dress designers called a gala gown, the kind no one ever wears. The spike-heeled sandals were also of red silk. And all the time Jacqueline was before O dressed in that gown and sandals, and that veil which was like the premonition of a mask, O, in her mind's eye, was completing, was inwardly modifying the model: a trifle here, a trifle there - the waist drawn in a little tighter, the breasts slightly raised - and it was the same dress as at Roissy, the same dress that Jeanne had worn, the same smooth, heavy, cascading silk which one takes by the handful and raises whenever one is told to ... Why yes, Jacqueline was lifting it in just that way as she descended from the platform on which she had been posting for the past fifteen minutes. It was the same rustling, the same crackling of dried leaves. No one wears these gala gowns any longer? But they do. Jacqueline was also wearing a gold choker around her neck, and on her wrists two gold bracelets. O caught herself thinking that she would be more beautiful with leather collar and leather bracelets. And then she did something she had never done before: she followed Jacqueline into the large dressing room adjacent to the studio, where the models dressed and made up and where they left their clothing and make-up kits after hours. She remained standing, leaning against the doorjamb, her eyes glued to the mirror of the dressing table before which Jacqueline, without removing her gown, had sat down. The mirror was so big - it covered the entire back wall, and the dressing table itself was a simple slab of black glass - that she could see Jacqueline's and her own reflection, as doing the aigrettes and the tulle netting. Jacqueline removed the choker herself, her bare arms lifted like two handles; a touch of perspiration gleamed in her armpits, which were shaved (Why? O wondered, what a pity, she's so fair), and O could smell the sharp delicate, slightly plantlike odor and wondered what perfume Jacqueline ought to wear - what perfume they would make her wear. Then Jacqueline unclasped her bracelets and put them on the glass slab, where they made a momentary clanking sound like the sound of chains. Her hair was so fair that her skin was actually darker than her hair, a grayish beige like fine-grained sand just after the tide has gone out. On the photograph, the red silk would be black. Just then, the thick eyelashes, which Jacqueline was always reluctant to make up, lifted, and in the mirror O met her gaze, a look so direct and steady that, without being able to detach her own eyes from it, she felt herself slowly blushing. That was all.
"I'm sorry," Jacqueline said, "I have to undress."
"Sorry," O murmured, and closed the door.
The next day she took home with her the proofs of the shots she had made the day before, not really knowing whether she wanted, or did not want, to show them to her love, with whom she had a dinner date. She looked at them as she was putting on her make-up at the dressing table in her room, pausing to trace on the photographs with her finger the curve of an eyebrow, the suggestion of a smile. But when she heard the sound of the key in the front door, she slipped them into the drawer.
For two weeks, O had been completely outfitted and ready for use, and could not get used to being so, when she discovered one evening upon returning from the studio a note from her lover asking her to be ready at eight to join him and one of his friends for dinner. A car would stop by to pick her up, the chauffeur would come up and ring her bell. The postscript specified that she was to take her fur jacket, that she was to dress entirely in black (entirely was underlined), and was to be at pains to make up and perfume herself as at Roissy.
It was six o'clock. Entirely in black, and for dinner - and it was mid-December, the weather was cold, that meant black silk stockings, black gloves, her pleated fan-shaped skirt, a heavy-knit sweater, with spangles or her short jacket of faille. It was padded and quilted in large stitches, close fitting and hooked from neck to waist like the tight-fitting doublets that men used to wear in the sixteenth century, and if it molded the bosom so perfectly, it was because the brassiere was built into it. It was lined of the same faille, and its slit tails were hip-length. The only bright foil were the large gold hooks like those on children's snow boots which made a clicking sound as they were hooked or unhooked from their broad flat rings.
After she had laid out her clothes on her bed, and at the foot of the bed her black suede shoes with raised soles and spiked heels, nothing seemed stranger to O than to see herself, solitary and free in her bathroom, meticulously making herself up and perfuming herself, after she had taken her bath, as she had done at Roissy. The cosmetics she owned were not the same as those used at Roissy. In the drawer of her dressing table she found some face rouge - she never used any - which she utilized to emphasize the halo of her breasts. It was a rouge which was scarcely visible when first applied, but when darkened later. At first she thought she had put on too much and tried to take a little off with alcohol - it was very hard to remove - and started all over: a dark peony pink flowered at the tip of her breasts. Vainly she tried to make up the lips which the fleece of her loins concealed, but the rouge left no mark. Finally, among the tubes of lipstick she had in the same drawer, she found one of those kiss proof lipsticks which she did not like to use because they were too dry and too hard to remove. There, it worked. She fixed her hair and freshened her face, then finally put on the perfume. Rene? had given her, in an atomizer which released a heavy spray, a perfume whose name she didn't know, which had the odor of dry wood and marshy plants, a pungent, slightly savage odor. On her skin the spray melted, on the fur of the armpits and belly it ran and formed tiny droplets.
At Roissy, O had learned to take her time: she perfumed herself three times, each time allowing the perfume to dry. First she put on her stockings, and high heels, then the petticoat and skirt, then the jacket. She put on her gloves and took her bag. In her bag were her compact, her lipstick, a comb, her key, and ten francs. Wearing her gloves, she took her fur coat from the closet and glanced at the time at the head of her bed: quarter to eight. She sat down diagonally on the edge of the bed and, her eyes riveted to the alarm clock, waited without moving for the bell to ring. When she heard it at last and rose to leave, she noticed in the mirror above her dressing table, before turning out the light, her bold, gentle, docile expression.