by Greta Jia-Kang Cabrel

another round of To Hone High and Low

Satsuki has participated in a weeklong early music festival every year for more than a decade, developing a few traditions along the way: she catches a two-leg flight with a layover in O’Hare, where she visits the same tavern every time, treating herself to its triple “cheezborger” and a pint of Fist City beer. In the college town that hosts the festival, she has become accustomed to sharing a condo with her friend Sheila, who drives up from three states away and started attending the festival a few years before Satsuki first heard about it. They rarely attend the same classes—Sheila gleefully specializes in loud instruments like sackbuts and dulcians, the weirder the better, whereas Satsuki sticks with soprano and alto recorders. Sheila’s day job is in the finance sector, but her trombone and bassoon chops are good enough for her to be hired for jazz gigs, cocktail parties, and recordings in need of session players. Satsuki’s what the festival classifies as an “advanced amateur”: her sight-reading’s decent, and she sounds reasonably good when she practices diligently—but that has never happened for more than a few weeks at a time away from the festival, and even in the festival’s small ensembles and duet pairings, no one’s expecting her to be flawless or outstanding. Amid so many people far more dedicated to recorder-playing, Satsuki merely has to be reliable on the parts assigned to her, and recover discreetly when she misses an entrance or needs to snatch an unplanned breath mid-phrase. She’s very good at that, and she likes getting to study mostly obscure masterpieces with better musicians.

She also enjoys the fundraising auction that takes place midway through the festival. Satsuki never bids on anything—she’s not a collector, and her baggage allowance is reserved for other priorities—but it’s still a fun evening for her. It comes with wine and snacks and hilarity, the last in large part from Sheila, who’s in on all the in-jokes but kind enough to translate them to newcomers without being officious. There’s one at their table, Alana, whom Satsuki watched during a master class the previous day. It had in truth been like witnessing a train wreck: the clinician hadn’t agreed with Alana’s interpretation of the allegro she’d prepared, resulting in a very uncomfortable half hour of clashing styles and priorities, with Alana striving to remain outwardly respectful in spite of the clinician’s undisguised disdain for, well, everything about her. 

It was uglier than the festival’s typical vibe, with the audience discernibly siding with Alana by the third imperious “stop!” from the clinician. Satsuki spotted several people throwing pleading looks at the festival director; Dr. Bonnemann didn’t immediately intervene, but she rose to her feet when the student scheduled to go on after Alana approached her, and they left the room together. A few minutes later, Dr. Bonnemann re-entered the room and quietly caught the attention of the two other students on the schedule, beckoning them out to the hallway. 

After Alana’s segment, Dr. Bonnemann went up to the stage and announced that the program had been shortened, with only one of the three remaining students prepared for critique and coaching. This was greeted with muttering from various audience members and a curled lip from the clinician, who, on seeing a warning glare from the director, blessedly forbore from insulting the defectors aloud for being faint of heart. Alana remained in the room through the rest of the class, looking upset yet determined to stick around. It was a good look on her, Satsuki thought.   

She looks good now, at their table, giggling at Sheila’s snark about the fashionably hideous objet d’art on the block. She seems to have fully recovered from the master class ordeal, wth the last laugh arguably hers: the clinician is no longer at the festival. Dr. Bonnemann and the other festival leaders haven’t disclosed how that happened—whether he was dismissed, or flounced away in a huff—but it doesn’t matter: Satsuki was unimpressed with his treatment of the last master class student, who—from what she knows of that kid—had gone through with it just to add “studied with Asshole Clinician” to future CVs and applications. No one else seems sad that the jerk is gone, and the festival has plenty of elite performers who can cover any part with minimal notice.

One such performer is Robin, who’s the principal oboist of several professional ensembles, including a symphony orchestra. She’s definitely one of the more intimidating members of the festival faculty—Satsuki saw phrases like “lethally incisive” and “ruthlessly technical” on a rate-your-instructors site, but she doesn’t recall ever seeing or hearing about Robin being mean or unfair. Not everyone hired by the festival is a born instructor or a gracious one—the lead lute instructor, for example, has no idea how to relate to rank beginners—but Satsuki’s own encounters with Robin have been invariably pleasant. Robin’s so good that she can pinpoint and articulate technical issues more swiftly than non-virtuosos, and confident enough to remain unruffled when students fail to execute what she asks of them. 

On the other hand, seeing Robin claim a vaseful of cheap recorders from the silent auction table is bizarre. Satsuki blinks and then appeals to Sheila.

“You saw that, right? Does Robin know something we don’t?”

“Robin knows lots of things we don’t, but she’s also too principled to screw over the festival. If something in that set had been worth more than ten bucks, she would’ve pointed it out and egged on a bidding war.”

“There was nothing in that bunch worth bidding on,” Alana agrees. “And that vase was as ugly as l’objet.”

“So, a pity purchase,” Satsuki concludes. “Do you think she’ll re-gift them to the festival next year?”

“I doubt it,” Sheila says. “She’s a kind soul, once you get past the ‘plays circles around everyone breathing’ divide. The donor’s going to feel bad about nobody wanting their contribution, and possibly even humiliated, if they put it together in good faith.”

“The donor’s a sweetie,” Alana confirms. “And more than a bit naive. I can see her picturing someone else being thrilled by her cast-offs and thrift-store finds. It’s all too possible that she shelled out more than a hundred bucks over the years for that hodgepodge. And, who knows, there’s probably a Montessori teacher out there who would be thrilled to score a half-dozen random questionably vintage recorders.”

“That’s awfully specific,” Satsuki observes. “I know why I wouldn’t want them, but you’re saying a regular grade-school teacher would turn them down?”

Sheila makes a face. “I don’t know that they’d say no, but I sponsor an elementary school program in my district—one of my jazz gals, she’s band director at the junior high it feeds into—and seventy dollars buys a pack of twenty-five matching sopranos, in see-through pink, blue, or purple. Turns out most wranglers of third-graders have never touched a recorder themselves, and if they have, it was only a soprano, and only for a few weeks more than ten years ago. And no one has time to learn or teach anything except soprano, and if a kid likes playing recorder enough to find out there’s more than one kind to try, they deserve to try out better instruments than what was in that crock.” 

“Hear, hear.” Alana toasts Sheila with her plastic tumbler of sauvignon blanc.

“As always, I defer to your superior grasp of economics,” Satsuki says to Sheila, “including the nuances of supply chain trends for shitty recorders.” Sheila regally acknowledges the concession as her due. Her lack of modesty, in any sense of the word, is a key reason they’ve remained fast friends.

“It’s still a puzzle, how Robin’s gonna get all that home,” Alana says. “I can’t see her wrapping all those recorders in her dirty laundry to make them fit in her suitcase—”

“Is that what you grubby youngsters do?” Sheila cuts in, appalled. “Anyway, her symphony pays their people well,” Sheila informs her. “It’s not going to break her budget to ship it all home, or to pay an extra bag fee and spring for proper padding.”

“I suppose not,” Satsuki says. “Well. I hope she’s up to no good, whatever she has in mind. She deserves to get at least twenty dollars worth of fun out of that lot.”

“Maybe the symphony woodwinds play Dirty Santa,” Sheila speculates. “She’s definitely got that Marie Kondo vibe, without the woo-woo thanky part, so I doubt she keeps around the kind of useless regiftable crap those party games call on. But, you know how the sessions she’s in charge of always end on time?”

“I’d bet real money on her being an orchestra union steward,” Alana offers. “Those people always make sure rehearsals don’t go into extra innings.”  

“Exactly,” Sheila says. “Robin’s totally the type to buy gifts months in advance. Even for dumb occasions.”

“Seems like a lot to spend on Dirty Santa, though,” Satsuki counters. “Especially with the extra handling costs built in.”

“Oh, right, you’re also the uber-strategic type,” Sheila says, “at least with everything other than recorder-playing.” Satsuki isn’t offended by the jibe—she knows Sheila well enough to hear it as affectionate. “Which means you’re right, dammit, Robin would want a higher ROI for her trouble. Hm. Her symphony can count on the A-list socialites as patrons, but her other groups probably need any kind of boost they can get. Maybe she’ll play each of those shitty recorders once and then raffle them off the way the ballet dancers sign and sell their used pointe shoes.”

“Pierre would totally buy something like that,” Alana chirps, referring to the fellow who’d performed after her in the master class. “But something tells me you wouldn’t,” she says to Satsuki.

“Nope,” Satsuki confirms. “No room in my carry-on, and no one at home to impress with that kind of tchotchke. Most of my friends think my idea of fun is skewed as it is—and, in fairness, I get it: most people don’t get off on playing music slightly too hard for them one week a year, and swearing every year to practice like a boss so that the music’s less hard.”

“You are getting better,” Sheila allows, “but you’d be brilliant if you ever decided to focus more than you fuck around.”

“Alas,” Satsuki says, without rancor, “so much to do, so little time. I do actually like practicing, but I always get tied up with too many other things as soon as I get home.”

“Speaking of which,” Alana leans forward, hesitating for a moment but then barrelling ahead. “From what I hear, you’re usually the one doing the tying up.”

Satsuki’s eyes narrow. “Just who did you hear that from?”

“I play with a guy in the circus whenever our paths are close enough to cross,” Alana says, lightly stressing the word play. “Marius. He learned some very stylish ties from you.”

“Oh!” Satsuki’s expression clears. “Oh yeah. He’s a sweetheart. I wasn’t expecting that with the Cirque crew.” At Sheila’s inquiring look, she elaborates, “The others I’ve spent time with are more like Robin. Very confident control freaks, and that’s not a criticism, I’d be that tier of extra myself if my body could do the things they ask of theirs.”

“It’s not like Marius isn’t extra,” Alana notes. “Among other things, he’s a walking encyclopedia of rope. I met him at a club where he was nerding out on knots with a roadie.”

“How on brand of him,” Satsuki says, amused. “Were you friends with the roadie?”

“I was hoping to be,” Alana admits. “You know that woman in those woodchopping reels? Arms. Like. That.”

“Oh yes,” Sheila sighs. “I’d lick guns like those anytime. Will you take me clubbing if I visit you?”

“Sure, but it’s not like I’ve seen her again. And it was Marius who went home with me that time.”

“Which was clearly the right call, since you’ve hooked up again since then.”

“I’m weak for nerds with style.”

Satsuki snorts. “That ‘nerd’ is also six-foot-three, with lumberjack arms himself. Even though he’s a musician rather than an acrobat.”

“Jumbo cinnamon roll’s still a cinnamon roll,” Alana maintains. 

“True,” Satsuki allows. “So how did I come up?”

“He’s never mentioned you by name,” Alana says. “He does know better than that. But we had one of those nights where we got to really talking, because nothing was going right body-wise but I’d driven three hours to see the show and him, and they’d put him up in a nicer hotel than usual, with twenty-four-hour room service, so we ordered what turned out to be really good coffee after using up all the pods that came with the room, and he waxed poetic about hip harnesses for more than an hour, with pictures from Prague….” She pauses, as if expecting an interruption.

“Rope Spirit. Great show,” Satsuki murmurs obligingly, making a “go on” gesture.

“I thought they were gorgeous too,” Alana continues. “And he said he wasn’t at that level—he sounded like you, actually, the way you talk about never getting around to practicing enough—but you helped him get the hang of some wicked pretty loops.” Alana steeples her fingers. “He also said your breath control wasn’t bad for someone with zero commitment to rising above average.”

Satsuki and Sheila both cackle. “The sweetheart has fangs!” Sheila faux-gasps.

“Oh, please, that was a bunny bite at best,” Satsuki retorts. “I wouldn’t be able to stand him if he tried to suck up by pretending I’m better.”

“How did he end up hearing you play, anyhow?”

“He showed up at my place a tad too early for a post-matinee date. Someone with a stronger sense of self-preservation would’ve gone back out for boba or a beer, because my exceedingly average quartet was not serving any musical revelations that afternoon—it’s like book club for wind players, none of us are serious enough to practice for real outside of getting together—and he’ll never get those twenty minutes back.” Satsuki grins. “I feel like I ought to feel worse about it, but it was a great date anyway.” She turns to Alana. “So you told him you were going to this festival this year, and he said, ‘Oh, I know a Japanese gal who’s usually there,’ and you wondered if it might be the same Japanese woman he mentioned a while ago when you stayed up looking at sexy pictures?”

“Not quite,” Alana says. “We didn’t talk about my festival plans—we’re not that organized about getting together. But you’re wearing a rope bracelet, with lark’s head knots around a steel circle shaped like a handcuff, which most people wouldn’t be able to make out, but someone like me might look closely enough to make out the hinge and keyhole. And if you weren’t whom I thought you might be, well—” Alana gestures to her now-empty tumbler. “It was a very festive evening, and this was my third glass of wine. It’s easy to say meaningless things under the influence.”

As Satsuki exchanges a silent glance with Sheila, Alana adds, “It takes more than half a bottle of plonk to get me giddy, by the way.” She’s wearing the smile Suzuki saw at the start of the master class—confident, serious, and eager. 

Satsuki slides the bracelet past her palm, holding it up as she spreads her fingers against its confines. “How much do you want this to mean, now that we’re talking?”

Alanna stands up and flips the cup into a nearby trashcan, eyes sparkling. “How easy do you want me to be for you?”

# # #

As Sheila steers her Polestar through the quiet streets, Alana gazes at the bungalows and townhouses adjacent to the college hosting the festival, and Satsuki studies Alana, a hand resting just above Alana’s knee. The atmosphere in the car reminds Satsuki of the charged calm among seasoned performers before a concert begins—everyone simultaneously settling themselves down and gearing up to share their best, and experienced enough not to inflict banal, nervy monologues on stand and stage partners.

Sheila pulls into a garage behind the condo, smoothly parking in a spot facing a wallbox. As she hops out of the car and plugs it into the outlet, Satsuki and Alana unload their collective bags and instruments from the trunk, Satsuki tucking Sheila’s cases into her larger rolling cart and wearing her knapsack in front, like a baby carrier. In return, Sheila opens doors and presses elevator buttons as they trudge toward the unit.

Stepping into the living room, Alana whistles as she takes in the high ceilings and sleek fixtures of their home-away-from-home. “I can see why you don’t stay in the dorms when you’re used to this.”

Sheila rolls her eyes. “This is way more posh than either of us expected when we first booked it. I wanted a kitchen, and Suki wanted walls thick enough for shenanigans at any hour.”

“You’re making me sound like a maniac,” Satsuki protests. “Three times out of four, I’m up at 1 a.m. because I’m trying to get a handle on freaking Telemann before first period.”

“Ignore her,” Sheila stage-whispers to Alana. “She adores Telemann, that’s why she keeps coming back.”

“What are you doing while she’s tooting away past midnight?” 

“Playing along, usually. Whether it’s Telemann or something meatier.” As she enunciates the last word, Sheila makes a show of checking Alana out from head to toe.

As Alana splutters, Satsuki says to Sheila, “With sidekicks like you, who needs herpes or other game-killers?”

“I’m better than herpes, because I’m shiny, like glitter,” Sheila taunts. “And just like both herpes and glitter, I get everywhere, I’m hard to get rid of, and I make everything better!” 

Her friend is ridiculous, but she does have a way of making most things better: Alana happily shrieks as Sheila pulls her into a ballroom hold and then dips her.  

“My dear,” Sheila coos, “you are very wound up. May we take the edge off before Satsuki brings out her hemp and clamps?”

Satsuki can see Alana attempting to nod while upside-down. Sheila waits for the out-loud “yes” before bringing Alana up, only to dip her again, this time over the top edge of a nearby sofa. It’s wide enough to help manage drinks, snack plates, and special guests, and Satsuki is quite familiar with this choreography, stepping forward in time to catch Alana’s upper body as it tilts toward the seat cushion.

Alana visibly attempts to cooperate: Satsuki can practically see her ordering herself to relax her shoulders and sink further into Satsuki and the sofa. Her hips and legs instinctively tense up as Sheila unbuckles her belt and unzips her jeans, but Satsuki continues to cradle her, whispering “Good girl” and kissing her as Sheila works the denim halfway down Alana’s thighs.

“Her panties are soaked through,” Sheila announces, smug.

“You do love running the washer and dryer here,” Satsuki drily responds. “You’ll have clean clothes to take home,” she says to Alana.

“I sure know where to get ravished, yeah? Go me,” Alana jokes, already sounding light-headed.

“Smart girl,” Satsuki says, not missing how the praise makes Alana melt further against her. Honestly, the departed so-called master is the biggest fool on the planet: if he’d chosen to apply judicious encouragement to Alana’s musicianship instead of trashing it, her already beautiful playing might well have blossomed into a sumptuous, breathtaking gift to everyone lucky enough to be in that room that afternoon, and he would have become the talk of the festival for extraordinary coaching instead of exceptional dickishness. 

Good riddance, Satsuki thinks, stroking Alana’s face and neck as Sheila peels the jeans down just a few inches further before focusing on Alana’s boots and socks, crooning at length over how cute they are. The thing is, when Sheila doesn’t bother toning herself down, her accent adds a suggestive sheen to practically everything she says. Every time they team up, Satsuki marvels at how Sheila’s drawl simultaneously riles people up and softens them. It’s the spoken equivalent of what she wants her ropes to do.

Satsuki can’t see the discarded boots or socks, or the prettily polished toenails Sheila’s lazily admiring on the other side of the sofa, but she can tell it’s all heating Alana up. Alana tries to mouth at Satsuki’s wrist and groans with frustration as Satsuki pulls it away. 

“Satsuki-san, are you already getting started?” Sheila calls over.

“Hardly,” Satsuki calls back. “Literally getting situated.” She straightens out of her crouch and then sets her knees against Alana’s shoulders, rearranging her dress so that the full skirt falls over Alana’s entire head. She savors Alana’s dazed moan from within the folds of cotton fabric, her own body reacting to it with a surge of pleasure while Sheila chuckles at Alana’s feet, clearly recognizing the muffled noise.  

Satsuki ruches Alana’s t-shirt up to her collarbone and unhooks her bra, moving it out of the way so she can start toying with Alana’s breasts. Under her dress, the breaths against the inside of her thighs become audibly harsher and more uneven, punctuated by delightfully anguished yelps whenever Satsuki pinches instead of rubs Alana’s nipples and curves. 

When she hears sharp gasps between some of the pinches, Satsuki cranes up to see what’s happening on the other side of the sofa. Sheila smirks back at her, thumbs and forefingers working over Alana’s exposed thighs. 

“Her skin’s too dark to bruise, but that means your clothespins are going to look super-fly on it when we put them on,” Sheila informs her. 

“An artistic bonus? How nice,” Satsuki responds. “You going to leave those jeans where they are?”

“When babygirl’s here for your ropework? Please, I’m not a brute,” Sheila says, even as she plunges two fingers into Alana on the word “brute.” Alana falls apart instantly, howling and shaking through a violent climax. Satsuki whips her skirt up so that it doesn’t smother the woman as she tries to catch her breath.

Sheila sasses her with a wolf whistle. Satsuki flips her the bird before levering herself away from Alana, which allows Sheila to maneuver their willing captive into a fully horizontal position, lying across the couch with her head in Satsuki’s lap. While Satsuki pets her face and jaw some more, Sheila removes her jeans and panties all the way, followed by some stroking of her bare hips and legs.

“How you doing?” Sheila asks, when Alana’s breathing is back to normal.

“Spanking!” Alana brightly says.

Satsuki’s eyebrows rise. “Is that a request?”

The woman has the audacity to look winsome. “It would’ve been, if clothespins hadn’t been mentioned.” 

“I see.” Satsuki lets a slow smile take over her face. “Sheila will show you to the bathroom while I get the bedroom ready.”

# # #

Satsuki hears another appreciative whistle when Alana enters her bedroom; it’s as well appointed as the living room, but when Satsuki looks up from her tablet, Alana’s eyes are on the handsome blanket chest that’s serving as a low table. While Alana and Sheila were tending to themselves before this next act, Satsuki had pushed the chest to its playtime location—within reach, but clearing room for her to stand and crouch at the foot of the bed—and placed rope, shears, lube, towels, clothespins, and other supplies on top of it. The act of making sure she has everything at hand is as grounding as her pre-rehearsal routine of arranging her recorders, joint grease, drying rags, pencils, water bottle, and other implements just so.

Alana unexpectedly giggles. “Those are the same clothespins you bring to class!”

Satsuki shrugs. “Why fight with music that won’t stay open if you don’t have to?”

“There’s a reason almost everything’s on my iPad.”

“I’m a fan of staying as unplugged as possible while I’m here,” Sheila declares. “I’ve forgotten to turn off email notifications too many times when using apps in class.”

“That wasn’t all bad,” Satsuki says. “One of the shawm guys was so inspired by those sneak previews that he’s now into day trading.”

“Like I said,” Sheila sternly continues, “separation of print and digital is better for my health.”

“We all know how you and ‘mute’ buttons don’t get along,” Satsuki jokes, “but that’s neither here nor there for the rest of tonight. What I want is for Alana to get comfortable on this bed, and to put some of this rope on her to help with that, and then for her to sing the Allegro to us.”

Alana blinks hard. “The one from the master class?”

Satsuki nods, studying Alana’s expression as she spelled out her plan. “I love that piece, and it mattered to you enough to pick it for the showcase. It’s too good to have that jackass spoil it for you. I want you to dive into it with me—to go so deep that what you’ll think of from here on out is clothespins and candlelight rather than one bad workshop.” She allows herself a wry smile. “You’d get there eventually on your own, I’m sure, but I would like to overwrite that experience in my own head, too. Watching wannabe doms bungle things is excruciating.”

“Yes,” Alana squeaks out. “Oh my God. Yes.”

“Then get on the bed. On your back. Safeword?”

“How about ‘RenFaire’? Worst gig ever. I never want to see another turkey leg or bread bowl in my life.”

Sheila laughs, not unsympathetically. “I sense more horror stories. Possibly hilarious ones.”

“If you weren’t me, maybe,” Alana grouses, crawling onto the bed. “My point stands: RenFaires? Not sexy, not gonna talk about them in the throes.”

“Fair—ahem—enough,” Satsuki confirms. 

“You’re both terrible,” Alana complains, but she’s grinning. “Do your worst.”

“You heard her,” Satsuki says to Sheila. “Get to work, wench.” 

“You’re going to hold that against me, for real?” Alana whines.

“We’d literally love to hold things against you,” Sheila snickers, shedding her bathrobe and lying down on top of Alana. “Some other night, we could do ice play with Bloch in the background, or see how you like wands with some Tchaikovsky. But let’s first see how you do with what’s right here right now.” Sheila lowers her mouth over Alana’s while pushing her legs apart.

Satsuki picks up a hank of rope and begins looping it around Alana’s ankles, Sheila’s own feet forming a three-foot-wide spacer just above them. Alana squirms at both the weight and heat of Sheila against and into her, but then makes a disappointed sound when Sheila eases up, after Satsuki pats Sheila’s right calf to indicate she’s done with the base: she’s wrapped the rope tightly around its own long loops like tape around a tennis racquet handle, creating a thick, stiff, horizontal bar. 

Sheila rolls Alana up to view Satsuki’s handiwork. “Isn’t it pretty?” Satsuki is pleased when Alana admires what she’s done with the emerald green hemp, though her breathy “You’re indeed a wizard” carries more than a hint of sass. Satsuki reaches for Alana’s hands.

Sheila gently presses their captive forward. “Still feeling up for a stretch?” 

“Yes, yes,” Alana says, letting Satsuki position each wrist a foot inside the spreader bar. Satsuki loops and knots more rope around them until they are securely cuffed to the bar, while Sheila strokes Alana’s back and nuzzles the nape of her neck. Then Satsuki and Sheila rearrange the pillows and roll Alana back so that her arms and legs are up in the air, with Sheila standing at the side of the bed to keep the bar high.

“Gorgeous, yeah?” Satsuki says to Sheila.

“Magnificent,” Sheila says back.

“Here we go,” Satsuki says to Alana. “I want to hear you sing the Allegro the way you would play it, but first I want to make sure you know it inside-out and sideways. But we don’t have all night—even when I’m practicing at 1, I still need enough sleep to cope with Robin and Bonnemann and all the other taskmasters—so what you’re going to do for me is sing it four times as slow as it usually goes, and you’re going to try to get every note right. For every one you miss, I’m going to put a clothespin on you, until I run out or you get too out of it to stay in tune.” She brings a music stand over to the blanket chest, showing Alana the score of the Allegro on her tablet before putting it on the stand.

“Sadist,” Alana pleasantly replies.

“Be glad I’m not making you sing solfege or fingerings,” Satsuki says. Alana responds with a full-body shudder.

“Doing okay, babygirl?” Sheila says, inspecting her taut arms and legs.

“I feel like a strung bow,” Alana answers.

“Crossbow or viol?” Satsuki asks.

“Crossbow, although you’re making me sing.”

Satsuki puts a hand on Alana and glides it from ankle to hip. “Remember how you asked how easy we might want you?”

“I did say something like that a millennium or so ago, didn’t I.”

Satsuki delivers a light slap to the underside of Alana’s left glute. “We never promised to make it easy for you. Get going.”

Gulping in a deep breath, Alana manages only six notes before Satsuki slaps her again, this time hard enough that Alana chokes on the seventh note.

“You missed a trill on the D.” Satsuki hands a clothespin to Sheila, who pinches a fold of flesh on Alana’s torso into it. “Start over.”

Satsuki murmurs “Good” at the end of the third measure, and Alana fits in four more notes before the next slap, when Satsuki states, “That should’ve been a C, not a B-flat,” and hands another clothespin to Sheila.

More slaps and clothespins are applied as notes are missed, ornaments messed up, and other mistakes remarked on. At the end of the first line, Satsuki inserts two fingers into Alana and starts fluttering them as fast as sixteenth notes—that is, sixteenth notes at the sonata’s normal speed. 

“The clinician was far too occupied with his One Right Interpretation to catch this, but I noticed that you were rushing the fiddlier parts of the B-section. Not that I blame you for wanting that debacle to be over with, but as a pro, it’s incumbent on you to maintain a steady tempo under all conditions. Even around turkey legs and bread bowls.” Satsuki grins at Alana’s half-hearted hiss: there’s a dreamy undertone to the objection that tells her she’s playing this right. She continues: “Sheila’s going to twang a pin when she catches you rushing now. Remember, you’re going at quarter-speed for us.”

Alana sings through two measures before the first twang, and another two before the second. On the third, she shrieks, because the fingerfucking and twanging are compounded by the clamping of yet another clothespin to the outside of her thigh.

“You have to get the notes as well as the rhythm down,” Satsuki reminds her. “F C B-flat C.”

“I thought it was B-natural there.”

“That’s later in the measure.”


Satsuki shoves her fingers into Alana a fraction deeper. “I’ll add a third finger when you get to the double bar.”

Alana sobs out a laugh, and then gets twanged for rushing ten more times before she reaches the repeat. 

By the time she finishes the full movement, her whole body is quaking, clothespins decorating her legs and arms as well her torso. Satsuki had inserted a fourth finger after three perfect measures, and she pushes in her thumb on the final, victorious F. 

“Oh God,” Alana moans. 

“You did so well. I can’t wait to hear you play this, now that you’ve really, truly spent quality time with it,” Satsuki says.

Alana moans again. It sounds like both a plea and thank you, but the ability to form words has clearly abandoned her.

“It’s time, my pretty bow,” Sheila soothes. “I’m holding onto you, but it’s time to let fly.” She gives the clothespins within her reach one last strum before pulling them off, with Satsuki matching the motion up and down Alana’s legs. Satsuki holds her fist perfectly still as Alana writhes around it, her orgasm surging well beyond the last pin falling to the floor.

“There you go. Well done, babygirl.” Sheila climbs back onto the bed and cuddles Alana while Satsuki frees her from the ropes. Once that task is out of the way, Satsuki grabs a square of plastic wrap and dives at Sheila’s muff; it doesn’t take long to make her friend shout in release, and it’s equally satisfying to massage Sheila’s arms while Alana trembles within their hold.

When she senses that everyone’s heart-rate has slowed down enough, Satsuki lets herself grumble, “Oof. Sticky.”

“What about you?” Alana drowsily asks. “We haven’t taken care of you yet.”

Satsuki smiles. “From now on, you’ll think of us whenever you’re trying to get your notes down, yeah?”

“Oh yeah,” Alana promises, sounding far more drunk than when the sauvignon blanc was in her system. “Especially B-naturals. I can’t believe how many of those I got wrong with you. Clothespins forever.”

“Then that’s my reward,” Satsuki says. She knows Alana doesn’t really mean it—and that’s fine, Alana shouldn’t be thinking about spreader bars and painplay every time she picks up a recorder—but Satsuki’s done her job, because Alana’s going to be haunted not by assholes but accidentals whenever the Allegro comes up. She can’t resist intoning, “We’re not the core of your chords, but we’ll color them.”

“Oh, lord.” Sheila flops over and ruffles Satsuki’s hair. “You’re getting pretentious again, babe. You could have just said you’re fine, and you know I’ll get you off in the shower if you want company.”

“I like it,” Alana mumbles. “It’s poetic. There needs to be more poetry and pussy-fisting instead of pussy-footing in the world.”

Sheila chuckles. “Fair enough, babygirl. And since you have real words again, it’s time for a bath. Let’s get you cleaned up, yeah?”

As Sheila helps Alana to her feet, Satsuki reaches for her tablet. Sheila shoots her a look of mock dismay.  “It’s the middle of the night, and that was way too intense to follow with a Telemann chaser. What on earth are you going to study while you wait for the bathroom?”

Satsuki grins over the top of the device. “I’m thinking of sending a sketch to Robin. Maybe she’ll be game to weave those shitty recorders into a rope bar for next year’s auction.” 

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3 thoughts on “Accidentals

  1. Of all the recurring elements in this issue, Robin’s jar of recorders was certainly one I expected least, and what a fun way to learn the origin of that gift while fleshing out more of the people around her! I haven’t done much in the way of music since high school, but I still remember the overall vibes of ensemble sight-reading competitions, and this brought back a lot of memories for me. Also a lot of fun comparing how much more complex this piece is to the original work; you can really tell how much more comfortable you are with the story you’re sharing!

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