Permission, by Saskia Vogel, follows a grieving young woman who learns something new about love from a dominatrix in this haunting and erotic debut. It’s a kind of love story about three people sick with dreams and expectations who turn to the erotic for comfort and cure. As they stumble through the landscape of desire, they ask themselves: how do I want to be loved?
Discover Permission through the excerpt below and read on for Saskia’s thoughts on the passage.
When Orly was done, they sat together for a while, by the open window, the breeze blowing in a direction that brought the sound of the ocean inside. She asked him to face her. He kneeled, but she asked him to sit. She wanted them to be eye to eye.
‘I met someone,’ she said.
And he knew she meant the neighbour girl. Orly was on the sofa where the girl had slept. Strange to see the girl inside, in his home. He’d waved at her every day and the gesture had seemed to frighten her. He’d taken it as a good sign. Orly had chosen a location where people weren’t interested in being neighbours. But then she’d appeared on Orly’s sofa, and he’d rushed out of the house on his way to work, not wanting to wake her.
‘We didn’t talk about this,’ Orly continued. ‘What would happen if we brought people over who we didn’t already know. I told her what I do, but I left you out of it.’
Piggy thought about his separate lives. His office jobs, his service to Orly. The distance he enforced between himself and his work colleagues, never letting them get too close unless he trusted them to be in his inner circle. He had enough friends now who shared his interests. He was too old to watch his mouth during his leisure time. When he felt social, he wanted to be able to make jokes at his own expense and trade tales of mishaps on the road to getting here in the same breath as he explained the perfect blend for burger meat at a barbecue. He had spent too long holding back and keeping things down.
‘You must really like her.’
‘More than I think I was prepared to.’ Orly paused. ‘She’s going through a lot.’
Something dropped inside him, and the words came out harsher than he expected: ‘Not another project.’
Orly looked hurt. ‘This isn’t like Kashmira. I took her on because she said she wanted to learn from me. Echo, she interests me. I wonder what she’ll be like if we play.’ She squeezed her eyes shut and smiled.
He didn’t want to encourage her fantasy about this new girl. When she dreamed, it was potent, easy to get swept away. Part of her genius, he thought, was her imagination, but when she fantasized, she also lost her connection to the world around. He wanted her to stay with him in this conversation. He thought about Kashmira, who had been her assistant a few years before. Initially sweet, and eager. But when Orly let her get more and more involved, taking over the sessions Orly was supposed to do with him, he felt left behind. And then it became clear that Kashmira only thought about the money: she had seen what Orly had and wanted it for herself. She didn’t care about the work, the connection. She began poaching Orly’s clients, using Orly’s name as a reference, without her blessing. And one day there was no Kashmira anymore. Orly had asked him not to stay in touch with her at least for a while, as a courtesy. Thinking about the possibility of another girl spending time with Orly in the house – another project girl – it occurred to him that his hurt about Kashmira was really about something else. He said, ‘You’re supposed to protect me.’
He liked the way Orly listened. Taking in his every word.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘I promise I won’t be careless.’
When I set out to write Permission, I wanted to write a story about love and desire, in general, and about BDSM relationships in particular. Thinking of 50 Shades of Grey, I wanted to tell a story that shows a different kind of dominant and submissive relationship, one that felt truer to what I know about this community. I was interested in exploring the careful communication of fears, hopes, and desires that is vital to any relationship, but is perhaps trickier or scarier to navigate outside of a traditional romantic or erotic relationship.
In this scene we meet Orly, a dominatrix, and Piggy, a submissive foot fetishist who is her longest-standing client but also a man who has recently started subletting Orly’s spare room in the suburban Los Angeles home in which she runs her business. Over the years, they’ve developed a tender friendship. Though it isn’t necessarily romantic, their relationship is intimate and erotic, and they care about each other as people. Because they are learning how to share a domestic space as old friends while also managing their dominatrix-client relationship, things get complicated when a new romantic interest—Echo, Permission’s main character—enters the picture. Orly is falling for Echo, the enigmatic neighbor whose father has just died. Piggy is wondering where this will leave him; Orly’s infatuations have put strain on their relationship in the past.
I wanted to share this vulnerable, private moment between Orly and Piggy to show two people who are committed to learning how to meet each other’s changing needs and how to care for each other through life’s ups, downs, and many surprises. If they can succeed, anyone can.
To continue reading, purchase your copy of Permission here!
Saskia Vogel grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Berlin, where she works as a writer and Swedish-to-English literary translator. She has written on the themes of gender, power, and sexuality for publications such as The White Review, The Offing, and The Quietus . Previously, she worked as Granta magazine’s global publicist and as an editor at the AVN Media Network, where she reported on pornography and adult pleasure products.