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Sunday, November 09, 2003

Pain and the 120 Days of Sodom

One December I was house-sitting a heritage house. I had a rabbit, no heating, a teenage roommate and two other mysterious roommates who came and went at will. On the dining room bookshelf I found an English translation of de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. The forbidden fruit!

The most notorious of de Sade's works, hundreds of pages long, and I had three weeks to read it. Copies of this book exist in very large libraries, however, when one actually searches for the book, it is missing. Someone has stolen it.

I took my copy up to the Princess Bedroom. Nestled in my blankets, I began.

There were four men, the pillars of eighteenth-century French society, and each had a daughter. Each man raped his daughter. When these four men befriended each other they discovered they all shared this hobby. So they lent their daughters to each other.

After some time incest lost its attraction. Luckily one of the men had a castle in Switzerland's mountains, its remoteness perfect for a few months of fun. The men had their servants kidnap aristocratic boys and girls from all over France (bourgeoisie children were discarded). They disrobed the children and picked out the eight best of each sex, describing anuses as rosebuds. The rest of the children were sold into Turkish slavery.

Then they enlisted four eloquent prostitutes into their services, two still alluring and two diseased - one had an abcess that had eaten away an entire butt cheek. Next were the Fuckers, all chosen on the basis of their length and circumference. Added to the party were cooks and other servants.

During the first thirty days, the four men delighted themselves with activities just short of intercourse and listening to the prostitutes' lurid tales. The men kept a calendar for the allowed bowel movements of each guest. The next month was the month of carnal passions, followed by the month of torturous passions, and lastly the month of murderous passions. One of the daughters informed her father that she was pregnant only to be sliced open by dad and his pals.

By the fourth month, I imagine even de Sade grew bored with his story. Instead of full sentences, he began numbering the tortures. Pages and pages of just lists. It reminded me and a commentator of the Holocaust. Human beings were no longer individuals but numbers.

The survivors at the end of the 120 days, aside from the four men, were a daughter (who became quite the tramp) and the best storyteller of the bunch.

Horrified, I did not sleep the entire three weeks I lived in that house. There was no way to avoid the cold and I began coughing up alarming chunks of bloody material. I returned the book to its shelf downstairs. But in the dark I would still think of these fictional children. That there were real people living their own 120 days of Sodom was unbearable.

One of the mysterious roommates and I talked about the book.

"What? You don't like pain? Don't you like to get slapped around?" she asked.

Papercuts hurt me. Friday afternoon, just as I was about to leave for home, one mere sheet of paper gashed me five millimetres into the flesh. Instantly blood was everywhere. I stuck my finger into my mouth and tried to work one-handed. Too much blood seeped out of my hand. I forgot all my bandaids. I put a tissue tourniquet on my finger. The blood threatened to stain the pristine white invoice folders.

Yesterday my papercut still bled. Today the wound seems to have closed up. Pain sucks.

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