How do you cook dinner when everything seems to be devoid of sense? How—and why—do you set the table when you know that you are going to die? 
“How?” I asked my cat.
She watched a pot of borscht bubbling in the sunlight-drenched kitchen and didn’t move.
A six-year-old next door was torturing the piano—as always. Day after day after day, the kids were off to school, my husband was off to work, and I folded clean underwear, paid water bills, and rearranged the flowers—lilies or irises. The sun touched my face and played in the sparkly curtains’ folds; a fly zoomed by the open window, lulling me toward sleep. Everything went exactly the same as yesterday, and the day before, except for the moment when I sat down at my laptop and Googled “sex work.”
A black-and-red website. Fiery letters: YourFantasyWorld.com. A leather-clad Asian Amazon squished her heel into the chest of a human ogre; her scarlet lips twisted in a grimace, or a smile.
Reading the small print—red on black—hurt my eyes.
“No sex involved.” The mistresses at this dungeon didn’t do sex. Only fantasies. No sex.
I closed the window; I even drew the curtains.
I needed this. For what had been five years by then, I had been writing a novel about my dead sister. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, but I could never capture that final chapter. It slipped away; it was not right. And so, to get it right, I needed to perform the dungeon experiment.
I searched the Craigslist jobs section for “dominatrix.” Two ads came back: “Adult Gig: Amazon Ladies: let’s have fun!” and “Looking for attractive, creative and open-minded ladies for recreating fantasies. Light switch, friendly team, clean environment. No experience required, will train. Mature welcome. No sex. Send short description and a photograph.”
I reread the ad. Attractive. I did yoga and Weight Watchers, and at parties men asked my husband about “that tall Ukrainian chick.” Creative. Ever since I had painted my son’s bedroom—green sea, fleecy clouds, white sail—my neighbor Vanessa introduced me as an artist. Plus, I was a writer. Open-mindedness was my major life principle. Light switch. Had to research that. And, although I hated to think about myself as “mature,” I had to acknowledge it: At thirty-eight I was hardly juvenile. Hey, no sex involved.
Little James next door stopped tormenting the piano.
The borscht was simmering, the ruby beets and chopped garlic filling the house with the sharp and sour scent of my grandmother’s kitchen, tingling my senses, reminding me of something long gone, long forgotten, like part of a dream hidden just below the surface—but I had no time for such considerations.
I created myself a new email account, [email protected], found a St. Maarten’s beach photo taken from afar—my red hair gleaming in the Caribbean sun, my blue bikini shining against my tan—and wrote a note: “Dear Sir/Madame: In response to your ad…” My heart was racing, and my palms got clammy, but I shook my head, hit the “Send” button—and jumped at the sound of an explosion from the kitchen.
The borscht shook the pot and spilled over the sparkling white stove, dripping to the floor, a steaming red pool on the black marble. It looked like blood.
I couldn’t unglue my eyes from the puddle. It was quivering, and the eggshell walls of my living room jiggled; my wedding photo and the rainbow-hued vase trembled and blurred. That was how my lost time always started: A burst of silver light, a trace of acacia scent, a tang of bitter chocolate, or a gauze curtain fluttering in the draft. A minor disturbance, the shift almost intangible, a miniscule earthquake—nothing had changed, yet everything was different, unreal.
My alarm buzzed like a fly against the window. I was back in my kitchen. I had to pick up my kids from school. The dull sense of everything around being unreal lingered over me as I turned my car key in the ignition, my fingers numb and tingling, and drove fast, opening all four windows, tilting my cheeks to the breeze, and chewing winter-cold peppermint gum to wake up.
“Did I close all the emails? Did I log out from YourFantasyWorld.com?”
 I have every reason to believe that Mistress Rose is indeed dead. I had never met her or heard about her until the black envelope appeared at my office desk with a note: “Institute of Human Sexuality. To Dr. Strong from Mistress Rose. Publish my writing, Mike.”
My name is not Mike, and I don’t know any mistresses.
I’m Dr. Michael H. Strong, a clinical psychologist, and a leading expert on questions of human sexuality. I’m the author of footnotes in this “novel”. I decided to publish the material, adding my commentary in footnotes, as I believe it would be of interest to psychiatric professionals, sexual freedom activists, and members of the general public interested in psychology—specifically, Dissociative Identity Disorder.
 Rationalization is a psychological defense maneuver that allows people to provide themselves with a “good” reason to engage in behavior they know, consciously or not, is unproductive or harmful.
 Possible derealization, a dissociative symptom characteristic of numerous psychiatric and neurological disorders. The external world is experienced as uncanny and unreal. These symptoms may be caused by sleep deprivation or stress.
ZARINA ZABRISKY is the author of short story collections IRON, A CUTE TOMBSTONE (Epic Rites Press) and a novel We, Monsters (Numina Press). Zabrisky moved to San Francisco from Moscow to escape the aftermath of a collapsing communist empire. She wrote traveling around the world as a street artist, oilfield translator, and a kickboxing instructor, and started to publish her work in 2011. Since then, Zabrisky’s work appeared in over thirty literary magazines and anthologies in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Hong Kong and Nepal. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of 2013 Acker Award for Achievement in The Avant Garde.
Adapted from We, Monsters, by Zarina Zabrisky, Copyright © 2013 by Zarina Zabrisky. With the permission of the publisher, Numina Press.