Sophia held the key in her hand and fingered it as she did each morning before she left the house. It was a copy of the original her husband hung ceremoniously upon their bedroom wall after he latched the lock of the delicate chain that rested lightly round the curve of her hips and loosely between her legs for the first time.
At the time of their vows, it was surreal to stand before the gathering, naked, but for the belt. It wasn’t being nude that bothered her, almost half the people there wore that much or little more. It was something else that nagged far beneath her conscious thoughts at the time. The brightly-polished golden key mocked her now, suspended by a giant shiny satin bow of scarlet. The color of the bow was to symbolize their mutual passion. Hanging it on the wall, a symbol of trust.
Clifford trembled visibly the first time he saw Sophia in the belt. She hated him just a little for that. Now that the nuptial bans had been read, the idea of belonging to anyone seemed a lot less seductive. He took her with a new force of passion that night, and it was all the next week she heard the old ladies in the market tittering about newly wed chain marks. It only encouraged Cliff in voicing his appreciation for her beauty- all his to enjoy now. Sophia began to wonder if she was a sort of glorified, pampered house pet. The idea made her skin crawl.
Lately, she took it off first in the evenings, before he came to bed. It annoyed Clifford, but she knew wearing the thing would kill any joy in the expression of love for her. It also meant that he was forced to remember, and lock the belt around her torso once more in the morning. Sometimes when they got snippy with each other, he would bring it up.
He did not know that she had a key made. It was the key that hung from her key ring now. The one she held in her hand. It felt as if she held a lump of dark matter there, waiting to devour the known universe, her universe, in her very hand.
The belt itself was merely a twist of time, fashion and societal taste, a thin bit of gold or platinum, or sometimes silver, held over from medieval fancy. It had evolved with technology to suit the climate of the weather and morals until it was now little more than a featherweight fashion statement. Despite the name, it did little to impose chastity being loose enough even for childbirth, although seldom worn then.
Looking around the marketplace she could see that others, the women and the occasional man that wore them, had modified the slender chain, most often for weight gain or loss, with any extra bits added to the design of the belt. For some, the belt had become an art project. With extra loops and dangling embellishments that jingle-jangled uniquely to the stride. It was more about style than any sacred contract.
For Sophia lately, it was the only thing that seemingly made her pampered life unbearable. From all the evidence she thought she could be the only married person around who took the thing, or the vows it symbolized, to heart. And it hung lately like a stone there.
Still she grew everyday to love and appreciate her husband, Clifford, her house-band, more and more. He had grown through the years to fulfill the promise of the amazing man she had glimpsed on their first date. Cliff was an intelligent, funny, sensitive, generous man who loved her more than the sky was large. It was because of him that the lovely Sophia was able to eat innumerable delicacies and buy beautiful, expensive, gauzy fabrics for her body drapes. She earned her keep, but she was definitely kept.
When Cliff saw the key on her ring for the first time, Sophia sat through numerous questions, and sessions of questioning. She had never in fact taken the belt off to be with another, never even really wanted to. Still, it annoyed her to wear the thing. The chain itself pinched. And it especially angered her off that anyone would presume she had to wear the cursed chain all the time, or be considered fallen, an oath-breaker in the community.
Yet that was where he took the conversation every time. Of course she knew just having the key made it look like she was seeing another, and hiding the fact by removing her belt so there would be no tell-tale marks of passion from the chain against her tender flesh.
If she told him the truth, he would have to make a decision. Oath-breaking meant little in the community beyond the gossip stirred. Sophia’s truth was far more risky. She took off her belt to dance in the woods, sometimes to swim in the ocean, and for this alone could be burnt for witchery.
Sophia opened her mouth, still not knowing what she would say. When she was finished, Clifford cried for a minute with his head in his hands. Then he left the house.