My neighbour Peggy was distraught. Tears flowed steadily down her cheeks. Her hands trembled as she tried to raise the teacup to her lips. She was at her wits end. What could she do?
I knew some of the story already. Along with most people in the street probably I had been kept up until the small hours by the noise.
Poor Peggy. Between great gulps, she filled me in on the details.
It was Oliver, her eighteen-year-old son. He was off the rails. He had stopped attending college ages ago and was sure to fail all his exams. Then what? A life of unemployment – or at best dead-end jobs.
He was hardly ever at home. Where was he all day and half the night? Was he getting into trouble; taking drugs?
He had bullied her into letting him have a party at her house with some friends. She laid down a few rules and left them to it. When she came back some of them, including Oliver, were revoltingly drunk. Some were high as kites on cannabis. One had been sick on her carpet.
The sober ones took the others home and she helped Oliver to bed to sleep it off. She then spent an hour cleaning up.
She sobbed some more. Poor Peggy, she was alone with the boy. Her husband had skedaddled from the family home years ago and hadn’t been heard of since.
Did I know what she should do? Peggy asked me. I think she knew the answer to that, she had known me long enough. The lout needed a good hiding. If he had been one of my sons he would have had his backside whipped a very long time ago. My three boys all passed school exams, went on to university and were now away from home making their way in the world. And, it was discipline, and sometimes punishment imposed by me, that got them there.
I wasn’t one of those dads who spanked their kids for any and all reasons; but when the occasion warranted it, they would get blistered backsides. I still had a couple of canes on top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom upstairs.
I remember once Joey, my eldest, went to a party at a friend’s house. The circumstances were just like Peggy’s. He was brought home roaring drunk by a kind and sober friend. Next day, I waited until the boy’s hang-over had subsided and replaced the pain in his head with sharp agony in his backside. Twelve strokes, jeans and pants down; and I didn’t care if he was eighteen or not. He was howling so much Peggy next door could probably hear.
My treatment of my young adult son might not be thought conventional by some, but it was effective. I’ve never seen him drunk since and when he visits me at the house he never touches a drop of alcohol. Not even at Christmas.
I held Peggy by the hand to try to comfort her. Yes, I knew her Oliver needed a damn good thrashing, and I knew that I had just the thing to deliver it in the bedroom upstairs, but I also knew the teenager was a fit strong young man and there was no way I or his mother could manhandle him across the sofa so I could get a whack at his arse.
After some time, Peggy calmed down and went back home. I was upset by how distraught she was and seriously considered rounding up a couple of the neighbours to see if they would hold the brat down across my kitchen table while I lashed a dozen cuts of my cane across his rear end. But that was pie in the sky. There was no way any of them would do such a thing. Corporal punishment had fallen into disuse years ago and they would be shocked and appalled at such a suggestion. They might even call the police on me and have me arrested.
Things went quiet next door and gradually I forgot about Oliver, until a week or so later I was returning to my house during the middle of the afternoon. I had left the university where I teach and brought home a pile of assignments to grade in peace and quiet. I pulled the car into the driveway just in time to see the door of my garden shed close. Somebody had gone inside. The police had warned the local Neighbourhood Watch that there had been a lot of thefts from sheds and outhouses recently. Mainly things like hand tools had been stolen; it was reckoned people might be selling them on to raise cash to buy drugs.
I’m no have-a-go-hero, but I was brave enough to tip-toe to the shed, slam the door shut and snap the padlock. The thief was trapped inside. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and was about to phone the police when I heard a familiar voice shouting from inside the shed. I peered through a dirty window: it was Oliver. He was rattling the shed door trying to break free. At his feet were a power drill and a hedge strimmer. I did not own such tools; he must have stolen them from another shed before breaking into mine.
So, Oliver was the guy who had been breaking into outhouses. I was furious; not only was he a thief, but he had been stealing from friends and neighbours. I started to dial for the police, but pulled up short, just in time. No, first I would call Peggy; let her know what was happening and give her the chance to come over.
She was at work and I could tell she was appalled at the news. She couldn’t get away early and would not get here for another three hours. That’s all right, I assured her; he’s locked up and not going anywhere.
I told Oliver to calm down and wait for his mother to arrive and I set about marking the assignments. I had trouble concentrating and my temper was not at its best. Then, I blew a fuse. Two of the test papers were identical; the students had obviously been cheating. Plagiarism: that’s all I needed. It was so blatant, I could not ignore it. Plagiarism was supposed to be the biggest sin you could commit at a university and if I reported it there would have to be a big formal inquiry. What a waste of time that would be; they were clearly guilty as charged. And what would be the penalty? Nothing much; a warning probably. It was at times like this that I wished I could take one of my canes and swish it across the backsides of my students. An old fashioned six-of-the-best laid on with vigour; that would buck their ideas up a bit. A short sharp shock was what they needed, not a long drawn out inquiry.
I put their papers to one side and graded the others. I was pleased to have finished by the time Peggy rang my doorbell. I opened the door and immediately saw she had been crying. I led her into the living room and offered her a glass of wine. She took a big gulp and nearly spilled the rest down the front of her blouse in her eagerness to get it inside her.
I recapped the events of the afternoon and when I was certain she was calm, I went to the shed and released Oliver. He was very subdued, I think I had expected him to struggle and try to flee.
He could not look his mother in the eye and she was just as embarrassed. To break the silence, I spoke first. “You know Oliver, I have to call the police. You have been stealing for some time; this is not just a once-off.”
I thought Peggy was going to start crying all over again. I wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth. Would I really call the police; could I put the poor woman through all that?
Oliver blanched and I could see he was breathing in small gulps. Any moment now he would break down in tears.
There was one alternative to the police. I knew that and I think Peggy did too. I had not discussed it with her, but someone had to take the initiative.
I tore a strip off Oliver, I said how despicable it was to steal – and from his neighbours too. I told him he had upset his mother terribly and brought her great shame. Oliver stared down at the carpet; his eyes were getting moist.
Then, I came to the point. “To save your mother’s feelings and to give you a second chance; there is an alternative. I can cane your backside very hard indeed.”
This immediately registered with Oliver and for the first time that day he looked me in the face. I think he wanted confirmation that he had heard me correctly.
“Yes, twelve strokes,” I was firm and calm, “And, don’t think they will be across those thick jeans you’re wearing. They must come down. It will be across your underpants.”
Peggy’s face had turned if anything whiter than her son’s. She could not look at Oliver, nor could she look at me. I saw Oliver’s shoulders heave and then he took a great gulp of air and burst into a flood of tears.
That set his mother off as well. Now, I had the two of them bawling their eyes out.
I had not expected this. I thought Oliver would be belligerent; that he would tell me where to get off and then possibly storm from the room.
Instead, Oliver was weeping copiously into his mother’s shoulder as she hugged him close to her, while she too wept like a small child.
He was either a tremendous actor or my words had unleashed something that had been pent up within him. Was it some realisation that he was ruining his life and needed some guidance, even redemption?
But, I was not to be moved. The scene unfolding before me was very touching, but it did not change the facts. Oliver was a serial thief and he must atone for that.
I took a couple of swigs from my own wineglass to steady my nerves and my will. No matter how sorry I felt for Peggy and her predicament, her son must be punished for his behaviour.
I could see the pair of them would hug and cry all night long unless I did something.
“So Oliver,” I said, “What’s it to be; the police or a thrashing?”
He turned his head slightly away from his mother’s shoulder to look at me.
“Yes, it must be one thing or the other,” I confirmed.
He did not answer, but turned back to his mother and carried on crying. Peggy seemed to have found a new wind from somewhere and wept harder than ever.
I was losing patience. I would not let this sentimental scene detract me from my mission.
“OK Oliver,” I had a plan to get them out of my house. “You and your mother should go home and discuss this. Decide what you want to do.”
I was not sure if either of them was actually listening to me, but I continued, “But you must not be too long. The police will wonder why I delayed reporting the break-in.”
Oliver’s ears pricked up at this.
“So, go home, talk about it and be back here in no more than thirty minutes. Make up your mind.”
They continued crying.
“Go. Now. Please.”
Peggy spoke for the first time. “Yes, Oliver; he’s right,” she said softly, and with that she gently guided her son from the room.
Once they were safely out the door I poured myself another glass of wine and downed it in one. Then, I went upstairs to fetch my canes. I knew that if Oliver had one ounce of sense he would choose the caning over the police. A criminal record for thieving would affect him for life. Why go down that road when he didn’t have to.
Even so, I was beginning to have doubts. It was one thing to cane my own sons, they had been raised on it and despite the severity of some of the thrashings I delivered, they always took their punishments as stoically as possible. This would be new territory for Oliver. I would not be surprised if he ran screaming from the room after the first lash of the cane bit deep into his buttocks.
I took down the canes from the top of the wardrobe where I kept them wrapped in a huge plastic carrier bag. Even though the cane was abolished in schools about thirty years ago, it was still surprisingly easy to buy them today. Mine had the traditional crook handle and were made of rattan. They had been used many times and were slightly warped, but this did not detract from their effectiveness. I chose the thinner of my two canes. It had been a few years since this had seen action. I swished it through the air a couple of times. Then I picked up two pillows and set them down in the centre of the bed. Raising my arm to shoulder height I brought the cane crashing down at full force into them.
The sound of the thwack of rattan whipping into feather-filled pillow echoed off the walls. I was startled; I didn’t think the cane ever sounded so loud when I brought it down into the stretched buttocks of my sons. I inspected the length of the cane; there was no damage. It should be capable of delivering twelve hard strokes into Oliver’s backside without breaking.
I had a plan to make sure Oliver took his punishment without fuss. I found my only two neckties and a clean handkerchief and stuffed them in my pocket. Then I went downstairs to await Oliver’s return.
He was on time and I could see from his red eyes he had been crying some more. I asked him for his verdict.
“T… t… t… c.. c… ane,” he could hardly get the words out.
Good, that was what I expected to hear. I was about to give instructions on how he should present himself, when he continued, this time with more confidence. I think he must have rehearsed a little speech; perhaps his mother had helped him with the words.
He told me he was sorry for all his bad behaviour. He knew he had gone off the rails. It was a touching speech. I had known Oliver for about ten years and he had been a good kid for more most of that time. Yes, somewhere things had gone badly wrong.
I think I knew what the problem was. Like most young people today, Oliver was selfish and self-centred. Nobody had set him boundaries or explained what the rules were. That meant when he behaved inappropriately there were no sanctions. So, he just carried on behaving badly. I didn’t blame his mother for that; if anyone was to blame it was all of us: society. We are far too soft on our children today, and look where it gets us.
I let him have his say. I did not argue with him. When I was sure he had finished, I had my own little speech. “You have agreed that you deserve punishment. You have agreed that it should be twelve strokes of the cane across your underpants. Is that correct?”
I needed him to confirm his consent for me to thrash him. It would never stand up in a court of law, but it would make me feel better knowing that he accepted the punishment as fair.
He murmured, “Yes,” and then to my surprise, added, “Sir.”
Now was the time to put my plan into action. I ordered him to take down his jeans. Of course, this was no surprise to Oliver. I think he had already steeled himself for this, because with little difficulty he had his belt unbuckled and the rivet unpopped. Once he unzipped the fly, the weight of the belt and the denim sent the jeans hurtling to the floor.
So far, so good. Now, I thought, came the tricky part.
“I want you to bend over the table. Lie flat with your stomach resting on the top.”
Again, without fuss, he did this.
“Please grab hold of the legs of the table.”
He did this too. He seemed very calm. But this changed the moment he saw the neckties. I took his left wrist and secured it to the table leg; then I did the same with the right. He was firmly secured. No matter how much agony I inflicted on him, there was no escape.
He tried to pull his arms away from the table legs and I’m sure I saw real terror in his eyes when he realised he was trapped. Before, he could make a protest, I took the handkerchief from my pocket and folded it once and then twice. Oliver saw my intention and shut his mouth tight.
“Come on Oliver,” I was reasonableness itself. “It’s for your own good. Put this between your teeth. It will help.”
It would too. If the agony was too great there was a danger he might bite deep into his tongue. It would also stifle any yells he tried to make. I did not want his poor mother sitting next door to hear his piteous cries. And, I certainly did not want my other neighbours to hear Oliver’s screams. They would have the police at my door in no time, believing a murder was taking place.
Oliver’s tensed and untensed his buttocks in anticipation of the first cut. “Relax Oliver, it will be better for you that way,” I said kindly. Despite the appearance of a young man restrained across a table with a gag in his mouth, I intended punishment, not torture. This was not to be some Singaporean-style whipping. This caning was to be like those endured in bygone times by senior schoolboys in their housemaster or headmaster’s study. A sound caning that would leave an impression on the buttocks for some days; it would be intense and agonizing, but the boy would live.
I was nearly ready. Oliver was wearing snug fitting canary yellow briefs; they were short and had ridden up a little exposing some of his lower globes. I smoothed them out so they covered as much of his cheeks as possible.
Satisfied that he was in position, I picked up the cane and flexed it between my hands. Oliver saw none of this but he knew the first lash was imminent and once again he clenched his buttocks in the mistaken belief perhaps that this might lessen the pain.
I tapped the cane across the very centre of both mounds to get my aim and then raised it about three feet from the target. Then with great force I swished the whippy rattan down into his backside.
He gasped and his whole body shook under the impact. If the handkerchief had not been between his teeth, I am sure he would have yelled the house down. Desperately, he tried to break his wrists free, but my knots were more than adequate to keep him in place. He kicked his legs out behind him and for the first time I realised that I should have restrained his feet as well as his wrists. I had no more neckties and wondered for a moment if I might have something in the kitchen that I could use as a restraint.
As I was contemplating this, I saw Oliver’s leather belt in the loops of his jeans. It took only seconds to free it and wrap it round his ankles. There would be no more problem with kicking.
I took careful aim and swiped cut number two just below the first. This elicited a repeat performance from Oliver. The neckties cut deep into his wrists and I could see that they might be very sore before the teenager’s ordeal was completed.
I intended to lash Oliver at about twenty second intervals. That would give time for the full force of the cut to sink into his cheeks and for the pain to travel from his buttocks to the north and to the south of his body so that every nerve-end in the wretched boy felt the full impact of the punishment.
As I waited to deliver cut number three I studied the body lying in front of me. Oliver’s face was bright red and a vein was throbbing on his left temple. His china-blue eyes shone brightly and sweat soaked his whole body. His short mousey-coloured hair looked like he had just stepped out of the shower.
I let him have the third stroke. It was no fiercer than the previous two, but he seemed to feel it more. His buttocks clenched and unclenched and they shuddered like jelly and continued to wobble for what seemed to me to be a considerable time. He was openly weeping. I checked that the handkerchief was still firmly between his shut teeth. I did not want it to slip into his mouth and choke him. As the thrashing continued I knew from experience that he would find it ever more difficult to catch his breath; the intense pain now coursing through his body would see to that.
Number four I aimed high, right at the top of the curves and just below the spine. Even with the gag in his mouth I heard him shriek and he banged his head up and down on the table. The tears flooded from his eyes and began to form a small puddle on the table-top beneath Oliver’s head.
There were still eight cuts to deliver; Oliver seemed spent. He was finding it hard to take his first-ever caning. I had my doubts that he could survive the full punishment. Perhaps, I should have awarded him the standard six-of-the-best. But it was too late now; I had sentenced him to twelve and it would be a sign of weakness on my part if I did not deliver as promised.
As number four was high, so number five was low, connecting on the underpart of his cheeks, just where they meet the thighs. His briefs had once again ridden up and the cane struck bare flesh. As Oliver’s body wriggled and writhed, I saw a deep red weal form instantly across the top of his legs. That stroke must have been the most painful so far.
I had promised the miserable boy a caning on his underpants, not on the bare. It would not be fair to lash him again on the naked flesh, so I put some beef into a stroke right across the very centre of his buttocks. Again, he writhed in agony. I think I might have landed on top of one of the previous strokes, reigniting the agony.
I put down my cane, not because I had decided to remit his sentence to six. I took hold of the elasticated waist of his briefs and pulled them away from his body. Oliver could not speak, but the pleading in his eyes said to me, “Please, not on the bare!” He did not need to worry. I had no intention of going against my word. I wanted to inspect the damage so far. I was able to see six clear deep red lines across his bum. As I suspected, number six had cut across one of the previous strokes. The intersection of the two looked exceedingly raw and a droplet of blood oozed from the junction.
I covered up his buttocks once more and smoothed down the cotton with the palm of my hand. Even this slight touch was enough to ignite the whole of the poor boy’s buttocks and he yelped into his handkerchief with the pain.
We were half way through. Oliver’s breathing, once heavy was now shallow. It reminded me of the way young children sometimes are when they are asleep. His face was still scarlet and the vein on his temple pulsed in and out; in and out.
I put number seven across the top of his cheeks. No matter where I landed the final six strokes, there was always the possibility that I would land on a previous cut. Boys do not like being caned on the bare; it is, I suppose, mostly because of the humiliation of being naked with crack and sack on view. But a bare-arsed beating has one advantage; the punisher can see exactly where the cut has landed and can more easily avoid putting another one on top of it.
I had no such advantage and I was slashing the cane blindly, in a manner of speaking. I landed number eight across an area that I was reasonably confident had not been visited before. I cannot be sure whether I was successful or not, but I do know that Oliver’s body twisted and turned and he renewed his desperate efforts to break his wrists free of the restraints. There was no doubt that stroke struck home.
After I struck number nine, I realised another advantage of the handkerchief gag. Oliver’s eyes pleaded with me for mercy, but he was restrained from saying the words. If he had been free he would have been begging for mercy and promising me all kinds of things about his future improved behaviour if only I would stop hurting him. If he had done so, he would have later felt utterly humiliated. Boys do not like to let their punisher know they are inflicting hurt. They try to adopt a certain air of casualness. Go on, they seem to say, do your worst. Nothing you can do will hurt me. Some boys are expert at hiding their emotions and no matter how much pain they are suffering they never show this to their master.
Oliver was not one of these boys. He was completely and utterly spent. Never in his whole life had he experienced such pain and humiliation. He would remember this evening if he lived to be a hundred.
I bounced the tenth stroke across the very centre of his bum and was welcomed by a slight discoloration of the boy’s bright yellow pants. There were definite points of orange. No doubt blood was seeping from one of the welts across his now raw buttocks.
It had not been my intention to leave his arse looking like raw hamburger meat, but that was one of the consequences of a multi-stroke thrashing.
Number eleven cut open the welts and blood spread slowly across the crown of his underpants. Oliver made very little reaction. Had he passed through some kind of ‘pain barrier?’ Was his arse now so sore that no further hurt could be inflicted upon it? Yes, wounds could open up and his buttocks could be a bloody mess, but the pain, no the intense agony, he felt had reached a plateau.
I had nearly finished. I had intended to make the final slash awesome. I hesitated for a moment, knowing that the teenager’s buttocks were red raw and bleeding. I could have made the last cut gentle, a token swish in recognition of the pain Oliver had endured. I could have done this, but I did not. I had always intended to do what I did with my own sons.
I moved my own position slightly so that I could aim the cane, not across the centre of Oliver’s buttocks, but from the bottom left to the top right. I took aim and let fly with a searing stroke that whipped diagonally across the backside landing across most of the previous eleven cuts.
The way Oliver’s body at first shook and then shuddered violently confirmed to me that indeed no ‘pain barrier’ had been reached.
I had finished. The punishment was over. “It’s over, Oliver,” I said gently in case the boy had not been counting his strokes. I moved away from the table and put the cane down on the sofa. From that vantage point I observed the eighteen-year-old thief. He was sobbing gently into the table top. His body was drenched in sweat and his face glowed scarlet. He hardly seemed to be breathing and I realised at once that I had not been monitoring his gag to see if it had slipped inside his mouth.
I hurried across the room. Oliver’s was face down on the table-top and I could not see his mouth. He seemed not to notice me and my intention, so I took hold of his hair and roughly turned his head so he looked at me face on. I reached into his mouth and extracted the handkerchief. It was dripping with saliva. My action was greeted by a coughing fit as Oliver tried desperately to gulp down air into his lungs.
Satisfied that he was still breathing, I set about untying his wrists. It had been easier to tie him than release him. The strain he had made on the knots attempting to free himself had made then close up more tightly. I thought I might have to fetch a knife from the kitchen to cut his binds, but eventually I had them loose.
Getting the belt from his ankles and freeing his legs was altogether easier. Now, he was free to get off the table under his own steam. But he did not do so. There was an eerie silence in the room punctuated only by Oliver’s breathing as it became more regular. I noticed with some relief that his face was rapidly turning to a more natural colour. The throbbing on his temple had also stopped.
“Come on Oliver,” I tried to encourage him, “You should get up now.”
Slowly and with considerable effort, he pulled himself off the table. He stumbled as he tried to stand on his own two feet and quickly grabbed the table’s edge for support. At the end of a beating my sons would always gingerly explore their backsides with their hands, testing out where the tenderest spots were. Sometimes they would vigorously rub away at their buttocks; I suppose this helped to ease the pain.
Oliver did neither of these things. He stood upright, with his hands by his sides, his fists clenched. It looked to me like this was his way of controlling the considerable pain he must still be feeling. He had not yet stopped crying, but he was quite quickly regaining control.
He looked a mess. It would not be fair on his mother to send him home like this. She would be wracked with guilt at making her son take this punishment. She might also be angry with me for inflicting it upon him. She would be wrong on both counts. What happened this evening had been entirely Oliver’s fault. He had disobeyed his mother and he had stolen from the garden sheds. He had earned his punishment.
He still had not pulled up his jeans. Nor, as far as I could see, had he yet inspected his backside. Perhaps he could already feel the blood seeping from his wounds and did not want to see confirmation of his worst fears. Perhaps also he suspected that the effort of bending down to pull up his jeans and in so doing stretching the flesh across his buttocks would increase the agony he already struggled to cope with.
“Oliver,” I said kindly. “You should go upstairs to a bedroom and stay there until you feel you have recovered enough to go home.”
Oliver had not said a word to me since before the thrashing and he did not speak now. But, the look in his eyes was one of gratitude. He pulled up his jeans and hobbled from the room.
Only now did I realise that my own breathing had been heavy and my heartbeat racing. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself and went to fetch the whisky from the kitchen. Soon, not today Oliver was not ready, but in the next few days, I would meet with the boy to talk about his future. I had to define for him his boundaries and he must know the penalties for future misbehaviour. This evening’s caning had been the start of a process that I hoped would change Oliver’s life for the better.
I returned to the living room, whisky glass in hand and began to tidy up. I picked up the university assignments I had graded earlier. On top were the two from the plagiarising students. I was not looking forward to all the paperwork I would need to complete ahead of the formal inquiry. I looked from the papers across to my cane on the sofa and from the cane back to the papers. If only, I smiled to myself, if only …
Other neighbourly stories you might like.
Part two of The Helpful Neighbour is here.
See also, The Cheating Student here
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second