Mr Moore turned the corner of the road and stopped. Why the hell was his heart racing. He drew in a lung full of air, conscious of other people in the street. One man wearing a black coat and carrying a furled umbrella eyed him suspiciously. “Oh for pity’s sake, man what’s the matter with you?” he silently berated himself.
The “matter” was St. Francis Independent Grammar School – known to all as St. FIGS – his old school. Former alma mater; the place where he was educated. There it stood less than fifty yards ahead of him. Why did it scare the shit out of him? He took another deep breath; he had to get this thing over with.
This thing was a summons to see Mr Trout, his former housemaster. A summons, at his age. Mr Moore wouldn’t see thirty again. He had left school at eighteen and hadn’t been back since. And that suited him just fine. He shuffled forward. Absent-mindedly he put his hand in his jacket pocket and felt the envelope. Inside was a letter. He had read it so many times he knew the words by heart. His eleven-year-old son Ronnie had been skipping classes, not doing homework, he was likely to fail his exams at the end of the year. “You are requested to attend to see me.” It was curiously archaic language. But, Mr Moore thought, how entirely typical of Trout. Never say anything clearly.
Mr Moore had reached the school gates. Although he continued to live in the town, he never made the journey back. Too many unhappy memories. Sweat prickled the back of his neck, although it was not a warm evening. He ran a finger under his collar to try to clear it. Time plays ridiculous tricks sometimes. Suddenly it was 1970, fifteen years ago. He was no longer a middle manager at the Brocklehurst Building Society, with people under him. Now, at this moment he was Moore A.J., aged fifteen, about to undergo a very awkward – and ultimately painful – encounter with his housemaster. Instinctively, he massaged the seat of his trousers with his thumbs as he entered the building. He had been instructed to meet Trout in the schoolroom. The passageway was dark and deserted. The days in February were still short. He shivered in the dankness. They said parts of the school were five hundred years old; it certainly felt like it to Moore. The school was deserted, classroom doors were locked. It added to Moore’s sense of unreality. He had stepped into the Twilight Zone. Nothing here was real.
He saw a light in a room at the end of the passageway. His final destination. He halted outside the door, rubbed his sweaty palms on the legs of his trousers. His hands were shaking. “For God’s sake,” he reproached himself silently, “What has gotten into you, man!” It was a statement of condemnation, rather than a question. He wiped his moist brow with his sleeve and tapped gently on the door.
“Come!” The voice within made him shudder. Unmistakeably Mr Trout. Haughty with a dash of self-importance. The brass door handle was stiff, it wouldn’t turn at first. It rattled and shook and finally gave way. Moore put his shoulder to the door and it opened suddenly, spilling him into the schoolroom. He blushed; flustered he turned and pushed the door closed. He stood for a moment transfixed. The room was not too large, it contained twenty ancient wooden desks, a blackboard and easel dominated one wall, close to it behind a small wooden desk sat Mr Trout. He was unmistakable. Even sitting, he made an imposing figure. Standing, he towered above the schoolboys. His shoulders were broad and his waist narrow (for a man his age). Had he aged since 1970? Moore could not be sure. To the boys at the school all the masters looked ancient. It was impossible to look youthful while wearing an academic gown and mortar board cap. Trout pursed his lips, and stared with distain. “Moore, A. J.” he intoned, his top lip curling into a scowl. He rested his hands on his desk and leaned his shoulders forward: Churchill doing his bulldog impersonation.
“Yes, Sir,” Moore babbled, hopping with embarrassment from left foot to right. He waved his hands around, unsure where to put them. Trout’s glare burned into him. He knew his face was already flushed bright red.
“Pah!” Trout spat. Silence filled the room. Moore couldn’t stop his eyes blinking furiously. Was he expected to say something? At the Building Society, he would be the first to make a decision. He was something of a rising star. Destined to go far. He glanced to left and right. He should sit down, this was a meeting of equals, two grown men coming together to discuss a matter of mutual concern. All the chairs were placed neatly behind small single desks. If Moore sat down he would not only feel like an extremely small child he would look like one as well.
Trout spoke before Moore had a chance to decide. “You know why I have summoned you, Moore,” it was a statement, not a question. Moore stared. Summoned. The word spoke volumes. Trout was in charge. Nothing had changed.
“Err, no Sir,” Moore was confused. What the hell was he supposed to say? Trout’s right arm waved. “Don’t know, don’t know Moore!” he glared. Moore wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole. “Well Moore,” Trout’s voice rose an octave, “I’ll tell you. Your son,” he paused confused. He opened a drawer on the desk, he seemed to be searching for something. “Your son …. Moore.” He had never troubled to learn the boy’s Christian name.
“Ronnie, Sir,” Moore said apologetically.
“Yes, well, err,” it was Trout’s turn to sound confused. He drew his shoulders back and regained the advantage. “Moore Junior has not been doing his homework and he has been missing classes,” he eyed the man standing before him suspiciously. “What have you got to say for that then?”
Moore had been thinking about this. A lot. His son was a brat, he was disrespectful to his mother and even aged eleven treated the home like a hotel. Moore was out of his depth. Ronnie had been a mistake – an unplanned child – he and his wife had been far too young when they had him. Moore sometimes thought the terror was a good advertisement for contraception.
“Well, I don’t really know,” Moore said weakly.
“Pah!” Trout was charging full throttle. “It is your responsibility, Moore,” his voice rose in anger. “You have failed in your responsibility.”
Moore’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. He wanted to say, “Hang on, you’re the schoolmaster, you do something,” but his courage failed him. Instead, he whispered, “Can’t you beat him?”
Trout’s nostrils flared, his already ruddy complexion turned puce, a dribble of spittle collected at the corner of his mouth. “Beat him!” he roared. His body shook so violently, Moore took a step backwards in fear.
“Yes, Sir,” Moore gabbled. “You know, cane him. It’s what you would have done to me.” Trout’s eyes swivelled in his head, scaring Moore into adding, “Sir.” Trout rose from the desk and walked forward, approaching Moore with eyes flaring and arms swirling. “Don’t you follow the news Moore?” And then is if to answer his own question, he blurted, “You always were idle, boy. Bone idle.”
Trout stood so close to Moore he could smell the schoolmaster’s sour breath. Trout fumed, “The government outlawed corporal punishment last year, Moore. We can no longer cane.” His chin wobbled, his eyes moistened. Moore thought the aged schoolmaster might blub.
“Oh”. Suddenly, Moore realised why he had been brought into school. In his days a master would not dream of involving parents. Trout shook his shoulders and took a deep breath, he was composing himself. “I blame you Moore,” he stared unflinchingly into Moore’s eyes, “You have neglected your responsibility.”
Moore’s mouth opened and closed once more. He spoke no words, Trout was on a bit of a roll. “It is your responsibility you ensure your son attends school. You must see to it that homework is done. You have been inattentive. It is in short your fault.”
Moore shuffled his feet, embarrassed.
“You have got to pull up your socks, Boy,” Trout grimaced, “I expect an immediate improvement, do I make myself clear?”
Moore stared down at his feet, “Yes, Sir,” he mumbled. Trout fell silent. Moore did not see, but heard the schoolmaster’s footsteps as he shuffled across the room. Moore knew Trout was correct, he had neglected his son. If he were brutally honest with himself, he didn’t really care about Ronnie. Out of sight was out of mind. The boy could do as he liked, as long as he didn’t drag his father into anything.
Moore heard Trout open a door to a cupboard, it sounded like the hinge was rusty. Then a swishing whoosh rent the air. It was unmistakeable. Alarmed, Moore swivelled on his heels and faced Trout; his jaw dropped, his eyes popped. Trout was flexing between his hands a traditional whippy, curve-handled rattan cane.
Trout answered Moore’s unasked question. “They have banned the cane, but we have not disposed of out supply.” He swiped the cane through empty air. “I fervently pray that this ban is an aberration and that our betters quickly come to their senses.” He walked slowly towards Moore. “However, in the meantime …” he glared at the young manager before him. Moore recoiled, once more the fifteen-year-old miscreant summoned to the housemaster’s study for bowing.
Even before sentence was handed down, Moore began a protest, “But …” He was silenced by Trout’s icy stare. Moore’s own eyes watched intently as the schoolmaster moved and stood in front of the blackboard. He looked back at Moore, pointed the tip of the cane at a spot on the bare floorboards and said, “Stand there boy.”
Time truly plays tricks. Moore shambled across the schoolroom. There could be no doubt about Trout’s intentions. A sane man would say it was absurd. A thirty-one-year-old business manager presenting himself to an older man for a caning. But this was not rational. Hundreds of years of conditioning and tradition had led to this moment. Although he had yet to articulate it to himself Moore accepted he had erred. His son’s misbehaviour was down to him. He had been neglectful as a father. Punishment was due. Punishment was accepted.
“I want you to consider your behaviour and ensure that it improves. This,” he swished the cane again, “will give you something to think about. Bend over. Touch your toes.”
Moore’s eyelids blinked rapidly. He couldn’t get them to stop. His heart pounded. He hesitated.
“Don’t keep me waiting, Moore. You know the penalty.” Indeed he did: extra strokes. He shook his head to clear it, loosened the button on his suit jacket and bent forward. Touch your toes, meant just that to Mr Trout. Not, hands on knees or grab your shins. The tips of the fingers should touch the tops of the shoes. Knees straight. It was harder to get in this position that it sounded. Moore was absurdly proud as he presented his bottom perfectly for the administrations of Trout’s cane. In his mind he visualised the times he had been caned while still a pupil at St. FIGS. Once in the sixth-form when a bunch of them had been caught with beer. Eighteen years old, but bent over the back of a smelly old armchair in the study. How it had hurt. He remembered Jackson, a pal of those days he hadn’t seen in a decade, hopping up and down trying to rub the hurt away from his backside. “Well”, he thought, “I’m going to take this caning better than he did.”
Trout was taking his aim. Moore was far from fat but his body had naturally bulked out since his schooldays. The schoolmaster sawed his cane across the centre of the proffered buttocks. This backside was somewhat larger than those he habitually dealt with. He tapped the cane gently, Moore’s shoulders tensed, his buttocks twitched. Whack! The cane whipped down with force, dust motes rose from the trouser seat. Moore gritted his teeth and gasped. That hurt. It had been about thirteen years since he had last been “dealt with”, he was a little out of practice. He heard footsteps on the floorboards as Trout paced the schoolroom. He paused about three yards from Moore’s curved buttocks, raised the cane above shoulder height and then almost ran three paces towards the young man, flogging the cane across the backside. The rod sank into the flesh. Moore’s head rose, his back arched, his fingers flew away from the tip of his shoes. He half stood, instinctively wanting to rub away the agony in his bum. He caught himself just in time, forcing his hands back to his toes. It was a schoolboy ritual being played out. You stayed down. You took your swishing. You didn’t move. If you did: extra strokes.
Trout involuntarily licked his lips. How he had wanted the younger Moore in this position. How the boy deserved this. But it was not to be. That way led career ruin and loss of pension. This he had to console himself was the next best thing. The swiped numbers three and four in quick succession and satisfied himself that Moore’s pain was increasing. The back of the young man’s neck was equally as red as his backside. His face by contrast was a deathly white. Trout flexed the cane between his hands, playing for time. He knew that the pain would be radiating out from the buttocks and travelling up and down his legs and then going north, south, east, west, throughout his body.
Nearly over, Moore comforted himself. He concentrated on the bare floorboard beneath his feet. It looked almost new, he thought. Maybe the old one had been worn out by generations of schoolboys shuffling their feet while adopting his present position. This absurd notion tickled him but it did not assuage the agony that spread throughout his buttocks as the cane welted the underside of his bum, on the sensitive sit-spot where the buttocks meet the thighs. It would be uncomfortable to sit down for some hours to come.
Behind him Moore heard Trout wheeze and then hack a dry couch. The old schoolmaster must be showing his age after all, he supposed. The cane tapped across the higher end of his mounds. This must be the last one, he thought. Six-of-the-best. He steeled himself, closed his eyes, shut his teeth and held his breath. As he expected, Trout landed it in a diagonal from the bottom left to the top right of the target area. The cane hit across all five lines reigniting them all. Only by a monumental effort did he stay in position, wheezing to catch his breath, his head pounding, blood rushing through his arteries so fast he was sure it would whoosh out through his ears.
He felt the cane tap across his bottom once more. “Sweet Jesus, no more, please,” he prayed inwardly. “That’s over. You may stand.” Slowly, Moore straightened. The throbbing in his backside was intense. He had never sat on a barbecue but he imagined if he had done so it would have felt something like this. Remembering the distain he felt for Jackson he restrained himself from performing the caning dance, jumping up and down while simultaneously rubbing himself. That would have to wait until he was in private.
Trout stood before him, holding the cane he had just used to rip Moore’s backside apart. He glared. “I hope you have learnt a valuable lesson.” It was a rhetorical question and he did not allow Moore time to answer. “Here take this,” he offered the astonished Moore the cane, “take it home. I think you might find a use for it there.” Moore could not be certain but Trout might have given him a ghost of a smile, as he took hold of the whippy rod. It was astonishingly light. Who could believe such a thing could do so much damage.
Not waiting for a response, Trout shuffled towards the door and was gone. Moore put the cane down on the desk and massaged his bottom ruefully. The intense pain had gone to be replaced by a hot throbbing. Very soon, he knew from experience, it would turn to a warm glow. The welts would be tender to touch for some hours yet, but by bedtime even that would be gone. The marks would last from some days. How the hell was he going to explain that to his wife? Bitterly, he grabbed the cane, tucked it under his arm and left.
Picture credit: Unknown
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