Angela Davis’ face was ashen and her hands shook as she prepared her husband’s bacon and egg breakfast. Her bottom lip trembled, “He came home late again last night. He’d taken his car. He’d been drinking.”
“He” was their nineteen-year-old son Michael, who was sleeping it off upstairs.
“John,” Angela choked back tears, “I’m terrified. He’ll kill someone one day. He’ll kill himself.”
John took the plate of food from his wife’s quaking hands and put it safely on the table. “I know love. It scares me too. We’ve told him,” he breathed, struggling to control his own terror. “We’ve told him often enough,” he cut a piece of bacon and dipped it into egg yolk and with it precariously balanced on his fork, slid it into his mouth.
He chewed thoughtfully. “I’ll have a word with him tonight. I’ll sort it,” he said doubtfully.
“You need to do more than talk to him John. I’m at my wits’ end, it can’t go on like this. It just can’t.”
John chewed on in silence. He finished his breakfast and quietly lay the knife and fork down. He reached for his jacket. “I’ll sort it out tonight love. Promise.” He pecked her on the cheek and left the house. As he opened the door he saw Michael had left his car parked with one wheel on the pavement. “Just how drunk was he?” he muttered to himself as he put the key in the lock of his Ford.
It was six-thirty that evening when John finally had his “word”. Angela was in the kitchen preparing tea. The father and son had the lounge to themselves. It had been on John’s mind all day. What was he to say? What was he to do?
“Look son,” he started cordially. “Your mother is beside herself with worry about you?”
Michael flushed with confusion. He had no idea what Dad was talking about so he let him go on. “You were drinking again last night,” he said calmly. It was not an accusation, it was a statement of fact. “You were driving your car …” he let the sentence trail off. His meaning was obvious.
Michael stood awkwardly. What was he supposed to say to that? He couldn’t deny it. He felt the temperature in his face rise. He blushed easily. There was no way he could bluff his way out of this. His father continued, “We’ve spoken to you about this before son. You know we have.”
Michael nodded sagely as if the pair of them were having an intelligent discussion about some abstract matter of public importance. His father leaned against the back of an armchair and took a deep breath. He was determined to stay calm and reasonable. He loved his son to pieces and he was genuinely terrified that the lad would end up in a hospital ward. Or worse still in the cemetery. “You know it’s against the law,” he said weakly. He paused and stared at his son’s blank expression. Did he realise how serious this was? He was nineteen years old; at that age where kids have no fear of death. They think they’re immortal.
“Look son,” John tried a different tack. “You could have an accident. You could cause an accident. What if you ran someone over,” he garbled. “What if you killed someone. What if you killed a child.” John’s blood pressure was rising. Why wouldn’t Michael say something? “What if you killed yourself,” he snapped.
Michael suddenly found the sight of his feet very interesting. He stared intently at the toecaps of his shoes. Dad was right of course. But somehow he couldn’t explain – not to his dad, nor even to himself – he never thought of things like that. It hadn’t happened to him. No one he knew ever had a car accident, drunk or sober. These were things that happened to other people.
“It can’t go on,” his father insisted. “You’re driving your mum into an early grave,” he caught himself just in time so that he didn’t snort at the unintended pun he had made.
Michael’s eyes stayed rooted, a stance that fuelled his father’s indignation. “Bah!” he struggled to keep his temper. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told you about this,” he began to wave his hands angrily. “I took your car keys away. It didn’t make any difference.”
It was a statement not a question and Michael elected not to argue the point. How could he? Everything Dad said was the God’s honest truth.
His father took a series of slow breaths to prepare himself. His right hand quivered, he could feel his temperature rising. “It can’t go on like this Michael. You know it can’t,” he wheezed. “It’s got to stop. Stop right now.”
Michael nodded his head slowly in agreement because he thought that’s what he was supposed to do.
“Good,” his father had regained control of his breathing. “I’m glad you agree, son,” he spoke mildly. “Because your mum and I have decided you need to be punished.”
Michael’s eyebrows shot heavenwards. Punished. What did he mean punished? He looked quizzically across the room and saw his father walk slowly across the lounge. He reached the settee and sank to his knees before reaching for something hidden under it. He took hold and rose back to his feet.
“Wh…? Wh…?” Michael gasped. The question he was trying to ask might have been What? or it might have been Why?
The What? was the thin, whippy school cane his father now held between his hands. The Why? was pretty obvious. Nothing else had worked, now drastic measures were needed.
His father flexed the cane between his hands and looked at it closely as if he had never seen it before. It was a typical school punishment cane; about three feet in length and as thick as a pencil. It was dark yellow and had a curved handle at one end. It was old and worn, it had seen much action over the years.
Michael gaped and his father answered his unspoken question. “Your Uncle Ernie brought it from his school.” Uncle Ernie was a master at St Francis Independent Grammar School. Although corporal punishment was being phased out across the country St FIGS stuck to its traditions. It’s reputation as the premier caning school in Brocklehurst was renowned.
His father tucked the cane under his arm and looked intently at his son. “We’ve tried everything else son. It’s because we love you. We don’t want you to kill yourself. This is for your own good. Believe me.”
Michael had at last found his voice, but not his power of speech, “But Dad,” he spluttered, “C’mon. Y’know. Really?”
“Yes, really.” His father shook his head sorrowfully. “It’s come to this. We’ve tried everything else. You’ve left us no choice.”
Michael flushed, “Sorry. I promise I won’t drink and drive again. There. Satisfied?”
His father sucked in his cheek, “You’ve said that before, Michael. Nothing came of it. Perhaps, you mean it when you say it, but you don’t have the self-discipline to see it through. What you need is someone to impose that discipline on you.” He winced inwardly at the corny line he had spoken and lapsed into silence.
“But, Dad ….” Michael faltered. Again, Dad was absolutely correct. Michael had made promises; lots of them. He hadn’t kept any. His father slipped the cane from under his arm and into his hand. He let it dangle and mechanically tapped it gently against his right leg. “Next time you think about drinking and driving you’ll remember this evening,” he chided.
Michael stared at the cane, his heartbeat raced. Dad was serious. He was determined to cane him. His Dad! The man who hadn’t ever raised a finger to him. He was overcome with remorse. His jaw shuddered.
His father wobbled the cane and pointed at a small dining table. “Stand over there,” he exclaimed with more confidence than he really felt. What if Michael refused? Then what? It was too humiliating to contemplate. He hoped his face didn’t betray his sense of relief when his son meekly crossed the room.
He studied his son. He was nineteen years old and clearly a young man. He stood an inch or more taller than his Dad and was heavily built. He still regularly turned out for a football team on Sunday mornings (if he could shake off the hangover in time). He couldn’t see his son’s usually clear, open face; now clouded by a frown.
Michaels’s head was filled with the memory of school. He had been caned by his housemaster on two occasions (not that he ever let mum or dad know). St FIGS was that kind of school, was there any boy there who hadn’t presented his bottom for the cane at least once? It had hurt. A lot. The pain was searing, but he had lived through it. He would survive Dad’s caning, but he wondered, would his lovable Dad? What torments the poor man must be going through.
His father took deep breaths to steady his nerves. Michael wore a cheap cotton t-shirt and denim jeans. As John feared, the jeans were thick and heavy. They gave too much protection against the cane. They would have to come down.
He steeled himself to give the instruction. He coughed. “Those jeans will have to come down,” he said too meekly. Michael smiled to himself. “Yes, Dad’s right again. Jesus. The cane on the pants!” He said nothing aloud. Instead, with steady hands he unbuckled the wide, leather belt that held his jeans in place. They were loose-fitting and started to slither over his hips even before he popped the button on the waist and tugged the zipper. With that done they hurtled to his feet.
Michael stared ahead. He was standing in front of his Dad dressed only in pants and t-shirt. He was mortified for sure, but he felt even more embarrassed for his Dad. The poor man must want the ground to open and swallow him up.
“Bend over,” his father croaked. Michael was tall and the table low, so he had to bend his knees so his body could rest comfortably across the table top. There wasn’t much room so he folded his arms in front of him. The table was against a window and the teenager stared ahead into the back garden, grateful that the room didn’t face the front of the house in full view of neighbours and passers-by.
His father stood back to take in the scene. He admired his son’s fortitude. He lay across the table submissively. His firm bottom filled out his blue cotton underpants and rested on the edge of the table. It was presented at a perfect height for a caning. He had never beaten a boy in his life so his brother Ernie had given some tips when he came to deliver the cane. It was quite straightforward so long as the boy stayed still. If not, it could prove to be a disaster.
As instructed, he stood about three feet to Michael’s left (a cane’s length). He patted the boy’s bottom with the whippy rattan rod and tapped the end across the centre of the far cheek. The idea, Ernie had told him, was to raise the cane back in an arc until it was about shoulder height and then using the strength of the forearm bring it crashing down with maximum force across Michael’s backside. If done correctly, the cane should strike both buttocks equally. Ernie had held a seat cushion from the armchair in place while he practised.
Now for real, he “sawed” the cane across the centre of his son’s bottom. It surprised him how firm it was; he had never had reason to notice before. The buttocks clenched and became harder, like a rubber ball. He tap-tap-tapped trying to get his confidence. He couldn’t chicken out now. He had to go through with it. It was for Michael’s own good. It might even save his life. He had to beat his darling son. He had to do it. It was his responsibility. He had to cane his backside – and cane it hard.
He pulled the cane back in an arc, held it so high the tip nearly hit the ceiling, then as instructed he whipped it across Michael’s backside with terrific force. A crack like a pistol shot rang around the small room. A thick line immediately appeared in the stretched cotton across the plumpest part of the buttocks. Michael’s shoulders heaved, his already bent legs buckled further. His mouth opened and closed but no sound come through.
His father sucked in a deep breath. Bingo! Right on target. That gave him confidence. His son stayed bent across the table, ready to take swipe number two.
His father was a novice at caning and took his time. He wasn’t to know this was a good move. The most effective canings are delivered with plenty of time between the stokes. That allows the boy to register the pain completely. If delivered efficiently the cane will bite deep into the flesh and feel like a hot wire has been pressed into the bum. That penetrating pain lasts only seconds before it becomes an intense throb. Soon even that dies down into a powerful ache. That is the time to land the next stroke, then the agony cycle starts all over again.
He landed the second one lower. “Ouch!” Michael couldn’t help it. He had told himself he wouldn’t holler. Usually a boy being punished wouldn’t want the master to know he had been hurt. It was a kind of contest between schoolmaster and boy. The boy wouldn’t give the master the satisfaction. But this was different. Michael didn’t want Dad to know he had caused him great pain – it would break the Old Man’s heart.
Michael shut his teeth and braced himself for the next stroke. It landed above the first one and now he had a roaring pain about two inches wide across the centre of his cheeks. His head shook from side to side and butted up and down on the table top. He stared through the window. A squirrel dodged across the lawn, halted and chewed a nut before rushing off again, all the time oblivious to the teenager spread-eagled across the dining table with his backside on fire.
Father was no expert and with three cuts already turning to welts under Michael’s underpants it was inevitable that the next stroke would land across one or other of them. It did and it reignited the pain. Michael was sure a welt across his bum was weeping. He bit down into his bare arm to silence the yell his body demanded he make, leaving deep teeth marks behind.
Father’s own blood pressure was off the scale. His head throbbed and his ears were so full of blood he was almost deaf. Determined, he tapped the cane higher than before, on the highest point of the boy’s bum, close to his back. He let fly, the pistol crack bounced around the room again. Michael’s hips swayed, his legs kicked, his head bounced. Never before, in his short experience of such things, had a caning hurt so much. It felt like Dad had forced him to sit in a bathtub of scalding water.
Last one. He hoped. Dad hadn’t said “Six of the best”, but it was always six. Wasn’t it? Please sweet Jesus, Michael prayed silently, no more than six. Swipe! Crack! Intense agony. The floorboards squeaked. He could hear footsteps. He couldn’t see, but he was sure Dad was walking away. It was over.
His father stood silently noting from a distance his handiwork. The boy was in some distress. His breathing was uneven. The back of his neck was as scarlet as he supposed Michael’s bottom was at this moment. The boy was fighting it. He didn’t want to show it. But, he had definitely felt it. A job well done, he hoped.
“You should stand up now, son,” he said soothingly. “It’s over. Pull up your jeans.” He let the cane drop on to the settee and stood awkwardly, uncertain how this should end. He watched Michael struggle into his jeans and grimace as he pulled them over his scorched buttocks. Michael’s eyes shone and what looked like tears dampened his usually bright, cheerful face. It broke his father’s heart.
“Sorry Dad,” Michael sniffled. “Sorry.”
“No, my lovely son, I’m the one who’s sorry,” his father wanted to say, but knew he must not. This was a punishment that Michael deserved. The teenager must think that he would be prepared to beat him again should he drink and drive.
Instead, he said, “Go to your room. Don’t let your mum see you like this.”
“No Dad, sorry Dad,” Michael said again as ruefully he hobbled from the room, touching the seat of his jeans gingerly.
Moments later Angela entered he room carrying a tray with teacups. “You did the right thing John, I’m very proud of you.” She offered him a cup. He took it and sipped slowly, tears welling in his eyes.
Picture credit: Unknown
Other stories you might like
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Also writing school stories as Scholastic here
Charles Hamilton the Second