You sit glumly, as the green fields become first factories, then houses, then offices and shops. The train rattles into the station. Nearly home. Only a short bus ride before you meet up with father. The carriage is nearly empty of passengers, Saturday is not a busy day on the railway at Brocklehurst. You try to listen to your music but you can’t concentrate. The sounds blur in your ears.
An unintelligible voice crackles through the speaker. You can’t understand a word, but you know the guard is announcing the train is approaching Brocklehurst: your home town. Like a good citizen you wait until the train comes to a complete standstill before you rise from your seat and reach to the overhead shelf and take down your bag. You feel the weight of your dirty laundry as you sling it over your shoulder. At least one good thing will come from this visit: mother will do your washing.
You alight from the train and with no enthusiasm make your way down the platform. You have your ticket ready to get through the automatic barrier. In no hurry, you walk through the station, your footsteps echoing against the hard floor tiles. Ghost town. You have been away only three months, but already you have forgotten how dull this place is.
The bright lights of Newcastle have seduced you. Your new home. New friends. New experiences. That’s what university is supposed to give you. And, that is the problem. That’s why father has called you home.
The buses stop right outside the station. They call this ‘Brocklehurst Parkway’, a transport hub for the 21st century. As if buses never stopped outside train stations in the past. But that’s modern life, the ordinary is branded as if it were something new.
The buses run every twenty minutes. The number 66 – your bus – pulls up at the stop the second you exit the station. You pause, consider letting it go. Waiting for the next one. Or the one after. You are in no hurry to get home. Father doesn’t know what time your train is due. You can string this out for a while yet.
A nagging voice in your head tells you, “Get on that bus. Do not deceive your father.” It is your conscience. Those nagging voices have been troubling you since the day you arrived at the university. You are eighteen years old and free from your parents for the first time in your life. Free from all kinds of authority. There are few rules at the university. At your first class you were told, “Failure is a process, not an event.” The lecturer meant it was up to you – and your fellow students – to work hard, attend lectures, do the reading, submit the assignments on time. Go the whole nine yards (or whatever). If you do, success would follow. If but you do not, you will fail. Nobody is going to stand over you with a big stick to make sure you work.
You step onto the bus, offer your credit card for the fare and take a seat near the back. A light rain begins to fall as the bus pulls away. Your mid-term exams didn’t go so well. That lecturer was right. Too much time spent at student social clubs, playing football, discovering bars. Alcohol. A drop had never passed your lips before Newcastle. You soon made up for lost time.
Your father never touched a drop. The devil’s brew. There is something about it in the Bible. You know there are a lots of things in the Bible. About how to behave and how not to behave. Nobody you know at home drinks. Everyone goes to church – the same church. That’s the House of the Sacred Light. It came as a shock when you discovered The Sacred Light doesn’t operate in Newcastle. You are a member of a select band of people. You all know the true way. The Light. You know this to be true: it’s what you are taught.
You still read your Bible; you haven’t changed that much in the time you’ve been away. It makes a lot of sense to you. It is your guiding light. You’ve just lost your way a little. You need help to get back on the straight and narrow path. You know that. That’s why father has called you home. To help you. To guide you. You shuffle your buttocks on the hard seat as the bus takes a roundabout a little too quickly.
Traffic is light and the bus soon arrives at Widdicombe Wood, which is where you get off. Your street, The Avenue, is opposite. The rain has stopped but it’s cloudy and dank, it will start again fairly soon. Saturday is usually busy in The Avenue. Cars are washed and gardens attended. Two teenagers lounge idly with their bicycles. One, a fat youth with a face scarlet with acne and pus, leers at you as you pass. Your heart misses a beat. Can he read your mind? Does he know? Do all the neighbours know? Know why you have been called home.
You pass several large detached house, each hidden in its own way from the scrutiny of neighbours. Your house is surrounded by high ivy-covered walls. The gate is closed but unlocked. You pause for a moment to allow your heartrate to slow. Then with your knee you push the gate open, but only so far that you can squeeze your body through. Once inside you back-kick the gate and it slowly creaks back to its original state.
There is a light on in the loungeroom, although it is only midday. Father is probably waiting there for you. Mother will be hidden away in her own private ‘den’ pretending to make a dress with her new state-of-the-art sewing machine. You walk up the drive – slowly. Any passing tortoise would beat you in a race. You silently curse that the drive is not longer. You arrive at the front door. You have your own key and you let yourself in.
There is an eerie silence. Usually chamber music plays from an old-fashioned record player. Not today. You close the door and plonk your bag in the hall. Mother will deal with that later. You take off your coat and hang it neatly on a coat stand. While you are doing this you make sure to move all the other coats. You are checking. You don’t know what to think. The two whippy school-type rattan punishment canes that usually dangle from their curved handles here are missing.
Just then, Mother bustles from the lounge. “I thought I heard you come in,” she says shyly. “Do you have laundry?” You point to the bag. She picks it up and hurries into the utility room where she will stay for the next several hours. You watch her go, holding back your resentment that she hasn’t even said, “Hello, how are you?”
You have no time for further thoughts on the matter as father now emerges from the lounge. He looks at you sternly. “Good. You’re here at last,” he says. Again, there s no welcome. You nod blindly as if agreeing that indeed you are here. “Come in here,” he says sternly and walks back into the lounge.
The room hasn’t changed in the past three months. It is a large room that is dominated by two couches and a set of armchairs. Small tables are dotted around the room. There is no television set. But something is out of place. Your eyes settle on a chair, it is armless and has a straight back. It belongs in the kitchen. It has been brought into the lounge for a reason. It has been placed close to a corner facing into the room. You know why it is there. A heavy wooden paddle left on a nearby table confirms your thought.
Your father gives a little cough. He is both clearing his throat and gaining your attention. You stand, hands behind your back and look at him, making clear to your father that he has your rapt attention. Father looks as he always does whatever the time of day or the day of the week. He is dressed in a sober dark suit with a white shirt and red tie. You cannot remember ever seeing him dressed otherwise.
He begins to speak and you know – almost word for word – what he is going to say. He knows you failed your midterms and he thinks he knows why. You meekly confirm his suspicions. You know you have not worked this semester. You know if you don’t buck your ideas up you will fail at Christmas. You know you have let your mother and father down. You tell father this. He nods sagely, it is what he wants to hear.
You promise him you will work harder. He is pleased to hear it, he says. You say sorry again. You know this is expected. It is a kind of ritual. You go through the motions, knowing already what comes next.
Father picks up a Bible from one of the tables and flicks through the pages, finding his place. He reads several passages at great length and solemnity. Honour your mother and father. Work hard. Spare the rod. You know this by heart, but you show you are paying attention as if hearing it all for the very first time.
Father finishes reading and replaces the Bible on the table. He closes his eyes and begins to pray aloud. He is seeking the strength of the Lord. You are obliged to join in with the Amen.
Father says no more. Now, he unbuttons his jacket and slips it from his back. Carefully, he folds it and places it on the seat of a couch. You watch him intently as he does this and then he sits in the kitchen chair. He beckons to you with a crooked finger. He wants you to stand close to him. Silently, you take the three or four paces necessary.
You are standing so close that you can smell the aroma of coal tar soap and hair oil that follows your father around. He licks his lips, gives that little cough again and says, “I think you know what to do.” You don’t need clarification. This is your cue to prepare myself. You are soberly dressed in a white shirt and black trousers. At home you are always required to dress like this. You look a bit like a senior schoolboy. Not that you ever attended school – not a proper school. Parents of The Sacred Light ‘home-schooled’ which meant they taught their children themselves. There were several of you and you had classes at the church. You wore a distinctive school uniform with a grey shirt and pale-grey short trousers – even when you were eighteen. It taught you humility; walking to and from the church dressed like that.
Today you are wearing the long grey socks from school and the unusual and unflattering grey underwear worn by all males of The Sacred Heart. You have several pairs of grey short trousers in your bedroom and you wouldn’t be surprised if father insists you go upstairs to change. But, he has not. So, you must prepare yourself now.
You take a deep breath as if preparing yourself for an ordeal. Then you take hold of the buckle of the belt keeping your trousers up and open it. There’s a button on the waistband of your trousers and your fingers shiver a little so you fumble getting it undone. From the corner of your eye you see father is silently in prayer. You tug the zip fly and the front of the trousers fall open. The material of the trousers is heavy and with the weight of the belt and some keys and coins in your pocket, the trousers tumble to your shins.
Father has stopped praying and watches you as you place each of your thumbs in the waistband of your underwear and with not much more than a flick of the wrists you sent the pants south to meet your trousers. A faint breeze wafts in from somewhere to cool your naked legs and buttocks. Father slaps his thigh with his right hand. He is becoming impatient. Which is a sin, so he stops slapping and says quietly, “Bend across my knee, son.”
As he says this he parts his knees slightly and you look down at his thighs. He has made a platform for you to present your body. Carefully, you rest the heels of your hands on his right leg and slowly ease yourself down and forward. Within seconds you are across his knee in the traditional to-be-spanked posture. You make fists with your hands and push these into the carpet. Your bottom is raised over father’s lap and your legs are stretched out behind you so that the tips of your shoes brush the ground.
You hear father’s breathing getting heavier. You wait patiently. Father takes the end of your shirt and pushes it gently up your back so that it is away from his target area. Not long now. Your buttocks clench in anticipation. Now father has cupped the palm of his right hand and he is caressing each buttock cheek. You close your eyes and shut your teeth tightly. Any moment now. Father leans his left arm across your back holding you in position.
Slap! You hear the noise of his palm spanking your left buttock a split-second before you feel the sting. It tingles, but it doesn’t really hurt. Then father slaps the right cheek. Quickly he gets into a rhythm, slapping down hard across your bum. He works enthusiastically and in no time the whole area is glowering pink. The pain is building, but you are eighteen-years-old and no matter how hard father slaps the palm of his hand into you backside – even your bare backside – it isn’t going to do you much harm.
You know this and father knows this. The spanking is so far symbolic. Father is expressing his displeasure and you are submissively presenting yourself for punishment. You know your place. You are your father’s son. You father is doing his duty to God. All is well.
But, father knows there is a difference between mere discipline and punishment. You have to be punished. Without adequate punishment you will not mend your ways. You will not work harder. You will fail your exams, be excluded from university and your future will be ruined. This punishment is for your own good. Father stops slapping your bare bum. You feel a movement in his body as he reaches over to the nearby table. He grips the paddle. It is a little bigger than a paperback book or a DVD cover, but a great deal heavier. Without warning father lifts it high and whacks it down with maximum impact across the underside of your cheeks – the sensitive ‘sit-spot’.
The suddenness of the move and the pain is creates takes you by surprise and for the first time this afternoon a yelp escapes your tight lips. Father spanks with the paddle as hard and as quickly as he had with his hand. Your backside quickly roasts. You can’t help it, your hips sway and your legs kick. Father presses his arm down into your back. You are going nowhere. Not for a considerable time to come.
You lose all sense of time. It might be one minute, it might be twenty. Up and down, up and down. The paddle flies, biting into your fleshy backside. It burns. Your temples throb almost as much as your backside. Tears fill your eyes but do not fall. Your throat is tight, but that doesn’t stop a series of “Owwws” and “Ouches” escaping your mouth. You are burning.
Father has covered every square centimetre of your buttocks which are now shining bright red. So, he turns his attentions to the backs of your thighs. Whack! “Noooooo! Stop!!!!! Please!!!!” you yell for mercy, but none is forthcoming. Father is on a mission.
You kick and wriggle and squirm and yell. It does no good. It never does. Father will spank you for as long as it takes. Until he is satisfied you have learned a lesson. Your head is buzzing. You hear the sound of wood connecting with naked flesh, but you feel no more pain. You have reached a plateau. A literal pain barrier.
Perhaps father realises this, because he eases off. The paddle continues to pound into your bottom but the whacks are not so heavy and less frequent. Then – at last – they stop completely. You lay face down staring at the carpet, your heartbeat races, your blood pressure is off the scale. Your backside feels like you have sat in a bathtub of boiling water. You hear your father’s uneven breathing. The spanking has taking it out of him as well.
At last he croaks, “Get up.” You scramble to your feet and instinctively your hands go to your naked buttocks. Your flesh feels like leather. The pain is already easing but both cheeks throb like mad. You are unconcerned that you are standing half-naked in front of father exposing your privates. Father hauls himself from the chair and reaches for his jacket. You take this cue and get dressed yourself, gingerly puling your underwear over your scorching buttocks. You bend down and retrieve your trousers. Pain reignites when you pull them over your bum. You zip up but leave the belt undone.
Father reaches for the Bible. Your head spins. You feel high. It must be the adrenaline, or something. You know father is reading to you but you can’t make out the words. This goes on for a long minute before father intones, “Amen.” Hurriedly, you echo that.
“Go to your room,” father says quietly. You hobble away. As you walk towards the staircase you hear the sound of a washing machine and catch the smell of detergent. Mother is washing your clothes. You wonder how long you will have to wait before you can get the train back to university.
Picture credit: Sting Pictures
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Also writing school stories as Scholastic here
Charles Hamilton the Second