Jobs for the Boys

“Callum? What is going on? I know something is going on. I’m reasonably sure that you have a guilty conscience. Sooner or later, I’m going to find out, and you know it’s always better if you’ve told me.”

“Nothing’s going on, James. Nothing. You’re going to be late for work. So am I. Go on. I’ll see you later.”

It was true I had a guilty conscience. I was lying to James. Even I couldn’t call it anything other than lying. I really wanted to tell him, to confess, to have him make it all right again, but I couldn’t do it, and he couldn’t fix this for me. Not this time. I knew that everything was going to get worse. I knew that I couldn’t carry on in the long term like this, but I couldn’t tell him.

Unfortunately for me – fortunately for me – both – he came home in the middle of the day. “Callum! What are you doing here at this time? Why aren’t you at work?”

“Why aren’t you?”

“My afternoon meeting was cancelled, and the paperwork for what I wanted to do instead is here, so I said I would finish the day at home. Why are you here?”

“Because. . . oh, shit. Because. . .”

“Callum? Come here. This is what’s been going on all week, isn’t it? Tell me. Now. Don’t turn away. Tell me.”

I bolted. Not even out of the house, in which case I could have run away: I’m faster than James. But stupidly, up the stairs, into the bedroom, and into a trap. The door shut firmly behind him, and I had nowhere else to run.


“I’ve lost my job.”

It wasn’t, in the end, that hard to say, but I was shaking and I couldn’t look at him. He was silent for a minute. Then he took off his jacket, and hung it over the chair, and unfastened his tie.

“Come here, Callum.”

I went. I still didn’t look him in the eye, but I walked round the bed, and stopped in front of him, and looked at my feet. He put his hand squarely in the middle of my chest and pushed, and I sat down with a thump on the bed. That made me shorter than him, and he put a finger under my chin, and waited until I gave in to the pressure and lifted my head.

“How bad is it, Callum?”


He stepped closer, and wrapped his arms round me, settling himself astride my lap to hug me. I put my arms tentatively round him, and hid my face in his chest. That’s my safe place. It sounds really stupid: someone my size (I’m six foot three and fourteen stone) isn’t supposed to need a place to hide, but James is mine.

“Let’s have it then. Tell me.”

“It isn’t anything I’ve done. The whole company is going to Tewkesbury. They’ve been bought out. The security end isn’t needed. We’ve been made redundant.”

I felt him sigh. “Horrible for you, then, but not fatal. I know, it’s a nasty shock, I remember what it felt like. It happened to me once, too. Try not to worry too much. Presumably if you’re at home, they haven’t asked you to work a month or anything? Are they just clearing everybody on the spot?”

“You don’t understand.”

“What do I not understand?”

“This was two weeks ago. I couldn’t tell you. I’ve been pretending to go to work every day, and going to the library or the job centre, or just cruising round the industrial estates asking if there are jobs going.”

“Two weeks?”

“I couldn’t tell you. I thought you would be. . . I thought you would. . . I knew you would be disappointed with me. I’ve let you down. I was just trying to avoid being punished, I suppose. I can’t even do that right. I know you’ll spank me. I deserve it.” I waited for him to order me up, to push me away from his chest. He didn’t do it. Eventually, I braced myself, and pulled back to look into his face. His eyes were shut, and he had an expression of such pain that I cried out. “James, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it wasn’t my fault really, I’ll sort it out, I’m sorry!”

“Callum, how can I possibly have failed you so badly?”

Whatever I had expected, that wasn’t it. “You? Failed me? I don’t understand.”

“How could you think, how could you believe that I would punish you for being made redundant? How could you possibly think that I would be disappointed with you because your job ceased to exist? What have I done to make you afraid to tell me for two weeks? I’ve never punished you except when you’ve admitted you deserved it. You can’t possibly have deserved to be made redundant, it’s just unfortunate, so why on earth did you think I would be angry?”

“Because. . . because. . .” I was struggling to control myself. His arms tightened on me.

“This is important, Callum. I have to understand this. Tell me. I won’t be angry. I promise. I’ve failed you somehow, and I don’t understand how or why, so help me. Tell me what’s so wrong with our relationship that I haven’t noticed.”

I couldn’t, not easily. It took me about fifteen minutes to explain it in any form he could understand, because every time I tried my voice went tight and I wouldn’t talk until I could control it, and then I lost track of what I was saying, and bits of it came out too high and too fast, and then I would snatch for breath and start again. It actually hurt: my chest hurt with the effort of not crying, and my throat hurt with trying to speak in a normal voice. I couldn’t breathe properly. He was very patient, held me, cradled my head against him, stroked my hair and encouraged me, and in the end I managed to get it out.

“I love you so much, James, and I’m not smart enough, I’m not clever enough, I’m always letting you down. You’re a professional and I come over as your bit of rough. You know I do. And you have a high powered job, and we can have this house and the cars and all the rest of it because of that, and I do the best I can, but I can’t ever expect to keep up, and now even that’s gone wrong. And we both know that you would do better with somebody else, somebody who didn’t need to be spanked for stupidity and clumsiness and for disgracing you in public. I do try, honestly I do, and then I fuck it all up and make you ashamed of me.”

It was all one broken surge of unpunctuated sentences and misery. I had never been so unhappy. Actually, that isn’t true. This was a sharp unhappiness, but the dragging, wearisome despair of the previous fortnight had been worse. This felt more like a very severe attack of the bad bit before a punishment, when I knew that pain was inevitable, but that forgiveness was also inevitable.

“Dear heaven. We really have screwed this up, haven’t we? I never realised you were quite so insecure. I should have done. I love you, Callum. I love you to bits. If I wanted somebody smart and intellectual, I’d have made a play for Jerry before Ross got him. I think you’re quite clever enough to go on with. I don’t care if anybody thinks you’re my bit of rough. If you want to be my bit of rough, that’s fine with me, and if you don’t, I’ll be yours. I haven’t wanted anybody else since the first time I saw you. I think you have a kind heart, and a generous nature, and a fabulously sexy body. Ross says you’re the best person he knows at judging other people’s characters, and he’s right. I rely on you a lot for that. We all do. Remember Jerry’s ex? Jerry says it had never even occurred to him that Vic only stayed with him to get free rent, but you saw it first off, and it was true. Haven’t you noticed? When anybody new comes in, we all wait to see what you make of them. I can’t do that, Callum, I’m not as clever as you in my relationships. Do you remember when it all went wrong for Dan and Steve? I’ve known Dan for ever, he’s probably my oldest friend, but I couldn’t comfort him, and you could. He’s clever enough for anybody, and he thinks you’re fantastic.

“So what if it’s my job that funds the lifestyle? Is there any point of the stuff we own that’s more important than the fact that we love each other? Is there? Would you love me less without the house? Without the car? Without the holidays? I do know that it’s hard for you sometimes to think that you can spend money you haven’t earned, but Callum, there are whole generations of married women who have had to square that circle. I don’t earn it for me. I earn it for us. I don’t wilfully stamp on your pride, do I? Do I hurt your feelings with what I earn? You work too, and between us we manage. If I lost my job, would you leave me? Or would you work to support me? I think you would keep me. I’ve been assuming that we had that sort of relationship. We can’t say the words, but I thought we knew that it was for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Was I wrong?”

I shook my head, and struggled some more to control myself. He manoeuvred us round onto the bed, until we were lying down and my head was on his chest. He must have been very distressed: James on the bed with his shoes on? Unheard of.

“Callum, why do I spank you?”

“Because I fuck up.”

“You misunderstand me. Although bad language usually gets you a slap.”

“Because I do things you don’t like.”

“I don’t like it when you play your Bruce Springsteen CDs. Do I spank you for that?”

“No, of course not. We just agreed that we had music for your car and music for mine, because you think that Bruce needs his adenoids out and I think that Leonard Cohen is music to cut your throat by.”

“So why do I spank you? Not what for, but to what end? To achieve what?”

“Because it annoys you when I f. . . when I foul up, and it’s better than a quarrel that goes on for days. Because I try to remember what I did and not do it again, rather than just worrying about you speaking to me as if I were an idiot.”

“Why do you try not to do it again? Because you’re scared of the spanking?”

“Not really. Mostly because it’s something you want me not to do and I care enough to please you. And I usually know I shouldn’t have done it.”

“So that’s why you accept it. But why do I do it?”

“Because you’re angry with me.”

“I very rarely punish you in anger. I do it because I don’t like to see you let yourself down. Not let me down. Let yourself down. I want you to remember what you’ve done that isn’t a good idea, and not do it again. I won’t die of it if you make a crass remark in public. I could leave you at home and not take you to the office events, if I really feared that you would run your mouth. But I want to take you. I want my friends to see that my partner is desirable and funny and loving and all the rest of it. I want to show you off. Not as a trophy, but as my lover. I’m not ashamed of you, Callum. I’ve been exasperated occasionally, but I’ve never been ashamed.”

I chewed on that for a bit. “I’m ashamed of me.”


“Because I couldn’t hold down a job. I know I don’t pay anything like half the mortgage, but I do pay, and now I can’t.”

“Nitwit. Redundancy doesn’t count as not holding down a job. These days, everybody gets made redundant at least once. And you’ve forgotten something else. Several somethings. Did you get a pay-off?”

“Yes. It hasn’t come through yet, but it’s about three thousand pounds.”

“And when did you last look at the bank statements?”

“I never do. You always do that.”

“Come and see, then.”

He took me into the back bedroom that we use as an office, and scrabbled in the filing cabinet. “Look. Balance on current account. Balance on deposit account. Credit card paid off in full last month. Investment portfolio. Not brilliant at the moment because the market’s flat, but steady. My personal pension. Your personal pension. Deeds for the house. We aren’t rich, Callum, but we are comfortable. I think we can last quite a long time before we’re reduced to sponging off our friends. Now, this is what I wanted you to see. We pay for this every month, as you might remember if you ever looked at the bank statement.”

“What is it?”

“It’s the mortgage insurance. It’s the thing that pays the mortgage for up to a year if either of us is unemployed. Either of us, Callum, not just me. So we’ll ring them up and tell them that you’ve been paid off, and in about six weeks, if you aren’t working, they’ll pay up.”

“But you’re still working. They won’t pay, will they?”

“It’s insurance, honey. It’s glorified gambling. The terms were that they paid if either of us was out of work, so they’ll pay. I don’t feel any difficulty about claiming on an insurance that we’ve paid for. So you’ve got a breathing space to find another job, or to do something completely different.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want to go back into security manning? If you do, we’ll find you another job. Do you want to try something else? Let’s look at the job pages and see what you fancy. Do you want to train for something completely new? Let’s see what they offer at the college.”

“I can’t do that. I’ve no qualifications.”

“Get some? Spend your three grand on education. In fact, if you’re unemployed, there are training grants. You paid your tax and National Insurance all along, so claim on that too. You don’t have to count on me for it. The government won’t give us the tax breaks of being married, so it can’t count my income against you. At least I don’t think so. And even if it does, we can afford it.”

I was shaken. “Is it that easy?”

“It can be if you’ll trust me to help you.”

“But I didn’t. I didn’t trust you. I don’t know why not. I know I can.” I was hiding my face from him. He pulled me round and into his arms. “I’m afraid you’ll have to sort that one for yourself.”

“James? I’m sorry. I love you. I should have known you would support me. I should have known.”

“You should have known. How are you going to make it up to me?”

“What would you like?”

“Well, you could kneel down. And then. . . oh, I see. You’ve got the idea already.”

And that was the afternoon gone! I felt much better afterwards. Not right, not yet, but better. James insisted that we weren’t going to cook, we were going to the Feathers to eat out. So we did that, and when Carl the landlord expressed surprise at seeing us midweek, James told him what had happened. “Callum’s drowning his sorrows. His employer’s relocating, and he’s out of a job.”

Carl was sympathetic, and said he would keep an ear open for any work about the town. We didn’t stay late, and as we went home, I remembered another sore point. “James? I had to give in the uniform. I’m sorry. I know you loved it.”

This was obviously just too much. James leaned on a lamppost and simply wept with laughter. “Callum, you have no sense of proportion at all, have you? Who cares about the uniform? I do love you in it, I admit, because it makes you look unbelievably sexy, but it doesn’t matter. What I really like about the uniform is taking you out of it. We can look in the Yellow Pages, and find a costume hire shop, and get you another uniform. What do you fancy? Admiral of the Fleet? Commander in Chief, Western Army? Airline pilot? Biggles? Police sergeant? Captain of Hussars? I like the coloured tunics with gold frogging myself, but we can choose. There are no limits.”

I began to smile too, rather unwillingly. “Am I being silly?”

“Just a bit. Just a tiny bit.”

“What was Alan Rickman in ‘Sense and Sensibility’? Colonel something. Do you remember, right at the end, at the wedding? He had a red tunic. I fancy one of those. You’d look rather well in one too. . . They go with the tight breeches, and apparently no underwear. . . ”

The next morning, James went to work, leaving me at home. It was such a relief not to pretend any more. He had left me a list of things to do. “Have you signed on? Do that today. Phone the insurance company about the mortgage. I’ll call at lunchtime, and I’ll be home in good time. If you get twitchy again, phone me. I’ve got a couple of meetings I can’t break, but Claire will take a message and I’ll call you back. I promise. Don’t sit about doing nothing. There’s plenty of housework, or you could cut the grass, or go and see one of your friends.”

I picked up his call at lunchtime – we have caller I.D. – but the phone hardly stopped otherwise, and I wouldn’t lift it. I let the machine take all the calls and I didn’t go to see who they were. I didn’t want to talk to other people, only to James, although I did do as he had said and ring the insurance people and sign on.

He came home early – he said his last meeting had been cancelled but I suspected that it wasn’t true. “There’s a message on the machine, Callum. Have you been out?”

“No. I just didn’t feel like talking to people.”

He looked at me rather oddly, and then picked up the telephone pad and started the playback. I went upstairs. I didn’t want to know who was on the phone.

Presently James came after me. “There were six calls, Callum, and they were all for you. I’ve written them down. Obviously Carl’s been talking, and you know what this town’s like for news getting round.”

I flinched.

“Spike rang. He wants you to lay a patio with him in a fortnight. He said he was turning away work because he couldn’t do it on his own in the time he had. He says if you’ll do it, he’ll split the profit with you. Ross rang from work. He says he’s changed your gym membership because if you’re unemployed you pay half rates. Jerry said if you wanted to go round any time, you should call him. He promised that if it isn’t convenient he’ll say so, but he’d like company for lunch on and off. Carl rang and asked if you’d ever done bar work, because he’s got two company lunches in the restaurant next week and a barman off sick. Marcus rang, you remember, he’s Spike’s friend from the park? We met him at the Grants’ once. He says he’s got two weeks of fencing and tree felling to do, and were you interested. He was very apologetic because it doesn’t pay well. That was kind, don’t you think? I can’t remember meeting him more than that one time. Dan called to ask if we wanted him to bring home the job section from the local paper. He said he knew we only took a national, but they get the local delivered in the office, and it goes in the bin at the end of the day.”

I sat on the bed and gazed at James. “All those people?”

“All your friends, Callum. People who care about you. This is your strength, not mine. Your friends love you.”

I couldn’t bear it. I struggled for control again, fought against the tears until James sat down beside me, and gathered me very gently into his arms, and then I buried my head against his chest and cried for about half an hour, until I was hoarse and headachy and stupid. James made me lie down on the sofa in the end, and brought me my supper on a tray, and two aspirin, and then curled up beside me and we watched some rubbish on the television, holding hands.

The next day was still awful, but differently so. I had to return all those calls, and explain myself every time, but it got slightly easier with each repetition, and there was no doubting the sincerity of our friends or their willingness to help. I didn’t eat much lunch; I was beginning to get a grip on why I still felt so bad. It was guilt. I had behaved unbelievably badly to James. I had screwed up the whole thing, and he had offered absolutely no criticism. I had hurt his feelings and he hadn’t said so, and he had offered me every sort of support he could. I started to think about what had gone wrong, and it got so big that I actually got a piece of paper and started to make a list. It terrified me.

When James came in, I was sitting at the kitchen table, just looking at my list. He came through to kiss me. “How’s it been? What have you done this afternoon?”

“I’ve been thinking.”

“Oh God. Rarely a good idea. It isn’t what you do best. What have you been thinking about?”

“About us. About me.”

“Are you going to tell me?”

“I must. I thought about what I’ve done, and what I should have done. I screwed up, James, big time.”

“Tell me.”

“I lost my job. That isn’t my fault. I didn’t tell you. That is. I didn’t trust you to look after me. I was too proud to let you look after me. I deceived you, and lied to you. I tried to pretend that the problem would go away, and I really knew it wouldn’t. I just refused to face it. Then I panicked instead of dealing with it. It got bigger and bigger because I wouldn’t deal with it. I didn’t behave like an adult at all. And I hurt your feelings because I didn’t think about what you feel, just about what I did. I didn’t trust you to deal with me sensibly, or fairly, or lovingly. I just thought you would punish me, and I didn’t think that you’ve never punished me when I didn’t deserve it, and you’ve never punished me harder than I could bear. In fact, I didn’t think at all. I just. . . I just didn’t do anything. And James, I can’t bear it. I want you to punish me for what I’ve done wrong, please, because I need to let it go. And because I need to know that you’ve forgiven me for what I’ve done to you.”

I waited. I couldn’t meet his eye, again. I was so ashamed. Presently he came across the kitchen, and once again put his hand under my chin. When my courage allowed me to look up, he was smiling, and his mouth came down on mine so hard that I skidded the chair across the floor and he had to chase me into the sink. He hauled me up off the chair, and kissed me again and again, and then he waltzed us both through the door into the living room, and tripped me up so that we fell onto the sofa in a tangle of arms and legs. Then he kissed me some more. It was very pleasant, and totally bewildering.

“James? I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful, but I don’t understand.”

“Sweetheart, honey, lover, darling, I’m so proud of you. Do you realise you have never done that before? You have never admitted yourself at fault without me calling you on something. You’ve never worked out exactly what went wrong and what you should have done without me leading you through it. And the consequences? I can forgive you for hurting my feelings, because you got there all by yourself, and I can forgive you for not dealing with being unemployed, because you did actually deal with quite a lot of it. You said you cruised for work and went to the job centre. I can cancel you not trusting me against my guilt for not seeing that you were feeling insecure. I’m not going to punish you for any of those things.”

“But I lied. And I deceived you.”

“Those are serious. What shall we do?”

“Lying means the cane. Lying has always meant the cane. It was a big lie. So I suppose it’s a big punishment.”

“How big?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t tell you when it happened, so I suppose I lied by omission, and then you kept asking what was wrong, and I kept saying ‘nothing’, which was a direct lie. And I lied for eighteen days. I knew all that time that if you found out – when you found out – it would mean the cane. I knew that. And I lied anyway. You can’t let it go. I don’t suppose you want to, but I need to be rid of this. I can feel it, James. I have this lump in my throat, and my chest’s tight, and my stomach hurts. It’s guilt. I need to be shot of it.”

“A big lie, and eighteen days’ deception.” His voice was non-judgmental, but I flinched anyway. “That sounds to me like two dozen, Callum.”

It did to me too. Six of the best for the original lie, and interest at one a day. Thank God for simple interest, not compound. “I can’t. . .” My voice broke. “I don’t think I can take two dozen. You’ve  never given me more than six. I can do twelve now and twelve next week.”

“We’ve always said that I don’t punish you unless you agree that you’re due a punishment. But who decides on the severity of the punishment, Callum?”

“You do. Always. If you think I can take two dozen, I’ll try.”

“And no appeal?”

“Not one that I expect to have heard.”

“Who decides?”

“You decide, James.”

“Right. This is your sentence. Lying and deception are serious, and you’re quite right, we cane for them. You’re due two dozen. But I’ll commute it to a spanking – a hard spanking – and twelve, and then you go straight to bed. No supper. No reading in bed. No watching television.”

I looked at the clock. A quarter to seven. A painful evening, followed by a dull evening, and a hungry evening at that. I hadn’t eaten my lunch. And this wasn’t what we did. James spanked me, certainly, and occasionally I went in the corner first if he was really mad, mostly for my own protection, to give him a chance to calm down, but we had never done the sending to bed in disgrace thing. It just didn’t tie in with how we felt about each other: he’s not my boss, nor my parent, he’s my partner, and it’s usually an equal partnership. But this time it felt right.

“No appeal, m’lud.”

“Off you trot. Shower, teeth, get ready for bed. I’m going to prepare my supper. I’ll be up shortly.”

I was trembling by the time I put on my pyjamas, such as they were – cotton boxers – not that I had any great hope of being allowed to retain them. I removed the cane from under the bed. Then I took out the hairbrush, the slipper and the paddle, and laid them on the bed too. James came up. He glanced at the bed, chose the slipper and put the other things away, except the cane. He sat down beside me and slung an arm round me. I leaned to the comforting warmth of him. Then I stood up. “Do it.”

He carefully slid the shorts to my knees. “Take them off, pet.” He lifted the slipper and glanced up at me. I lay down across his lap, and pulled the pillow down to my face. I would need it. The slipper hurts, and don’t let anybody tell you to the contrary.

“Why are we doing this, pet?”

“For lying and deception.”

He had promised me a hard spanking, and that’s precisely what I got. He had never spanked me so hard before. I was crying well before the end, and we had to throw the pillow case away later because I had bitten through it. I tried to keep still, with little success, and I tried not to beg, with limited success: I don’t suppose he could have understood the words, but the tone was unmistakeable. The whole thing was so noisy, with the SLAM, SLAM, SLAM of leather on bare bottom, and my squeals. He spanked me fast, so that I didn’t have a chance to absorb one whack before the next arrived, and so that the burning ache in my backside never had a chance to ebb. But all the time, he talked. He told me how much he loved me, how proud he was of me for identifying the part of my behaviour that was really damaging to our relationship and admitting that I deserved punishment for it. He reminded me that he loved me, and that once I had been punished, this whole sorry affair would be history, not to be discussed again. Had he mentioned that he loved me? Then he gave me six hard whacks on the tops of my thighs.

Eventually he stopped, and rested his hand on my waist. He didn’t attempt to touch my bottom, but his left hand went up to stroke my hair. I lay, limp and helpless, tears still trickling but silent. “Tell me when you’re ready.” He stroked on. It took me six or seven minutes before my apprehension about the cane was outweighed by the need to have it all over. I rose, stiffly. James stood too, and took me briefly in his arms. Then he led me to the corner, and the chair on which his dressing gown lay. He dropped that on the floor, and reversed the chair. “Over you go. Put your forearms on the seat, and your head down. Hold on to the edge. Ready?” I made some faint noise that might have been consent. I wouldn’t ever be ready. He stroked my back, gently, and leaned over me, kissing my shoulder, and then the back of my waist.

SWISH-CRACK. Oh God. I had forgotten how much the cane hurt. Always I forgot from one occasion to the next how much it hurt. I squealed. I gripped the chair, and pressed my face down. Another one. Why had I agreed to this? Could I change my mind? WHACK! No. I couldn’t. At five, I was half way up, sobbing. James caught me. “No, love, not yet. Down.” He didn’t push, he just waited, and unwillingly, I went back down over the chair. “That’s it.”

SWISH-CRACK. “That’s half way, Callum. Half way.” SWISH-CRACK. SWISH-CRACK. I was begging. “Please, James. . . Please.” I didn’t know what I was begging for. I knew he wouldn’t stop. I didn’t really want him to stop. I wanted it to be over: not the same thing. Another slicing stroke. “Three more, pet. Only three. You can do it. You know you can.” Why do they call it a stroke? That sounds kindly and gentle. “Two more. You’re doing well.” My hands tightened on the chair again. “Go on! Go-on-go-on-quick.” He was merciful. The last two came fast, still as hard. He helped me up, turned me to the bed and let me collapse onto it. Then he sat beside me, stroking my hair again, while I gave one whining gasp after another. Presently, my breathing eased, and I could turn my head to look at him.

“Do you want your shorts?” I didn’t. “Up, then and let me get the duvet out from under you. Lie down again. Let me see, pet. Well, you’re going to know all about that for a day or two, but the skin isn’t broken. You did well. I’m going to get my supper. No reading, Callum, no TV. Promise?”

“I don’t think I could, even if I wanted. Jay? I’m sorry.”

“Do you know how I knew you were up to something? You’ve been calling me James. You haven’t called me Jay for weeks.”

“Jay? When you asked what we should do, and I said that lying always got me caned, what would you have done if I’d said I just deserved a spanking?”

“Given you a spanking.”

“Not the cane?”

“Not this time. This time, it wasn’t really to do with how I felt about how you had behaved, was it? It was to do with how you felt about it. I wouldn’t have done anything. To me, it wasn’t part of the way we behave when I spank you for something. I mean, I spank you because you’ve done something that otherwise we would quarrel over, but we all get so tied up with our jobs that losing one can make any of us come off the rails a bit. I wouldn’t have argued with you over that. I would have let it go, but I didn’t get the impression that you wanted me to. I didn’t need to cane you, but you needed to be caned. At least, that’s how I read it. How do you feel now?”

“Sore. Very sore. You’ve never spanked me like that before. And the cane was just. . . But inside? Better. Light headed. Are we. . . are we all right now?”

“We’re fine, Callum. Fine. And I can smell my supper burning.”

He appeared again ten minutes later, with a pizza and a salad on a tray. “Your sentence said you weren’t entitled to supper. This is mine. I’ll share it with you provided you don’t tell anybody. If the court finds out, I’ll get my Top’s licence revoked.” He fed me with his fingers, stopping often to kiss me. The ice cream was shared equally, but I was allowed my own cup of tea, although I had some difficulty sitting up to drink it. Then James took the tray downstairs, and came back up, turning out the lights as he came. He passed through the bathroom, and came to bed.

“Jay? It’s only half past eight.”

“Thank you for the time check. I can go to bed at eight thirty if I feel like it. I want to read my book.”

I lay down again. It was much more tolerable to be sent to bed in disgrace when someone else was in bed too. Presently, James put a hand out to the radio alarm and turned it on. Then he retuned it from his favourite Radio 4 to Radio 5.

“Jay? That’s the football.”

“I believe you’re right.”

“You hate football.”

He closed his book, and glared, unconvincingly, at me.

“Who’s in charge here? You or me? Me. Thank you. May I listen to the football if I want? Thank you, Callum, I may. Now shut up.”

He hates football. He turned it up slightly so that I could hear it. I moved a little closer to him. And a little closer again. He turned a page, and slid a hand over to me. I rested my cheek against it. Later, I kissed his palm. Then I bit his thumb. The football was an international, and reasonably exciting; somebody scored just before half time. I don’t know who it was because I scored myself just afterwards.

Idris the Dragon

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© , 2005