We were very tender with one another for a while.
I don’t just mean physically, although when I looked in the mirror and saw the state my backside was in I understood why the journey back in the car had been such torture, and it came as no surprise when the skin peeled, as after bad sunburn, over the following days.
No, I mean emotionally. We both knew how close we had come to losing everything, and who had saved us. Stupidity, pride; the consequences of our particular scars if you want to be kind – but however you added it up it was a pretty poor set of reasons to throw away love, and that had been what we were on the point of doing. And Piet – well, I can’t find the words to say what I think about Piet.
I suspect he wanted us to blame him for inflicting such pain, and turn to each other – I think I’m starting to get glimpses into his head, the way mine is an open book to him, and I’m pretty sure that was what he had in mind. If so, it didn’t work. It hurt – God yes, it hurt, and I hope never to have another spanking like it. But it was the pain of the surgeon’s knife, healing, not harming, and we both knew it. He cut through the scar tissue that was hiding our love for one another, and we saw that it had been there all along.
So we hugged a lot, and found reasons to touch constantly. Seeking reassurance from each other’s presence as much as anything. And eventually we were sufficiently unsore to do more than hug and kiss and stroke. It was very slow and hesitant at first, because we were both so afraid of hurting one another any more, until our bodies (which knew better) took over, and it degenerated into a sweaty and explosive wrestling match. I cried afterwards, I’m not sure why, relief I think, and once he realised that he hadn’t hurt or upset me he just held me and kissed my tears away, and then in a bit we did it all over again.
And a week later I had a short and unpleasant interview with Jim, in which it was made quite clear to me just how upset he was that I had got myself into such a state and not come to him to sort it out, and for a day after that I was too sore to make love again, the lingering effects from Piet’s – well, calling it a spanking is a bit like calling the atom bomb a banger, but let’s say Piet’s attentions – having been reawakened by my uncle’s precise and stinging cane strokes, not to mention his precise and stinging comments.
Apart from that though, there was no more spanking.
I thought at first it wasn’t a problem. Well, to tell you the truth, at first it wasn’t a problem. As I say we were both too busy reassuring one another to want to go there, or even to do anything that might warrant it.
No, it was when normality descended again, when things were back on an even keel that I started to feel a bit nostalgic for it. Well, OK, let’s agree that we’re both hopeless perverts, but it had been a big part of our life. He would say something teasing, and I’d feel my hand coming round automatically to tap his backside, and then stop, suddenly, in a rush of guilt. Not allowed. And once or twice I saw him look thoughtfully at the cupboard where the implements were kept, then shrug, turn back to me, and make a reasoned argument as to why what I had just said was a complete no-no.
It did us good, I know it did, being forced to talk things through. It’s a bit too easy, in a long-standing relationship that involves these things, to use them as a substitute for talking. I reckoned that was a big part of where we’d gone wrong. So, yes, it was helping, but it wasn’t easy. And of course, we had the option of going to Piet and saying: well, he did this and this, and waiting for judgement, but we could hardly do that every day. We already owed Piet so much, it wasn’t fair to dump every little thing on him, nor to make him an excuse not to take responsibility for our own lives, and so of course by the time we did get to see him we had usually forgotten the proximate causes of offence anyway.
So one day, after we’d both got a bit heated in debate – I don’t actually remember what it was about now, probably about something to do with cleaning the bathroom – Hansie came up with the idea of the book.
Ja wel, it was cleaning the kitchen as it happens, and it did not seem such a strange idea to me. As a child I was assured that if I died the Recording Angel would have just such a book, with my misdeeds all neatly written out, so that my punishments in Hell could be duly awarded. And I hope never to meet anything so like to the fires of Hell as what Piet did to me, to both of us, that last time. Here God but that hurt. I deserved it, I do not say otherwise, but I would rather not deserve anything like it again anytime soon.
But, like Tim I missed the play a bit. It had been part of our relationship from the very start, and its absence felt odd, like a missing tooth, or a familiar piece of furniture gone. Of course, Piet had not told us to stop permanently, just that we must do it under supervision until he judged us safe to play ourselves. I admit that for a horrible moment I had thought that Tim could not bring himself to agree. He is so spikily unwilling to let people do things for him, even though he is so often the first to do things for others. It warmed my heart – warms it still – that he was willing to do that for me. For us. That was when I knew, whatever happened, we would be OK.
So when the idea came into my head, it seemed a good one.
“A punishment book? You mean like ‘Creed, TJ. Talking after lights out. 6 strokes’? Like in the old schools?”
“Ja, my liefie, more or less. Maybe points rather than strokes. We can have a list of points for various offences, and then Piet can decide what the total merits when we see him. Then you will not conveniently forget that you have not tidied the kitchen three nights in a row.”
“Oh, ha ha. Or that you were playing with the remote and changing channels while I was trying to watch that detective thing the other night.”
Ah. Was this such a good idea? “Ja,” I conceded magnanimously. “Guilty of saving you from rotting your brains watching rubbish. Just such things.” I felt safe enough, you see, to make such jokes again.
He grinned and threw a cushion at me. “When do we start?”
“Now. Creed, TJ, not cleaning the kitchen after his partner has struggled to feed him, 6 points.”
He stuck his tongue out. He had been so much more like his old self this past two weeks, like the Tim I had fallen for so hard and so quickly. Boyish, sweet natured, polite. Easy to get along with, you would think. It generally took a closer acquaintance to learn that he had a core of steel that refused to be pushed a single centimetre further than he wished to go.
“Ok, I’m going, I’m going. Just remember that it’s your turn to clean up tomorrow.”
“Nee, my liefie,” I said smugly. “We are going round to Fran’s tomorrow, remember, and we said we would take her to that new Thai place in town.”
“Oh, so we did. Did you wrap the shirt in the end?”
“Ja. I do not think it will crease, the material is heavy, and the present will look better so, will it not?”
“Yes, yes it will.”
“And those cufflinks you bought – that was a kind thought, my liefie. After all, it was me that she took in.”
“They seemed appropriate, those silver hands ready to smack, or soothe. And I owe her too. She gave you a refuge when you needed one. I would be grateful for that even if I didn’t like her anyway.”
“I thought you said she was scary?”
“She is. That doesn’t stop me liking her. Well, admiring, maybe. No, like. I do like her. I mean, Piet is scary, and he – well, it doesn’t change what I feel for him. What we feel for him, does it?”
“No. No. Piet is – someone special. A – how do you say it? A one-off.”
“I know. I know. And we’ll never be able to repay him. That’s – just something we have to accept. I have to accept. I know that.”
“Nee. But still, it would be nice to do some small thing for him, would it not, liefling?”
“Yes. Do you have something in mind?”
I made a non-committal gesture. “Perhaps. I do not know, perhaps I overestimate. . . but still, it has seemed to give pleasure before. You told me once that you enjoyed working in wood?”
“Yes. I haven’t done any for ages, but I used to quite enjoy it. It was quite soothing to do something that had nothing to do with intellect.”
“Ja wel. And you learned to make frames, frames for pictures?”
“Y-yes, I did a weekend workshop once. I framed that set of paintings you like on Mary’s wall. Why? Where is all this going, Hansie?”
“You know that Phil is the true love of Piet’s life. This is obvious, every move, every word they speak together, even the way they stand in each other’s presence shouts it. I want to give Piet Phil.”
“Now you’ve lost me completely.”
“I thought I might take one of Fran’s pictures of Phil and turn it into a painting. And then you could frame it. And we could give it to Piet, to say, in a small way, thank you. It would be a thing we had made ourselves, you see, not just a thing bought. To express a little of what we feel. . .” My voice trailed away as he stared at me open-mouthed. “Ach, no, stupid idea Hansie. I should not have mentioned it.”
“It’s not a stupid idea. It’s a wonderful idea. And you would do that for them, pick up your paints and pencils again? Sometimes you amaze me, even still. Hansie van den Broek, you have no idea how much I love you.”
I shrugged, then could not help a sly grin. “You could, maybe, demonstrate a little?”
He twined himself around me, and gave me a lingering kiss, before breaking off to ask, eyes alight with mischief: “Do I get erased from the punishment book if I do?”
“Ach no, it is not so easy. But you may gain a little credit for the next time.”
“Tease. What about if I do – this? And – mmm – this?”
“Oh, Tim. Oh, Tim! Do that some more and we’ll see. . .ohhh!”
We had kept the book for three weeks before a serious crisis arose. Hansie cleaned the kitchen.
I don’t mean just tidying and wiping. I mean serious, cupboard-emptying, shelf-lining, reorganising type cleaning. Now, all right, some of the cupboards did have some things stuck at the back that probably did need a bit of sorting, so I was not exactly ecstatic, but OK with it. Until:
“Ja, my skat?”
“Where did you put the confounded smoked chilli powder? And the oregano?”
“These were where?”
“In the cupboard where I keep the spices, in a tin marked ‘Smoked Paprika (Hot)’ and a packet with Greek writing on it. And now I come to look, where’s the tin I kept the big packets of ground coriander and cumin and other curry spices in?”
“Tim, do you know how old some of those packets were? They were long past their best.”
“You’ve thrown them out, haven’t you?”
“But the dates. . .”
“Hansie! I am in the middle of cooking and half the things I need for tonight’s dinner aren’t here.”
“They were past their sell-by dates.” He was retreating into stubbornness, and I could tell from the quizzical expression on his face that he thought I was overreacting. Overreacting! I investigated further, only to find things worse and worse.
“And my Chinese rice paper, and the bean curd skins. And the glass noodles! I went all the way to London for some of those. van den Broek, I am going to kill you!”
“I do not wish to be poisoned by out-of-date food, Tim.”
“And have I given you food poisoning yet? Hansie, leaving aside the issue of dates – and some of those packets had been refilled, so the dates weren’t necessarily reliable – I need to know what’s in the cupboards. Not have the equivalent of a lottery every time I open the larder door. What have I always told you? If you use the last of something, put it on the notepad by the fridge!”
“Ah. I suppose.”
“You damn well suppose.” I strode out of the kitchen and picked up the phone. “Hallo, Piet?”
“So,” said Pieter de Vries, consideringly. “You have a problem.”
“And you think that it is one that requires discipline.”
Hansie grinned wryly. “Tim is very annoyed.”
Piet frowned. “And what did we say about never topping when you are angry?”
“I’m not angry. I am annoyed. Annoyed enough that I think this needs sorting out now rather than just going in the book.”
“I’m sorry. We’ve been keeping a punishment book, recording the things that we would have given a spanking for, before.”
“Ah. It is a good idea. Did you bring this book?”
“Ja.” said Hansie, with a sheepish grin as Piet and I stared at him. “I thought, if we are to have this meeting anyway. . .”
Oh. I wasn’t so sure I was so keen on that.
“Please show me.” Hansie handed it over to him, and he flicked through.
“So. Tim has – ah, twenty four points, and Hansie has nineteen.”
“Nineteen plus today’s episode. I’d have given him 24 points for that alone.”
“Ach, Tim, that is a little excessive, surely,” said Piet, raising his eyebrows.
“Excessive?” I was flabbergasted for a moment. Then I thought he was teasing me, but I could see no sign of it. No, he really couldn’t see it.
“Piet, could you ask Phil in for a moment? Maybe he can explain.” We were in Piet’s study, and Phil was keeping discreetly out of the way.
“If you wish.” He rose and went to the door. “Koekie, could you join us for a moment?”
Phil came in, looking a bit apprehensive.
“Phil, I need you to explain to Piet why this is important.”
“Why what’s important?”
“Well, what would you say if Piet went through the cupboards and threw out half your spices and stores, and then didn’t tell you? So that the first you knew about it was when you were half way through cooking, and what you wanted wasn’t there?”
He looked at me, amazed. “Hansie did that?”
“Yes. And Piet thinks I’m overreacting.”
Phil eyed his lover.
“Let me put it this way, Piet. If you ever do that, be prepared to forget all your notions about who is the Top around here, because you’ll find yourself bent over the kitchen table, and acquainting yourself with the other uses of a wooden spoon.”
Piet blinked in amazement at Phil’s vehemence.
“It is so bad?”
“Piet – it’s like, like – imagine if you had picked a team for a game, trained them, worked out your manoeuvres, and then they weren’t available to play because the club had agreed to free them for a charity match somewhere and hadn’t told you? Does that convey the idea? You need to know what resources you have available. And to be told when they aren’t.”
“I see. I have obviously misunderstood the seriousness of the offence. My apologies, Tim.”
“Is that it?” asked Phil.
“Yes, thank you, koekie.” Phil smiled, and patted my shoulder on the way out, carefully closing the study door behind him with the air of a man who expected yells to be coming through it in the near future.
“So.” Piet shifted abruptly and scarily into his most severe aspect, the one that Phil calls Alpha Top, and I think of privately as the Hanging Judge. “Well, you have done what I asked of you so far, and now it falls to me to decide what shall happen to you. I am pleased with the idea of the book. It is sensible, and makes me think there is hope for you. However, I am not convinced that you are ready for the privilege of punishing each other.”
I didn’t know what to think of that.
“Still, I am prepared to allow you some – leeway.” He opened the drawer of his desk, took out a leather paddle. I recognised it. Phil had used it on me, once. And so had Piet. I hadn’t enjoyed the process either time.
“You will give each other twelve strokes each with the paddle. Then I shall punish you – a further twelve for Tim, and seven for Hansie, one stroke for each of the points recorded in this book. And then I shall spank Hansie for what he has done to your kitchen. And that will be it, over. Are you agreed?”
When I came storming over, I didn’t expect to find my own backside on the line, but under the circumstances I could hardly object. Hansie was wincing, obviously remembering the last spanking he had had from Piet in here.
I looked at Hansie, and he at me, before turning back to Piet. “Yes, sir,” we chorused, like two naughty schoolboys up before the beak.
“Good. Tim, you shall spank Hansie first. Hansie, prepare yourself and bend over the desk.”
My lover gave me a rueful glance, then dropped his trousers and his underwear and positioned himself over the desk. The marks from the hiding we’d both had a month ago had finally gone. He does have a gorgeous arse, he really does. . .
“Tim!” snapped Piet. “Stop dreaming and get on with it please.”
“Yes sir, sorry sir.” I picked up the paddle and positioned myself, drew aim, and brought it down smartly. Well, OK, not as smartly as I might have done. I suppose there was a certain lingering hesitation.
“Not hard enough,” said Piet. “It will not count. Again.”
I brought the paddle down again, saw the red blossom on Hansie’s fair skin, heard a faint intake of breath.
“Better,” grunted Piet. I was piqued enough, and concerned enough, to make sure that all the rest were crisp and firm enough to produce faint but increasing sounds of protest.
“Good. Now I shall apply the remaining seven.” Piet got up, took the paddle from me and motioned to me. “Tim, you will stand there, and you will count the remaining blows for him, you understand?”
“Yes sir.” The paddle swooped stingingly down, and Hansie gasped.
“One, sir.” And two, three, all the way up to the seventh. Hansie’s bottom was blazing red now, more or less all over.
“Hansie, stand up. No, do not pull up your underclothes. Stand over there. Tim, please drop your underwear and bend over.”
Oh boy, show time. I unbuckled my belt, and slipped down my jeans and underwear, then bent over the reassuring solidity of Piet’s desk.
“Hansie, you know what to do. Twelve.”
“Ja, meneer.” I heard him shuffle forward awkwardly, hampered by the trousers and underwear around his knees. Then – ow! I was right, that leather paddle was – ow! – horrible.
Twelve strokes later my bottom was scorched and stinging, and I heard Piet say:
“Very well, and now twelve from me. Hansie, count please. Tim, stop twitching, or I shall add something on account.”
Aaaahh! No, I hate leather paddles, don’t let anyone ever persuade you to get one, they are Evil. It bit and stung, and I’m sure that Hansie counted some numbers twice, it couldn’t be only – owooh! ten, could it? Eleven. OUCH! Twelve.
“Tim, you will go and stand in the corner, facing the mirror. No, you may not” – this was accompanied by a fierce swat to my already sore behind – “rub your bottom, or I shall give you a repeat, do you understand? Hands on head, please.”
“Yes sir, sorry sir.” I shuffled over, conscious of the stinging in my backside. He had chosen the position carefully, of course, because in the mirror I could see my lover being draped across Piet’s long and well muscled legs. One huge hand rested on his now very red bum.
“So, Hansie, you have behaved badly. You have made decisions that you failed to communicate to your partner. Did we not agree that your problems arose from not communicating? How can you, who were so angry with Tim for not telling you his problems, then make decisions that affect him, even minor domestic ones, and fail to let him know?”
Ouch, Piet, that’s a bit harsh. But then I saw Hansie, who had been inclined to treat this as a bit of a giggle, suddenly stiffen. Well, that got your attention, I thought.
“So, you have acted wrongly. Do you understand?”
“Ja, meneer.” Plaintive, faint.
“Good. Then I shall punish you for it, and then you will be forgiven, and it will be over. Do we understand one another?”
“Ja, meneer,” said Hansie again. But it wasn’t Hansie that Piet was looking at. It was me. In the mirror, those hawk eyes held mine for a moment. Yes, sir, I mouthed, and he nodded, apparently satisfied.
It wasn’t a long spanking. But it was clearly effective, judging by Hansie’s reaction.
“So,” said Piet at last, releasing him. “Are the accounts done?”
“Yes,” we agreed. “Oh yes.”
“Good, then you may hug each other to show that you forgive. As for this,” he took the book, and picking up a pen, neatly crossed through all the entries. Then he wrote at the bottom: Paid in Full.
I put my arms around my boyfriend. “I’m sorry, Timmy,” he said. “I should have told you.”
“No, I’m sorry. But it’s all done now, sweetheart. All done now.”
“And do I,” asked Piet a little plaintively, “not get my thanks?”
“Hansie, did you. . ?”
“Ja, my liefie. Piet, excuse me.” And pulling up his trousers, he scurried out of the room, leaving a bemused, and slightly disappointed looking Piet behind him. I adjusted my own dress, thankful it was over.
“Um – Hansie will explain, Piet. In the meantime. . .” I stepped forward and threw my arms around him, just as Phil poked his head round the door.
“Is everything all right?” he asked, “only I saw Hansie run out into the street. . .the pair of you are at it again. Honestly, I can’t leave you alone for a moment. No wonder Hansie ran away.”
“Oh, he’ll be back,” I said, laughing at him from the security of Piet’s hug.
“Who’ll be back?” asked Hansie, struggling past Phil with something large wrapped in brown paper.
“You.” I disengaged myself gently from Piet, and went to stand with Hansie.
“Will you say it or shall I?”
“You are better with words, my liefie.”
“Not ones like this. But OK. Piet – when we made such a balls-up of things, you were there for us. You’re always there, for all of us, and Hansie and I – well we wanted to do something to express a little bit of the gratitude we felt.”
At my prompting, Hansie handed the parcel over to him. Piet – I might have known it – opens parcels carefully, methodically, and neatly. He did snip the string with scissors, it’s true, but he took his time peeling off the sellotape from the brown paper, which I’m fairly certain was deliberate teasing to prolong the agony.
“Come on, Piet, I want to see what’s inside!” said Phil.
“Patience, koekie,” rumbled Piet, “and you will. . .” and he stopped, as the paper came off and revealed the contents.
It had been a good photograph. Phil, shirtless, half turned away to look through the window, the morning light softened and filtered by the net curtains but still bringing out golden highlights in Phil’s hair, turning the ripples of his musculature into a study in planes and hollows, shading and tone. When we’d told Fran what we wanted to do she went straight to her portfolio and pulled it out. “That one,” she’d said. “It’s technically OK as a photograph, but it doesn’t work the way I wanted. Doesn’t catch the character, somehow. Add the character into your painting, Hansie, and it will work.”
She had been right, and he had. Not without a great deal of swearing, and at least 5 drafts, not to mention a last minute panic about it not being good enough before we came out today, but he had caught – something. Humour. A feline grace. A certain gentleness, the gentleness of great strength. It was Phil; more, it was all Phil’s best qualities. I hadn’t realised before, quite how good Hansie was. He’d said that he wasn’t that great an artist, and I’d taken the statement at face value, forgetting that Hansie had never learned to value anything he did. I mean, I’m not saying it was a work of genius, and I know he had the advantage of knowing the subject intimately, but nonetheless: it was good. And Piet’s face – Piet’s silence – told its own story.
“Hansie. . .” he cleared his throat and had to start again. “Hansie, this is truly wonderful.”
“Let me see, let me see,” said Phil, leaning over to catch a glimpse. “It’s – oh. It’s me.”
“Yes, my beautiful love. You. I do not know what more to say. I am – this is generosity beyond my – I truly do not know what to say. Beyond: thank you.”
“This frame is beautiful too, what’s the stuff with all the grain?” asked Phil, running a finger over it.
“Cape olive,” I said. “And I'm afraid it's only veneer. I couldn’t get enough Cape olive for making a frame, so I made one in cherrywood and inset the strips of Cape olive. I thought it was quite appropriate really – part South African wood, part English.”
“You too Tim? You made this frame? I am overwhelmed.” He set the painting down on his desk as carefully as if it were made of gossamer.
“I can’t believe – do I really look like that to you?” murmured an awed Phil.
“Ach yes, koekie. All that and more. Hansie has a true eye.” said Piet gravely.
I heard Hansie swallow. He had gone a bit misty eyed. Me, I was already welling up. He took my hand and squeezed it.
“Yes,” I agreed. “A true eye. And he has a true heart. But most of all – he, I, both of us – have true friends. You gave us our love back, Piet. We wanted to give you yours all over again.”
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