If you look through the narratives that we tend to put about, you’ll find that in a lot of cases, the original spark to the argument is somebody not liking somebody else’s friend. This case is no exception. I didn’t, I don’t like Mark. He and Dan go back a long way: they were at school together aged five and all years subsequently. I think he’s a weasel. He thinks I’m a pretentious know-all. Each of us has told the other so. And so Dan and I were quarrelling about him again.
We had quarrelled in undertones in the bar, we had quarrelled in louder tones in the car park, and we had finished with the full orchestral version in the car on the way home. And I was losing again. I almost always lose. I don’t know why. I’m a philosophy lecturer, for pity’s sake: argument is what I do for a living.
By the time we got home, I was too exhausted to go on. Dan laid down the law. “When we go inside, Steven, you will go to the dining room, where you will write a full letter of apology to Mark. You will leave it for me to read. When you have finished, you will go upstairs, where you will collect the cane, leave it on the bed, and you will face the bedroom wall until I come up. I shall give you ten strokes with it. Is that clear?”
What was clear was that I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I went obediently to the dining room, took paper and pen and sat down to write. Dan turned on the television and found some football.
When you start to read this it will become obvious to you that I have no intention of apologising to Mark, or, this time, of obeying you.
I’m leaving. Once I have written this, I shall go upstairs. You always wait at least twenty minutes before following me, so I shall have more than enough time to pack a bag for the rest of the weekend. I shall go to an hotel.
Dan, I love you. I love you more than anything. But I don’t think you love me any more. I’m just not sure that you’ve noticed.
This thing with Mark is the end. I know he’s your friend. You know that I don’t like him. I have never tried to stop you seeing him: your loyalty to him is, no doubt, a fine thing. He hates me, and every time we meet, we end up sniping at each other. I accept that the first time it happened, it may have been my fault; you certainly thought so, and you punished me for it. But now, you insist that I go with you to the football club, where I am guaranteed to meet him. Every time we meet, we fight, and every time, you punish me. Perhaps you’re right and I should be able to control my temper better. You think I am being adolescent about this, and that may be true. But when I tried to avoid meeting him, you punished me for that too. I don’t want to go to the football club now. I like your other friends, but Mark outweighs them. I asked not to go, and you insisted, and when I argued, you spanked me. He poured his drink over me, and you said it was my fault, and you spanked me. He stubbed out his cigarette on my sleeve, and when I complained, you strapped me. Every time we meet, he insults me and if I respond, you cane me.
Your loyalty to him is obvious. I just don’t feel that you have any loyalty to me any more. You complain that I’m being childish, but you don’t allow me to be anything else. If I don’t do what you want, you spank me. If I contradict you, you spank me. If I’m not absolutely, unquestioningly obedient, you spank me. I’m not allowed to be angry: you beat me for it. You never spank me for fun any more, you only beat me. We don’t even make love afterwards. Sometimes we screw.
Some of it is my fault. I know you didn’t want to spank me at first. I talked you into it, and I feel ungrateful now that I’m complaining about you doing it. But I’m unhappy, and I don’t believe you are happy, and I’m going while I still can.
I’ll take a few days off work. I’ll come on Monday when you’re at work and take enough of my stuff for a week or two. I’ll see the letting agent and give them the three month’s notice. I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone else to share before the rent that I’ve paid runs out.
Dan, I’m sorry that this is the end. But I’ve been caned three times in fifteen days on Mark’s account, and I won’t be caned again for him. This time, I’m not sorry, I’m angry. I’m so angry that I feel sick, and you won’t acknowledge it. Or maybe you can’t. So I’m going.
I heard Steve go upstairs, and I waited another twenty minutes. I had the football on, and I suppose that’s why I didn’t hear the door, or the car. After twenty minutes, I went into the dining room and picked up the letter. There was a good deal more of it than I had expected, and I was more than half way through it before I grasped what it meant.
I can’t begin to explain to you how shocked I was. Leave me? How could he? He couldn’t! And not over something as trivial as Mark. I sat and waited for an hour before I began to believe that he was serious and not just sulking in a car park somewhere. Then I rang his mobile, but of course it was turned off. I looked in the phone book, but there are hundreds of hotels and I couldn’t hazard a guess about where he might have gone.
I didn’t go to bed that night. I sat up and waited, and I read and re-read the letter. I raged at him, and promised him a hiding of mammoth proportions when he came home, and then I wept and promised anything if he would come home, and then I sat in cold despair at the fear that he wouldn’t come home, and then I did it all again. On about the fifth reading, I began to wonder why I was so sure that my opinion about Mark was right and Steve’s was wrong. Certainly Mark rubbed Steve up the wrong way, but I hadn’t thought that it was deliberate. Why hadn’t I thought so?
I felt a cold trickle of fear that I had misjudged the whole tenor of our relationship. I had to admit that it was true that I didn’t like Steve being angry, and I punished him when he lost his temper. But was it true that I didn’t let him have justifiable anger? No! Or. . . maybe?
By the morning, I was in full despair mode. When the doorbell rang, I was so convinced that it would be Steve home, that it didn’t occur to me that he wouldn’t ring, he would just come in. So I shot to meet him, threw the door open, looked into the faces of James and Callum, and burst into tears.
It plainly wasn’t the response they had been expecting.
“Good heavens, Dan, what’s the matter?” James asked, hustling me inside.
“Steve’s left me!” I wailed.
James patted me awkwardly on the shoulder. “What happened?” he asked feebly. “Can we help?”
Callum was more robust. “For goodness sake, Jay, he doesn’t need your David Niven impression. Help the man!”
It’s not James’ style. He patted me again. Callum snorted, pushed him aside, and gathered me into his arms. He hugged me, and held me solidly until I had recovered myself a bit, and then he led me into the living room and sat down beside me, still with one arm round me. “Jay, make some coffee, and let’s hear about this. Dan, have you got any brandy, or something? Put a shot in your coffee. Go on, Jay, don’t just stand there. Dan, don’t talk. Wait till Jay comes back. There, pet, it’ll be all right. . .”
He hugged me, and murmured reassurances, and rocked me warmly until James came back with coffee. Then he put a huge wallop of brandy in mine, and wrapped my hands round the mug and steadied me until some of it had gone in. “Now, tell Uncle James and Uncle Callum all about it.”
I pointed to the letter on the sofa, and they went and read it together. I was well down my coffee before it occurred to me that I shouldn’t have let them.
“James, I can’t. . . James, you won’t tell anybody about. . .”
I was panting with dismay. Callum grinned at me. “Don’t worry, mate. James won’t tell anybody, because he’s known you for years and you’re his friend. And I won’t tell anybody, because James will have the arse off me with his belt if I do.”
My mouth fell open. Callum? James spanks Callum? The other way round, yes, but James spanks Callum?
James was looking disapproving. “Dan, are you seriously telling me that you’ve let Steve leave you over Mark?”
“I haven’t let him anything! He’s just gone. And of course I don’t want him to go over Mark! If Mark bothers him that badly, we needn’t see him, but I didn’t know it was a problem!”
“Sounds as if you weren’t listening,” observed Callum.
“Shut up, Callum,” said James.
“No, let him, James,” I said miserably. “I’ve screwed this up so badly that I’m going to need all the help I can get. Steve certainly thinks I wasn’t listening. If he’s so unhappy, and I hadn’t noticed, I can’t have been listening. What am I going to do?”
“Get rid of that little shit Mark, for a start,” suggested Callum. “Sorry, guys, but I’m with Steve on this one. Mark is a waste of surplus oxygen. I can’t believe you punished Steve for the rows with Mark. We were there, and I’m telling you, Dan, Mark set him up every time. I just don’t believe you didn’t see it. Mark is hellishly jealous of Steve, and it comes out as inverse snobbery. All that sniping because Steve likes ballet, and cricket, and speaks proper English. And Steve comes out to the football club with you, and manages to make himself agreeable to everybody, and you don’t see when Mark’s gunning for him. You don’t deserve to keep him.”
That hurt. I’ve never rated Callum, not since James produced him first. It wasn’t pleasant to find that Callum plainly didn’t rate me much either, specially when he had been kind and comforting. He was clearly a much nicer person than I was. And much brighter than I had been giving him credit for.
“What shall I do?” I asked humbly.
James silenced Callum with a look. “Wait for Steve to come back tomorrow for his stuff. Talk to him. I’m afraid Callum’s right about Mark. I hadn’t realised you didn’t know. Talk to Steve. Listen to him.”
“Grovel,” suggested Callum, irrepressibly. “Grovelling is good. I think you may need to do quite a lot. Meantime, try washing your face and shaving. You look dreadful. A clean shirt would help, too. And have you eaten anything today? No? Stupid. What have you got?”
He wandered off into the kitchen, while I wailed a bit more at James, and came back with a plate of toast. “Put that into you.”
“Callum, I don’t think I can.”
“Do as you’re bloody told!”
“But I really don’t want it!”
“Mate, it sounds to me as if this house has had a deal too much of what you want, and not nearly enough of what anybody else wants. Just eat it. You won’t help yourself if Steve comes in and you faint at his feet.”
It was easier, in the end, to eat it. Besides, that sounded like another Callum home truth. Or two.
Callum picked up the letter again to re-read it. “Three canings in fifteen days, Dan? Sounds a bit heavy. What was it, three successive Saturday nights? I don’t think I could take that. Are you heavy handed? How many did you give him?”
“Six, and six and eight. It would have been ten last night.”
They both stared at me, open mouthed. Then they exchanged glances. James enquired, very delicately, “Have you ever been caned yourself?”
The crossed glance again. “Mmm,” said James, non-committally. “That might be a mistake. Unless that’s what Steve likes?”
“He hates the cane,” I admitted. “Is it too much?”
“I think,” said James gently, “you should be very wary of giving Steve more than you would be prepared to take yourself. If the pair of you don’t play for both teams, then you need to be terribly careful not to overdo it.”
They had to go, eventually, and as I saw them out, Callum turned back to give me another huge hug. “Grovel very abjectly. Sometimes it works.”
“Callum, I think I probably ought to grovel to you too. I. . . um. . . don’t think I really know you as well as I ought.”
He laughed. “You thought I was Jay’s bit of rough, because he’s a university graduate and I left school at sixteen.”
“I. . . Yes.”
“Whereas in point of fact, he’s mine. He’s dead strict, too, and he wields a mean hairbrush. And if I don’t get a move on, he’ll be wielding it tonight. Remember, big grovel. It’ll be fine.”
I had to sit and wait and think. I wandered about the house like a particularly ineffective ghost, picking up and putting down Steve’s belongings, and suffering horrors of guilt. I went upstairs for a clean handkerchief, and found the tub of cold cream at the very bottom of my drawer, and cried again. If the tub was so far down, how long had it been since I had comforted Steve with cold cream on a sore bottom?
I went to bed early, and rather to my surprise fell asleep at once. But I woke at six, with my plan fully formed in my head. It was an all or nothing thing.
I went back to the house at ten. I hoped Dan would have gone to work, but the car was there. I sat outside for ten minutes working up the nerve to face him. It would have to be done. But this time I would keep my temper. I was angry, and I had the right to be angry, but I would have my anger under control.
I went in. I didn’t ring the bell. This was still my house too.
He was waiting in the hall. He looked awful. The usual point-de-vice outfit was missing and instead he was wearing a pair of my joggers and a T shirt. Bare feet. We stared at each other for a moment.
“Steve, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I don’t know how to make you understand how sorry I am.”
“It’s too late for sorry.”
“Is it? Can’t I make it up to you? Won’t you let me try? I do love you, honestly I do, and I want to make you happy. I can if you’ll let me.”
“I don’t think so.”
I pushed past him, still pregnant with anger. I could feel it like a growth in my chest and abdomen. I went upstairs to fetch my belongings and he trailed after me like a puppy. I stepped into the bedroom, and came up short. Everything was laid out on the bed: the slipper, the hairbrush, the paddle, the strap, the riding crop, the cane. I turned on him.
“Have you understood nothing? This isn’t a tiff that can be resolved this way. I’m not going to be beaten because your little bastard of a friend doesn’t like me! Not any more!”
“No,” he agreed soberly. “You’re not. It wasn’t your fault, and you tried to tell me so, and I didn’t listen. So I’m at fault, and I need to pay for it. Steve, will you give me the punishment I deserve?”
Now that I hadn’t expected. Dan who didn’t even want the lightest of fun spanks? I just gazed at him, and he got redder and redder, and then suddenly, he peeled off the joggers. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath.
“No. I can’t do that. I’m too angry with you to be safe.”
“Then I go in the corner until you’re calm. I know the rules. I just haven’t kept to them. I know I’ve hit you in anger when I shouldn’t have done. I used to send you to the wall until I was calm enough to be fair, and I don’t do it any more. I already know I’ve been doing it wrong. Even if I didn’t know myself, James and Callum told me.”
“You’ve been discussing me with James and Callum? How dare you?”
“They came yesterday. I thought it was you coming back, and they saw how upset I was. They helped me. You needn’t worry. They were both wholly on your side, and they thought I was a total bastard. They didn’t hesitate to say so, either. Callum thinks I’m a complete liability with a cane.”
“Dear heaven. Did you tell them everything?”
“They saw the letter. Oh, they won’t talk. They do it too. James spanks Callum. But they despise me for not knowing what I’m doing to you.”
He had it back to front about James spanking Callum, surely. I hesitated. I really wanted to hurt him, as badly as he had been hurting me. But he was standing there in only his shirt, and that had cost him something. He’s very prickly in his dignity. Not quite vain, but not far off.
“Face the wall.”
I saw the relief run through him. For a moment, I thought his legs wouldn’t hold him. But he recovered and turned away from me. He rested his head against the wallpaper and I saw a great sigh work his shoulders.
“Are you afraid of me, Dan?”
“You’ve never let me spank you. Are you afraid of the things on the bed?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What scares you most? Truthfully?”
“I’m scared of them all. I’ve never been spanked, even, never mind. . . never mind caned or strapped.”
“I’m going to use them all. One after the other.”
He shuddered. He was afraid, whatever he said.
“I’m going to hurt you more than you would have believed possible.”
“No. You already did that when you left. You can’t hurt me physically more than that. I love you, and I trust you enough that I believe you won’t hurt me more than I can bear. I trust you more than you’ve been able to trust me recently.”
“Be quiet, then.”
I left him there for half an hour. I lay on the bed and read a book. Well, looked at a book. I turned the pages occasionally, for effect, but I couldn’t tell you if it were Jane Austen or James Bond. I’m well aware of the effect of that silence. I’ve felt it myself often enough.
“May I go to the bathroom, please?”
He came back to his place. I gave him another ten minutes.
“Come here. Tell me why you’re going to be punished.”
“Because I’ve been taking you for granted. Because I haven’t been listening to you. Because I’ve been selfish about always getting my own way. Because I’ve been a bully. Because you have the right to be angry too, specially with me. Because I’m ashamed of myself, and I love you, and I hope that afterwards you’ll forgive me.”
He didn’t make any difficulty about going over my lap. I sat well back on the bed.
“The only reason I’m letting you have the support under your chest is that you’ll be here a long time, and I don’t want you choking.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He was pink already. He was blushing. And he was trembling.
“Is that cold or fear?”
“Fear. I don’t want to let you down.”
I started. He lay still enough for a moment or two, although the muscles in his shoulders jerked. I don’t know what he had expected, or whether his expectations were met, but I spanked steadily round his bottom, left, right, left, right. I used all the experience he had given me: I knew precisely what hurt most, what regions were most sensitive. I smacked the tops of his thighs and the lower slopes of his bum most comprehensively. He was beginning to whimper and squirm, not to get free, but to find a less painful spot to present to me. I knew what he was doing. I had done it myself often enough. And as he had always done, I ignored his wriggling and placed my palm exactly where I wanted, which was exactly where he didn’t want. He had learned his craft exclusively on me, and I taught it back to him.
I went on and on. His bottom reddened, and darkened. He’s paler than me, and he would bruise more easily. And of course, he hadn’t my experience. He was crying now, trying to swallow the sound, biting the pillow which he had pulled to his face, and bucking on my lap. I could see him try to control that; he would force himself to lie still for three or four, and then I would place a spiteful whack on a particularly red spot, and he would leap and lunge. I didn’t speak. I was drawing entirely on my own experience here; I find it much easier to accept a punishment if my punisher speaks, even if it’s only to scold. It makes it more human.
At last I stopped, fighting the temptation to pet and comfort him. I felt for him, but the cancer of anger was still there in my chest. It was smaller, though.
“Get up. Round to the end of the bed. Take the pillow. Put it on the rail. Bend over.”
We had chosen the bed together, with a lot of surreptitious bending and giggling when the salesman wasn’t looking. It has a sturdy footrail, designed for me to bend over. Dan is shorter than me, and he couldn’t get his head down. I thought for a moment, and then pulled the stool out from the dressing table. “Move. Now kneel on that. Head down. Arse up. This is the slipper. This is what it feels like.”
It felt like the end of the world. The spanking had been horrible. I hadn’t realised it hurt so much! And he was so angry: I could feel his rage in the set of his thighs under me, in the palm of his hand on the small of my back, stopping me squirming. He gave me a dozen with the slipper, and I wept dismally.
“This is the hairbrush.”
Each whack with that brought a howl from me. Ten. I would have to get up. I couldn’t bear it. But I had to bear it. Steve wouldn’t give me more than I could bear. So I could. I could. I would cry, and he would know how sorry I was, but I would not ask him to stop.
“This is the paddle.”
Please, please, let me get my breath. I howled again. I roared. I wove my arms through the bars of the bed frame to keep myself down. Had I done this to him? How had he ever borne it? How could he like it? Only eight. Only? He had stopped. Could I get up?
“Don’t move. We haven’t nearly finished.”
Oh. I would never walk again. I would never sit again. The pain behind me was unbelievable.
“This is the strap.”
The noise of it! WHACK! And squeal. WHACK! And shriek. Pause. Pause. WHACK! Shriek again. WHACK! It seared a line across my bottom. My nose was running, my face was covered in tears, I was howling constantly. WHACK! Across the tops of my thighs. It was like a burn. Like pyroclastic flow. There was something stellar behind me, absorbing me. WHACK! Just where buttock meets thigh. A long gasping cry.
“This is the crop.”
The crop. They hit horses with that. Steve hit me. I couldn’t get enough breath to cry out. I made an odd whining noise. If I couldn’t cry out I couldn’t beg him to stop. I wouldn’t use that word. Again. And again. Through blurry eyes I saw him put it down. Only three. Thank heaven, only three. It was fewer each time. Only the cane left.
“This is the cane, Daniel. I’m going to give you six of the very best with it. You will keep still. Do you understand?”
I couldn’t speak. I just gasped.
I had heard it before: of course I had. I had used it before. A humming swish and a crack. And a new and unexpected line of fire across my buttocks. I don’t think I made any noise. I was past it. The second was lower, but just as loud. Then SWISH-CRACK, SWISH-CRACK fast on the underside of my cheeks. There was white light in my head, a solar disaster. Nothing could ever hurt so much again. Except the fifth SWISH-CRACK across my upper thighs. Was there more? Yes. I had a fraction of a second to understand that the last swish was higher pitched than the others, and the synapses fired fast enough for me to deduce that the cane was moving faster. It landed just in the lower crease of my bottom. Faster was harder. Harder was more painful.
I was aware of Steve moving. I couldn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t get up. I was clamped to the bed frame. I would never move again. He untangled me, drew me upright. He had made a nest of duvet and pillows on the bed, and he lifted me and placed me in it. He produced a handkerchief and wiped my face clean. I just lay. He lay down beside me and slid an arm underneath me, and turned me to his chest. Then the tears came, in a natural disaster of weeping and clutching and trying to talk. He shushed me and petted me, and rubbed my back and neck, and I sobbed and howled on his chest. It must have been nearly half an hour before I slowed enough to hear more than his tone.
“Hush, love, hush, it’s all over, no more, no more, it’s all done, don’t cry.”
It took me three attempts before I could speak so that he could understand me.
“Am I your love?”
“You are my best love, now and always.”
I hadn’t realised how tense I had been until my neck and shoulders relaxed. Then I was helpless against him. My chest was still racked with spasms, but they were smaller.
“Are you still angry?”
“No. I love you. Don’t doubt it.”
He stroked some more, and I relaxed some more. The comforting hand quested lower.
“Steve, I don’t think I can.”
He withdrew the hand and went back to rubbing my spine.
“But you always do. So it must be possible. If you want to, I can. I’m sure I can.”
He pulled back to look in my face. “It isn’t a competition. You don’t have to, if it hurts too much.”
“I want to. I just don’t know how. How do you do it when I’ve hurt you so much?”
“Dan, I don’t think you’ve ever hurt me that much. I shouldn’t have suggested it. You won’t be able to.”
“We can if we’re careful. I do want to. Help me.”
He realised I was serious, and eased his way out from under me. “Turn this way, sweetheart, and let Steve kiss it all better.”
He was so anxious to please, and I had to be so gentle. I was going to hurt him either way, emotionally by rejecting his bravery or physically by accepting it. I went so slowly, so slowly, and tried to keep it at the level of touching and kissing. We didn’t need to go further. We could give each other enough pleasure that way. But it wasn’t enough for him.
“Come on, Steve, all the way, all the way. . .”
“Well, then, you come on top. . .
“No! This way! Please! Fuck me rigid!”
I gave in. But I was as gentle as I knew how. It didn’t do me much good. He twisted and used every trick he could think of, and a couple I hadn’t known he knew, and reduced both of us to a hot and sticky heap. I had hurt him. I knew it. But he was happy again.
“Move over a bit, Dan. We’ll have to change the bed.”
“One of us has knelt on the gel tube. It’s split. It’s a dreadful mess.”
He giggled, and made room, and snuggled against me. It felt odd. Normally, he holds and I am held.
“Will you want to do that again?”
“Kneel on the lube? I doubt it. It’s wasteful and messy. And I think I’ve cut my knee.”
“Idiot. Will you want. . . will you want to punish me again?”
“It isn’t the way we do things. No, I don’t think so.”
“Do you want to throw all the stuff away?”
“Do you have any idea what a cane costs? I’m damned if I’ll throw it away.”
“Yes, but if you don’t trust me to. . .”
“I do trust you. If you don’t look after me, how will I ever get my tax return in on time? And how will I ever meet a deadline without you threatening me with the hairbrush? I’ve never met anybody as good as you with a slipper. Am I right to trust you?”
“Yes. But I think we need some new rules. Like if I’m being unfair, you’ve got some way to pull me up. So if you tell me I’m doing a Mark, I’ll back off until we’re both calmer. I promise I’ll try to be sure when I give you a spanking that it’s because you deserve it, and not because I do.”
“Sounds good to me. And Dan?”
“This probably isn’t the right time to ask, but you know the shop in Prudhoe Street?”
“The one I said you weren’t to go into without me?”
“That’s the one. I went in without you. And they’ve got leather paddles. Dan, I’ve always wanted one of those. May I have one?”
He thought about it. “We could go this afternoon. If I can walk. But we can’t use it until my bruises have gone down.”
“Sorry? Why not?”
“Because before I use it on you, you have to give me three with it. I’m not using anything new on you until I know what it does. But afterwards, I’ll use it to teach you not to go into shops that I’ve told you not to visit without me.”
“Dan? I love you. Tell me about Callum and James. Does Callum really spank James?”
“Not a bit of it. Make a cup of tea, and come back to bed, and I’ll tell you all I know. And we owe Callum several large drinks. . .”
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© , 2005