New Year’s Resolution, mine, and I was regretting it, and then some. I was bent over with my forearms flat along the seat of that damn red couch, my trousers and underpants were round my knees, and Piet was, from the feel of it, lighting a fire in my rear end with that confounded little leather paddle. I’m coming round to Tim’s way of thinking: that thing is Evil. It was no comfort – no comfort at all – that I had asked for what I was getting.

And I don’t mean just that I deserved it, although I did. I mean that I had, in the aftermath of Christmas and the New Year, had a complete mental shutdown and asked Piet to do this generally; and more specifically that I had on this occasion gone to him, told him why I deserved to be paddled and asked him to oblige.

We’d had a lovely Christmas. We’d got sorted with Hansie and Tim. . . All right, all right, Tim and I got sorted with each other. Nick and Hansie had developed a tendency to make retching noises when Tim and I talked to each other, and to pass loud comments about the Mutual Admiration Society; Fran rolled her eyes and said nothing, and when it comes to saying nothing, she can do it louder even than Piet; Piet wore his stone face but we knew he was happy. Both Piet’s parents and mine had come for the New Year, and they had stepped delicately around each other, all company manners, until they found acceptable points of contact and decided that they could get on just fine. Piet and I were far from sure that we thought this a good idea, but it wasn’t as if there was much we could do about it, so we fed and watered them and just left them to it.

And my friend Alan, the art historian, came on a flying visit.

I’ve known him since we were at college; he’s not at all interested in sport of any sort. We really got to be friends in our second year when we both had horrible rooms in an old Victorian house which probably should have been condemned years ago. We had the very top floor, which had originally been, we decided, accommodation for heartily despised servants. I needed to do almost no gym work that year: anything worth doing in the town was down three flights of narrow stairs and then down – and accordingly up afterwards – 240 stone steps from Simla Parade to the Market Square, or else a two mile diversion round by the road. That was where I really learned to cook, because apart from the fact that I couldn’t afford to live on takeaways, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to eat them, anything I got in the town was cold by the time I’d struggled back to my room. The cooking facilities were two rather flaky gas rings, one cold tap with unpredictable water pressure, and a water heater which scared us both to death by making improbable noises and leaking into its own wiring in a most disturbing fashion. Alan looked round my kitchen at Haydon’s Farm and nodded.

“Bit of an improvement on The Laurels, isn’t it?”

And we were away into ‘do you remember’ and ‘what happened to’, and I wondered about telling him about Piet, who was holed up in the Dairy with something I had defrosted earlier and all his paperwork, being nothing more than my tenant. I decided against it, though. Alan’s a good guy, and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the discovery that I’m gay – but nor would he understand the necessity to keep that information to himself. He only stayed one night, on his way to a job interview with a rather prestigious Italian museum; it wasn’t that much of a big deal for Piet to be somewhere else.

None of which has anything to do with my New Year’s resolution, except that it was Alan who started it, winding me up about having been late collecting him from the railway station.

“I see you’ve not got any better about timekeeping? Still I suppose now that you’re a Famous Name, everybody just waits for you, not like the days when we used to leave messages for you in every pub we went into, in the hope that you would catch up with us before closing time.”

“Don’t you believe it,” I said fervently. “Our Director of Rugby is absolute hell on wheels when it comes to unpunctuality. Doesn’t let anybody away with it, at least not at work.”

Which was not, in itself, anything to think about later – except that in the morning, when I dropped him back at the station, I ended up in a rush because I’d not left enough time for the new traffic lights at the bridge, and Alan had another little dig about celebrity timekeeping. He didn’t mean anything by it, he was only teasing, and I answered him the same way, but it just meant. . . it just meant that when I went later that day for my insurance medical, and found myself ten minutes behind my appointment time, maybe I noticed a bit more than I would otherwise have done. It wasn’t at the club, it was at a private clinic attached to the hospital in Malpersham, and it wasn’t like an NHS appointment where if you’re late you lose your slot but if you’re on time they can make you wait hours. They just took me straight in, nobody commented on me being late and when I apologised, the receptionist brushed it off with a smile.

Third time’s the charm, Tim says, and I always mean to ask him what it’s a quote from, and never remember. I went for a haircut and I was late – and my stylist had waited for me.

All right, maybe there is something left over from the Big Row. There were a couple of remarks about Z list celebrities and the like, and no, I know I shouldn’t take them seriously. But it won’t do me any harm to think about whether the way I see myself is the same way other people do, will it? And I took a hard look at Celebrity Timekeeping, as Alan called it, and didn’t rate it.

And that was how I ended up talking to Piet, in a rather nervous tone, about punctuality.

“Piet? Does it annoy you when I’m late for things?”

“Fersure, koekie. It is unprofessional of you; that is why I punish you for it. You know that.”

“No, I don’t mean professionally. I mean personally.”

He shrugged. “It irritates me, yes. I dislike it when we are going out together and I either have to chase you through the door, or lie about what time we need to leave.”

“Do you? Lie?” I asked, temporarily distracted.

“I have been known to do so,” he confirmed, in amusement.

“All right.” I concentrated, and asked, tentatively, the question to which I didn’t already know the answer. “What about if you’re not involved? You know, if I’m late for something which doesn’t concern you. How do you feel about that?”

He gave that sideways flick of his head. “It is not really my business, is it?” He saw I was serious, though. “I do not care to see you display yourself other than at your best, Phil. It is not polite for you to be so habitually late, but that is between you and the people to whom you do it; it is not my concern. But no, I do not like it.”

“It’s careless,” I said, thoughtfully. “And. . . well, I suppose. . . it is arrogant, isn’t it? My time’s more important than yours.”

“One could read it that way,” he agreed, cautiously. “Where is this going, koekie?”

“I don’t want to turn into the sort of idiot who thinks that being famous is an excuse for everything. That I can do just as I want all the time because. . . you know.”

He nodded.

“So. . . well, I can see that one, and it’s got to stop, Piet. It’s not really that I think I’ve got a right to make people wait – I’ve always been awful with timekeeping. But I don’t want to go on that way, so it’s stopping. Only. . . I think I need you to help.”

“Me? How?”

This was the gulp-and-go-on bit. The bit where I had to ask for something I really didn’t want.

“I need to bring punctuality inside the agreement. All my timekeeping, not just the rugby stuff. And. . . and I need you to be strict about it. No excuses, no letting me off unless I’ve got an absolutely cast iron reason. It’s ridiculous that at my age I can’t manage my own diary properly.”

Koekie. . .”

“Please. Please. Entirely apart from anything else, apart from the fact that it’s rude and inefficient and the rest, if I’m habitually late for everything, how long do you think it will be before I’m called for a random drug test – and I’m late for that? And then I really will be. . .”

“I am not refusing you, hart; I can see that you have thought deeply about this. I have always assured you that you need not take a punishment you think you have not merited, so how can I refuse you one which you think you deserve? I can certainly call you to account more rigidly at work, and where it affects me, but what about the rest of your day? I know nothing of it.”

“I do,” I said darkly, and rather unhappily. “It’s got to be up to me to tell you when I’ve been late for something. And to be honest with myself about whether it was my fault, too. It might. . . it might be better if you were to ask, at least to begin with. I won’t lie to you.”

He reached for me. “I know you will not, koekie. You never do, not about anything which matters. But we must decide how severe you wish me to be, and what I may accept as an excuse.”

I can’t exactly remember why I thought the paddle would be a good idea, and I’m quite convinced now that it wasn’t. I suppose it was because I wanted to get my head sorted fast – actually, I had been thinking, without ever putting it into words, of the penalty being the cane. Piet wouldn’t allow that, not for everything. He agreed that professional failings warranted stripes since we were into not-even-nearly-a-first-offence territory, but he reckoned that social ineptitude – his phrase, not mine – required something less formal. The paddle, God help me, was a compromise.

O.K., so Phil is not well bright.

Anyway, somehow it felt right to have something relatively new for what was a new turn for us. January didn’t bring the snow this year, but it brought me a sharply smarting rear end on way too many occasions: I was caned twice – and spanked, to my dismay, repeatedly. To my dismay, I say, not because it hurt, although it did, but, I suppose, because I had thought that the knowledge of what hung over me would be enough to get me sorted, and I was rather surprised when it wasn’t. Or rather, when it was, but only in the short term. I’d have a spanking, the next day I would be prompt to everything and the day after that I’d end up having to confess failure. I hated that – going to Piet and saying ‘I did it again; spank me.’ I think I hated it more than the spanking; the only thing worse would have been if I hadn’t gone to him of my own volition, if he’d had to ask before I would confess.

I didn’t get myself really sorted – properly sorted – until the Total Screw-Up Day. I mean, even for somebody like me with what sometimes feels like a personal time zone 40 minutes adrift on everybody else’s, it was a screw-up. Even Piet was shocked.

“Half an hour, Phil? Half an hour late for training? What on earth were you doing?”

“God knows. Honestly, I don’t. I was just pottering about here, clearing up a bit, then I had a cup of coffee with Mrs W when she arrived, and I suddenly realised it was half past nine. Even then, I should have squeaked in by ten, only I stopped to look at my email and. . . well, there it is.”

“It will not be sufficient for me to punish you here at home, you realise that? You were seen to be disgracefully late; you will have a week training with the Seconds.” Well, I’d expected that. “Come, now, and we will deal with the rest of it.”

I didn’t move. “There’s more.”

He turned in the doorway. “More?” It was resigned. I looked at the floor.

“Five minutes late this afternoon at my eye test, and ten by the time I got home; Jazzer wanted to talk to me and I’d said I would be here by six.”

If I hadn’t been so apprehensive and ashamed of myself, I would have been amused: poor Piet did his level best for me. He tried to establish that it wasn’t two separate fuck-ups, that once I’d been late for the eye test I couldn’t help but be late for Jazzer. “I had plenty of time, Piet. Plenty. I just didn’t use it right. I was late once this morning and twice this afternoon, and there’s nothing to say except that I haven’t an excuse for any of them.” I was nearly crying: I was so angry with myself!


I bit my lip when I saw him take the pale cane from the desk. So far he’d only used the black one, but half an hour was inexcusable; I couldn’t deny it. When he reached in for the paddle as well, I could hear my own breathing, harsh in the silence. He looked up and nodded at the couch; I stripped my jeans down and doubled over the back of it without argument. This was to do with my job and we’d had an agreement now for years; I’d behaved badly and this was what I got for it.

“Nine, Mr Cartwright,” he said softly. I’d hoped for six, feared twelve. I flinched, as usual, at the tap which gave him the range and jumped despite myself as he landed the first stroke without further warning. Ooh, that hurt!

They all hurt. He delivered them slowly and at (I later discovered) regular intervals from dead centre to the low spot which makes me whimper, and the last one there brought tears to my eyes.


I straightened like an old man, testing my body. Piet was putting the cane away; he picked up the paddle and glanced at the couch again. He’d used the paddle before with me leaning on the seat: a different ritual for us, neither the formal caning nor the immediate and juvenile spanking over his knee.

“Can you manage there, or do you wish to go to the desk where you may hold on?”

I shook my head wordlessly, and hobbled round to face the seat, my trousers hampering my movement. Bent again, and flexed my stiff knees, and braced myself and waited.

“And late again this afternoon, Phil.” It was gentle – it was ‘Phil’, not ‘Mr Cartwright’ – and although I heard criticism, I didn’t hear what I was afraid of, which was disappointment. It gave me the courage to say what I was thinking so bitterly.

“Late twice this afternoon. Twice independently, sir.”

He sighed, I heard that, and he acknowledged the truth of what I had said.

“Late twice.”

Oh, just learn to keep your gob shut, Phil. Late twice, you bloody idiot? Two goes round with that fucking paddle? Because that’s what I got. I don’t know how many the first time, it was just a fast and noisy fusillade, with me yelping and trying not to move, and then a moment’s pause in which he came close and wrapped an arm across my back, warning me wordlessly that he hadn’t finished, and eight more delivered deliberately and with eye-watering accuracy, each one bringing me up onto my toes. All that kept me from twisting away were the feel of his arm on my back and his hip against mine, and my yelps were louder and longer.

“There. Done, hart, done; come to me now.” He didn’t even trouble to put the paddle away, just let it slip to the floor as I burrowed into his arms and hid my face against his chest. He had to pull back after a moment.

“Phil, hart, breathe. Come, brave one, come down here,” and he pulled me down to the couch where I could lie in his arms with the feel of his lips on my hair and his hands on my back distracting me a little from the blaze in my arse. He murmured to me, love words and nonsense, and when I could raise my head, he dried my face and then petted me some more.

“God, I’ve got no brains at all,” I choked out, eventually. “I can’t do this, Piet. I just can’t. I’m not getting any better at it. Why can I not do this?”

Koekie, you can. You do. This has been a bad day, yes, but you have had better ones. You will have more successful days, I promise. We will do this together.”

I twisted my neck to squint into his face. He was frowning, not (as I might have expected) with disapproval, but with sympathy and regret.

“You’re not liking this any more than I am, are you?” I discovered. “Oh God, I didn’t realise, I’m so sorry. I – if you don’t want to do it, I won’t make you. I never even asked, did I, I just assumed that you would do it. Selfish.”

His grip tightened. “Not selfish at all. Phil, I am very proud of you. Most people’s New Year’s resolutions are inherently selfish: they will lose weight for their own self-esteem, they will stop smoking to save money. There is nothing wrong with that, is there? But your resolution looked outward, not inward. You are trying to make yourself a better person, and you must not become discouraged because it is difficult. If it were not difficult there would be no value in resolving to make the change. You have the right to ask help of me because I am your partner, and because I love you I will give it to you as freely as you could wish.”

“But you’re not enjoying it.”

“I do not enjoy punishing you. I do not enjoy you being unhappy. I do not enjoy it being me who makes you unhappy. But if, say, you were addicted to cigarettes and your resolution was to stop smoking, I would help you as best I could, and if it made your temper bad and you picked quarrels, I would put up with that to get past it to the point where you did not smoke. You are breaking an addiction of behaviour and I will help you as I may.”

“Three times in one day,” I said bitterly. “Three times!”

“Well, we have no more appointments so you can be late for nothing more today, and tomorrow is another day and you will do better. I believe that you will, liefling. Your desire for it is strong; it must be so, or you would have let me make an allowance for the double jeopardy of this afternoon. I would have let you off more lightly, but you would not have it, would you?”

I didn’t answer that. I didn’t say anything at all for a while until I asked his shirt button, not daring to look into his face, “Do you really think I can do it?”

“I know you can, and I will help you. Do not think too far ahead, Phil. Do not think that you may never be late for anything again. There will be times when it is genuinely not your fault, and there will be times when you simply – what is the phrase in English? When you fall off the wagon. And you will acknowledge it and strive always to do better, but you will come to the point where it is not so difficult, I promise you.”

And he doesn’t lie, except to get me out of the house on time, so. . .

So a week later, I was wondering what we could eat that night and peering into the fridge, when Piet came in.

“Well, koekie? I am informed officially that you have served your time with the Seconds and may be allowed back into the dressing room, and I am informed unofficially that you were very well behaved and biddable, and extremely punctual.”

I turned. “I did try.”

“So tell me, hart. You have not come to me, and I have not asked, so I will ask now. Since last week, have you been late for anything?”

I couldn’t control the grin. “Not once.”

Phil was doing something in his kitchen when we arrived; Piet was not yet home. We had brought food – a simply scandalous amount of food, said Tim, teasing us about rugby appetites, although always he eats his share – from the Silver Palace, which we tidied into Phil’s oven to keep hot while Phil opened a bottle of wine and fetched glasses. I saw, though, as I picked up my own glass, that Phil was not touching his. He was watching a little anxiously through the kitchen window for Piet’s car, and when we saw the lights, he swallowed nervously. Tim saw it too.

“Phil? Is something wrong?”

He smiled at us with a distracted air. “I’ve screwed up; I’ll be in trouble. Nothing serious.”

Tim frowned a little but he said nothing as Piet came in, his glance as usual going first to Phil although he came by to drop a kiss on Tim’s cheek and then on mine. Phil spoke before Piet could open his mouth.

“Mark’s having something done to his car and I promised I would pick him up this afternoon from the garage, and run him home. I told him half five and I didn’t get there until twenty to six. It wasn't bad traffic or anything, I just didn’t leave early enough.”

“Go through, then. Hansie, Tim, excuse us. We will not be long.” And they were gone, the kitchen door firmly closed behind them, and Tim staring at me with his mouth open.

“What the fuck?”

I stared back.


“No, but Hansie, what the fuck?”

The conversation was not, I thought, going anywhere useful. “What? What is wrong, Tim?”

“Fucking Piet’s wrong, that’s what! Phil was worried about being in trouble for that? For one thing, it’s hardly robbing-a-bank serious and for another, what’s it got to do with Piet? Come on, it’s nothing to do with the rugby, so it’s nothing to do with Piet if Phil lets down a friend. He can’t do that!” He was actually heading for the door; I hastily stepped in front of it.

“Tim, calm down! It is not our concern. It is between Phil and Piet, and we should mind our own business.”

“It is! It is our concern if Piet’s bullying Phil! Phil was all jittery, Piet shouldn’t be punishing him when he’s like that!”

I shook my head. “I did not see that. Ja, fersure, Phil was nervous, but that is nothing new; in fact, he was no more nervous than you are when you have done something you know I will not like.”

“Well, but. . . but. . . ten minutes late doing somebody a favour and Piet’s punishing him for it?”

“If you are so worried, then ask,” I said sharply. “But I tell you fersure, if you go stamping in there and interrupt while Piet is punishing Phil. . .” my voice trailed away. I could not even begin to imagine what Piet would say or do – nor did I want to be there to see or hear it.

We stared at each other a moment longer, and then Tim made some sound of irritation and turned crossly away. We were silent for – well, I suppose five minutes, before the door opened and Phil entered, with Piet a few feet only behind him. Phil was a little pink across the cheekbones, but he did not seem distressed; Tim shot across the room to him nonetheless, grabbing his waist in a bear hug.

“Are you O.K.?”

Phil grinned lopsidedly at him. “Within the meaning of the act. I expect I’ll live.” He seemed glad of the hug nonetheless. He also seemed startled, when Tim turned ferociously on Piet.

“You had no right to do that, none at all! You’re always saying that Phil’s not a Brat, he’s not answerable to you in his private life, and then you go and do that! That was none of your goddamned business!”

Phil and Piet both started to speak at once, but Tim went over the top of them like a well trained forward with the line in view.

“You can’t possibly make it a rugby thing that Phil did a favour for a friend, and if it wasn’t to do with his rugby it’s not for you to lay down the law about it! And he shouldn’t – he shouldn’t be scared to tell you about it either!”

Piet’s eyebrows shot up, but I think he was amused. Well, I know he was: he looked over at me, and said dryly, “Hansie, I think you may need a muzzle on your pup before he bites me.”

“It’s not a fucking joke!” roared Tim, still with his arms round Phil. “You’re supposed to look after Phil, not bully him!”

No, that was decidedly not a joke. Not a joke at all, and Piet’s face darkened, but Phil got in first, wrapping both arms around Tim and shaking him gently.

“Tim – Tim, listen. Listen to me. He’s not bullying me. I promise you, he’s not. It was my New Year’s resolution, that I wasn’t going to be late for everything any more. You should approve of that; it irritates hell out of you, you know it does, that I’m never on time. I couldn’t do it on my own, so Piet’s helping. And I wasn't scared, not really, not more than usual, I was just pissed off because that was the first time this week; I’d been doing a hell of a lot better and then I blew it. I swear, Tim, it’s nothing worse than that.”

“Oh,” said Tim blankly. “Oh. But. . .” It trailed away. Phil disengaged himself gently.

“Tim, look.” He was unfastening his trousers, peeling them off his hips to display, not a neat curved bottom like Tim’s, for Phil is solid with muscle, but a damn fine arse nonetheless, a fine arse reddened and hot, blotched even – but without the tight, shiny look of severe punishment. He had been spanked soundly, but nobody would say it had been harsh, and he touched his own skin without flinching. “See? Nothing worse than that. I’ll be able to sit down to eat my dinner.” He refastened his trousers as he spoke, and Tim turned blindly away. I felt a curl of anger at him, maybe mixed a little with fear, for I had indeed been afraid that we were all to quarrel again.

Ach, Tim, you are a bleddy fool, I told you to keep your nose out of what did not concern you. . .” but I did not expect the response I got. Phil pulled Tim back into his arms and snarled at me, savagely.

“Who says it didn’t concern him? You’re the one who told us we’d got slack, Hansie. You’re the one who told us we were all too much inclined to punish without questioning whether or not it was right. Tim thought I was being abused” (and we all, I think, winced at that word) “and at least he was willing to do something about it! Don’t you dare criticise him for – ow!”

For Piet had stepped forward and landed one powerful slap where it must have hurt on top of what Phil had already received, and repeated the action on Tim, who jumped convulsively in Phil’s arms. Then he crooked a finger at me, and I went to him, shamefaced, for my share of just chastisement.

“That will do now.” The deep voice was calm, and very definite. Piet, I think, would not make the same mistake a second time, would not allow a dispute to take root and grow to a quarrel. “We will not behave so, bickering like children and taking sides, and using provocative words. Tim, are you satisfied that I was not – bullying – Phil?”

Tim nodded blindly, not looking at Piet, but that was not enough. Piet insisted.

“Are you?”

“Yes, sir,” whispered Tim. Piet softened a little.

“Timmy, I do not at all deny your right to ask the question. Indeed, I can admire your desire to protect Phil. I ask again: are you satisfied?”

This time Tim looked up. “Yes. Yes, I am. Sorry. I should have known better.”

Piet shook his head. “Phil is quite correct: if you think I am treating him badly, you should – you must! – call me to account.” His tone hardened again. “But perhaps not quite so rudely.”

For a moment Tim looked stricken; then he took a breath and nodded. “No. Not so rudely.” He gently pushed Phil’s arms away, and stepped forward to Piet, his hands going tentatively to his waistband. Piet nodded once, and Phil leaned over the sink to flick shut the window blind, and then slid his arms around me in Tim’s place. When I looked back, Piet had one foot set on a kitchen chair; Tim let his trousers and pants slip and tipped himself over the braced thigh. His skin was stained pink where that single smack had landed; I could still feel my own share of it, even through my trousers.

“Tim? This is for bad manners only. Not anything else, you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

It was not a long spanking, but Piet did not spare him; he came up gasping and wide-eyed, and as red as Phil had been. Piet allowed him to recover his clothing in a rather startled silence – those had been hard, perhaps harder than he had anticipated – and then pulled him close into a reconciling hug.

“Are we friends, Timmy?”

Tim turned his face up for a kiss. “Always. I’m sorry.”

“Then you are forgiven. But remember, Mr Creed,” and this came in a low threatening growl, which surprised, I think, all of us, “remember that although Hansie and I may permit that you and Phil on occasion play together, although we permit that you entertain each other – for all of that, Phil belongs to me.”

And against my back, I felt Phil give a surprised shudder of, I think, pure pleasure. Piet has said before that he is a jealous man but he rarely displays it so plainly, and I think that maybe Phil finds it thrilling? Not that he would see Piet truly jealous, not that he would wish him to be unhappy, but that it is exciting to him to be claimed so, I think we know that.

Then – “Food,” said Piet, plaintively. “And why does everybody seem to have a glass of wine except me?”

It was true what Phil had said: he could sit to eat his dinner, and his appetite and usual good humour seemed unimpaired; Tim for his part was rather quiet (and both of them wriggled once or twice). Afterwards, though, when we opened a second bottle of wine and took ourselves off to the living room, Tim glanced uncertainly from Phil to Piet until Phil once again wound an arm around him and drew him to the sofa. Piet looked at them for a moment from the doorway, and then deliberately set down his glass, and equally deliberately removed Tim from Phil’s embrace.

“Here, that one’s mine!” objected Phil, laughing. “Get your own.”

“Yes? And why do you specifically want this one?” He sat down on the other sofa as he spoke, pulling Tim into his lap.

“Well. . .”

“Oh, I think I know, and I shall forbid it. You think that this one has had a spanking too, and so he will sympathise with you and you may comfort each other. Hansie, sit with Phil, and do not be at all sympathetic. He was punished because he was at fault; he is not entitled to any comfort. I do not approve of this petting of the delinquent after his castigation. I never do it.”

Well, if he wished to relieve the tension, that comment succeeded admirably. Even Tim laughed.

“Go on, Piet, I don’t believe you’ve ever in your whole life punished anybody and not comforted them afterwards. Phil?”

“Once, and the circumstances were unusual. No, it’s remarks like that which explain the size of his nose, obviously.”

“Not at all,” said Piet equably, recovering Tim’s wine glass and passing it to him. “Consider: I had a rugby team in South Africa – I had more than one. And Mr van den Broek over there will tell you that I caned his backside on many occasions, and did not cuddle him afterwards, nor would he have appreciated it if I had done.”

“I would have been very surprised, fersure,” I agreed, smiling. “Although. . . there was always something. No, not a hug; that would not at all have been appropriate. But always there was a touch, a tap on the back maybe, and his hand offered, and some remark to close the affair. ‘We will say no more about it,’ that sort of thing. Always the use of my name, to tell me that Mr van den Broek had been punished and Johannes was forgiven.” I kept to myself that I had, even at 18, compared this – this closure! – with my father, who beat me in silence (mine as well as his if I knew what was good for me) and who then walked away, still in silence, leaving at first a weeping child and later a resentful adolescent. I had compared them, and not to my father’s advantage.

“Ha,” said Phil. “I knew it. He’s really a soft pussycat.”

“A soft pussycat, koekie, who made you yelp, as I recall.”

“And it’s on account of the yelping that I reckon I’m entitled to have somebody kiss it all better. If you won’t let me have Tim, I’ll recruit Hansie: I’m sure he’ll oblige, whatever you tell him.”

“Disobedience,” mourned Piet. “Rebellion. Mutiny.”

“But that’s not fair,” whined Tim, obviously quite recovered. “I was spanked too, and it’s not fair that you get kissed better, and I don’t.”

“No,” I agreed, “that is not fair. But nor would it be fair that I should kiss both of you better, because that is a lot of work for me, and where is my reward?”

“Sometimes, Hansie,” said Phil, portentously, “you just have to sacrifice yourself for the greater cause.”

“Indeed,” agreed Piet, solemnly. “And I fear I too must sacrifice myself. I must go against all my principles, it seems. It is disgracefully wrong, but what can you do? Hansie will kiss Phil better and I will kiss Tim. We had better begin at once.”

Idris the Dragon

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