Note of emphasis: This is a work of fiction. No prescription for parenting is intended or should be inferred.
Through the plate-glass window, the moon was a cradle in the southern sky. Jack Martin stood with regret, wondering how things might be different if he had followed his instincts and watched over her as the parent he should be. From the living room, he could hear the water running for her bath off her bedroom, in her house now. He thought of that old parental line reminding a child of the roof under which they were living. This crisis was under a roof belonging to two, a home where a father holds the absolute authority, not because he takes care of the bills, but because he takes care of his children.
Moving away from his daughter after the divorce had been the most difficult decision of Jack’s life. The few times a year he was able to visit back east was never enough but Emily, no longer a child, didn’t need his supervision. Or so he had thought. He celebrated her desire to live with him while attending community college, and she did so with the knowledge that he was, without compromise, still her father. The conditions had been made clear, and Emily Ann Martin had no excuse for the way she had been behaving. He had simply given her too much rope with which to hang herself. She had been allowed to stay out later because he had trusted her at her word. Had he been too lazy to check to see what she was actually up to? Her grades were not up to par, but with the promise that they would be better. Had he indulged in only wishful thinking?
He had plenty to consider, but the task at hand was clear. In the kitchen, Jack rinsed dishes and placed them in the washer, tuppered the leftover spaghetti. Down the hall, he adjusted the thermostat a few degrees to banish a threatening chill. A quick circuit of the house assured that all doors and windows were locked, all drapes and blinds drawn to cover. In his own bedroom, he slid open the last door to the closet, then brushed aside coat hangers in search of an item he had not looked at since the move. It was still there, right where he had hung it, buckle over hook.
Jack folded the belt, supple and well-worn, ran it through his fingers as only one might do if they were planning some discipline. He contemplated the heft and texture of real leather, a narrow length of old-fashioned sizzle. The men’s brown belt was an odd bit of apparel he had worn in college to spite the fashion. His father wore a belt just like it, and used it the way Jack as a father learned to use it. With quiet deliberation he threaded it through each loop in his trousers and pulled it snug. It still fit fine.
Getting ready for bed was the most familiar chore. Emily Martin brushed her teeth as she had brushed them a thousand times before. Shutting her computer down, getting out her night clothes, undressing and putting up what she had been wearing—all tasks performed by muscle memory. Her bath drawn, she soaked in hot water while her mind floated in the mist above.
She had been going through motions since her father left the room. There was only one issue to occupy her thoughts. She was flat out busted and dazed by how quickly her house of cards had fallen. She was the ghost in the bathroom mirror. Haunted, she felt terrible. He knew everything. Guilt and shame were partners now. They lived and breathed inside her, but had to make plenty of room for high anxiety.
As she made her way across the room to stand with her face in the corner, each step was that of a sleepwalker, a young woman guided by hypnosis. Each step took her one foot closer to childhood. There was only one person in the world who would direct her to such a position, and only one for whom she would obey. All she had been through over the previous several years fell away like the shedding of scales. No matter the waves of humility assaulting her, she put one foot forward after another until there was no place left to go. Where two walls joined, she was trapped by the power her father had over her. There were no other options, and she would stand looking only into her own soul until he turned her around to set her free.
It might have been a time for positive reflection, for quiet introspection. She wished to attain a state of Zen, however, her body was in rebellion. She refused to allow any conscious thought that there was reason for worry, and so it boiled inside. Unable to stand still, she fought the pepper in her veins, and though having taken care of it only minutes ago, thought she had to pee. In her stomach, through her lungs, taunting at her very core lived the threat. She blocked the thoughts, but facts were facts. She had messed up really bad, and every small tremor, nervous twitch, every toe dug at the carpet in the lonely corner of her room was a silent prayer it wasn’t daddy’s belt that was coming.
When Jack entered her bedroom, Emily turned to look, innocent eyes desperate to convince. He knew she was sorry. “Face in the corner.” The edge in his voice was comfortably rounded with collected authority.
He pulled the chair away from her desk and sat to gather his thoughts. A pajamaed girl stood rigid, arms stiffly at her sides. She certainly did not fit an image of the brat she had been, or of the college student who should be mature enough to avoid this kind of trouble. He reminded himself that this was the same Emily who had been staying out late with her friends and drinking. He was not completely naive. He knew she acted different around her peers than around her father. She had been putting one over on dear old dad. He could not afford the soft spot in his heart that wanted to understand her youthful rebellion.
“Do you have any idea how disappointed I am in you right now?”
She sighed. Tears were again welling in her eyes. ”I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“You didn’t care enough to stop yourself, though, did you?”
“I’m sorry, …really, really sorry!” Her body language was another prayer to anything that might save her.
“I’m not interested in your sorries right now. We’re going to deal with what you’ve done. We’re going to establish the rules in this house so that you won’t forget them.”
“I won’t do it again, I promise.” Words spoken to walls unmoved.
“You won’t do what again? Lie and conspire? Act like an irresponsible child?” His voice soared on the wings of righteous indignation. “Turn and look at me, young lady.” She obeyed despite wishing she didn’t have to face him. “You’ve been out of control, and it’s high time we got to the bottom of this problem.” Jack stood and unbuckled his belt. He pulled it from around his waist in one dramatic flourish.
“Daddy, no, why?” Her voice broke with a sob. “None of my friends get this.”
“Get what?” He felt she should speak the word out loud.
“Spankings,” she said, the condition being that the small air she managed to expel from her throat should never leave this room.
“We’re not going to negotiate your punishment. I trust you remember how to position yourself for a tanning.”
“Daddy, please!” she wailed.
“Now!” Jack’s voice had risen.
Emily, her heart a kick drum beating a brisk four to the floor, was no longer walking in her sleep. She would have run from the room, but not from her father. She had been trained, and there were bonds that could not be broken. Her pillow was to be placed on her bed just so, and then she was to place herself just so over that pillow. She knew the drill, but had long ago struck it from her mind as nothing relevant to her own life’s concerns. She had somehow not seen this coming and was in a state of shock as she lay on her tummy where the pillow needed to be beneath her. With lower legs suspended over the foot of the bed, feet brought neatly together, hands surrendered palms up tucked safely under the pillow raising her bottom, Emily was telling her father that she was ready for her punishment when, in fact, she was ready for no such thing.
Jack bent and, from his daughter’s hips, pulled her pajama bottoms right down to the hollows of her knees. Underpants having gone along for the ride, Emily whimpered, an outlet of expression far too narrow to expel the waves of shame and embarrassment trapped inside. Her father had seen her like this before, and yet it always felt like the very first time. The cool air of the room caressed her where she felt an agonizing vulnerability. She was going to be punished on her bare bottom.
There was no good reason to prolong the suspense, and Jack brought the belt down quick, the flat of it flush across lower cheeks. There was a snap like the breaking of a dry brittle branch, and right behind it a yelp of agony. Emily, overwhelmed, reached back to grab her behind. Where the leather had landed, she could feel its shape branded across her nates as a line of fire. She turned her head to plead in silent desperation.
“Take your hands away.”
Her heart breaking, she was unable to decide whether or not she should dare fight the will of her father. Fear of the belt had her frozen.
“Emily, I’m not going to discuss this with you.” Jack exuded calm. She needed to know that her father was in control of his own emotions. ”You are going to stay in position and take your spanking, or you won’t be sitting comfortably for a week. Am I making myself clear?”
As her mind raced looking for time to stall, he raised his voice by one degree. “Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” she whimpered. Her hands relinquished what they had been protecting, revealing one red band across pale skin.
“Tuck your hands. I had better not see them again until I’m finished.” When he was satisfied with her position, he brought the belt down with another bright snap to draw a new scolding line just under the first, and then even before Emily could fully voice her displeasure, whipped her again lower, right across where cheek met thigh. Her response was that of a fish out of water, squirming and gasping for air, yet she managed to maintain position. Though her flesh glowed hot as coals, she had to somehow take her punishment so that it could be over. She set the clock of her mind to that one blessed moment.
“Tell me why I’m spanking you, young lady.”
Her words all ran together in a frantic wet squall. “Cuz I didn’t study and I f-failed my t-test and I showed you Lissa’s p-paper!” she cried in a little girl’s voice.
He whipped the belt down three more times, retracing his previous efforts, starting a little higher and ending a little lower. The three leather snaps cut the air in the room like a saw through timber. His little girl gasped, groaned, and whimpered, hips writhing to grind her pillow. With a belt, Jack knew what he was doing …no flailing away without rhyme or reason. There is a position and a delivery whereby a practiced hand can administer safe and accurate discipline.
“How many times have we discussed your studying?”
“A lot!” she cried.
SNAP…CRACK… “OWW!” “OWWWW!”
“Three times?” he asked with a triple dose of fire to her well-established burn. As she squirmed and kicked he scolded. “Talking didn’t solve the problem, did it?”
Barely able to catch her breath, she yelled as if from under water. “I’m going to do better, I swear!”
“And what about lying to me? Putting your name to your friend’s exam? I’m dealing with a naughty child.”
Her moan was pitched with shame.
“Let’s talk about your drinking.” Jack punished again across her sit-spot causing her to kick anew, and when he answered that with another identical stroke, Emily cried the cry of a toddler who had fallen and scraped her knee. He waited again for her to settle.
“What is our number one rule in this house?”
“No alcohol,” she sobbed. She knew full well.
“You know what runs in this family.”
“Yes, daddy, but it’s not fair.” She wanted the words back almost before they left her mouth.
“What’s not fair? he asked as he brought the belt down sharply across her angry red bottom. “We’ve been through all this. You think you should be able to drink because it’s not your fault your mother and father are recovering alcoholics.”
“But I just had a few drinks.”
His answer was five snaps of supple leather picked long ago for spankings, five crisp licks from the middle of her behind to the tops of her thighs. He left a burning there that gave a college girl reason to buck like a bronco.
Again he waited for her to get herself under control, for his rounded target to stop shifting side-to-side as if it were begging for more attention. “It wasn’t just a few drinks, was it? It was a few drinks too many. A few drinks that has you screwing up your chance to get a higher education.” Jack had to make an effort to not be shouting.
“Okay, I won’t do it again!” Emily wailed in defeat.
His tone softened. “This is how it starts. You think you can handle a few even as you’re not handling it. I’ve been there, and I can see you have the same DNA.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and then wailed as she got another burning where her lower cheeks were raised by the pillow.
“Take those hands away!” Jack knew her palms had good reason to be nursing. “I don’t want to hear that you’re sorry. I want to know that you understand why it’s not going to happen again.”
“I do understand, I really do!” Please no more daddy!” Words drowned in the squall of her tears.
She removed her hands in abject surrender. His heart was aching. “I’ve been too lenient with you, and I’m sorry about that, princess. I’m sorry about this.” He bent and, with his left hand, held her wrists against her back. Raising the folded belt again, he gave her a final spanking, rapid-fire, no hard strokes, but rather a score of quick and relentlessly hot stingers that had her throwing a tantrum over her pillow. When he was finished, he stepped back so that a truly sorry girl could tend to her soundly punished bottom.
The young woman shifted weight in her seat. The hard wood of the chair was sending her memos. It was Monday morning. Saturday evening’s spanking with her daddy’s brown belt was still a little too fresh but now in the rearview mirror of Emily Martin’s consequential past.
“Where have you been?” Larissa had taken the seat next to her. “What’s with not answering your phone?” The teacher was making notes on the chalkboard. A last straggle of students looked for open chairs.
“Didn’t feel well.” Emily had her excuses ready. “Must have been a bug or something. No biggie.” The truth was that she was without her phone on Sunday. Much of the day had been spent on her stomach with a book open, catching up on her studies.
“So you’re okay?”
“Yeah …I’m fine.” Emily smiled reassuringly. She didn’t have to lie about that.
The two sat without speaking, a rare moment of doubt between them.
“So you really used my exam to fool your dad?”
“Yep. I really did.”
“That’s priceless, Em.”
“Pretty crazy, huh?” She made an effective effort at appearing to share Lissa’s amusement.
“He didn’t throw you out?”
“No, we had a good talk. I just need to get serious here,” Emily said, gesturing to the classroom still bubbling with pockets of student chatter.
“I was worried you might be moving back to Boston.” Larissa placed her hand on Emily’s knee in another rare moment of unambiguous sobriety.
“No, I’m staying.” She placed her hand over her best friend’s hand. Emily figured it was Lissa who had spilled the beans, getting her into the worst trouble in which she had ever been. “I like it here …present company excepted.” She stuck out her tongue, winked and smiled.
“Going to the party tonight?”
“Uh, no,” Emily answered without needing to think too hard about it. “Gotta study.”
“I sorta figured. Better be hitting those books, girl.”
It was not like she had many options. Emily was not going to tell her friend she now had a new stricter curfew on weekdays. It was bad enough that Colin knew she was being disciplined like a child. He had promised to keep this knowledge to himself. The idea would have to be sold that her new and more demanding schedule was a self-imposed discipline. She would find ways to make her more frequent calls home no reason for attention. There was going to be a lot of studying. It was time. She had had her fun, and becoming a responsible college student didn’t sound so bad. She shifted in her seat again, self-consciously, as if Lissa might somehow guess what had happened to her. She had been punished in her bedroom with a spanking, and that was just too horribly embarrassing.
Under the bright lights of the college classroom, her other world was distant yet loomed. In his arms, she had cried like a baby, forced to full surrender, she had given him her every last tear. In return, she was forgiven, not with hollow words, but in the strength of his embrace. Jack had left her in her bed, warm and secure, the glow under the seat of her pajamas fuel to drive her thinking about the future, but when she finally fell to sleep, she remained there long and deep. In the late morning she woke to a fresh new start, alive, alert, and cleansed through fire.
Voices in the room came to a hush as the class was starting. No longer wandering aimless, Emily felt both relaxed and energized, better than she had felt in a long time. The profound relief that it was over — living a lie was more stressful than her conscious mind had been able to appreciate. She was free of that now, and if for what she had done, a cost is listed in some divine ledger, then she had paid that price in full.