Liz tried not to stare at the woman on the other side of the produce aisle but it wasn’t easy. She was striking-late 40’s or early 50’s. Well dressed and well kept. Liz was in shape, but her body was borne of the gym; hours on the elliptical, the treadmill, the Stairmaster. This woman was blessed with a lithe frame that moved gracefully-like an athlete. Golfer probably. Strong looking hands and wrists with tight ropey muscles showing on her forearms where her sweater was pushed up. Her hair was a beautiful multi-colored mane of gold and honey, kept fashionably short around her face.
The woman seemed to be shopping but that might have been a secondary goal. There was a flush to her cheeks and she was…. manhandling was the only word for it, a variety of melons, mangoes and cucumbers.
Liz was standing close to the woman when she picked up a cantaloupe, hardly looked at it, and slammed it back down into the pile she took it from. Liz put on a half-smile and glanced at the woman to her right, “I’m glad you’re not pissed at me”, she said. The woman looked at her quickly as if awakening, then looked at the melon she had just crushed. “Asshole…” she mumbled.
“Sorry”, Liz turned on her heel, “Only kidding…”
“Oh no, no…not you. I’m sorry,” the woman sputtered quickly reaching out touching Liz on the arm. “Not you…I’m referring to myself…I’m the asshole here.”
Liz stopped, smiling. “That’s good-like I said, I wouldn’t want you as pissed at me as you are at those melons.”
The woman reached out her hand. “Nancy”, she said. “Nancy Shawn.”
“Hi Nancy-I’m Liz. You about done making fruit salad over here? Want to grab a coffee?”
“Maybe we should”, looking around. “Before I get banned from produce.”
They settled into the coffee shop at the front of the store. Liz with her French Roast, sugar-no cream and Nancy Shawn with green tea. Liz was a great listener in that any conversation she was a part of became entirely about the other party. Part of it was because she was interested in other’s stories and could move them along with thoughtful questions, wry observations and knowing asides. People would talk for Liz for an hour and realize later that they knew little about her but that they had told her everything about themselves. But another part of it was that Liz was always on sly alert-looking for an itch she could scratch or a hole she could fill.
With Nancy Shawn, that itch was her daughter. Nancy and her then-husband had raised her well, denied her nothing, had sent her to a private school in the suburbs that Liz had heard of and knew was elite and expensive, and generally, in Nancy’s mind, had doted on her. When the divorce happened-as they did more than half time time-Nancy not only got rich, but got Bethany. It had worked wonderfully through the final couple of years of high school but now, as college in Boston wore on, it wasn’t great.
Through a second cup Liz let Nancy unburden the typical tale of woe: Bethany sided with her father on everything, had no respect for her mother since she had left her career behind-which she had done to devote time to Bethany for Christ’s sake!-now the “little bitch” begrudged her the money she had “won” from her father but didn’t hesitate to feel entitled to it…on and on.
“Little bitch-that’s strong”. Liz was glad Nancy wasn’t drinking espresso the way this was all coming out on green tea.
“Yes, maybe so. I retract. I wouldn’t call her that if she was still a child….But it’s so frustrating…”
“It’s adult children not wanting to be adults. They want to act like children…get all the childhood rewards and protections with none of the childhood risks or rules. Regardless of how she acts now you’re not going to ground her or spank her.”
“No”, said Nancy into her cup. “Never did-never touched her.”
“Never spanked her once?”
“Wish you were my Mom”, Liz smiled.
Nancy smiled ruefully. “Maybe, maybe not. Look at you-you turned out OK. We’re having a good, normal conversation. I can’t have that with her. And it pisses me off.”
“And the produce suffers…”
“And the produce suffers. And the golf balls. And the tennis balls. And the Vodka bottles…” she smiled. “It goes on and on”.
This is where the conversation stopped being the “normal” give and take conversation that Nancy thought she was having and picked up more of a direction as Liz herded it her way.
“All misdirected aggression. You should think about making up for lost time-or revisiting lost opportunities.”
“How do you mean?”
“Bethany shows up at the door after semester, meet her at the door with a paddle and set new ground rules.”
“Hah!” Nancy barked. “Too late for that-she’s a fully mal-formed and malfunctioning creation.”
“Never too late to mold a person. The clay might be drying but it’s still malleable”.
Nancy’s smile faded as she shook her head. “I don’t see that working-not right now. We’re not talking. And when we are, it’s yelling. Just too late.”
“Too bad. But you know, she’s not the only one involved here. You have a life to live too. Even if it’s too late for her, it’s not for you.”
“You’re telling me that spanking her butt wouldn’t be a stress reliever for you? Keep you from destroying the produce. Or your liver?”
Smiling again, “So those times I want to reach through the phone and choke her-I should aim lower.”
With a smile-“That’s one way to think about it.”
“Funny….” Then, after a pause that seemed longer than it should have been, “Wouldn’t even know how to begin….”
“Did you ever hear the story of the whipping boy?”
“Sure”, said Nancy. “The boy assigned to the young prince to take his whippings for him.”
“Right-you could start there. Find a substitute. A surrogate for Bethany. Someone to take the spanking you can’t or won’t give her.”
“I should put an ad in Craig’s list?”
“Maybe look a little bit closer.”
Nancy looked up from her cup then and into Liz’s eyes. Liz returned the look-exposed out there with the reality of the proposal. Nancy broke away first, leaning back in her seat. Her gaze shifted slightly from open to guarded, maybe a little suspicious. She squinted slightly with one eye as if from cigarette smoke.
“Who put you up to this?”
“Someone from the Club?”
“No, I’m not pranking you. This is just us talking. I thought I saw a way to help you. Look-if I went too far, I’m sorry. Let’s get a refill and forget it.”
“So you’re saying I should spank you.”
“I’m saying you could. If you wanted to. If it would help you…”
“…Deal with the stress of fighting with my daughter….”
Nancy regarded her closely. “She’s about your age I guess…” That’s the second time she said it and Liz beamed inwardly. Nothing like being mistaken for a 22 year old. “I have to warn you though-there is a woman in town who still won’t speak to me because of my work as pledge master over twenty years ago.”
“You look like you could have a mean swing.”
“Do you golf?” Nancy asked.
“Come on. Let’s go out to the range and hit some. I’ve got a driver that will fit you.”
“Sure, I’m game.” As with many deals, this one would close around golf.
(Continued in Nancy Comes Out)