It’s a big house on a quiet residential street in an outer city neighborhood. With two and a half stories, five bedrooms and two baths (most of them restored or remodeled to one degree or another over the past two decades) I knew when we bought it that-no matter how unwieldy it might appear from the outside- this would be a great place to raise our kids.
The point is, over the years I had come to know this place intimately. Every wall, every floorboard, every creak and every crack. I knew it well enough that when Marsha and I came home from shopping that Saturday afternoon I knew someone was in the house. Don’t know what rustle I might have heard, a shadow I might have seen or what scent I might have caught, but my key was still in the door as I paused in the kitchen entryway. “Someone’s here”, I mouthed to Marsha who had stopped short behind me. She placed her bags quietly on the floor and listened. There was nothing to hear. But there was something.
We’re not “gun people” but, being Americans, we do have firearms in the house-just not in immediate reach. What we do have on hand, given my wife’s life-long affair with woman’s fast pitch, are bats. In a career spanning almost thirty years she has accumulated enough bats to have one in the corner of every room and behind every door. Most are aluminum-the wooden ones are my old relics-different colors different weights; all effective whether swung at the plate or jabbed at the ribs in close quarters.
Grabbing the one from behind the kitchen door I was attuned to the sounds of the house, listening for the next….something. Marsha, as is her wont, slid past me quietly to take the bat that was stored in the decorative umbrella stand in the dining room. She moved further into the dining room and I in the opposite direction toward the stairs listening for a groan from the upstairs floorboards. But it came from the opposite direction-a slight thump from the basement as if someone had bumped into the corner table at the end of the couch. The basement door was ajar. I pulled it wide open and flicked the switch that would light the stairway.
“Who’s down there?” I called. Then, loudly enough for anyone to hear, “Marsha, call the police.”
There was a flutter of movement at that. “Mr. Whitman? It’s me Erin…”
Erin? Erin was our next door neighbor-lived in the second floor apartment of a converted four-square on the other side of our driveway. We had known her for the better part of a decade as she attended high school with our daughter. She had been in our house for a few parties and we thought it was kind of cool when she moved in next door; we wouldn’t have to “break in” new neighbors.
It had been fine the last couple of years. She was obviously a hard worker at whatever she did-leaving early and returning in the late afternoon. Kept to herself-and whatever boyfriend she was living with. Snatched conversations over the fence…maybe once or twice she was at the door to borrow a spice that she knew we had or to avail herself of an abundance of tomatoes we invariably had every summer when Marsha’s crops came in. But that was it. Not the kind of close friendship that might have invited someone into our home when we weren’t here.
“Erin, what are you doing in our house?” demanded Marsha from behind me. The girl had no idea how to answer. She was standing in the middle of the room with a look that screamed to be someplace else. She was wearing what I figured were her work clothes-what I’d seen her leaving in-black slacks, white short-sleeve shirt, sensible shoes. Everything about her was sensible except for the situation.
Then I saw the plastic bag on the couch. My guess was she was trying to stash it when she bumped the table and brought us both down the steps. “What is this?” I asked picking it up.
“I can explain” she breathed quickly.
Inside the bag were two envelopes that I recognized immediately as my poker money. I played semi-regularly, not high stakes but enough so that I kept a few hundred in cash in the china cupboard ready for the next game. Then it made sense. Erin could see me at the cupboard from her second floor kitchen window. She admitted to having glanced down on me one night after a game and watched me count out the money and leave it there. When her boyfriend moved out last month-I hadn’t even noticed-half of her income was gone. She panicked with the bills at the end of the month. Knowing where we kept the spare key…
“….I was going to pay it back…”
“You are so busted and I am so calling the police….”
“Please Mrs. Whitman. Don’t…that will…please….” She started to cry. “I’ll lose my job if I’m arrested…”
“You’re a thief. Thieves go to jail…”
“Please…” her voice was no more than I desperate squeak now.
Marsha froze for a moment. “I’ll be right back”, she turned and stepped quickly up the stairs.
I was pissed-maybe not as much as Marsha-but pissed just the same. At the same time though I couldn’t help feeling for Erin. It’s a tough world out there and he could see how someone would panic over a few hundred bucks. It wasn’t an excuse-but he could see it.
“I would have leant you the money if you would have asked me…”
“I know, I know…it was a mistake. I’m so sorry. I was desperate. I was going to return it…”
“You said that.”
“Please Mr. Whitman…”
“Call me Tony. You didn’t call me Mr. Whitman when you were a kid-don’t do it now.”
“Is Mrs. Whitman calling the police…? Oh God….”
“I don’t think so”, I said as I heard her faintly banging around in our bedroom. Suddenly I knew where Marsha had gone and what she was after. Now my heart started to beat a little faster.
“I’ll do anything…”Erin said miserably.
“Be careful what you wish for girl…” I said almost to myself, hearing my wife on the stairs behind me.
I didn’t even turn around-just watched Erin’s face and saw her eyes widen. I knew she was looking at the paddle that Marsha brought down with her. It was a little bigger and maybe a tiny bit more stout than a ping-pong paddle with a polished dark look and leather wrapped handle.
Spanking had burst into our marriage with a flourish about fifteen years ago. It seemed to come from nowhere since we’d never laid a hands on our kids but really, couldn’t have come from “nowhere”. Marsha had a personality that, not only needed, but seemed to thrive on periodic spankings. But that’s neither here nor there-that’s a different story. But I know by the way Marsha reacts, that this paddle does hurt. And I also knew, by the look on her face, that Erin was petrified.
Her eyes darted left and right as if she had been backed into a corner and was looking for an escape. There in fact wasn’t one.
“Come on….you’re not going to spank me…?”
Marsha was aggressive and no-nonsense. “I am. Or he is. Or we’re calling the cops. Up to you at this point.”
“No! No! It was a mistake. I told you! I’m sorry about it-it was a mistake!” she stamped her foot and was almost yelling.
“OK then”, I said trying to calm her. “If it was a mistake, let’s put it behind us. Come over here, take your punishment and we’ll forget about it.” I moved over and sat on the couch.
She looked at me, then at Marsha standing between her and the steps as if she was going to run for it. Marsha read that too and moved to the side. “You want to leave? You want to go? Go. Go ahead, thief. Leave. We know the kind of person you are now. See ya!”
“You’ll call the police if I leave…”
“You know what?” Marsha said ratcheting up the mind game. “I won’t. Better that we learned who you really are. We didn’t lose any money-we’ll move the spare key-we’re good. We got away clean. And we’re done with you. Period.” The way was open to the stairs and Erin looked that way. Then back to my wife. Then to me. The budding tantrum had subsided and the tears were ebbing.
Erin was thinking, not of escape, but of the times she had been in this basement before. How many Friday night sleepovers right in this basement-playing games, calling boys. Marsha, Mrs. Whitman, always making sure they were all fed and comfortable. She had never been treated like anything but a welcome guest and the fact that her mother was single never made a difference here as it had in other houses. And this was how she repaid them ten years later. What a miserable shit she had turned out to be.
“No”, she said quietly to the floor. “You’re right. I deserve this.”
“Come on over then…” She came over to the couch and stood in front of me. It was the strangest thing-I have never spanked Marsha on her pants. Not once. The first time I spanked her had been on the bare right out of the shower, so that set the tone. There had been some swats on her underwear-I remember some on a bathing suit but, by and large, always on the bare. So when Erin stood before me, it was just some kind of functional memory, I reached out and began to work on unsnapping her pants.
“You’re not going to take my pants down-” she almost yipped. Me, being me, was about to withdraw my hands and say something like “of course not”, or “my mistake…” but before I could utter a peep Marsha weighed in loudly.
“You’re damn right he’s taking your pants down-and your underwear too. Unless you do it yourself. You are going to get the punishment you deserve.” And then, for good measure, “Thief!”
“I’ll do it. I’ll do it!” Erin kept her eyes down as she unsnapped and unzipped with shaking hands. I actually felt a little sorry for her. The slacks were tight so she had to wiggle a bit to push them off of her hips and down her thighs. Her underwear rolled with them on the left leaving her with a half mast look that exposed the top of her sandy-haired muff. My heart skipped a bit seeing her exposed like this. Erin had been a cute kid and was now a cute young woman, if a little short and compact for my taste, but I didn’t want to see more of her than I absolutely had to. Her thumbs were already in the elastic top of her panties when I stopped her.
“Here, come on…” I reached out and took her by the arm. “I’ll take care of those.” Pulling her toward me-“Just get over my lap.” Her slacks were bunched at her knees so she had to shuffle the steps to my side but managed to lower herself into position without too much trouble. The panties were still diagonally stretched across her bottom revealing the dimples at the top and the beginning of the deep crevasse between the two well-rounded hemispheres.
Had her underwear not slipped, I would have been inclined to leave them up but that would now require pulling them back up. Not the direction we were going. “Lift up”, I said and she slightly raised herself. Erin kept her legs tightly shut so when I rolled the panties down they caught a bit in her crotch. Rather than yank, I reached between her legs as closely as possible without touching anything and pulled them clear. They bunched at her knees with the slacks.
I had seen her in the back yard sunning or washing her car too many times to not know what assets Erin had. Her bottom still sat high and firm and was only beginning to show the effects of the mostly sedentary lives we all led. What struck me though were the deep creases at the bottom of both cheeks caused by the too-tight elastic of her panties cupping her there. Those wrinkles, in places no one should have seen, brought home the intimacy of the situation we all found ourselves in. I absently, gently ran my thumb over one of them.
”You know this is going to hurt, right?” I asked. “Yes-I deserve it”, she said into the pillow that Marsha, in a fit of motherly concern, had put under her head. “Go ahead.” I went ahead.
The first three smacks landed hard in the center of her right cheek. Her butt was just as solid as it looked and absorbed my swats easily. It wasn’t until the fifth or sixth landed that she reacted with a sharp gasp. I moved her as best I could and she responded to my pushes to give me more room to swat her left cheek. She cried out when I smacked her dead center and the echo of the swat along her deep valley filled the room. She yelped again then followed with a loud “OUCH” when I smacked the crease at the bottom of her right cheek. I kept my attention focused on the bottom of her cheeks as I slapped her again and again, causing her to wriggle and whimper between “ouches.” I stopped when my hand got numb and watch the mottled pink color spread among the fingerprints tattooed across her bottom. There was no way to avoid what was coming next.
“Marsha, give me the paddle…”
Erin’s whimpering turned into soft sobs as she buried her face in the pillow. “Just relax Erin, you’re almost finished.” She twitched as I patted the wood on her warm right cheek. “Stay still now-I’ll get this over as soon as I can.”
With that, I raised the paddle and swatted her firmly on the right cheek. She jumped forward straining against my left arm that held her down. She wailed loudly when the next swat landed in the center of the left cheek.
“HURTS!! OWW-IT HURTS!!” I smacked again on the left and again on the right, alternating. I have never felt this paddle but knew by my wife’s reactions to it that Erin’s butt was on fire right now. She was doing her best to stay in place but the tiny kicks with her knees-almost running in place-had loosed her pants from around her knees down to her ankles. Without the tourniquet keeping her legs together, Erin’s writhing was exposing more that I wanted to see or she would have wanted to show.
Her cries coalesced into one long wail that rose with her body at each impact then subsided between swats when she collapsed completely on my lap. The color palette on her bottom now included a couple of dabs of purple to overlay the pinks and reds. If there was a lesson to be learned here, she had learned it. I familiarly patted her bum. “Ok”, I said. “You’re done”. She snuffled and lifted her head off of the pillow. “Thank you”, she said weakly. “It’s Ok”, I said softly.
We helped her up-no need for modesty now-and I helped her pull her panties then her slacks up off the floor. She grimaced as the tight pants hugged her cheeks.
“I want you to go home now and stay there. You go nowhere tonight.”
“You’re grounding me?” she sniffled wiping at her tears with the back of her hand.
“For tonight, yes. And I want you in bed by ten. I can see your lights from over here. And the TV too. Lights out and in bed by ten.”
“Yes sir”, she said. “Can I go now?”
“One other thing…” I said, reaching for the plastic bag that she had taken out of the cupboard. I counted our three hundred dollars and held it out to her. “Will this get you through the end of the month?”
Her eyes widened…”I, yes-yes, it will.”
“You’ll pay me back-we’ll discuss terms later.”
“You have GOT to be kidding me!” Marsha fairly spat at me.
I was still holding out the cash but Erin froze at my wife’s words.
“You are going to give this thief the money that she tried to steal from you?”
My answer stuck in my head. I was going to tell her about helping a girl that needed help-helping someone who had seen the error of her ways and been soundly punished for it. I was further going to chide her for speaking out against me in a tone of voice that I didn’t appreciate. But all this stuck in my head. What didn’t stick though was the look I gave her. The look that shut down all conversation and debate. She recoiled from it and seemed to shrink.
“Here, take this…” I said to Erin pushing the money her way. “She should take it, shouldn’t she, Marsha?”
“Yes”, my wife said meekly.
“Fine good. Go now-and remember, ten o’clock!”
Erin took off quickly still holding the cash in her hand.
“Tony, I’m sorry…” she started. “I didn’t mean to….”
“Get upstairs and wait for me.” She nodded slightly. “And take this”, I said picking the paddle off of the couch. She took the paddle and shuffled forlornly to the stairs. On the first step she paused-seemed as if she was going to say something but thought better of it. She went up.
I was going to wait a few moments-maybe more than a few-before following. Whenever I finally got there she would either be in the corner or lying bottom-up on the bed with a pillow below her hips. Either way, the outcome would be the same.
Erin stood in her bedroom across from the Whitman’s driveway. Her slacks and underwear were over the chair as she gently rubbed sunburn lotion onto her bum. She couldn’t believe how that paddle had burned-and still burned. Then, as if in a memory, she heard the faint slap of the paddle again. She froze to listen-and heard it again. She moved into her kitchen which was the room closest to her neighbors and heard the distinctive swatting sound coming from the slightly open window of the Whitman’s bedroom window. The blinds were shut tight but she knew well now, the tell-tale sounds of a paddle on bare flesh. There was a muffled cry after the next swat and Erin started counting as she stood in her kitchen rubbing her bruised bottom.
Erin came over the next morning as I enjoyed my coffee and Sunday Paper. She was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt; the pajamas of her generation. Her hair was tousled but she didn’t have the look of someone who had just popped out of bed. More likely she had been watching me-deciding whether to come over or not.
“Can I join you?” she asked.
“Sure”, I said, pushing my readers up onto my head. “Coffee?”
“No. No thanks,” she said, sitting in an open chair. She paused-leaned forward and paused again. Then sat back and seemingly became absorbed in Marsha’s flower beds. I was about to put my glasses back on and return to the sports page when she finally spoke.
“My butt is still sore.”
“Yeah, I figured it might be.”
“And red. It’s still red. In spots, anyway.”
“Do you want to see?”
I looked at her closely. “Better watch yourself or you’ll end up across my lap again.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about….”