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Thursday, 11 October 2018

An Inch of Tears

A story by Michelle Bradley from Janus 60
I hated The Cult when I ran away from it, but I hate it even more now they’ve brought me back. I stand in the doorway of my parents’ house, between two guards. I’ve been away for three days. The two men who were sent to search for me have traced my steps, and made me return with them. I look at my father and think he’d like to embrace me, but Mother pushes past him and shakes me hard.
‘Wretched girl! After all we’ve done for you! You’re 17 and properly brought up. Well, I promise you — you’ll never do this to us again!’ I hang my head, afraid of what is going to happen. One of the guards says to Father: ‘She must come for the check; the doctor should see her now.’ Father nods. It’s a rule that when anyone absconds from The Cult, they have to be checked as soon as they’re brought back. I know they’ll pay me special attention.
If you belong to The Cult, and you’re not married, you have little option but to remain a virgin. But if you escape from their control, and spend any time with ‘outsiders’ (as they call people in the normal world) they never trust you. They want proof I’ve remained virtuous; thank goodness I’ll pass the test.
What makes my parents stay in The Cult? Because — they say — they find fellowship, aim and direction; a set of standards, which working as a group is easy to maintain. They stick to its rules and strange religious beliefs and I think they’re happy. But I see only The Key, The Bell and The Phial.
The doctor is cold and disapproving; I can feel his suspicion. Fingers which could have been careful are cruel and harsh. ‘I wonder how much touching went on down there?’ he says, looking into my eyes. My blushes give me away. ‘Obviously I shall add this to my report; I expect you know the consequences. Now let me look at your arms and legs.’ He’s looking for signs of drugs. I don’t tell him I ran away to be with a boy because that will make matters worse. He asks and I say I wanted to see the outside world. ‘Foolish girl. It’s corrupt and evil. Well, you will be taught the error of your ways!’
Why do I hate The Cult? It has strange rules, especially concerning the way girls should be brought up. I have to wear full-length dresses all the time, in drab colours and home-spun materials. I’m not allowed short hair. My hair is bright auburn and very straight; its reddishness singles me out in a crowd. Maybe that’s how they caught me so easily. I’m good-looking and hard to miss. But I have to defer to seniors, especially the men.
I weave my long hair into braids to keep it tidy, and wear it in styles that keep it out of the way when I work. In the evenings I have to comb it out (that’s a rule) and brush it 100 times to keep it free and healthy. Morning and night I carry out the brushing ritual: to omit it even once means double the number of strokes — and Father adds painful strokes elsewhere.
I can’t live at home; that’s another rule. I have to stay in The Cult school. And I have to wear The Key. It’s not a real key but a symbol of one, and I have to embroider it on every pair of my knickers, positioned in front, low down where my legs meet. ‘To remind you,’ Mother says, ‘of what you must always keep locked.’
I have to wear plain white cotton knickers — always. They are of rough and slightly irritating material, are elasticated at the waist and upper thighs and cling to my body. In and out of school, in term-time and during the holidays, the Key Knickers go with me. Not until the day I’m married am I allowed to forget The Key. The final taking-off of Key Knickers is a part of our marriage ceremony, carried out in private, but according to the ritual, by the groom when the newly-weds retire. I never tell anyone, but I’m looking forward to that.
At school discipline is strict. I’m never allowed home at weekends and go back to my parents only for holidays. I sleep in a dormitory where there is a small room at one end, from which the prefect-in-charge keeps an eye on us. My bed is narrow and the mattress hard, but we have so much exercise and sport I don’t mind that. What I hate is The Bell.
At the end of my bed is a small bell, designed so that the tongue can be locked silent during the day but released at night. At lights-out, the prefect-in-charge comes round to check that everyone’s bell is loosened. It tinkles loudly when I climb into bed and rings thereafter at the slightest movement I make. They tell us it’s to stop us from ‘fidgeting’. It keeps us still, but there are ways I want to move in bed — gentle, rhythmic ways which, however secretly I try them, The Bell always betrays.
I lie in the Dorm, breathing very quietly, listening hard, knowing what I want to do but afraid The Bell will tinkle. Sometimes a friend in another bed throws caution to the winds: driven by too urgent a summons, she ignores The Bell. Perhaps some get away with it — I cannot tell — but too often the prefect is down on me.
‘Your Bell is ringing too much. I am taking your name for the Punishment Book. If it happens again you’ll have a double-entry.’ There is nothing I can do; the silvery jingle in the night brings many a raw stripe to my bottom the following morning.
But if The Key and The Bell keep me disciplined, neither frightens me so much as The Phial. I’ve mentioned the Punishment Book and, of course, punishment means the cane. In other schools that use the cane a pupil is given a fixed number of strokes. Perhaps it is four strokes of the cane for telling a lie, six strokes for secret smoking, eight if you’re caught stealing. The Cult doesn’t give out punishment like this; not by the number of strokes. My suffering, and the suffering of all my girl-friends is measured in tears.
When anyone is caught out in a lie she has to weep half-an-inch of tears. If I steal I must weep three-quarters-of-an-inch of tears. How can anyone measure tears, you ask? The Cult knows a way! It’s a way which a guilty 17-year-old quickly learns to master.
The doctor’s examination is now nearing its end. It’s getting late in the evening and he has been irritated by the interruption of his leisure hours, but no less thorough on account of that. At last he is satisfied and gives me a certificate stating that my maidenhead has not been breached; I am intact. Before he completes the certificate I have the terrible thought that he might report I am not a virgin, even though I am.
I sense he is hoping for the opposite — to discover I’ve been really wicked. If he lies, who will believe my word against his? How can I prove I’m innocent? He is honest, but this doesn’t relieve my unease. I know they will now take me to my preliminary hearing, even though it’s dark. For a cardinal offence like absconding, all The Cult’s wheels of justice are set in motion at once. I go to a small annexe, next to the Courtroom.
Three stern male faces glower at me as I enter the room. My Mother and Father are there; they have been called and instructed to attend. The three ‘magistrates’ sit at the raised bench, each in a black gown, but without wigs. Cult symbols are carved on the wall behind; the lights are harsh and I feel they are turned on me.
I stand in front of The Bench and curtsey. I hand my ‘Certificate of Purity’ to the man in the centre of the adjudicating troika. The fact that I actually have the Certificate is enough to lower the tension slightly, but then I remember the doctor added notes of his own. One tells of what I have done during the three days when there wasn’t a Bell fixed to the end of my bed. But a second note makes the senior magistrate clear his throat noisily and speak.
‘I read here that, after you absconded from us, you changed out of your Key Knickers and put on underwear similar to that worn by outsiders.’ He mouths the word outsiders with contempt, for he believes no one — especially an unmarried teenager — should have contact with a person not brought up in The Cult. Those beyond its influence are beyond the pale, corrupted and polluted by the world.
‘We disapprove in the strongest terms. You will remove those disgusting lacy panties you have on and replace them with authorised clothing.’ I look at him in alarm. I have only the clothes I stand up in and if I take off my wispy silk, I must be naked under my long dress. Mother comes forward; she has a brand new pair of Key Knickers. They must have told her to bring them.
Two small clips fasten my skirt at the waist. Mother slips them open and with both hands pulls the flowing garment to the ground. I step free of it, and before the assembly peel off the pretty silk lace I treated myself to when I ran away. You might think stern male eyes would turn away as I stand naked from my waist down, but they stare fixedly as Mother hands me the authorised knickers. I feel my face burning with shame. I make a feeble attempt to shield myself as I put them on, but Mother will have none of it.
‘Pull them up tightly, my girl,’ she says, ‘and let me see you know where The Key should rest.’ I tug upwards, and as the coarse cotton clings to my skin I know all eyes can see the outline of my secret parts. Still Mother isn’t satisfied; I must expect her to be angry. Her hand slips between my legs and she spreads her fingers.
‘You see this Key? It’s the symbol of your treasure-house. Show the magistrates you acknowledge that — let them see you submit!’ I face them again penitently, and curtsey a second time. As I do so, I feel the cotton tug tightly and slip into my groove; I am back in prison. The delicate, expensive silk that recently lay luxuriously against my skin is gone — probably forever. The chief magistrate nods.
‘We are satisfied — for the time being. You will, of course, wear your Key Knickers to bed tonight. When you report in the morning you will wear them and nothing else. Do you understand? You will go to your cell now, where your Mother will undress you and your clothes will be taken away. This is to remind you of your place: you are on remand. You will wear Key Knickers only from now until you appear before us tomorrow, and we hear your defence. If you are found guilty, sentence will be carried out immediately. So the less clothes you have to remove, the better.’
I walk no more than 20 yards to my cell, a small square room painted brilliant white, with light pouring from translucent panels in the ceiling. The walls are bare and smooth, windowless and quite blank except for a full-length mirror, opposite the cell door. The only piece of furniture is a bed, identical to the ones in the Dorm. At the end, of course, is The Bell. It was foolish to imagine otherwise. If a Bell watches at the bed-end when I’ve done nothing, did I really imagine it would vanish when I was on remand?
Mother takes my clothes and hands me a brush and comb. Two hundred strokes with both. Then sleep. Another two hundred when you wake. I shall see you in the Courtroom at eight. I warn you I shall ask the Judge for the most severe sentence. Your Father favours leniency but your wilfulness must be broken.’ Her look of fury softens for a moment and she touches my cheek softly. ‘Believe me, darling, you will thank us when it is all over.’ I do not believe her.
I stand before the mirror, which reflects all of myself. I suppose I’m meant to look at myself inwardly too, and reflect on my behaviour. I start to comb my hair, then when it’s down to my waist, I begin brushing. Laboriously, I reach a total of 400 strokes. My hair is glistening and free, but my scalp hurts and my arm aches like hell. I sit on the bed. The Bell jingles. I know this will be heard through the microphone, someone will be listening now to my every move, and probably watching me as well.
I know this supposition is correct when I lie motionless and close my eyes, for moments later the lights go out. I wish for oblivion, but the Judge’s face is swimming in my mind. With Mother urging him on, how can I hope for mercy? How much punishment will he demand? How much can I endure? I know I am guilty and would be wise to plead so. I become aware of my bottom — as yet unmarked — against the hard mattress. The protective cotton I wear will undoubtedly come off tomorrow. Frightened by my thoughts, I fall into a fitful sleep.
I wake up next morning as the lights come on. I’m allowed strong coffee, freshly made and as much of it as I like. Nothing to eat however; it’s a way of keeping me aware and awake, sensitive to what is going on. I gulp the coffee, even though my tummy feels hollow. Now, the combing ritual: 200 strokes. And another 200 with the brush.
I study myself in the glass, the auburn tresses cascading over me. I’m tall, supple and athletic, my arms and legs pale because normally they must always be covered. If I could wear what I wanted my limbs would be bronzed by the sun because I work hard, out of doors. The sides of my face are straight and move to a point at my chin. My blue eyes have an auburn fleck which matches exactly the colour of my hair — it’s a gift from Nature but I accept it as my right.
My nose tilts upwards and has been called insolent. My full mouth is built of two firm, wide lips. My longer-than-average neck settles on soft shoulders but they are also broad and strong. I think my breasts are shallow for my age, but they separate well and I’m very flat at the diaphragm. My body curves in distinctly at the waist, which will scarcely be touched if I put a 26” belt around it, and fills out again at the hips, which are now encased in Key Knickers. Even when they are not, they show no sign of chubbiness but are smooth and bulge-free.
My legs are the part of me I like best. Strong at the thighs and very long, dimpled at the knees with rounded calves. My legs are smooth and lissom, and I find them sexy. There’s nothing special about my feet, except they’re the right size for my height and I look after them.
I’m the sort of teenager who, if I lived in the ‘outside’ world, might be seen in running-kit at a sports stadium, flexing as I ease into sprint shoes, poised to be away, and leading the race from the first vibration of the starter’s pistol. They have sports in The Cult and I often win but there’s no proper competition and I get no medals; they say they’re decadent.
I’ve brushed my hair well over 200 times now and spread the auburn drapes to cover my naked breasts. One of my nipples peeps through and I touch it, surprised at how sensitive it is. A tremor of fear starts. I squeeze my thighs together and brush harder to take away the anxiety. There are footsteps in the corridor and the door unlocks. It is my Father, who smiles wanly and takes my hand.
As he walks me towards the Courtroom, just paces away from where I spent the night, he is whispering. ‘It will be over in an hour, my dear. In a week your bottom will be back to normal and you can return to work. Come now, and be brave. We mustn’t keep them waiting.’ I follow him meekly through swing-doors, into The Cult Courtroom.
The room is circular, and not especially large. It has no need to be, for ‘cases’ are not held in public. One side is completely taken up by the Judge and Jury bench. Thirteen men sit there now, robed and silent. They look up in unison as I enter and am led to stand in front of the Judge, who sits in the middle of the row of thirteen. Father moves away to join Mother. There are special chairs for parents of the accused, for this Court rarely tries grown-ups; their own sense of duty to Cult Rules makes law-breaking unheard-of.
I curtsey and try to face the Judge, tremblingly aware of my nakedness and vulnerability. Yet I cannot bring myself to look at him, since there is a structure in the centre of this round and silent room that I dread.
It’s a strong permanent trestle, waist-high and padded all over. One side slopes steeply; there is a rounded top, then it dips for some 18 inches to level out into a padded platform. The platform is about as long as my arms and comes to an abrupt stop, barred by a wide board. On to that board is fastened the Measure Glass. I haven’t seen this structure before for this is my first time in Court apart from yesterday’s preliminary, but I have heard talk. That is perhaps more frightening than knowing; but I know I shall soon lie along that trestle. The bang of a gavel brings me abruptly to attention.
‘The facts of this matter are clear as day. You absconded from your home, telling no one where you planned to go. The moment you were missed, we sent “friends” to save you. Now you are under our guidance again and back in our care. Do you deny running away?’
‘No, my Lord.’
‘Do you deny you told no one you planned to leave?’
‘No, my Lord.’
Do you admit you have caused your parents deep suffering?’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
‘Do you acknowledge our authority to punish you?’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
‘Then you plead guilty, with no mitigating circumstances?’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
‘At least that saves us from going through some farcical tissue of lies. We will proceed immediately to the sentence.’
Shivering in my knickers, I watch fearfully as each of the Jury Members takes out a pen and moves to complete a special sentencing form. They fold the forms and pass them along the row to the Judge. He unfolds them again, and reads the sentence written on each. Every time he reads, he nods. When all twelve sentences have been collected and noted, the Judge looks at me again and speaks.
‘We have voted on severity of sentence, young lady, and I am pleased to tell you the vote is unanimous. Taking into account your admission of guilt, and that you were able to show us a Certificate of Purity last evening, the sentence recommended by every member of this court is — an inch of tears.’
My Father gasps, but before he can speak Mother holds his arm. ‘It’s not a drop less than she deserves. Remember your duty, my dear.’
The Judge signals my parents to come forward. When they are close to him he says: ‘As you know, sentences of this Court are carried out immediately, and as parents you are responsible for administering punishment. As her Father you will do the caning. And as her Mother, you will watch the Measure Glass.
‘When you are sure it is an inch full, you will bring it to me. When I — and each of the Jurors — agree the full penalty has been paid, punishment may stop. If we decide the glass is not filled, caning continues until it is.
‘You may, if you wish, delegate your duties to two members of the Jury, whom you may nominate from this Bench, who will punish and watch for you. What is your decision?’
‘We know our duties and will carry them out,’ says Father. ‘Although she is our daughter we can be objective enough to see she is disciplined thoroughly.’ My Mother backs him up: ‘You have our assurance, my Lord. We will see that justice is done.’
The Judge is pleased. Raising his voice so that I can hear clearly, he says: ‘The accused will now choose the instrument of discipline.’
A silent-wheeled trolley appears before me, upon which are laid six canes. They are long, thin and whippy, each with a crooked handle. All are capable of inflicting terrible pain. I must choose which I think will be the easiest to bear, but the more I look the harder I find it to choose between them. It is a cruel and unfair trick. Although my eyes search the trolley frantically, I cannot spot one rod that looks less dangerous than its fellows. I also know that even if one were less vicious than the others I would need to receive more strokes from it to weep my inch. The Jury looks restive; I must decide quickly.
Closing my eyes, I reach out blindly and my fingers grip one of the crooked handles. This must be the one, I think to myself as I lift it and lower my hand to my side. My heart is racing and I have a weakness in my knees. The voice of the Judge penetrates my fear.
Hand the cane to your Father, and ask him to chastise you.’ Daring to look now, I edge towards my Father and, placing the wooden tormentor in both my outstretched hands, I offer it to him whispering, ‘Please punish me with this, Father — and punish me hard.’ If the Judge is pleased with my contrition he shows no sign of it. Turning to Mother he says, ‘Remove her protective clothing.’
I stand at attention in the centre of the Courtroom, my slender body naked except for the white cotton knickers. My hair falls over my breasts. I look lithe and healthy. Mother has her fingers in the elastic at my waist and is pulling downwards. The Key Knickers twist as they roll past my thighs and down my calves. I step right out of them. For an instant it feels wonderful to be free, but the elation is for a brief second only; despair wells within me. I know everyone around is there only to witness my pain. And as I see all the men’s eyes staring at my nudity, suddenly it seems as if my whole body is blushing.
Mother is behind me, scooping my flowing hair into her hands. With speed that comes from years of practice she parts my hair into three long strands and begins to braid it into a pigtail. In less than half a minute it is done and she fastens the end with an elastic band. Mother has thought of everything. Now I look even younger than my 17 years and not even my hair can hide me. During this time the Judge and Jury are impassive. Now they signal me to mount the punishment trestle.
Still behind me, Mother marches me forward. I stand at the taller side of the trestle. My legs are pushed apart, and on tiptoe I lie over the top of the structure, until my hips rest on the highest part. My open legs are held apart by pegs sunk into the padding. My bottom is sticking lewdly in the air. I lie forwards, my midriff pressing against the other side. The rest of my body levels out along the padded table. I prop on my elbows. Mother steps back and pushes at my shoulders, making my back dip. This moves my naked posterior even higher, thrusting it upwards, the cheeks stretched and firm. There is air between my legs and a shiver runs through me.
My bottom is now a defenceless target for the cane. The high-rise position puts my weight on my hips and tummy. I begin to wish I hadn’t drunk so much coffee in the cell earlier. Why didn’t I remember, gulping it down, how long I would have to wait to get comfortable again? Comfortable! The very idea — when I am released from this position I will feel anything but comfortable.
Mother takes hold of my right hand. She pushes into it The Phial. This is the ‘tear-catcher’ I must hold throughout my flogging. As I am caned I must use it to trap the drops from my eyes. I do this by holding it close to my face and chasing the rivulets of water as they stream down. As tears fill The Phial, I must transfer them to the Measure Glass, fastened on the board in front of me. It is within reach, but to tip my tear-drops into it I must move, in a way that will push my bottom higher into the air.
Angled helplessly, I imagine what is going to happen. When the cane bites, I’ll start to cry. I picture the scene in my mind’s eye. As I scrabble to catch my weeping in The Phial, it will gradually fill. Then I will move to fill the Measure Glass, which is marked out in quarter-inches, and which has to be topped-up to the satisfaction of Judge and Jury. My stretching forward will raise my bottom-cheeks higher, and when they are at their most vulnerable, and I am at the highest point of concentration, the cane will thrash down again.
As I bend down to add each precious drop to the Measure Glass, so my bare and burning bottom will rise up. Down I go; up comes my bottom; down comes the cane; up I writhe. This cruel ritual of punishment devised by The Cult has its reasons.
All girls are different: some can bear more pain than others. A fat, lazy bottom can absorb more than a taut one where the nerves are near the surface of the skin. So the punishment is not measured in strokes of the cane, but in the tears shed, for pain causes tears, and the more pain, the more copiously they will flow.
Moreover, such punishment keeps the girl being thrashed absolutely alert and straining, for you can be sure she is desperate to catch every tiny droplet that leaks from her eyes. Writhe she may (and if the caner is determined, writhe she certainly will) and if The Phial falls from her hand in response to a scorcher of a stroke and tears are lost, these do not count. But the miscreant works desperately to fill the Measure Glass to its determined height, in a position that permits no slacking. Instead she is urged, indeed goaded, forced to work to the utmost of what she can bear.
It is only when I am being positioned on the punishment trestle, holding The Phial, reaching towards the Measure Glass, waiting for Father to begin, that the full meaning of The Cult’s punishment, and the reasons for it, gradually become clear to me. The trestle is broad enough to accommodate the movements I must make. I stretch my arm to check I can easily reach the Measure Glass. I turn my wrist, practising the pouring movement. Mother watches, helping me practise my moves, checking distances, making sure she can see (for surely I will not be able to) the lines on the glass that indicate each quarter-of-an-inch.
For an instant I wonder how Mother, who has been raised in The Cult, can allow me to go through the agony that is about to come. She must know — even if not from her own experience — what terrible squirming and screaming there will be. Can she not think back to her own teenage years and, remembering how hard a cane bites, beg the Judge to spare me? But perhaps it is because Mother has suffered, and believes the discipline was her salvation, that she has insisted on a severe sentence.
Father is in a dilemma. I sense it. If he holds his hand, and skims the rod across my bottom, tears will take time to come, and who can say how long I may be spread for beating. But if he flogs hard, what marks will he leave on my tender skin? Either way, the Measure Glass cannot be cheated — it must be filled a full inch. I sense, rather than see, the Judge signal to Father. He touches the small of my back and says quietly: ‘Be brave. It is starting now.’
‘Do not begin yet!’ The Judge calls for Father to wait. Rising quickly from his bench, he strides behind the Jurors in his flowing robes and steps down to the centre of the room. Am I reprieved? Has all this been play-acting? After being terrified as never before in my life, am I to be released? The Judge takes the cane.
He has come to see that Father knows clearly what is expected. There is concern among some Jurors that my own parent may not deal with me as severely as they think I deserve. Now he demonstrates how whipping must be done. He lifts the cane, not shoulder-high, not head high, but with his arm over his head so that the stick hangs down behind him. He brings it back, in deliberate slow motion, to tap me on the posterior. It does not hurt but my buttocks flinch and my whole body begins to quiver with dread.
The Judge shows Father again. From the furthest point backwards, hard over, direct to the point of contact — that must be the extent of the swing. ‘Deliver each stroke with all your strength,’ I hear the Judge instruct him.
A third time he draws back. Surely Father understands by now — in my terror I know I do. I shut my eyes, believing the Judge will pass the cane back to Father. There is a long pause, and I cannot control the trembling of my nude limbs. Suddenly, in an instant of darkness, I am bitten.
Not once but twice the cane slashes down, whistling through the air. Two blinding cuts, at snake-bite speed, so fast that only my tormentor and I know what has happened. A double stripe! Venomous pain! I hurt with an intensity that cannot be imagined or described. My bottom is burning like a pyre.
The breath is driven from my body, sickness hits my stomach, I fight for air as though I’m drowning, suck it into my chest. Out it comes again in a piercing, agonised shriek. Oh pitiful heavens, what torment is this?
Two agonising strokes have riven my body. My fingers fling open, The Phial flies from my hand and rolls across the floor. My head rears up in a reflex action, my back arches and I collapse forward. Mother is at my side.
‘Take hold of The Phial — you must hold it. Keep a grip on it whatever happens. Grasp firmly, catch those tears; look to yourself or you will be lost.’
The Judge’s intent was to bring on instant weeping and it has had its effect. My eyes are pouring. I scoop droplets from my face, catching them in The Phial. Gradually it fills and I reach to pass them into the Measure Glass. I see Father holding the cane, watching my bottom. When it is at peak height, poking upwards, seeking out and seemingly almost welcoming the downward drive, he strikes home. Not once, but twice!
CR…ACKK! CR…ACKK!
Oh mercy, mercy! Can’t Father see the hot salty water is gushing down my face? Please God, not two strokes at a time! The pain is terrible enough without doubling the cuts. But this time I hold The Phial, determined not to drop it, for then I lose half the teardrops. I’m burning not just on my skin-surface but deep down in my buttocks, even in my hips. I chase the salty water, catch it from under my chin. Drop by drop the collection gathers, now I must transfer it to the Measure Glass.
But as I bend lower, so my blazing bottom moves higher. I sense the vulnerability but can’t avoid it — I must go on. Father sees my rear-end at pyramid-height and thrashes in at that instant. I scream, twist on the padded top, chase tears, hold The Phial first under one eye, then the other. It fills fast, and grateful for that tiny mercy I add the brine to the Measure Glass. But oh — my lower cheeks bob up again; what fiend designed this trestle so it makes me beg for the blow, even as I try to escape it?
The cane cracks down on both cheeks; I can’t believe anything could hurt so much. Every stroke adds more burns, more pulsing agony, more terrible, fearful shock. I’m jumping, struggling to stay supported on my elbows, which slip sideways as each new flame fires.
My eyes are so full of water that reaching to top-up the Measure Glass is instinctive. But even as I lean lower, the ‘punishment area’ lifts to receive the next weal. Oh help, help, please let the Measure Glass fill quickly.
CRACK! The lash strikes full in the centre of my uptilted globes. I can’t believe there is pain so intense, not in all creation.
CRACK! My voice rips from my throat, my wide-open eyes are like taps, running with a steady flow into The Phial. I sniff, moan, chase tears across the crevices of my distorted mouth; a drop; a trickle; now The Phial is full. Reach to the Measure Glass, clench my muscles defensively, oh God I’m moving up, more readily to receive the pliant wood. I do not hear the cane whistle, but I know it must, as the next stripe lands home.
My eyes are wide with terror, blinded with brine. The Phial is slippery in my fingers as I reach towards the Measure Glass. Why can’t I stop my bottom lifting up?
Escape, my tortured body tells me. I can’t escape. Then cry — weep and fill your cup. With all my will-power I pray the pain will go away; every inch of my buttocks is most bitterly sore. I imagine for an instant what they must look like, criss-crossed with swelling weals, jerking, bucking, clenching in a vain attempt to elude the scything cane.
CR…ACKK! Not conscious of the sound I make, I twist, rear, try desperately to concentrate. Down I tip my tear-drops. The trestle cannot be faulted for the way it forces me into a see-saw effect: it leaves my haunches high, helpless, hopelessly welcoming the punishment. Even as they rise the rod falls, driven by a parent determined to break his daughter’s wayward will.
I wiggle in despair; nostrils flare, breasts heave, mouth falls slack, eyes gush, pain burns deep, hands scoop the cascade of water streaming into The Phial. I sense Mother making a check of the amount I have wept. But she steps back again — not enough! Dear God, still not enough. Cry, my mind urges, splash out your pain.
When Father sees that Mother is not yet ready to take the Measure Glass to the Judge, he decides on even more punitive strokes. This time, as my savaged posterior pokes in the air he comes down on me twice, yet again. White hot pain blazes into me. I sob, blubber, frantically chase rivers down my flushed face. Can there be any more moisture in my body to be wept out? But I don’t want the cane to help me find it. Limp, exhausted, petrified of further punishment, I howl and catch water. Now please let the Measure Glass be full!
I twist my head in torment and see Father, his arm raised again. My wilfulness is completely broken and I beg for release, bleating and mewling repentance. But Mother has not signalled for him to stop. He cracks my bottom again, and this is the utter limit of my torment. Huffing, moaning incoherently, I transfer the warm moisture I have managed to capture into its hold-all.
Never again will I dare to defy The Cult. Their retribution is terrible and my parents are determined I must suffer it. Oh, my pitiful, unprotected, flailed bottom; how will it survive so severe a lashing? I have heard of the punishment trestle, now I am experiencing it. Chase and capture your suffering, I tell myself. It is the only way to end your trial.
Father canes me again. Oh please let this agony be over. I will do anything, promise anything, to have my cane-crazed bottom spared from more strokes. I try to scream my penitence to the Jurors: to say I repent; to plead that I shall not be given another blow on that area where now, even a breath of air hurts me.
Finally there is no time, no thought, no hope, no rescue. Just the cane and filling the Measure Glass. I don’t know how long it is before Father stops thrashing me. I don’t see Mother loosen the Measure Glass and hurry it to the Judge. I miss the Jurors passing it amongst themselves. Mother gives a sigh of relief. Father rests his arm, placing the vicious stick against the side of the trestle. Between giant sobs, I realise it is over.
Minutes pass before I can stand. Wilfulness, pride, defiance are burned out of me. The Judge speaks from the bench.
The accused will dress herself before she leaves the Courtroom: Dress myself? That means I must squeeze my quivering bottom into the white Key Knickers I wore when I first came in. This is the final act of surrender. Wincing, I slip first one foot, then the other, through the elasticated legs and ease the cotton upwards till it reaches the underside of my tender cheeks. From here I cannot bear to be touched and stand pitifully exposed, the garment wrapped in a twist around the tops of my thighs, not daring to pull it further.
I face the Jurors, not caring that my most precious part, that I must always keep locked, may be seen by all, for I am helpless to know what to do. Angry that I am so careless with my modesty Mother grasps the waistband with both hands and pulls it brusquely over my flaming rear. With the confining cotton rubbing cruelly against my welts, she and Father lead me away to begin a month of penances.

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