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Saturday, 27 October 2018

Elaine Cox: Behind the Times

Story from Janus 99 by Richard Manton
Max stared gloomily across the leather-bound volumes in his shop-window towards the crawling traffic of the street. The soot-blackened stone of Stuart and Hanoverian town-houses had lately been restored to film-set gold by the tourist board. Now the tourists themselves had arrived. The ancient columns and archways stank of petrol fumes from their constant exhaust clouds. Unmistakably in the groaning din he heard the approach of ‘The Enemy’. It was an open-top bus which stopped outside the row of shops every twenty minutes. Faces that looked like the less intelligent farmyard species loomed over the guardrail or peered through the glass. A voice which seemed to emanate from a female drill-instructor boomed and whanged through an amplifier.
‘We are now in Queen Street,’ whined the self-confident drudge. ‘It’s called Queen Street after Queen Mary and her Partner William III passin’ through in 1688, lookin’ to depose James II and put the House of Holland on the throne.’
‘House of Orange!’ Max shouted in helpless fury. ‘House of Orange, you knickered cretin! The House of Holland is where you buy garden furniture!’
It was pointless, of course. The ugly bulk of the bus stood there, great farting gusts of diesel rising black from its exhaust. As it moved on, and an elderly pedestrian choked in its wake, a prim notice just inside its door read: Thank you for not smoking. In what Max liked to think of as The Good Old Days’, crassness of the tour-hostess’s kind was reason for an afternoon spent touching the toes with the knickers down to the ankles. And a fine supple cane. No need to set a limit to the number of strokes. Let time stand still. Why spoil a good thing? Max longed to be her instructor.
He turned away to resume his dusting of the shelves. The shop-door bell pinged behind him. There were two of them, dressed in crumpled jeans and trainers, mother and daughter, T-shirts blazoned with witless slogans. The daughter, a loutish 18-year-old, was slobbering over a frozen lollipop. The older woman ran a finger along a row of Aldine Press leather bindings.
‘Funny old books, ain’t they, Trace?’
Max felt the blood beating in his ears. Funny old books? Funny old books!
‘No food in the shop, if you please!’ he said sharply.
‘oo says? Any case a drink on a stick isn’t food.’
‘I own this shop,’ Max said firmly. ‘I make the rules. And if you let her eat rubbish like that, she’ll get nothing but a spotty bottom.’
The woman gave a squawk of rage, said something about fetching her husband and led the way out. The daughter turned in the doorway.
‘Fucking wanker,’ she said with morose indifference.
‘There’s a transport cafe at the cattle-market,’ Max called down the street helpfully. ‘You should find it very homely.’ The door slammed. He sat behind the counter and studied the list of applicants on the employment register. Since getting rid of Sharon Anne and Victoria Jane, a pair of sisters whose indifference to custom had nearly put him out of business, he had managed alone. It was impossible. There were auctions, and book sales in London, as well as visits to private clients. He needed someone to mind the shop.
This morning’s list was another team of no-hopers. He ignored Gary, Kevin, Wayne and their mates, concentrating on the female names. Jobs for the girls. Positive discrimination they called it nowadays. Sharon Dennis? Definitely not another Sharon after the last one. Victoria Harris? Not another Victoria either. Rachel Williams? No. Samantha Wilson, Jo Dixon, Brigit Price. No! No!… No!… It was a waste of time. He looked at the next name, staring at it, not seeming to take it in… Elaine Cox.
Then the earth moved beneath him! Elaine Cox! The smack of the cane on bare rear cheeks rang through his mind. A robust and defiant young rebel under correction. Though Max rarely mentioned the fact, he was rather interested in girls’ bottoms. Stories of strumpets, scrubbers, trollops and tomboys under correction made his heart beat faster. Elaine Cox! She was no story but a real girl. She was the insolent tomboy under the whip in the classic case of Master James Miles in an age long gone. Was it mere chance that the same name which had been famous long ago should appear before him now? In the history of discipline, Elaine Cox had been the equivalent of a model to Rembrandt or a nicely rounded delivery begging to be hit for six by W. G. Grace. She was a real-life girl who had undergone frequent and exemplary chastisement in the days when chastisement really was chastisement —with all the trimmings. It had taken months, years even. But the venerable James Miles had brought Miss Cox to tearful and howling obedience. Yes, sir!
Max felt himself drawn deeper into the spiral of an obsession. The tourist bus passed twice without his being aware of it. The girl’s name itself was like an arcane erotic incantation. Elaine Cox… full pale bottom cheeks… Elaine Cox looking quite a big-bottomed girl as she knelt on all fours over the block… snub-nosed insolence… Grasping the elastic waistband of Elaine Cox’s knickers… An entire novel of obsession had been written about the disciplinary training of the real girl. There was a leather-bound volume on his shelves now with fine illustrations: Elaine Cox: A Well-Reared Tomboy.
Not a day had passed since he had first encountered the legend of Elaine Cox without one or two cherished phrases surfacing in Max’s mind. Fifteen years of thinking about a shouting, striding girl, defiantly tossing the lank fair hair that lay loose upon her shoulders… the broad oval of her face with its thin mouth and narrowed eyes making a picture of snub-nosed insolence. the pleated grey skirt worn brazenly short, exposing the robust pallor of her young thighs… Elaine Cox’s broadened tomboy bottom-cheeks presented bare to the guests as she knelt over the stool… black suited gentlemen prudently setting their top hats on their laps to avoid embarrassment… There were nights when he couldn’t sleep for thinking of her. He had to get up and spend a while studying the pictures of Elaine Cox under the whip before he sank back on the pillows fulfilled. How Max envied the master whose duty had been to chastise the girl fortnightly ‘until he was completely satisfied with her.’ Max sighed and thought that, personally, he would be a very hard man to satisfy.
It was absurd, of course. Elaine Cox was quite a common name. How could this girl on today’s employment register possibly have anything to do with the reformatory rebel of so long ago? But his dream reclaimed him…
An ear-splitting smack of bamboo across the full pale cheeks of Elaine Cox’s bottom. Elaine’s bare backside tensing and cheek-creasing under the searching smart, hands clenched into fists, teeth gnawing compulsively at her lower lip… The air singing to the smack and whip of the cane across robust young bottom-cheeks. The bare brick walls ringing with Elaine’s frantic shrillness…
No resemblance at all. How could there be? Elaine Cox’s young arse… The image of it as depicted by her original admirer hung before him in the air. Max waved it away. He wouldn’t even call the employment officer. Still, it was sensible to make a note of the man’s phone number for other inquiries. Elaine Cox, quite a big-bottomed girl, kneeling over the block in her white stretch-briefs, waiting for her master to pull them down… Only an idiot would follow up such a name in the present climate of opinion. In this politically correct day and age he wasn’t going to risk phoning an employment office and sounding like a sexual harasser. That American woman on Radio 4 this morning, proving that 90 per cent of women were sexually harassed at work 90 per cent of the time The other ten per cent too scared to report it. He was going to be sensible. He was definitely going to steer well clear of this one! Indeed he was!
‘Hello?…  Yes…  That’s right… Books and Fine Bindings. Just an inquiry… Just a possibility. A name on your list… Let me see. Where is it now?… Ah, yes. Here we are… Cox, Elaine. Just a chance.’
Elaine tossing back her lank fair hair and craning round at her chastiser with a look of snub-nosed contempt… Bamboo… Birch… Stable-lash… Full pale bottom-cheeks… The sturdy cheeks of Elaine Cox’s tomboy bottom flesh-creasing urgently under the smart of bamboo… Exemplary chastisement… make it last all afternoon…
‘Hello?… I see… Well, I don’t suppose any of them is entirely suited to the job. Wouldn’t be on your register, would they?… No, I honestly don’t think it matters if she’s not a bookish type… Previous employment on the trading estate needn’t be a problem. I take them as I find them… No, I accept that… What!… No I wouldn’t rather have Sharon Dennis or Victoria Harris. I don’t think a couple of CSE passes makes much difference. Exams aren’t everything. A girl who’s bottom of the class can be just as… more so even . How old is she?… Eighteen, I see… Yes, please… As soon as possible… Elaine Cox… Thank you so very much… Thank you…’
Max put the phone down.
‘You bloody fool!’ he said to himself. He stood up and felt a little dizzy.
----//----
As the day passed, Max felt worse. He had landed a girl who would look nothing like the original Elaine Cox. She would be no use in the job, and would sue him for wrongful dismissal the moment he tried to get rid of her. She was a disgruntled feminist agitator, secretly doing one of those distance-learning degrees in women’s subjects and what-a-rotten-lot-men-always-were, taught by some dyke with hairy legs and dangly earrings. Max was convinced of it. How could he have been such a fool as to be led by his appendage and his disciplinary enthusiasm into a disaster that could close him down?
For all he knew, she could be the lout with the lollipop. There was only one thing for it. He must get a look at her somehow. Then, if it came to the worst, phone the employment registry and say he was going out of business, emigrating if necessary. He checked the name of the components depot on the trading estate. Not ten minutes’ walk from where she lived. Say they finished at 5.30, she must be walking up the hill in the ten minutes after that.
At 5.25, Max parked his car furtively with a clear view of anyone approaching the road where the girl lived. Not many people on foot in this residential area, everyone seemed to go by car. But not a girl who lived so close.
Ten minutes passed. Suppose she had met a boyfriend and gone off with him? No. With home so close, she would go back and change. What if she stood and talked with friends for half an hour? He couldn’t sit in the car for ever.
Five more minutes passed like five hours. Three girls turned a corner behind him, reflected in the driving-mirror, walking towards the houses. One was a year or two older, but she and the youngest looked like sisters. The third girl was dark-haired and Max heard her call out, ‘See you, Elaine! See you, Pauline!’ as she crossed the road. Max’s heart stopped beating when he heard the names.
He stared into the mirror as though it had been a crystal ball. Elaine Cox was wearing a white short-sleeved singlet and pants. She had quite a sturdy figure. Max’s heart began to pump again. His blood pressure entered the stratosphere. Lank fair hair lying loose on her shoulders. The broad fair-skinned oval of her face. Narrowed eyes and thin lips. A look of snub-nosed insolence. The two girls walked past, unaware of him. They turned the corner. Elaine Cox! There was a wide belt at the waist of her pants, straining them tight over her young thighs, hips and backside. He felt his knees weaken.
Trying to seem calm, he got out of the car and reached the corner they had turned. Walking steadily behind the two girls, Max kept his eyes on Elaine’s trouser-seat. The wide belt at her waist pulled the smooth blue-grey cloth skin-tight. The slightly heavy cheek-weight of Elaine Cox’s bottom seemed to form an almost perfect circle. There was a sturdy vulgarity in her young backside which suggested her class and type. Max followed at the same distance, watching every slight swell and cheek-creasing of Elaine’s young bottom as its movement was exaggerated by the hill.
In his pocket was a little camera. Smart little jobs they made now with zoom built-in. Max as lensman had taken the beach-snaps of wet-bikini’d Sally Fenton which appeared in the story of her impudence chastised. His rear view of the pretty young imp bending for her towel, the lithe trim cheeks of Sally Fenton’s bottom in wet-tight bikini, was rated a classic of the bamboo genre.
Max glanced round. No one in sight. Elaine Cox’s sturdy young backside filled the viewfinder. Click-wind! A rear view of those young thighs as well. Click-wind! — Bottom — Click! Bottom — Click!… Elaine’s tight-trousered arse really full-cheeked as she began on the hill. Elaine Cox’s knickers ridged under the tight trouser suit. He could tell a lot about a girl from her knickers. Elaine’s were stretch-briefs, not skimpy but failing to cover the impudent cheek-weight of her bottom entirely. Click!Click!… The girls turned in at their gate. Two surreptitious facial shots as he walked on. Five minutes later, he turned and walked back past the house towards the car.
A bedroom window at the side. Probably hers. Yes! Someone there. Pulling the curtains wider. Suppose he hired rooms in the next house, pretending to be a lodger, high enough up to see across Perhaps there was a ladder, even…
He stopped, appalled at the riot of fantasies. Headlines flashed across his vision. POLICE TRAPPED LOCAL MAN AT TOP OF LADDER: COURT STORY… WOMEN’S GROUPS VOICE OUTRAGE AT ‘ABSURDLY LENIENT’ 15-YEAR SENTENCE FOR PEEPING BOOKSELLER… Quietly he walked back to his car.
He drove home, narrowly avoiding several traffic offences. Elaine was not quite a lookalike for her famous predecessor. But she was exactly the type in appearance and behaviour. Tossing the lank fair hair, the broad oval of the snub-nosed face, that sturdy young bottom in the skin-smooth trousers as she walked uphill. His expectation of the photos of Elaine’s trouser-seat kept him awake all night.
----//----
On the following evening, after the interview, Pauline asked her younger sister, ‘Was it all right? The bookshop?’
‘Yes,’ Elaine said doubtfully, ‘I suppose it was.’
‘He didn’t try anything funny like Jacko down the cash-and-carry?’
‘No,’ Elaine said hastily. ‘He seems all right. Sort of gentleman. I just hope he’s fit. Got a high colour and seems to lose his breath a bit. Didn’t seem interested in whether I’d passed exams at school or knew about books.’
Pauline chuckled. ‘Wait till his hands are in your knickers. You’ll know if he’s fit or not.’
‘I don’t think he’s like that,’ Elaine said thoughtfully.
----//----
Max was careful. He thought he was the most careful Max the town had ever seen. The desk at which the girl stood was just behind the window-display. He avoided putting a chair there, explaining that it looked bad if the staff were seen sitting down. The basement stairs came up just behind that point, lined with backless shelves which rose several feet above the floor of the upper shop. Elaine stood with her back to the shelves, staring out of the window.
Max had arranged a row of The Fireside Dickens so that there were gaps either side of Edwin Drood and Bleak House giving him a full view from the stairs, about three feet above floor level, without being seen.
He dusted every book in the shop every day for the next week. By the afternoons he reached the cellar stairs. Elaine gazed from the window. She leant forward on her hands, then on her elbows. Behind her, peering through the gap beside Bleak House, Max watched Elaine Cox’s trouser-seat as she bent over the desk for support. His face was about two feet away.
The sturdy cheeks of Elaine Cox’s bottom were tantalisingly full and rounded in the skin-smooth cloth of the blue-grey trouser-seat. The outline of Elaine’s knickers arched high and tight in a slight ridge over each rear cheek. Her thighs from the rear matched the robust young rebel whom Mr Miles brought to obedience. She shifted her backside a little. To Max, it was ‘Elaine Cox’s bare tomboy bottom writhing under the searching smart of the bamboo’.
She tossed back her lank fair hair. The very act of defiance! Max returned his gaze to the tomboy bottom again. The cheek-weight of Elaine Cox’s bottom caused a definite crease under each rear curve. How wonderful to have been James Miles with such a girl. Max imagined himself with a cane that was supple as a rapier. The official witnesses sat breathless and eager in the shadows. He would measure the strokes this way and that across the full pale cheeks of Elaine Cox’s bottom. He would do it partly to take aim and partly to scare the wits out of the youngster as she felt in advance what she was going to get. Studying her young arse at such close range, Max imagined himself measuring across the fullest outer swell of Elaine’s bare backside. He measured a few slanting strokes, ensuring that they would intersect. And then low down, just above the crease dividing rear cheek and thigh, right across the fatter width of Elaine Cox’s bottom… Even before he began, the cheek-skin of Elaine’s young bottom would be itching uncontrollably with fright…
He studied the way the girlish weight of Elaine’s rear cheeks swelled out and how they curved in together. He studied Elaine Cox’s arse, by courtesy of The Fireside Dickens; from half-past two until quarter to four. He was polishing leather bindings on the stairway shelves. It was a long job.
And as he studied Elaine Cox’s backside, Max was indeed polishing, more vigorously than he had done for a long time. He felt sure that Elaine could hear him and, in its way, that caused him further excitement. At last, the shop bell pinged and Max reluctantly stopped what he was doing.
Returning to his observation-post ten minutes later, he wondered if he dared to take the plunge. Elaine Cox’s original admirer had first seen her in a white blouse, tie, and grey skirt worn brazenly short on strong bare thighs. Like a submariner after an epic voyage, he came up the stairs.
‘You know, we normally provide a uniform for staff,’ he said. ‘Just a blouse and skirt. We like to think of it as our trade mark. We find it encourages customer loyalty and esprit de corps.’
‘Does it?’ she said indifferently.
‘Oh, yes,’ Max said firmly. ‘It does. No two ways about that.’
‘All right. I don’t mind.’
There was an insolence about her. How could he not have seen it before?
‘And you could still wear those trousers and singlet on days when the uniform was at the cleaners or you needed to climb ladders for stocktaking.’
‘All right, if that’s what you want.’
That night, in reply to her sister’s questions, Elaine said, ‘He says staff there have to wear a uniform. A little grey skirt — it only comes just to the top of your legs. And a white blouse with a navy-blue tie.’
‘What’s wrong with that, if it’s a staff uniform?’
‘I am the staff,’ Elaine said cautiously. There’s no one else.’
Pauline turned on the hair drier and raised her voice. ‘Well, if he didn’t pinch your fat young bum in those tight trousers, he’s hardly likely to stick his hand up your skirt. You fell on your feet there.’
Three afternoons later, as he polished The Fireside Dickens, Max had to sit down on the stairs from exhaustion. She wore white socks to her knees because she said there was a draught at that level. But those pale sturdy tomboy thighs were bare and he could see their full length. Because the girl had no idea she could be seen from behind — or had she? — she still leant forward on the desk. As Max had expected, Elaine Cox’s knickers were white stretch-briefs of the ordinary kind. They moulded the full tomboy cheeks of her backside in a most intimate manner.
Elaine looked quite a big-bottomed girl as she bent right forward over the desk. To either side of the elastic knicker-hem the pale tomboy bottom-flesh was bare. This view of Elaine was identical to the close-ups in the book, Max thought. As she shifted her knees a little, the cheek-weight of Elaine’s bottom moved in a slow lethargic rhythm. On one side the elastic knicker-hem worked up a little, laying bare almost all the pale swell of her rear cheek on that side, even giving a momentary peep of the changing skin-tone as it curved in... The shop bell pinged. Max stopped polishing and got up with an effort.
----//----
That evening, he courted disaster.
‘There’s a little job for you tomorrow.’
Elaine had been reading a magazine spread on the desk. She straightened up and tossed her fair hair into place on the back of her shoulders.
‘What sort of job?’
It was there again! The tone of insolence, the grudging acceptance of work! His long perusal of Elaine’s bottom that afternoon had convinced Max that the girl needed tanning to teach her manners. How right he had been!
‘The books on the shelves back there,’ he indicated the rarer editions. ‘We need to check the prices inside with the stock list. Make sure everything corresponds.’
‘Why?’
‘Because’ he said irritably, visions of soundproof apartments whirling through his mind, ‘catalogue prices are increased from time to time. The prices pencilled in the books must be the same… All right?’
The broad fair-skinned oval of her face confronted him. Narrowed eyes and thin mouth. Snub-nosed insolence.
‘If you want,’ she said gracelessly. But tomorrow was going to be decisive, Max thought. Elaine Cox was about to get the shock of her life. His future depended on how she reacted.
He watched without seeming to. Elaine was in her blue-grey pants and her white singlet today. Catalogue in hand, she was working her way along the shelves. Max’s heart thumped as it had not done even when polishing so energetically on the basement stairs.
She had come to the crucial shelf. Where was she now? He could just make out the title of each volume as she took it down. Sally Fenton: A Romance of the Spanking Strap. Not the bookish type, Elaine took no interest in cheeky little Sally’s fate. Lesley Hollingsworth: A Proud Young Wanton Punished. It might have been a book on gardening for all the notice she took. Jordana and the Whipmaker. The African tan seductiveness of Jordana’s pert young bottom meant nothing. Maggie Turnbull: A Working-Girl’s Training. Probably thought it was about office management. Elaine Cox: A Well-Reared Tomboy. The girl hesitated. She opened it and Max recognised the page by its illustration...
Elaine Cox’s first official tanning. She was reading about it, how a girl with her own name and appearance had been thrashed beyond anything that could happen in the modern world… How the stable-hands had climbed up outside to peep down through the windows, their visible excitement as they saw Elaine Cox’s young bottom under correction. The excited smiles of the official witnesses and the eagerness of the chastiser himself.
She turned from the text to an illustration which faithfully depicted the drama. Max heard her gasp. It was not quite as if Elaine had looked into a mirror but very, very close. Having read of what happened to the girl with her name, Elaine now saw herself in the same costume and with much the same looks as she possessed in reality. She might almost be the model for words and pictures, had she been born at the time. Max watched eagerly as she took the volume from the shelf. She walked back to the desk as if in a trance, sat down slowly and stared at its pages. There was no more work that day. That evening, Max looked for it on the shelf and in the desk. It was nowhere. Elaine Cox had taken it home to read!
Next morning, as they walked down the road together, Pauline said to her younger sister, ‘You seen a ghost or something? You look a bit odd.’
‘No,’ Elaine shook her head. ‘Not seen one. I think I might be one.’
‘Strikes me,’ Pauline said, ‘you’d be better off with a night or two of Jacko’s power-drill. There’s something not right about that bookshop.’
All day Max waited for the climax of the drama. There was none. Elaine, back in her skimpy skirt and blouse, seemed chastened. That night the book was back on the shelf.
----//----
It was a week later when the younger sister came home looking thoroughly shaken. All Elaine’s tomboy insolence had dissolved into crestfallen apprehension. Pauline listened wide-eyed.
‘I was supposed to check all the prices pencilled in the covers of the books,’ Elaine said, sitting woebegone on their shared bed. ‘They cost a fortune. I did most of them and then something happened. Everything went right out of my head. I didn’t do the last lot of shelves. I should have done. I told him I had done. But I didn’t.’
‘So?’
‘An American dealer came in today while he was at a sale. The dealer bought about twenty books. Mostly expensive books with pictures in and that’s the shelves I hadn’t checked. All of them should have been ten pounds more with the tourist season beginning. I didn’t realise. I sold them for the price in the cover. He’s probably halfway to New York with them by now.’
‘How much were you out?’
‘About two hundred pounds!’ Elaine’s wail of despair was operatic. There’s no one round here with money like that to spare. I need that job and if I lose it this way I’ll never get another. Not even from Jacko! If only I could just be punished for what I’ve done and go on working there. I think he’s interested in — you know. I found a book on the shelves about a girl being caned a long time ago…’
It was impossible to tell Pauline the whole truth about the volume.
‘You think he’d actually tan you and then let you off?’ Pauline asked.
‘I think he would. It might be the best way out.’
‘Gosh!’ Pauline said. She was impressed.
Elaine sniffed back her grief.
‘It can’t be worse than what’s going to happen here, if I come home and tell them I’ve been sacked. You know what’s next! And it’s likely to happen over and over so long as they’ve got to keep me. That strap in the bathroom isn’t there to sharpen razors. Not since he went electric.’
‘Well,’ Pauline said at length, ‘if he tans you and keeps you on, you could be well in. For all you know, he could be kinky or something. I mean, if he likes what he sees, you could be on your way to the top… from the bottom!’
And Pauline burst out laughing at her own wit, in a most un-sisterly manner.
----//----
‘Well,’ Max said philosophically, ‘I’m not one for dismissing staff on the spot. Everyone needs time to reflect. Let’s say the end of next week, shall we? After a loss like that, I don’t think I could afford…’
Elaine shook her hair back and faced him bravely. ‘It would have been a spanking with a strap at home when I was a kid,’ she said glumly. ‘Or a cane at school. Life’s not that simple any more, is it?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Max said encouragingly. ‘Life can be simple when we want.’
Bloody fool! You bloody fool! Headlines whirled about him again. SPANKING BOOKSELLER GETS LIFE… JUDGE REGRETS ABOLITION OF PENAL SERVITUDE…
‘Can it be simple?’ Elaine’s shoulder-length hair slid forward again as she turned and stooped to find a hanky in her bag. The skin-smooth seat of her blue-grey pants formed a pair of robust tomboy bottom-cheeks. Max wished he had put on trousers of his own more generously cut at the front. It seemed to take Elaine a little while to find the handkerchief. Max fought for control.
‘The end of next week, then’ he said hoarsely, ‘unless you think another solution more appropriate. It would have to be after hours, of course.’
Idiot! A week of Woman’s Hour would be live transmissions of his trial.
‘I don’t know,’ Elaine said doubtfully.
----//----
Fortune, Max always told his closest friends, took the decisive role and happily Fortune was a lady who belonged to no woman’s group. Pauline answered the phone at 10pm on the following Saturday. It was Elaine.
‘I’m in a fix. I let Jacko take me out on his bike. I thought I could sweeten him. I’m not even wearing anything under these trousers, hoping it might turn him on. It didn’t work. There was a row and he’s gone back alone on the bike. It’s going to be midnight before I get back. You know what they’ll do if I come in then. You pretend I’ve been in all night, if you can. I’ll go to the shop and wait there. I’ve got a key. It’ll be easier in the morning.’
‘Well’ said Pauline, ‘if it’s a tanning either way, you might as well have one that does some good. I’ll bet that bike saddle was hard with no knickers on under the trousers.’
Max, the bookworm, was still reading at midnight. He sat in the basement room with several volumes of consolation before him. He was pondering the sleek African-tan bottom-cheeks of Jordana in a masterly illustration and wondering how many the equatorial nymph with her plaited strands of hair would get from the master of the narrative. A key turned in a lock. Max looked up. No one burgled with keys in this culture of the ram-raider.
‘Ah’ he said as she came down the stairs, ‘We choose the lesser of two evils, do we?’
But had she chosen? Elaine’s expression suggested dismay at seeing him there. Why shouldn’t he be there? Whose shop was it anyway?
‘I decided,’ she said firmly.
‘Good,’ Max gestured towards a sofa that had been parked there years before. ‘Kneeling, I think. On the sofa. Hips raised. Over the padded scroll.’
There was something dreamlike about the ritual. He opened a cupboard and took out a slim yard-long bamboo. Two spare canes hung there for such occasions. The sofa stirred under the pressure of Elaine’s knees. He watched as she sat on her heels. Then, reluctantly, she raised her hips and lay forward over the scroll, the lank fair hair spread on her shoulders, the broad oval of her face turned aside, a study in apprehension. Open-mouthed, Max stared at the seat of Elaine’s pants. There was no tell-tale outline of knickers underneath!
‘These must come down!’ he said peremptorily, patting the tomboy bottom-cheeks through the tight smooth cloth.
‘Must they?’ She was not likely to defy him now but she might panic.
‘Of course they must. Suppose the cane marks you. How can I tell if you wear those?’
This merely increased her apprehension. Would he avoid or aim at a smarting imprint of bamboo? Reluctantly, she knelt upright, undid the waist of the pants and pushed them to her knees. For the first time, Max viewed the tomboy pallor of Elaine Cox’s bottom-cheeks absolutely bare, the central cleavage drawn further open as she lay forward. He cut the air with the cane several times, testing it, and saw her buttocks tighten together with instinctive fright. Then he measured for several minutes, this way and that, murmuring to Elaine to lie tighter over the scroll, watching her rear cheeks swell and separate a little more.
Max was in a world of his own, far in the past. Gaslight flared on bare brick walls. The insolent rebel knelt over the block, tossing back her hair and craning round at the witnesses with teenage contempt. Then the room rang as if with the sharpness of a ringmaster’s whip. Elaine Cox showed all her vulgarity, cursing them and shrieking. Cheek-writhing and frenzy followed, the bare walls sharpening her wildness. The master’s cane flashed aslant her bottom, freezing her with the lingering smart. Twice more aslant her young bottom before she could curb the anguish of the first. Wickedly low across Elaine Cox’s bottom-cheeks, catching her there a second time so that she hit the very top of her range…
The excitement of the daydream faded and Max was aware that Elaine Cox in reality was saying something to him. She was pleading for the cane, or rather begging him not to keep her waiting. He rose to the challenge.
‘Let’s see if you’re still as eager to get the cane across your young bottom after you’ve had your first taste of it, Elaine!’
But  it  was  true  that   Elaine  Cox could scarcely keep her bottom still in her apprehension. The sturdy swell of the 18-year-old’s bottom-cheeks was squirming and writhing in a way that would have driven Jacko wild. Sometimes, Elaine’s rear cleavage was pressed to a thin tight line and sometimes it opened out. Max’s lips tightened and, with bourgeois indignation, he thought of the week’s business loss.
‘Keep your bottom still, Elaine Cox! Quite still.’
The bamboo rose slowly, very high, and caught the light as it flashed down. It truly landed with an ear-splitting smack across Elaine’s broadened young backside. Max, the professional, brought it down twice more very fast with a Whip!… Whip! impact aslant Elaine’s rear cheeks, making it impossible for her to contain the ferocity of the punishment. The wildest shrillness would not be heard from this basement room, which was just as well.
He let her feel a whip-like lash of bamboo low down across the fuller, fatter bottom-flesh of the under-curve. That did it. From now on, her response to each stroke was piercingly shrill. The bare broadened swell of Elaine Cox’s rear cheeks jumped and quivered with the impacts.
‘Right over the scroll, Elaine Cox!’ Max said sharply. ‘You’re going to be caned low down on your bottom now!’
There was a protest which ended when he repeated the choice of obedience or dismissal. Low across her bottom. There was time for a really searching sequence of strokes that rang like the whips of a skilled trainer. Max had seldom seen such a howling face. So far the impacts had been horizontal but now a series of slanting strokes across them would have a devastating effect.
With the patience and aim of an official chastiser, he caned Elaine aslant her young backside. Once again, he thought how even the saintliest of men would have stiffened at the sight of such bottom-cheek surging and writhing, the flesh-creasing and contorting, the frantic compression and widening of Elaine’s bottom-crack. At last he paused for breath. Two minutes or two hours might have passed. He was disembodied, transcendental, in a world of his own.
‘Lie right over the scroll, Elaine!’ His voice sounded quieter to him now. ‘Bottom-upwards over the scroll, Elaine Cox!’
With his left hand on the small of her back to steady her, Max caned with skill and energy which a professional sabre-champion might have applauded. He noticed that Elaine’s hands were clenched into desperate fists. A length of cord-like braid hung loose from the scroll and she was actually clenching her teeth on it with all her strength to help her bear the caning. Her knees were jammed frantically into the sofa padding.
Low across her bottom was the most effective discipline, he thought. Sometimes a little lower still but some inaccuracies were unavoidable. At last he stopped, feeling that after such a session he was going to be stiff for a week. It was typical in such a world as this that no one spared a thought for the predicament the chastiser might be left in by punishing Elaine Cox. It was the culprit who got all the sympathy. He sat down in his chair and drew a deep breath. Chastisers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your canes.
It was a curious situation in the basement room of the shop with its shelves filled by politicians’ memoirs and country sports. Despite her reluctance to take down her tight trousers to begin with, the last thing Elaine now wanted was to pull them up and feel their tightness on her tender backside.
She lay face-down on the sofa, her face turned like a tragic mask to one side where Max sat in his chair, her pants still down round her knees. There were only two or three prints on her thighs but even these flinched from the pressure of tight pants. Elaine Cox lay in front of him like this until almost eight in the morning. Max felt that by having the girl lying before him, in this condition and for so many hours, he had truly deepened his acquaintance with her. Despite a half-entreaty or two, he insisted upon remaining and admiring his handiwork.
As it was getting light, he handed the girl the portable phone. ‘It’s time you learnt the other side of the business,’ he said quietly. ‘In three weeks’ time we shall be going to a book fair in Hampshire. Ring this number… a motel with 24-hour answer service. We’ll take the furthest cabin, number 48, well away from the rest. And when you’ve left a rather tearful message there, here’s another. Garden centre answering service. I’ll need this year’s supply of tomato canes early. Delivery in two weeks from now.’
She looked at him in consternation… ‘Tomato…?’
‘Canes!’ Max said impatiently. ‘You do want the job, I take it? There’s a career in it for you, if you bend your mind to it.’
To walk home in tight trousers was more than Elaine could contemplate. Max assured her that his car was available. There was, however, the remainder of a price to pay. He wondered if she had ever imagined being so sore when she lay over the scroll again for the last of the discipline.
He drove on from the streets of substantial terraced houses for a day by the sea. With his camera and so many attractions on the beach, such days were never dull. Elke Mähne, Crete Bryne, Marit Aas, Helena Thelen, Charlotte Nilssen… How many delightful ambassadors for European unity had there been? He came home that evening and tidied up the basement room. He pushed the sofa back against the wall from which it had bulged under the frantic trapped energy of Elaine’s young hips and thighs. He picked up a fragment or two of bamboo and a short length of knotted sash-cord. A tear-damp handkerchief had fallen by the sofa.
What a day it had been!
----//----
In their bedroom, Elaine and Pauline took different views. Elaine lay on her belly, singlet pulled up and pants round her knees. Pauline studied the smarting willow-pattern on her younger sister’s robust young backside with undisguised fascination. She extended a hand. Elaine twisted her face round.
‘No!’ she yelled. ‘Don’t touch! Please!’
Pauline shook her head, mystified at her younger sister’s sensitivity. ‘You sure he didn’t birch you, like they used to do to girls in prison?’
‘I don’t know!’
‘Did he have fun doing it? Did you see if he was, you know, getting horny?’
‘I don’t know!’
‘You didn’t feel sexy, lying over his sofa with your legs and bottom bare?’
‘No!’ Elaine yelled furiously.
Pauline inspected the younger girl’s rear cheeks minutely. ‘You know, I reckon he may have birched you,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have minded being a fly on the wall! You must have yelled your head off down there!’
There was no response to this. Pauline dabbed her finger in the cold cream. Her younger sister tossed her hair back and craned round.
‘No!’ Elaine cried out, a hand hovering to shield her bottom. ‘Don’t!’
Pauline replaced the jar. ‘Well,’ she said, impressed. ‘You’ll certainly remember him whenever you sit down next week!’
She surveyed the tapestried cheeks of Elaine’s bare bottom again, as if unable to leave them alone.
‘Looking at your fat young backside, I’d say you’ve got big problems coming. Seeing the state he’s left your bum in, I think you’ve made a real hit! I reckon he’s in love with you, Elaine!’
‘Go away!’
‘This trip to Hampshire he’s making you go on could be honeymoon time — with a birch as a wedding present from me and Jacko. We could come down on the bike that evening. Be a sport and leave the curtains open a bit!’
The bed shook with the vibration of un-sisterly mirth.
‘Go away!’
Pauline shrugged and stood up.
‘Right. Only I should hurry and get those trousers on over that fat young bottom. You were missed last night. Nothing I could do about it. They saw this morning that you hadn’t been in all night. Someone fetched the strap from the bathroom just before you crept in and they opened up the spare room. So you’d better have pants on when they call you. The state your bum’s in, you’ll need all the protection you can get!’
‘Pauline!… No!’
‘I’m off next door. Jacko’s there with his mate and the bike. I phoned and told him you were caught over last night and what you’ll get this morning. He might as well listen, Elaine. It won’t make the strap any worse for you and it’ll get him going. These walls are so thin, it’s like the same room.’
Elaine Cox tossed her hair clear again, fury in her narrowed eyes.
‘That bastard Jacko!’ she shouted. He left me there last night just so I’d get this! The fucking bastard!’
Pauline watched Elaine struggling to pull the trousers smooth over her behind.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘it was you that went out with your big bottom in tight trousers and no knickers underneath. You’ve no idea how many men hang around at the corner and walk up this road behind you. I’d say you got what you were asking for, here and at the shop. Anyway, don’t let them start on you with the strap till I’m round next door with Jacko, will you? I want him while he’s on form.’

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