Mallory’s parents had preached the virtue of judicious risk-taking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – but do look before you leap.
She inquired about strange foods and wore protective clothing and carried plenty of water – after which she tasted snails and learned to ski and hiked into the Grand Canyon.
Her father borrowed from every friend and relative to open a small store, then mortgaged the house to expand the business. By the time Mallory graduated junior high school at the head of her class, he was advertising on television. There were fifteen stores in three states when he turned down the buyout offer from the Fortune 500 chain.
Along the way, her older siblings had taken some risks that hadn’t worked out.
Her brother had had to leave the football team after they pulled him from the Mustang he had wrapped around a telephone pole.
Her sister had gone ahead and married that Spaniard she’d met in the Peace Corps, the one her parents hated, the one who then ran around with anything in a skirt and eventually left her to raise the baby as best she could.
When the economy soured and interest rates peaked in the early eighties, her father had closed first one store, then another, then another.
And so – when they noticed – her family understood why Mallory was cautious. They were all doing a bit more looking and a lot less leaping, weren’t they?
Well, yes, but they weren’t there to see the three-count pauses. Mallory always recovered – sometimes less gracefully than others. She knew to inquire about training and resources when her boss offered her a promotion-track opportunity, Instead she asked, “What if I fail? I’ll get penalized, won’t I?”
And so it went with boyfriends, who knew what to do with “What if I get pregnant?” but chose not to deal with the deer-in-the-headlights looks at critical moments.
Her girlfriends would come back from vacation with tales of what she had missed.
Someone else would get the promotion. The boyfriends stopped calling. Mallory would kick herself. It would have been fun. She would have liked the challenge.
And didn’t most people have sex once in a while? Really, it only hurt a little. Just for a moment. Not like a spanking.
Somehow Mallory had managed to pick the day the bank called the note on her father’s last three stores to fuck up. Really really fuck up.
Having navigated all but six months of high school without failing a course or getting pregnant or taking up cigarettes or getting so much as a beer buzz, Mallory had tried pot with a couple of girlfriends. A neighbor had called the cops.
She was hungry and glassy-eyed when her father bailed her out.
“What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
Another driver had cut in front of them, but still – he never swore.
“What happens now?”
“Well, first of all, young lady, you are spending the rest of the weekend in your room.”
“But nothing, Mal.”
“But, Dad…” She had half-forgotten her legal problem; she was smart enough to know that a minor first offense would come to no more than a warning. Maybe some time picking up litter or preaching the clean-living gospel to bored sixth-graders.
“Not another word, Mallory, if you know what’s good for you.”
Her heart quickened at the vague but obvious threat of harsher punishment. She had never been disciplined beyond a raised voice and a quick time-out. Never merited it, really – if you didn’t count a broken window and a couple of schoolyard tussles.
Now this? What would she tell her new boyfriend? “Sorry, I’m grounded?” God, that sounded stupid! What would he think? What would everyone think? She knew she was wrong, but still…
She sulked as the garage door lowered behind them.
“This is so unfair!”
She had seen that look only once before – years ago, just before he had bolted from the dinner table and led her older sister up the stairs by the elbow.
“Let go of me, Daddy!” her sister had protested. There was a bit of a ruckus upstairs. Her mother said it was none of their business – “Go on, eat your dinner” – but no amount of gravy could moisten the chicken.
Even small bites of mashed potato were difficult to swallow as the drama played out noisily ten feet above them.
The muffled protests were angry, frightened, at last desperate.
“Okay! Ah! OW! I promise!! Please!”
She had heard exasperated mothers threaten their unruly children in the supermarket – “Do you want a spanking?” – in tones that ranged from “I’m warning you…” to “I mean business!” She had heard playground gossip of some boy or girl getting a spanking – funny if it had befallen an unpopular kid, mysterious if the victim was otherwise studious and well-behaved.
Although there was no particular reason to think that any of her closest friends had ever gotten spanked, somehow the possibility lurked in her peripheral conscience, deterring temptation.
Any proposal of mischief carried the possibility of detection – and yes, they were smart enough not to get caught, clever enough to talk themselves out of trouble – but it only took any one parent of any one of their merry band.
At one time or another, Mallory had imagined each of her pals hoisted into position – her jeans yanked down to the knees or below, now perhaps after a few firm smacks her panties lowered, now her rear ignominiously bared, now the twisting and straining against the immovable weight at the small of her back.
Their imagined bottoms were always bared. Somehow she knew. Bare bottom spanking – she’d heard it put that way.
“Ow! Ow!” The daydreams were always silent movies, but each friend cried out, her hobbled calves turned up in agony just as her sister must have flailed about that night upstairs…
She would snap out of it. “No, I’m okay”.
The disturbing images would recede, and she would go along with their milder adventures. They wouldn’t get caught. It was no big deal.
Later, she did see to it that her dates got her home on time, that they weren’t drinking beer, that they didn’t get fresh.
She was much too old now to be bared and spanked. Bared and spanked. Much too old.
Still, there was a look you got – the look her sister had gotten before the trip upstairs and the miserable yelps and the WHACK! WHACK! of the sharp slaps. Through the walls and down the stairs, it had been duller – WHAP! WHAP! – but it was just the walls and it wasn’t WHAP! WHAP! It was a sharp sound dulled WHACK! WHACK! and – ohmigod! – it was bare flesh slapped, private flesh exposed and punished.
The next morning, her sister’s eyes were red. There was no discussion.
“Mallory! Get moving…” She was back in the garage. He had that look.
“… or so help me …”
She knew what he was about to say, couldn’t believe it, heard the words and played them back in surreal slow motion.
“… I will … take you … over my knee … “
What was it like? How much did it hurt?
“… and SPANK you!”
SPANK you! He spit the word out. It SOUNDED like a spanking.
“How dare you?” she thought, but after a three-beat pause, she opened the car door and trudged up to her room – half-expecting that he would follow soon enough, that her mother downstairs would hear the muffled desperate cries of her humiliating struggle, that she would never be the same after WHACK! WHACK! CRACK!
He didn’t come up the stairs. He didn’t take her by the elbow or pull her forward or lower her jeans to bare her bottom.
She WAS too old, after all. Seventeen’s too old to get spanked.
As she drifted off to sleep several hours later, the same old silent movie was playing – but not from the familiar third-party view of a friend flailing about. Not the
eerie overhead shot of blazing bared cheeks bouncing helplessly from side to side. Not some other girl reaching back vainly, jerking her legs to and fro, learning the hard way.
Mallory rolled onto her tummy.
She hoisted her nightgown up past her waist and shimmied her panties down to her knees. She pulled the covers back and felt the cool air on her upturned tush.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured as she felt her waist cinched tight against his belly.
“I know, Daddy,” she whimpered. “I do know better.”
She was bent across his lap, hands and toes against the carpet, frightened and vulnerable and SMACK! without warning.
She looked straight ahead.
Unnh! Ahh! Oh! OW-w-w!
Her backside began to sway back and forth. She arched her back and noticed the sweat and felt the puff of air that heralded each sharp clap.
She heard it, felt it OW! OW-w-w! but could not see it. She craned her neck and saw only the bedroom, a watery blur of curtains and furniture AH! AH!
Ow! A-A-A-a-h-h-h! AH! Unnh. OW!
She winced and bucked and thrashed about, promising anything, promising everything. I will! I will! Stop, Daddy. Ow!
The charade went on. SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK And suddenly it stopped.
She looked back.
Was he done?
There were footsteps on the stairs. Oh, my God!
The bed was a mess, her hair was tousled, her panties dangled from an upturned ankle.
“Are you okay?”
“Uh – yeah. Fine.”
She pulled at the bedclothes, stroked her hair back.
“Settle down. Go to sleep.”
She wanted to tiptoe over to the mirror, to peer over a shoulder, to imagine how red and swollen her poor bottom might be, to dab the peak of a fiery cheek with the tip of a finger. Ow!
But she dared not risk a creaking floorboard – or the light she’d need – and, of course, her bottom didn’t hurt a bit. Bared to no one but herself, cool to the touch.
When her breathing slowed, she curled up beneath the covers and watched the movie again – this time from the front row, a video clip that ended suddenly with one leg kicked spastically toward the ceiling and the opposite buttock flattened in mid-spank to the center of its broad pink circle. She swallowed hard, searching for saliva that would not come.
The movie began again. And – action! The lowered jeans, the reluctant forced tumble across the thighs, the fingers in the waistband of the panties.
Somewhere during the fourth viewing, she relaxed her grimace. The rhythmic staccato claps dulled and slowed, her finger slipped from between her legs, and Mallory drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, her mother brought breakfast. Juice and cereal and three strips of bacon.
“Do you want coffee?”
“You’d better call Jake. You can see him next weekend.” Oh, yeah. Grounded.
Jake tried to comfort her, as new boyfriends will. He’d already heard. Everyone knew. Are you okay?
Monday morning she dressed for school, grabbed a granola bar, pecked two cheeks as though nothing were different.
“When will you be home?”
“The usual. Five-ish, I guess.”
“Bye, baby. Take care.”
Her father paid a $100 fine. Mallory worked it off. She lost interest in Jake.
From time to time, she watched the silent video clip under the covers with her nightgown pulled up and her bottom swaying.
The movies played on after she went to college. Her roommate noticed.
In the spring of her second year, her statistics professor called her in for a midterm conference.
“Is everything all right, Mallory?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve missed some classes. When you are here, you’re inattentive. I thought it was just sophomore slump, but…”
He pushed a printout of her online exam across the desk. Two incorrect answers on the front page.
“Did you study at all?”
Mallory flipped the pages, each seemingly littered with more red X’s than the last, bright red marks splattered about. After the last, a circled D-minus confronted her.
“Too many parties, Mallory?”
“No, I… I…” The movie was playing – just a few frames. The jeans, the lap, the fingers in the waistband.
“Something, Mallory. Is it drugs?”
“No!” The bared bottom swaying to and fro beneath crisp alternating smacks.
“Well, what are we going to do about this? Hm?”
“Um, I’m sorry…” The movie played on. Yes, she was sorry. She wouldn’t do it again. Stop! Ow! I promise…
“You said,’I promise!’ Promise what?”
“Oh. Nothing. I mean…”
Mallory tried to fight off the fleeting images – the hand around her elbow, the tug at her waistband, the reluctant tumble forward…
…the bent knees, the free hand waving ridiculously to the side of Ground Zero, the sizzling twin ovals at the base of her straining butt.
He had that look. Disappointment, betrayal, now impatience.
“You look like you’re gonna punish me.” It just came out.
“I’m sorry, I…” SHIT! “I didn’t mean that. You just…”
“We don’t punish people, Mallory. That’s not how we do things.”
“Oh. Are you gonna call my folks?”
“Then what are we going to do about this?”
“Oh.” The movie started again. The jeans, the lap, the fingers in the waistband.
“Well, you still looked like you were gonna spank me.”
“I see.” He’d been through the training, smelled the lawsuit, saw the abrupt exit from academia, couldn’t stop himself. “Is that what you need?”
“Aren’t you a little old for that?”
“No. I mean yes. Yes, I am.”
“I see. Good.”
Now they were both watching movies, silent jump-cuts of lowered jeans and a tug on the elbow and fingers in the waistband of taut jersey panties.
“I should think so. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Mallory ate what she could of her dinner, but no amount of gravy could moisten the chicken. Six full gulps of bottled water washed down lumps of mashed potato.
She walked back to her dorm and washed her face. She told herself one last time just to write the extra ten-page paper he had offered, an obvious quid pro quo she was too distracted and too naive to recognize.
“Write the paper, Mal. You can do it in a weekend.”
She zipped her fleece and stepped out into the cool March evening, knowing that this would be no movie date.