I was prepared to start this account with a pitiful description of how much I suffered during the birching Abel gave me yesterday, and how sore I was, and how I wasn’t sure how I’d survived this. I thought I would write this, because that had been my experience in all of my previous encounters with the birch.
Not this time. Well, I did suffer at first, and I’m still quite sore, but by the end I found myself riding the pain, and actually quite enjoying it, in a way I have rarely done before.
Yet, as I set up the punishment room in the afternoon, home alone, I was wobbly with apprehension. We have no whipping horse, so I dragged in the school desk. We are not big on rope, so we only own one length, but I laid it out nonetheless. I thought for a minute, and added some handcuffs.
As Abel gave me regular phone updates on how his drive home was going, I tried hard not to let him hear the trembling in my voice. He came up with the truly devious way of playing with my head: when he arrived, Alice Pierce (the delinquent, the girl I would become) would be sitting alone in the waiting area (the living room), waiting to be fetched by the punishment officer. I wouldn’t as much as say hello to my husband, before he arrived to take me to my doom.
I was supposed to have come straight from court, so I kicked off my usual jeans, and dug out a modest skirt, a nice shirt, some heels. When Abel phoned to say he was 15 minutes away, I was still drying my hair after a hasty shower. I grabbed a hairbrush, a bundle of my clothes and a pair of handcuffs, and scooted to the living room. My heart was in my mouth. I laddered a pair of stockings trying to get them on. Still, by the time he arrived, I had morphed into Alice, and even managed to handcuff myself (as she would have been, while the grim guard transported her from court to the reformatory).
True to his promise (or was it a threat?) Abel didn’t come to say hello before heading upstairs to transform into the guard. I had a book stuffed under the cushions of the sofa, to entertain myself while he was getting ready, but my hands were jumping, and my breath was catching, and the whole heady dread was too lovely to dilute.
Eventually, or too soon for Alice, he appeared. A surly, sports kit-clad guard, clearly also a gym instructor. He checked the identity of his new charge, undid one of her cuffs and fastened it on his own wrist. Thus, cuffed to this new scary man, I stumbled upstairs after him.
He made me strip, the only comment on my carefully thought out court outfit being that if I was slutty enough to wear stockings and suspenders, perhaps it was a good thing I would spend a few weeks in the reformatory uniform.* Then, to my abject horror, he ordered me to get under the shower, and informed me, with a rather bored face, that the hot water boiler hadn’t worked for some weeks.
I suppose, the water was actually lukewarm rather than ice-cold, but for poor Alice this was enough to make her teeth chatter and her nipples do the embarrassing perking-up thing. The cold slightly took her mind off the thorough soaping, which she wasn’t allowed to do herself, and which included her mouth. The guard was cool and professional as he did this, explaining that all manner of girls entered the reformatory, and not all of them were clean and nicely turned-out, therefore, the washing procedure was the same for everybody.
“Dry yourself well, Miss Pierce”, he said, throwing a towel at me. The abject horror of being birched on a bottom that was not just icy, but also damp, made me work the towel with particular vigour.
Finally, there were no more ritual humiliations, no more delays. I was led into the punishment room, bent over the desk, and had my feet tied to the legs with our single piece of rope. The guard was pretty business-like. He didn’t bother lecturing, but he did mention that because this was a second offence, and the second birching (Alice had received 18 strokes for drunk and disorderly behaviour several months before, but now she was back for the same offence), he saw it as his particular goal to make sure that this punishment, these 36 strokes, would be the last she would ever earn.
The birch whistled through the air, spraying me with droplets of water it had been soaking in all afternoon. I tried to peek at him, to guess when the first stroke was going to fall. “Face the front,” said the guard coolly. “Stretch out and hold on to the legs of the horse. Don’t let go or reach back.”
The first stroke was so painful it took my breath away. I counted it at once, as ordered, but I could barely get out the words. The second was just as bad; I was choking on the count. The guard placed a steadying hand on the small of my back: “Breathe. Deep breaths. We have a long way to go.”
That we did, and I concentrated on breathing through the pain, settling in for the long haul. Although I could feel the tears burn in my eyes, I didn’t feel like crying: I felt like getting through this. I tried keeping a backwards count in my head, but somehow “only thirty-one to go” didn’t feel like a terribly comforting thought.
When we passed nine, the guard did something incredibly kind, though at the time it seemed a bit evil: he delivered the next nine in a quick succession, too fast for me to count, or to concentrate on them much. They were all of them hard strokes, but they were over with quickly, and with my tears still unspilled, I knew I was half-way, and winning through.
This is where it got really good for me. The first strokes, aimed evenly all over my bottom, had really warmed me up, and I was slowly beginning to float in that peculiar zone were the hard strokes don’t hurt you as much, but instead they warm you, and send you further and further into the endorphin heaven. Although I was fully aware that my bottom was taking some damage, and I could see Abel’s shadow whip the birch down with serious strength, it felt exhilarating. Not a trial, but a treat.
I was buzzing when he untied me, but poor Alice was disconsolate. She stuttered out her apologies, and with shaking hands she pulled on the uniform that was handed to her.** She wordlessly followed the guard to the dormitory, where she was to wait on her own, until the next girl had taken her birching.
The guard made her climbed into bed, turn off the lights and left the room.
Seconds later, the door opened again, and Abel came in – all smiles, and hugs, and offers of lotion, and a mirror for me to admire a mass of stripes that were blending over one another. “Oh, hello,” I said. “You’re home.”
* Right, I thought, vengefully, it will be tights for you next time, mister.
** Abel’s polo shirt and boxer shorts.