Story from Februs 37. Continued from Februs 36
The Perfect Match. Part Two
The Part Two of a Short Story by Tim Starfield
'Whenever you're ready, my darling...' Paul's tone is soft, gentle, as ever. But, as ever, there is a thickness in his voice which betrays his excitement. He has checked and double-checked the MiniDisc recorder, to see that it is, in fact, recording. Re-calibrated the input levels for the umpteenth time to ensure that Eliza's voice won't be lost, that her yelps won't peak and send the meter crashing into the red. Checked the position of the microphone, and adjusted the cable. Everything is ready for the creation of this most important aural document. A record of the amazing change that has taken place in their relationship. A record to be copied and kept by each of them in the weeks ahead, to remind them just how strong and how special that relationship is.
Paul stands back and flexes the thick three-tailed strap. Swishes it experimentally through the air a couple of times, relishing the elastic strength of it, watching appreciatively the involuntary shudder that quivers through Eliza's bare bottom as the strap passes close behind it, sending a cool warning breeze across her defenceless skin.
Eliza tenses. Even under normal circumstances this is a difficult time. The moments just before a whipping when you want nothing more than to disappear, preferably to somewhere else altogether, at the very least to curl up into a silent ball of self-pity and fear, to wait for the onslaught in the privacy of your own thoughts.
She flinches. These are not normal circumstances. This time, she has nodded her agreement to all aspects of the game so meticulously planned by Paul. She herself has the dread task of beginning. She must speak her lines clearly and calmly. Truth to tell, she is almost more in terror of hearing her own recorded voice played back than she is afraid of the strap.
No, that's silly. But she can't stop herself thinking. 'How on earth did I come to end up here?'
She is bent over the end of their bed. Stocking-clad knees resting on cool cotton sheets. Bare tummy and torso stretched out over a should-be-comfortable-but-isn't-really stack of rolled-up duvet and pillows. Weight supported on hands which push into the carpet. Trying to ignore the microphone, set up barely a foot from her head. Squinting at the A4 sheet of paper on the floor before her, on which Paul has thoughtfully typed, in large easy-to-read bold letters, the poem.
Shakespeare. Sonnet 57. The script.
The rules are simple (they always are). Eliza will read out a line of verse, and wait for the harsh thwack of the three-tailed leather strap on her naked backside. When she is ready, and only then, she will recite the next line, and wait for a second stroke. And so on, and so on, to the end of the poem.
Like all sonnets, this one has fourteen lines. Fourteen stripes! And Paul will not hold back. Never one to pull his punches, in any case, but today is even more special than usual. 'We don't have red-letter days in this house anymore,' thinks Eliza, 'we have red-arse days.' Wincing at the thought, at the inappropriateness of a joke at a time like this, she is brought back from her reverie by the gentle caress of cool leather, as Paul reminds her that he is waiting, by exaggerating the care he is taking to line up the first of the fourteen strokes.
Deep breath. Sooner we start, sooner we finish, says Eliza to herself, grimly. Another deep breath, clear the throat, and then, in the best BBC voice she can muster, a voice that would sound impossibly faint to a stranger (and will be the softest element in the recording) but which sounds almost unbearably loud to her as it breaks the intense expectant silence:
'Being your slave, what should I do but tend...'
She gabbles the last five words and tenses for the stroke. Wisely, for he has learned a lot, Paul waits for the tension to subside, for her body to – if not relax, for she is already shaking like a blancmange – at least find an equilibrium. Then, with unhurried precision, he strikes.
Strokes like this, on disc, will ring louder than anything else, sending needles off the dial, exploding through speakers or headphones like claps of angry thunder.
Eliza yodels her pain as the three-tailed leather strap catapults fire into her bottom.
And calms herself with another deep breath, bends and straightens her elbows, as if this could in some way help the agony to pass through her body and out into the carpet. Composes herself.
'...Upon the hours and times of your desire?'
A nail-biting pause. And the strap goes to work again. Another clap of stage thunder, another howl, etched for eternity onto the tiny silently spinning disc.
Paul grins as he watches his gorgeous wife buckle and writhe under the onslaught. This recording will see him through long days and lonely nights on tour. His fellow musos may wonder why he's grinning so inanely, almost drooling, as he slumps in his seat at the back of the bus, listening to who knows what strange music on his earphones. A perfect souvenir to take away, a sweet forget-me-not, more potent than any card or photograph, to ensure that for the next six weeks he will not fail to remember the most wonderful of partners. And for Eliza to listen to, at home, at work, on the Tube, to remind her of her most wonderful, special husband. A perfect love token, in sound, a perfect moment caught forever with digital clarity.
Paul and Eliza. The ideal couple. The perfect match. Everyone says so. But only the two of them know exactly why.
So how did they get here? Last time we saw them we left them lying in bed, the same bed, the same mattress even, as Eliza's stockinged toes are drumming on now. Together, but not together. As apart as a couple could be. Each dreaming of a fantasy world. Neither of them daring to mention these erotic dreams to the other. For fear of what, exactly? Rejection? Derision? Humiliation? How little we each of us know about others. About ourselves.
It's been over a year now since they got their act together.
Paul, who dreamed of being a Headmaster, has found the most willing, yet suitably the cheekiest, pupil he could ever have imagined. He's had her in detention. In gym-slip and white socks. In the corner, hands on her head, in tears.
Eliza, who dreamed of army floggings, has found the strongest, cruellest Sergeant Major a girl could hope for. Together, they've experimented with whips, canes, crops, ropes, straps, cuffs and collars. They've made a few mistakes. They've made the occasional mess. They've made marks, fabulous marks, stripes to look over the shoulder at in the bedroom mirror and admire, to caress wonderingly and lovingly, to smooth cold cream into, to kiss and sooth.
They've shared, they've planned, they've cuddled, and above all, they've laughed together. And the sex! Well it's been incredible. That much Eliza does tell her friends. And they grimace at her, more jealous than ever. It seems clear. Most people will agree; it's because Paul's got himself sorted out. Still the same shambling bear of a man, still the world's most laid-back jazz musician, with an easy-going style which shines through his playing and makes his relaxed swing such a joy to listen to. But with a new drive, a new 'get up and go' which has seen him teaming up with a fading 70s glam-rock star to record and release an album of brand new takes (all Paul's own arrangements) on hit songs from the Thirties. An album now storming up the charts in Europe (helped by TV advertising), and about to take them on a six-week record-company-paid tour of the States. The Big Time; and, most important to Paul, he's made it without sacrificing any of his musical integrity.
But those who would name this as the reason, who'd guess that the improvement in the circumstances of his professional career has given a new balance to Paul's relationship with the high-powered, go-getter Eliza, would be mistaking Effect for Cause. Because the real source of his happiness (and hers!), a happiness greater than either of them had previously known, is the regular presentation to him of a beautiful female bottom, upturned before him, and ready to spank. Any man who has that, can go out and conquer the world in his tea-break. You better believe it. Likewise, any woman feeling the regular smack of firm government on a bare and tender rump can sail through the most vicious of business meetings unfazed, cool as a cucumber, efficient, the envy of her enemies. Eliza's the living proof, and she has the balls of several media tigers as trophies, stapled to her growing portfolio.
An old-fashioned type, a believer in fairy stories, in happy ever after, might even suggest that the new-found spark in the couple might stem from the sheer fact of their having got married. As if marriage itself was the magic word, the gold rings magic talismans bringing joy to all who wear them. In these unhappy Godless days of rising divorce rates, single mothers, Families-Need-Fathers and the CSA, I think we all know that can't be true. But in a way, in this case, it is.
Really, it was pretty much a last-resort thing, deciding to get married. They'd been together a long time, couldn't face the thought of life apart, couldn't perhaps understand why, as the perfect match, they weren't enjoying themselves more. Chose, almost as a last throw of the dice, a whim of desperation, to tie the knot. Make it official.
It was a lovely ceremony. All in the best possible taste. Eliza looked stunning (of course, as did the bridesmaids, but less so), Paul (almost) dashing. Mothers wept, choirboys sang and at the reception a bunch of Paul's mates occupied one end of the huge, white, flower-decked marquee (not cheap – fathers weep too, you know) and kept the whole party swinging with a stream of hot, top-quality, happy, music.
But the sting was in the tail. Literally. When you have a wedding, you get presents. Dualit toasters that will never toast, teasmaids that will never make tea, pictures that will never be hung, canteens of cutlery (why canteens?) that will sit, pristine, in kitchen drawers, unused and unremembered until god-only knows when. Archaeologists of future millennia will come looking for our lost civilisation, and they will dig and find the wedding presents and they will think what on earth were these people doing?
After the honeymoon (Goa, not usually known for being a sex-free zone), when the presents had been unwrapped and many of them sent back to the store in exchange for credit notes and the last of the thank you letters had been written to Paul's Auntie Mabel or Eliza's Cousin Fiona, there was still one particular parcel that neither of them could fathom out. In plain brown paper, it had waited until last to be explored and even then it was a mystery.
A large black leather paddle, bigger than a table-tennis bat with a motto etched on one surface: 'A STING IN THE TAIL'. And no name, no greeting on the label, other than the cryptic message: 'For a long and happy marriage. X.' Who could have sent it? Who did they know who'd even think of such an outrageous, presumptuous gift?
Well, to put you out of your misery, if you must know, it was me. I'm the author, I'm allowed to do these things.
Certainly the effect that the paddle had on Paul and Eliza was strange. Of course, each of them was fascinated by it. Eager for it to be tried out, to swing in anger and land with a crump! on soft bare flesh. Each of them, independently, secretly determined that it should not be laughed away, forgotten, thrown out. But each of them convinced that the other must be horribly embarrassed by it, worried sick that to mention it would mean its going straight in the bin.
It sat idly in the corner by the television for four days (and five almost sleepless nights). Then, one evening, in the course of the usual rummage that was the hunt for the remote control, Paul found himself holding it. Found himself slapping it against his other wrist.
'Ow!' he said, surprised by how much, unexpectedly, it stung.
'You know,' he said, ruminatively, a moment later. 'That could really hurt, in the right place.'
He glanced tentatively across at Eliza. She was sitting bolt upright on the sofa. He was taken aback by her expression. She looked as if she were trying to say something, but couldn't. He'd never known her speechless before.
It was true. If Eliza could have thought of one, just one, intelligent or intelligible thing to say, she'd have said it, you bet. But amazingly, of all the thoughts that raced through her head, all the 'Yes, please do!'s and the 'No, please don't!'s, not one would form itself into a coherent whole long enough for her to articulate it. She felt herself blushing. She was. She felt her insides going crazy (they were), her cunt soaking wet (it was), and her legs turning to jelly (don't panic, they weren't, it's only a figure of speech).
Paul felt a new, strange confidence flowing through him, like molten steel through a Bessemer Converter. Maybe some intrinsic magic from the potent leather paddle with its corny message, was some atavistic throw-back to the days before New Man, most likely a conscious discovery, a realisation, all of a sudden, of the subconscious world of his nightly dreams. He felt strong, powerful, happy, controlled, ready for anything.
'You should try it,' he said, calmly, in a voice he didn't recognise. He was grinning, tenderly, but there was a spark of fire in his eye as he advanced toward her.
"You wouldn't dare!' squeaked Eliza, finally. But he did, and anyway, in that instant, she knew that he would, and that she wanted him to.
And that evening, for the first time, they truly found each other.
So here's Eliza, nose now inches from the carpet, struggling to read, through soft, unbidden but not unwelcome tears, the next lines of her speech to her Master. The finest poetry in the English language and so apt for the occasion. Why write your own words, when Shakespeare (in love himself, no doubt) has been there before you, and done such a good job? Hallmark Cards never put it better.
'I have no precious time
at all to spend,
'Nor services to do,
till you require.
'Nor dare I chide the
'Whilst I, my sovereign,
watch the clock for you,
'Nor think the bitterness
of absence sour
'When you have bid
your servant once adieu;
'Nor dare I question
with my jealous thought
'Where you may be,
or your affairs suppose,
'But like a sad slave,
stay and think of nought
'Save where you are,
how happy you make those...'
...she intones. Each time she reaches the end of a line, the recitation is punctuated with the sharp 'CRUMPP!' of the strap. Each THWACKK! sends another line of fire arching across her tender bottom. Framed by the blackness of her stocking-tops and the thin lace of the suspender belt, her well-tanned rear is now blushing a deep crimson, with here and there, a flashpoint of livid scarlet.
Paul watches his adorable wife with affectionate satisfaction, mixed with stern determination, as her adorable buttocks tremble involuntarily, absorbing the pain. Her whole body bucks. She is nearly at the limit of what she can endure. He knows this, knows why she is in no hurry to get to the last two lines. They both know these last strokes will sting harder than ever, and while he has much sympathy with her plight, no way is he going to ease up. Quite the contrary, in fact, and she loves him for it, his strength of purpose as well as the strength of his arm.
At length, Eliza masters her emotions long enough to be able to speak. In a voice now which is as small as that of a tiny girl, a voice so far removed from the brisk brusque bark that has the office quaking that her co-workers, were they ever to hear it (they won't!) would swear it was a different person, she gets out:
'So true a fool is Love
that in your will...'
That 'will' is really a 'willll!' a squeal like that of a small child, a plaintive diphthong with a delicious upward inflection, a 'willlll!' that will haunt and delight Paul's waking dreams for weeks to come, carrying him contentedly along freeways, holding him spellbound in wonder as it replays in motel room after identical motel room.
She is rewarded with a swift straight crack of the strap which sends her sprawling, knocking the breath right out of her. Still her body trembles and writhes, but now the end is in sight, and she controls herself.
'Though you do anything,
he thinks no ill.'
Eliza sighs, partly with satisfaction (triumph?) at having finished, survived, mostly with a kind of weary resignation, because she knows that after Paul too has taken a deep breath, he's going to give her the best one yet.
He doesn't disappoint her. And this time, she screams, well and truly screams.
And that (almost eardrum splitting) scream is the last thing you hear on the recording. Immediately after flicking the pause button on the MiniDisc, Paul throws the strap onto the bed, and at once he is kneeling in front of her, cradling her wet face in his hands, caressing her, murmuring congratulations, telling her how wonderful she is, how brave, how beautiful she looks, how fantastic she will sound when they listen to the playback. And they both will, not once, but hundreds of times.
Soon. But not right now. Right now, he is lifting her, tenderly, helping her back to the bed, laying her down. Hot, sore, randy bottom on cool cotton sheets. Stroking her, kneading her. Needing her, wanting her, now more than ever before, and she him.
Oh yes, they're the perfect match. Better than that, they're the perfect fit. Only that's none of our business, so we'll excuse them while they prove it to each other, yet again.