Gazing out the rippled glass of the window, she began to relax. She’d managed to spill both her drink and half the contents of her purse down the stairs on her first attempt to reach the upper level of the pub. The Australian tourists who had helped her recombobulate had been kind, if somewhat bemused.
As the first stroke fell, she immediately regretted her decision to meet him. She knew it was supposed to hurt, she knew she had asked for this, she knew she needed this, and yet it took all of her resolve not to bolt upright and end the proceedings immediately.
Between the pink walls, gilded portrait frames, maroon carpeting and softly twirling white ceiling fans, it was the girliest pub she’d ever been in. The lampshade even sported a pink fringe. She imagined herself asking him- “Excuse me, sir, could we move on? I can’t possibly take you seriously in here.” That is, if he showed up at all. She was looking for a middle aged man of average height, average weight, and greying (average) hair. Which could describe any one of the men at the next table, she thought anxiously. Sipping her drink she returned to gazing out the window. Either he’ll recognize me or he won’t- she reasoned- no use fretting about it.
By the third stroke her resolve failed. The hand on the small of her back didn’t however. She’d never really appreciated how strong men were until that moment. All appreciation stopped as soon as the fourth stroke dissolved her world save for the fire in her bottom.
She needn’t have worried though. She knew him as soon as he appeared on the landing. His appearance was unremarkable, but he strode over to her window seat with the kind of calm authority that makes chairs magically appear in crowded pubs.
Then the panic set in- why did this ever seem like a good idea? He was a stranger- she didn’t really know him- he was hurting her- she had to get away. And then he started talking. The hand on her back was stoking her gently. She settled down and listened between sobs. His voice a baritone anchor keeping her in the moment- keeping her from running away with her legs or mind.
One awkward introduction and a chat about weather and traffic later, he brought up the Subject. Obliquely at first- referring to their earlier correspondence and their shared interest. She blushed furiously and glanced around the pub, which had become uncomfortably crowded for this kind of conversation.
“Six more” he announced. The stroking on her back had stopped and she felt the weight of the slipper lift. Her tears continued to flow even as she raised her bottom to meet the last portion of her punishment. Despite the trepidation, despite the pain, this is where she belonged,
He fixed her with a pointed gaze over the rim of his spectacles- the kind of gaze she had read and fantasized about. The fantasy doesn’t compare to the real thing she realized, frozen in place as though determined not to be caught despite her open confession. He noted her changed posture with a crooked and knowing smile. “Shall we be off?” he offered, rising and extending a steadying hand to help her to her feet. She trembled as she followed him into the night- both knowing and not knowing what was to come. Knowing this was who she was, and knowing this would change her forever.