3:59. Claire shifted in her seat. She wasn’t sure if she could last another hour. She certainly wouldn’t be getting anything done. For the millionth time that day, she wondered why she had thought it would be a good idea to join this program. It was supposed to make her a better employee, but, as she hadn’t done anything useful that afternoon, she was beginning to doubt that. She checked her e-mail again. Nothing new. Why is it that on busy days the messages poured in faster than she could blink (much less respond), but now there was nothing to distract her from her thoughts? 4:02. It was, and would continue to be, a very long afternoon. ‘Why did I think this would be a good idea?’ she wondered yet again.
Intrigued by the odd sounding line in her offer letter stating that personalized mentoring involving a system of rewards and sanctions was available for new employes to help to adjust to the discipline required in the workplace, she had signed up for an informational meeting.
Looking back, “informational” wasn’t quite the right adjective. It had started like many of the other training sessions she had been ushered through in her first week on the job, though instead of a roster she had signed a confidentiality agreement at the door. The meeting itself was a very surreal experience, sitting in a sterile conference room with several other new hires listening to small group of older directors speak very calmly about how the company’s use of corporal punishment on employees of a certain disposition had been very helpful to each of them over the years. Claire hadn’t been the only one subtly squirming in her seat with embarrassment and something else as the speakers related personal accounts of how they had benefited from this program. Still, she knew that at some level she was intrigued, and blushed vividly as she ticked the box on the comment card indicating “I have been made aware of the nature of the new employee mentoring program, I acknowledge that participation in this program is optional and may be terminated at any time, and I would like to apply.” Dreading that each of her fellow squirmers had somehow known what decision she had made, she all but ran from the conference room after turning in her card. It didn’t occur to her until much later to wonder how many others had opted in as well.
4:21. She hadn’t even been that late with the report. She’d turned it in the day of the deadline, just not exactly by close of business. That’s it! That’s the argument she could make. Close of business was such a relative term. Business hadn’t closed in Tokyo at that time, surely. Huffing, she went to get another cup of coffee. Not that she needed any help staying awake, nor did she think it would actually help her get anything done. But it did give her something to do, and that would be enough for now.
After the informational meeting, she had almost immediately regretted her decision to sign on. Her stomach was a mass of nerves for the next several days. By the end of the week, however, she received an e-mail that put her at ease to some extent. Her application to the program had been reviewed, and she had been paired with Mike. Mike had been in her department for five years, and was one of the people how had been most helpful as she was settling in. Although he had a reputation for being ruthless in the pursuit of deadlines, he was also the instigator of many small pranks within the office.
She remembered the negotiation of her discipline agreement as though it were yesterday. They met in a quiet corner of the cafeteria a few days later after work to discuss the details of their agreement. . . eventually. First they discussed pretty much anything else until Claire had relaxed enough and Mike brought the discussion around to her hopes and goals for her first assignment. It had been somewhat awkward discussing physical punishments with a colleague, but Mike’s assurance that the arrangement would remain completely confidential helped. Afterward Mike persuaded her to join several others from the office for a few drinks, and it was as though the discussion had never happened.
4:42. Claire drained her coffee. Enough already, she thought, and she made her way over to the conference room. It wasn’t as though she would get much done fretting at her desk for the next eighteen minutes. She slipped through the door and started when she saw that Mike was already there.
“You made it longer than I thought,” Mike chuckled, closing his laptop. “The last woman I mentored showed up more than an hour early her first time. Barged right into a tactical team meeting. Since then I’ve been careful to reserve a room for the full afternoon the first time, and at least an hour early for the next several sessions. Feel free to make use of the room if you need to escape from you desk a bit early” Mike winked at her. “In any event, now that you’re here, we may as well go get some coffee to pass the time.”
“Can’t we just get it over with?” Claire asked hesitantly.
“We could, but the office is still full. I’m assuming you’d rather wait until everyone leaves unless you’ve reconsidered the need for discretion?” Mike asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh. Right,” Claire blushed. In her anxiety her world had shrunk to the size of her cubicle, and the rest of the department had ceased to exist.
“Come on” Mike stood up and walked toward the door. “Some fresh air will probably do you good.
As usual, he was right. He kept her mind occupied as they walked over to the cafeteria, discussing a new and rather exciting project to which he had been assigned. Before she knew it, they were walking back through the now empty cube farm to the conference room.
Claire hesitated at the entrance. “Do we have to? I wasn’t even really late; no one was going to look at the report overnight anyway. What’s the difference between having it out at 5pm or 5am? It was still ready when everyone got in the next morning, wasn’t it? Anyway, it won’t happen again,” she pleaded, trying not to whine.
Mike’s casual friendliness instantly shifted. It didn’t quite disappear, but was masked temporarily by a much sterner persona that took Claire aback. He looked at her squarely and held her gaze until the silence started to become uncomfortable before responding.
“No. We don’t have to do this. No one has to accept punishment here. It’s a choice that you make. It is a choice you made when you agreed to be mentored in this way and a choice you are fee to unmake at any time. You also made a choice in your priorities every day since you were assigned the report. True, there was no impact to the business this time. But why wait so long to complete a basic task? What will make you act differently next time?”
Claire was about to mumble a response but Mike cut her off before she could do much more than open her mouth. “No, I know that any sort of punishment won’t make you type faster or stop daydreaming on the job or whatever reason you have for the delay. Just like I know that if I let you off this time you’ll only find another way to push the boundaries next week. As your mentor, I need to establish my expectations, and I don’t want to wait for a serious offense to do so.”
Seeing the tears start to well in Claire’s eyes, Mike sighed and softened. “Look, I remember what it’s like to be new here. There are too many MLAs to keep straight and it’s not as though college was any sort of good preparation for a standard eight hour work day, never mind one that starts at 8am. If you honestly think that you won’t benefit from anything I plan to do tonight, you can head home and I’ll still continue to mentor you, but know that this is a one-time pass. Next time you don’t wish to accept the consequences you will be formally disassociated with the program. I also want you to know that if you accept this pass, there will be no leniency in your next punishment. If your next offense is something that could reflect badly on the company or your reputation as a professional, rather than a delay that goes mostly unnoticed, the consequences will be severe. But like I said, it’s your choice.” Without another glance, Mike strode past her into the conference room.
Claire stood rooted to the spot. Her elation at her narrow escape was short-lived. After spending so much time dreading this, how could he just let her off? It seemed terribly unfair. Though not as unfair as making her choose to be punished. . . but isn’t that what she had done by agreeing to be part of this in the first place?
With a sudden realization, Claire laughed at the irony of her situation. After despising the waiting all afternoon, here she was prolonging her own wait. Better to get it over with tonight in a period of minutes than wait for days or weeks until the next time Mike felt physical consequences were warranted. With a deep breath, she stepped into the room to find Mike waiting, to her shock, with a paddle in hand. In other circumstances she would have loved to ask where in the spartan room he had hidden the thing, but her natural curiosity was taking a back seat to something akin to fear. Before the feeling could take hold, Mike gave her a slight smile.
“You willingly accept this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Claire choked out, staring at the paddle he was now tapping against his opposite palm.
“Good- I’m proud of you,” Mike said. “Best not delay any further. Please lower your pants and undergarments and bend over the table.”
Claire gaped at him. Granted, neither the informational session nor any of their prior discussions had gone into too far into the details of the punishment procedure, but she hadn’t expected this.
“This is purely professional,” Mike assured her, nothing in his manner giving her any reason to doubt his sincerity. Still, she hesitated.
“I would do so quickly if I were you,” Mike continued, “I’d think you would want to make sure we were finished well before the cleaners arrive.”
Blushing, Claire quickly complied. Mike’s footsteps moved behind her, and she felt the cool wood press against her bottom. “It will be ten today,” Mike announced. Claire had expected more of a lecture, and was shocked when instead she heard the first swat land. The pain didn’t really start to register until after the second stroke, and by the third she was struggling for control as the burn continued to build. By the time Mike was finished with her, she was grasping the edge of the table so hard that her knuckles were white. She had managed not to cry out, whether from a desire to impress Mike or a fear that the cleaners might hear if they turned up early, she couldn’t say. She couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks though, and Mike handed her a tissue as he helped her up.
“I trust we won’t have to do this again? At least for a while?” he asked.
“Definitely not,” Claire replied when she found her voice.
“Good. You might as well head home. I know you probably have some other assignment to frantically work on before it goes overdue, but you’ll be more refreshed and efficient in the morning. Not to mention, typing is a lot easier when you can sit down. If you can, try to remember to get in trouble on a Friday next time. You’ll have more time to recover.”
Claire couldn’t keep from laughing a bit at this remark as the left the room as friends.