The buzz-thunk of the minute hand jumping ahead was startlingly loud in the silent classroom. Liz wondered how it was that she had never noticed the noise before. Although the school had a reputation for rambunctious students, her fellow honours students were always respectfully quiet in class. Whenever she had stayed after school before, it had always been for a club meeting of some sort, and it was no wonder that small noises had escaped her attention on those occasions.
It was only now as she sat on her own that she began to appreciate the noises of the old building. She focused on them, trying to determine where the hissing was coming from, how far away the footsteps in the corridor were, and what could possibly be making the creaking above her. On any other day they wouldn’t have held her attention for long, but just now she was desperate for anything to take her mind off her present situation.
Anything except for the assignment she had been set. She glared down at the sheet in front of her and counted the lines she had completed. Only four more than the last count. It would take forever to reach one hundred. As much as she wanted the pointless task to be finished, she knew her next ordeal would make this imposition pale in comparison.
She had heard stories from her classmates of what happened in detention. She had been equally awed, horrified, and drawn to these stories. As fascinated as she was, the stories had served their purpose as a deterrent. Never would she land herself in that situation, she had promised.
It really was all Kathleen’s fault. She had passed her the note in the first place. Liz had been trying to shove it back at her, knowing Mr Jones would turn around any minute when, of course, he did.
And caught her.
She could have just told him what had happened, but her sense of loyalty didn’t let her. Kathleen, wilting away from his fiery gaze, hadn’t said anything. Mr. Jones’s detentions were legendary, and the rumours alone were sufficient to keep most of his classes under control. It was already December, and Liz was the first student from fourth period math to be summoned to his classroom after school this year.
“Have you finished?” she heard Mr Jones snap from his desk, looking up from his marking.
“No sir, just a bit more,” Liz replied as she quickly got back to work.
She focused on her lines, knowing that she couldn’t put it off forever, and that it was best not to make him more angry by unnecessarily delaying her fate. ‘Perhaps he’ll go easy on me; he must know this is my first detention,’ she thought, but she knew it was an empty wish. She shuddered as she thought back to the quick glimpse she had seen of Melissa’s bottom as they had changed for volleyball practice last year. She and Melissa had been close friends for years, and had rarely gotten into trouble. Judging by the deep red stain she had sported, Liz doubted Mr. Jones had taken that into account.
As it always seemed to do when one is dreading something, time flew by miraculously quickly compared to it’s earlier drag. Liz counter her lines three more times to ensure she had the proper number before raising onto shaky legs to deliver her papers to her executioner.
“Very well, bend over. You know what’s coming,” he said by way of acknowledging her work.
Trembling, Liz lowered herself onto her elbows on the desk, clenching her eyes shut as Mr Jones walked behind her to raise her skirt, as if doing so would make her disappear.
She felt the paddle rest on her behind. She had seen it every day, hanging on the wall behind Mr Jones’s desk. Each of the teachers had one, though only a few placed them openly on display. Of those, his was by far the largest and most intimidating. Liz mentally cursed Kathleen for getting her into this mess. Couldn’t she have picked someone else’s class in which to pass notes? She thought wistfully of the the thin ruler Mrs. Stannish was said to favour- surely that would have been a much easier punishment.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the first swat of the paddle. It was delivered forcefully, and ground her hips into the front edge of the desk. In the moment before the pain in her bottom registered, she wondered if she would have bruises from the impact with the desk. Soon however, the pain on the other side became her primary concern and she gritted her teeth in an attempt to ride it out. Mr Jones waited quietly behind her, drawing out the punishment. Torturing me, Liz thought angrily, wishing he would get on with it.
Just as the pain began to lessen, the paddle landed again. Liz grasped the edge of the desk so tightly that her knuckles turned white, a marked contrast to the glowing red colour that was spreading across her bottom.
The clock buzz-thunked again, startling her. The third swat landed mid-jump, propelling her back over the desk. A small sob and several tears escaped as she lay there waiting for the next stroke to fall.
“Stand up, we’re through here,” she heard Mr. Jones say behind her.
It took a minute to understand his words. Three swats? That was it? She’d heard plenty of stories from classmates after serving detentions, and could not remember a single instance of anyone escaping with less than five swats. Mr Jones in particular was infamous for always giving the maximum ten.
She stood up and turned to face him, rubbing her swollen cheeks and looking confused.
“Yes, I usually give more, but three seemed a harsh enough punishment for simple loyalty, misplaced though it may be.” Seeing that she still appeared confused, he continued, “Of course I know it wasn’t your note. As a math teacher, I don’t usually get a sense for my students’ handwriting, though yours is distinct and does not match that on the offending message. Plus, the look on Kathleen’s face all but gave her away. I’ll deal with her soon enough; she’ll surely earn herself an after-school visit here before long and we can settle her account. I’m impressed how far you were willing to go to try to protect her, though I’m sorry to say your sacrifice won’t buy her any leniency. Strictly speaking, lying to a teacher should carry a harsher punishment than disrupting a class.”
Liz quivered under his gaze, fearing that he meant to continue the paddling, and breathed a sigh of relief when he continued, “However, what you did today shows character. I just hope you exercise better judgement in choosing those to whom you give your loyalty.”
Still struggling with this revelation, Liz took his offered hand and shook it in a daze. As she turned to leave, she looked back at her pages of lines sitting on his desk, “I use better judgement in deciding whether to pay attention to my teacher or my friends” etched over and over, and wondered at how the simple phrase could take on new meaning even after so many repetitions.