Almost Away

Heidi strode the corridor slowly, waiting for feelings of nostalgia that never came. This last stroll past the doors behind which she had spent nearly half of her life should have been a deeply emotional experience, filled with memory and longing.  It was emotional, no doubt, but her primary emotion was somewhere between fear and indignation.


It wasn’t supposed to be like this, she thought to herself. She was supposed to be out on the football field with her friends, laughing idly, enjoying one last lazy afternoon together, and, of course smiling benignly as they all discussed the brilliant prank that some unknown party had managed to pull the night before, never giving away that she had been the mastermind behind it all.


Not that she felt much like a mastermind now, nor had she since things had started to go terribly wrong.


She hadn’t expected the thing to be quite so, well, pig-headed. And loud.  And at all the wrong times.  She should have known better, Heidi thought. She should have enlisted the help of one of her more rurally inclined classmates. As the daughter of a doctor and a lawyer, the closest she had come to working with pigs was the school’s annual second grade outing to the O’Grady petting zoo.


Despite her lack of experience, the plan seemed to go smoothly at the start. The small animal- hardly larger than her family’s golden retriever, had cooperated nicely as she covertly coaxed it from the Jacksons’ pen into her car and drove it to the school. It had barely even rumpled the blanket she had spread to protect the back seat.  It had even gamely followed her up to the path to the main door of the school, but at that point it had it’s own ideas about what should come next. Rather than entering the building to roam the halls freely, it nosed around the flowerbeds, lithely dodging her every attempt to catch it as the two of them trampled the freshly planted blossoms and squealing merrily all the while.


The unusual sound in the dead of night had roused old Mr. Perkins, though it was probably for the better. Just as the pig made a darting sprint for the road, Mr. Perkins had come around the corner to investigate, tripping over the animal and sending the both of them sprawling. The delay proved just enough to let Heidi catch the animal again, though her relief at doing so was dampened by the realisation that she had been caught.


Though she was hardly in any condition to realise it, the usually grumpy Mr. Perkins was quite amused by the whole spectacle, and acquiesced to her begging not to call the police. He did, however, report the matter to the school principal.


It felt ridiculous to Heidi, sitting in the principal’s office in her cap and gown, just hours before the graduation ceremony.  Mr. Hendricks, who had always treated her kindly when discussing school matters with the start pupil, instead wore an expression befitting the stark black gown that swirled about him for the occasion. The usually jovial man regarded Heidi gravely as she attempted to stammer out an explanation for her actions the night before.


Her gaze lingered on the paddle as though she had never seen it before, even though a similar implement hung in the front of each of her classrooms. Lined up on it’s own peg right between the yardstick and the eraser, it had simply been part of the scenery to her, just one of the typical classroom tools that’s always available but rarely- if ever- used.


Now as it sat on it’s own on the desk that had been otherwise cleared for the summer break, there was no doubt that it would soon be employed.


“Is there anything else you would like to add before we begin?” he asked, bringing the mostly-unheard scolding to a close.


“No, sir,” Heidi replied miserably, carefully keeping her gaze away from him.


“Very well. Best get this over with, though I had certainly hoped that I would never need to see you in this position.”


I’m in this position every day you see me, Heidi had the good sense not to say as she sat in front of him. It’s the next position that we’d both rather avoid.


“Bend over,” came the inevitable command. “As you did not try to hide your misdeeds, and as this is your first time, it will be only five. It could well have been double; keep that in mind.”


Heidi cursed her luck and bad sense yet again as she bent over. Any other day, she would have been wearing her jeans instead of a flimsy rented gown and light summer dress- a dress she had specifically selected weeks ago for it’s wispy skirt that wouldn’t get too warm under the gown in the summer sun.  She began to think that it might have been worth it to wear a somewhat heavier garment. Then again, if she’d had the foresight to think of such things, she would probably also have had the sense to not land herself in this position in the first place.   Resigned to her fate, she wriggled down against the table, trying vainly to find a position that didn’t seem immodest.


Heidi caught her breath as the first stroke hit.  Panting, she grasped the edge of the desk until her knuckles turned white.   All thoughts of jeans were banished from her mind; no cloth, no matter how heavy, would have mitigated the impact significantly.  She was still in shock over the first stroke when the second was delivered.  This time, instead of pure shock, she was able to process the pain- the bone-deep aching sting that gradually built up in the seconds after the blow.   Heidi hissed as she gripped the desk still harder, a distant corner of her mind wondering if anyone had ever broken the desktop with their grip in such situations.


The third swat drew a groan from her as she rapped her palms on the desk in an effort to distract herself from the pain.


“Keep still, only two more,” came a voice behind her that was not quite sympathetic. “Don’t reach back or we will need to repeat the swat.”


The next two came quickly, one after another. Perhaps it was an attempt at mercy, for Heidi had no hope of retaining her position for long. Mercy or not, Heidi hardly appreciated the gesture at the moment, as her hands flew back in a vain attempt to comfort her bottom.


“Take a few moments to pull yourself together,” he reminded her gently. “The procession is about to start. Meet me outside the main doors in ten minutes.”


Heidi dashed off to the bathroom, struggling to bring her tears under control and wondering how she could possibly compose herself in time.  It had been a punishment, plain and simple. In spite of the ritual and impersonality of the whole experience, it was the sort of thing that is supposed to change a person. It certainly had, Heidi admitted. She hardly felt like a role model, hardly felt able to represent the student body. Still, she had one last duty to perform. The sense of obligation, if nothing else, was enough to help her calm her breathing, wash her face, and reapply enough makeup to hopefully make it difficult to see that she had recently been crying.  With a fake smile to the mirror that failed to completely fool herself, Heidi set out to join the principal.


As she approached the main entrance, she could see him in a small crowd outside. She recognised a few members of the school board, the senior teachers, and one particularly friendly face.  Hoping the fake smile would be enough, she strode over to join Janice.


“Finally! What took you so long?” Janice exclaimed as she folded her into a hug.  “I figured you’d be here as soon as Mr. Watson came out. What were you doing, Secret valedictorian stuff?” Janice asked.


“Er. . .something like that,” Heidi replied, and was saved from further elaboration by a blast of music from the stadium speakers indicating that it was time to go.


As she approached the stage, she felt Janice jab an elbow into her side. “Do you see that? Just the podium on the stage. No seating whatsoever. I can’t believe they didn’t provide chairs for us, expecting us to stand all through the ceremony in the hot sun. The whole school and audience get to lounge around, but us VIPs have to stand at attention.”


“Yes, how inconsiderate,” Heidi verbally agreed, though couldn’t keep a wry smile from her face.  “Perhaps it’s for the best though,” she muttered under her breath as her bottom twinged.


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