An unusual form of therapy

By Angela Fox

The rain had slackened off to a fine drizzle as I parked the car at the municipal car park, but I had to fight the wind with my umbrella to get my credit card into the machine and collect the ticket. It was a miracle that, with the wind trying to blow the umbrella inside out, I didn’t drop my Gucci wallet in a puddle when I replaced it in my matching handbag. I tottered off down the steep lane behind the church on my 4-inch heels. The traffic was light in the High Street so I didn’t have to wait long to cross before walking the one hundred yards to the pub on the corner.

The White Hart was one of my favourite restaurant/pubs in town, and for once I was on time. Unsurprisingly, Catherine, who had never been late in her life, was already seated in a corner booth and I could see her waving at me as I pushed in through the door. She grinned and waved to make sure I had seen her, even though it was already two o’clock and the lunchtime crowd had thinned. I waved back as I made my way over to her and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the waitress walking over to deliver the menus.

Catherine stood as I approached and we exchanged pecks on the cheeks before I took my seat opposite her. She looked incredible, her black silky hair shimmering, making her sparkling blue eyes seem sharper and even more intelligent than usual. Dressed in a wool suit in light tan with a white polo sweater and brown pumps, she looked like a perky estate agent about to sell me on a house. She was, in fact, my GP.

“How’s Em?” I asked. “Is she joining us for lunch?”

Emma was Catherine’s wife. They had been married for just over four years and had two children. Their son, Jack, was almost four and his sister, Paisley, was coming up on her first year. Emma had given birth to both children from IVF using her own egg for Jack and an egg from Catherine for Paisley. They had used donor sperm from the same father. Both children were healthy and I had been to their home on many occasions.

Catherine shook her head. “No. She called me half an hour ago and said that Paisley is teething and very irritable. Lunch, particularly here with the children, wouldn’t be much fun.  Besides, it is really you I wanted to see.”

“Oh?” I asked. “Not bad news?”  I had my annual check-up with Catherine the previous week and she had done the usual blood work and a pap smear.

Catherine furrowed her eyebrows for a moment and then suddenly smiled.

“No,” she giggled. “You will live, at least for another week or so. Your results were all normal. No trouble there. But we didn’t really get a chance to talk. That’s the trouble with the NHS and all the productivity guidelines for GPs these days. When I started, we could spend as much time as necessary with each patient; get to know them and understand their lives and what was really bothering them. Now, it is more about how many patients we can cram through the door in a day; a real numbers game.”

I sighed and picked up the menu, though I knew it by heart.  “I know what you mean, Cath. Same at the law firm. I no sooner have read one brief when another is dropped on my desk. However, the good news is you really don’t have to get to know me. We were at school and Uni together. If you don’t know me by now, I suppose you never will.” I gave a half-hearted smile.

The waitress came and I ordered the chicken salad with a diet Pepsi. Cath ordered the smoked salmon salad with ice tea.

After the waitress took our orders my friend said, “Yes, Jo, you really are my best friend, well except for Emma, but we don’t really get to chat alone anymore, do we?”

“True, but what with me being a barrister trying hard to earn silk, and you being a doctor and married with children, well that’s how life goes. Maybe when you retire, your children have left home and their dog dies, and I have retired from the bench, we shall have more time to natter?” I was joking but my smile was rather tired.

“It’s just that I have known you since we were eight years old and it is obvious you are unhappy. Is it your career that bothers you or is it because Jim left?”

“Jim didn’t leave. I left him, remember?”

“Yes, I’m sorry Jo. As your friend, it’s none of my business, but as your physician I am very worried. I don’t need a medical degree to tell me that you are depressed, and it has been two years since Jim left and you got divorced. It’s natural to be depressed after a break-up but depression lasting more than six months after a valid reason no longer exists is pathologic. Even Emma noted how unhappy you looked when you came over for dinner the other month.”

“So, am I the main topic of dinner conversation at your house?”

“Don’t be like that, Jo. We care about you. Emma and I both think of you as family. We hate to see you down and, as your doctor, I should be concerned.”

I sighed. Catherine was my best friend and I did love her and her family. And it was true I was depressed. When my husband decided to move in with my next-door neighbour I felt like I had a hole ripped right through me. While understanding what had happened, I could never forgive him, and it was eating me alive.

I shrugged. “It is what it is. I chose a career. It seems I can’t be a barrister and have a social life. I love what I do, but I suppose I am sick of being alone.”

Our meals arrived and we both ate in silence. I was morose as I picked at my chicken. I knew it was one thing to love my career, but it was all-consuming. Socially, I had nothing, and really the only people I saw socially were Catherine and her family and the occasional drinks I had with members of my law-firm and their wives. I wasn’t the most senior barrister in the firm, but I strenuously avoided the partners and associates outside of the occasional ‘company do’.

I saw my friend eating her salmon with gusto. I envied her. She was always so well balanced. She had a career and a partner that supported her. I had long known she was gay and, even at Cambridge, she had tried to make us more than just friends. When I had made it clear I didn’t lean in her direction, we had still remained friends and I had been overjoyed when she met Emma, a nurse who worked at her practice, and I loved the two of them equally. They were so perfect together. But in the depth of night I had, on occasion, wondered what might have been if I hadn’t pushed Cathy away so hard.

To break the silence, I said, “Let’s not talk about my depression. Tell me how the children are.”

Cathy grinned. “They are wonderful, fun, the absolute joys of our lives, but you can drop by anytime and check them out for yourself. You are their Godmother, after all. But you are changing the subject. Right now, I have just heard you have agreed with my diagnosis. The real question is, what we are going to do about it?”

“I don’t want your Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil, or whatever it is you pill pushers give out these days. None of them is any better than placebo anyway, and would never work on me since I know what is wrong with me and I know that that stuff is all useless. I would rather climb into a bottle of Bollinger.”

“Actually, I half agree with you, particularly about the Bollinger, except that drinking alone would be even worse for you. However, I don’t want to push pills at you.”

“Oh?” I grinned. “Do you have some other none-approved therapy for which you will likely get drummed out of the medical profession?”

“I might, and yes it might get me struck off, though I have a great lawyer to defend me.”

“Ha! I didn’t think you were into quack remedies. Maybe I wouldn’t take your case.”

“I am not into quack remedies, even though I admit the thought I have for you is not even mentioned in the literature. I do believe, however, it was once reported in that iconoclastic journal ‘The Daily Mail’ that in the deepest depths of Siberia, where no doubt Zoloft is a little hard to come by, it has been used for depression and even drug addiction.”

“Oh, do tell. I am sure it will sound interesting, even if it is utter nonsense.”

“Before I do, I have to tell you that the only reason I am even mentioning it is that I happen to know it works. Well, it works sometimes.”

“Sometimes? That’s hardly reassuring.”

“True,” grinned Cathy, “but one of those sometimes includes me. And while I would deny it vigorously in court or a medical tribunal, I have also had miraculous cures with a few other patients. Female patients, all of whom were in high-pressure careers, single and depressed. Just like you, as a matter of fact.”

“How come you don’t write this miraculous cure up in a journal? Or let me guess; it wouldn’t pass peer review and no one would ever publish it?”

“Yes and no,” she laughed. “It is true it would never pass peer review, and I could never get an Institutional Review Board to even study a proposal, but almost certainly it would be publishable.”

“Oh?” I queried, raising an eyebrow. “Not that I would ever disbelieve you.”

“But only in the likes of the ‘Daily Mirror’, ‘The Sun’ or perhaps that paragon of intellectualism, ‘The Daily Mail’.”

“Ahh. That does sound like a problem. And you expect me to undergo such therapy?”

She paused and looked at me carefully over her glass of iced tea. “I think it would really help you. Yes.”

I looked at her. I knew Catherine Thompson like I knew the back of my hand. She was incredibly smart, very well up on her profession, and when she was serious it was a good idea to listen to her.

“Go on, you have done a great job of building it up. Don’t leave me in suspense.”

She paused a bit, as though trying to make her mind up, clearly worried about what my reaction would be.

Suddenly she said, “Would you see a friend of mine if I asked you to? A friend who I trust absolutely to keep your confidence. I believe she could help. I mean really help with your depression as she once did with me and the others I have referred to her. I honestly think she could do you the power of good.”

“Is she a therapist, or perhaps a psychiatrist?”

Cathy shook her head. “Yes and no. She isn’t a psychiatrist. I don’t want to mislead you. She has no formal qualifications, nor indeed any medical training.”

“Huh? And you want me to go to her and unburden my soul?”

“I want you to go see her. Call it a consultation, but whether she would ask you to unburden your soul? Well, I honestly don’t know. In any case, that would be up to you. She will talk to you, at least she will if I ask her to. She is pretty open and very honest. I can vouch for her and she helped me before I ever met Emma. She is about six years older than us, is easy to talk to and I am sure she will understand and help you. As to how she would help you, and what her methods are, I think it is better to just let her describe to you what she might do. And, of course, you may refuse her help anyway. All I ask is that you see her and talk to her.”

“Catherine, I know you. You won’t tell me how she accomplishes her miracles because you know I will baulk.”

“You are partially right. I think it might be difficult to accept if it comes from me. But she is a wonderful person and I think she will do a better job of explaining it than me. I really want you to go see her and then you can decide after she explains what she does.”

“Hmm. I am not sure. You say she isn’t a therapist, has no medical training and yet she can cure my depression, presumably without pills.”

“I didn’t say she wasn’t a therapist, though I admit she isn’t a therapist in the traditional sense. But I think she can provide you with a therapy which will work. I know she has helped several other of my patients besides myself. I only recommend her since I, too, doubt pills will work for you, and I also know how incredibly stressed you are in your career. It’s because of that, and her ‘special’ expertise, that I really believe she can help.”

“Look, Cath. Stop playing around. This friend of yours, if she isn’t a therapist what is she?”

“Actually, she is a successful author writing mostly romantic fiction. She is quite wealthy and I first met her, well, she was a patient of mine when I was a senior house officer working in A&E. I got to know her. In fact, I got to know her almost as well as I know you.

“But look, Jo, I love you very much. You are my best friend in the whole world and I wouldn’t recommend her if I didn’t trust her completely and believe that she can help you. But, if I tell you more than that I will tie her hands. I have to respect her too. She may decide she can’t help you and by telling you how she works, well, it wouldn’t be fair to her. Please, Jo, just go see her!”

Suddenly, she reached across the table, grabbed my hand and pushed a business card into it.

It just said ‘Eleanor Cox, author’ with an address and phone number.

“Please, Jo, for my sake, give her a call.”

I left Catherine promising I would think about it, yet the idea of calling a complete stranger and unloading all my troubles didn’t appeal to me. Despite my love and respect for Catherine, I thought that this time she was way off base.

The next couple of weeks went by in a blur. Two of the cases that had been occupying me for several months wrapped up with impressive victories and I was rewarded with a juicy prosecution of a well-known drug and gangland member for whom the police had collected some impressive evidence. But the trial wasn’t expected to begin for several weeks, leaving me ample preparation time, so I decided to take a break. It was only going to be a Thursday and Friday plus the weekend, but I figured a change would be as good as a rest.

I had moved into a luxury flat near the centre of town and decided it was time I did some cleaning and get caught up with the laundry. However, by the evening of the first day, the Thursday, I was already lonely, and proceeded to down a bottle of wine to drown my sorrows. I was comparatively well-off and I loved my work, but that was all I had. Somehow, I just couldn’t build up the enthusiasm to even go out to a nice restaurant.

I woke up the next morning with a hangover and the sight of dirty wine glasses, a half-eaten TV dinner and the clothes I had washed the day before lying in piles ready for ironing, made me want to kill myself.

By about one o’clock in the afternoon, my headache was under reasonable control, having taken enough ibuprofen to cure a courtroom of headaches, and the ironing finally done. I was exhausted and miserable, and the cloud of depression hung as heavy as ever. I made myself some tea and, just as I was about to sit on the sofa, I saw something small and white sticking from under the coffee table. Sighing, I picked it up and discovered it was the card that Catherine had given me. I looked at it. Eleanor Cox. Just the name and the phone number. Probably, just because I wanted somebody, anybody, to talk to, I picked up the phone and dialled the number. It rang four times and then went to voice mail.

‘You have reached the world’s most famous authoress of romantic fiction. If you really would like to speak to me rather than merely informing me of which contest I happen to have won, or to sell me something, then please leave a message. Should I then desire to speak to you, I shall be pleased to return your call, assuming, of course, I can understand your accent or language and the number that you may leave.’

I grinned and wondered how often she changed her messages. She seemed to have a sense of humour at least.

“Hello Ms Cox, my name is Josephine Harper and I was…”

There was a click and the same voice said, “You are Catherine Thompson’s friend?”  The voice sounding well educated, confident but friendly.

“Err, yes. She suggested that you…”

“Catherine told me that she had given you my number. I suppose I expected your call a couple of weeks ago.”

“I’ve been terribly busy,” I interrupted, showing her that I knew how to interrupt someone too.

I heard a soft laugh. “Yes, I wondered that. No matter. I am glad that you found the courage to call me.”

“It wasn’t lack of courage. I really have been busy. Anyway, Catherine told me you might be able to help?”

“There is a chance, I suppose, not that I really know what your issue is. Catherine, as always, wasn’t very enlightening; about you, that is. She merely informed me that you might call.”

It was my turn to smile. Catherine protected another person’s privacy as much as I did; basically, like it was being guarded by Fort Knox.

“Well, Catherine thinks I suffer from depression and that you might be able to help, though Catherine didn’t enlighten me either as to exactly how you might accomplish that.”

I could almost hear the woman at the other end of the line smile.

“No, she wouldn’t. Look, for reasons that I will make clear after we meet, I don’t like to discuss problems and solutions on the telephone. It’s too impersonal. Do you want to meet?”

“I agree it’s hard to fully communicate in any way other than face to face. Where and when would it be convenient?”

“Well I am free now and all weekend actually. Would you like to come around here?”  She gave me an address at a rather well-to-do end of town.

“If you give me time to freshen up and commute, I can be there in an hour and a half.”

“Two O’clock? That sounds excellent. I look forward to your arrival. Goodbye.”

She hung up.

A bit amused, but thankful I had found something to do that might be interesting for the afternoon, I took a shower and wondered how to dress. I wasn’t much of a fashion queen at the best of times. My wardrobe was packed mostly with the professional business suits I wore for work. In the end, I selected a pair of black slacks and a silk white satin shirt that was comfortable but not overly dressy. I covered it with a simple blue cardigan, threw on my white trench coat and took the lift down to the underground garage where I parked the Audi.

The sat-nav of the Audi is excellent, and I found the address with minutes to spare. It was in a quiet street with tall trees and hedges lining the gardens and I was impressed that Ms Cox’s house was guarded by metal gates on either side of an in/out semi-circular driveway.

I pulled up to the gate where there were a keypad and a speaker button and said, “Miss Josephine Harper for Ms Eleanor Cox” and was rewarded by the gate opening with the voice I recognised as Miss Cox asking me to park next to the car in front of the house.

The house was a three-storey affair, impressive in its exterior, and I surmised that Ms Cox had more money than I would ever see. If she made her money by writing she must have been very good indeed. I parked next to a white Tesla and I wondered if Ms Cox was an environmentalist.

One-half of the double front doors opened as I got out of my car to reveal a tall blonde of my own height, dressed in a light tan shirt dress that was belted with an ornate gold buckle. She looked incredibly relaxed as she leaned against the door frame, watching me ease my lengthy frame out of my low-slung sports car.

She was only the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was a true platinum blonde who made my own blonde locks look positively brown. Hers were pulled tight across her head in a ponytail that swished like a soft main as she moved to wave an arm to welcome me in. Her eyes were a startling green which flashed in good humour as though she really were positively thrilled to see me. Every fibre of her being seemed interested in me, radiating an inner beauty that was unmistakable. I had to force myself not to stare at her in awe.

She moved to the side invitingly as I climbed the two steps to the door and said, “Welcome, Miss Harper. I am so thrilled to meet a friend of Catherine Thompson’s. I am Eleanor Cox. Won’t you come in?”

I smiled my gratitude and followed her into an impressive hallway that actually had a beautiful curving staircase on the left that led up to a Juliette balcony over-looking the entryway. There were two wood and glass panelled doors to the right, and the floor seemed to be tiled in pale travertine or marble.  Pictures of the English countryside adorned the walls, and in the centre of the far wall was an imposing grandfather clock. Ms Cox led the way past it to a door on the right, which led into a large comfortable living room. French windows lined the far wall, overlooking a manicured garden and what appeared to be green fields beyond. In the furthest corner from the door stood a white grand piano, and in the centre of the room was a large padded leather sofa with matching armchairs, arranged to face the piano. The Grandfather clock began to chime the two o’clock hour in the hallway.

“I see you are very punctual, Miss Harper. Please take a seat and don’t mind Alfie. He doesn’t bite, though he might try and cuddle you to death,” she laughed.

On the huge leather sofa, a large Afghan hound looked up studying me, though it seemed like he had a gentle smile on his face. He was blonde, almost as light as his owner, with the usual long wool, and I imagined that if he had stood on his back legs, he would have been quite a bit taller than me. I love dogs and gently approached him and let him smell the back of my hand which he gently licked. I scratched him softly behind his ears, which he seemed to like.

“Uh-oh,” laughed Eleanor. “You have a friend for life, and please remember I did warn you about being cuddled to death.”

I took the cushion next to him and he promptly stretched and lay his head in my lap.

“I love dogs, and one of my current regrets is I am not allowed a pet in my current flat, and had to leave my labrador behind when I left my home.”

Ms Cox took the armchair next to me and smiled. “Well, if you are a dog lover at least we have something in common. Alfie, there, is only four, but he follows me everywhere, including sleeping on my bed at night. It’s not bad on a cold winter night, but come the summer I would melt were it not for the air conditioning. Now, can I get you anything? Tea, water or something a little stronger? I usually take tea around now.”

I smiled. “No thank you, I am fine right now. But, well, you have a lovely home.”

“Yes,” she smiled. “It is comfortable and rather decadent for just me living on my own. In case you are wondering, I am an author and write mostly romantic fiction novels. It’s a bit of a passion but it doesn’t pay for this. It was my parents’ home and they left me with it and an income from the family business which my brother runs. He got a couple of homes too. We are very close, but he enjoys ‘businessy’ things and I enjoy writing. I realise I am very fortunate to be born with the proverbial silver spoon. And since I really hope you will tell me something about yourself, let me just say I am in my mid-forties, a spinster and never married. I love to read and write, travel and I play the piano, occasionally in an amateur band, though mostly to amuse myself and Alfie. At least I hope it amuses him. Occasionally he tries to sing to my tunes, though he might be politely asking me to stop,” she grinned.

“I love life, yet other than a few friends and Alfie, I am a loner and I probably enjoy my own company too much. I enjoy helping others who really try to help themselves, and probably would have enjoyed a medical type of career. But while I love reading about the sciences, I am not particularly academically gifted. And I suppose the silver spoon thing reduced my motivation to work really hard when I was younger. A pity.” She smiled again.

“So now that you know what a decadent creature I am, do you want to tell me anything about yourself? Our mutual friend, Catherine, seems to think I can help you, though she, of course, refused to tell me what your problems might be. May I ask how long you have known Catherine?”

I smiled in return. “Since we were both eight years old. We went to school together and were class and dorm mates for ten years. We both went to Cambridge, different colleges of course; she to study medicine and me the law. We roomed together for the first couple of years and have been best friends ever since.”

“And she is your physician? I should mention that she is my physician too.”

“And I am her lawyer. Is that how you met Catherine, becoming her patient?”

She shook her head. “In a way, yes. The first time we met it was under doctor-patient circumstances. I had an accident and was taken via ambulance to her A & E where she was on call. She was still a house officer at that time. Apparently, it was a slow night and we made a bit of a friendship. Later, we dated for a while. But Catherine wanted a long-term relationship and I wasn’t ready for it. Travel was too important for me at that time, and Catherine didn’t have the free time to accompany me. Then she met Emma and the rest is history, as they say. We are still good friends, though, and she was good enough to accept me as one of her patients into her practice.”

I nodded. Eleanor seemed very upfront and I admit I rather liked her. But it was obvious she was trying to gain my confidence, and I guessed she was trying to make it easy for me to unburden myself. Something I wasn’t comfortable doing with a stranger. She read my mind.

“Look, I imagine this is strange, even difficult for you. You have said you are a lawyer, so I imagine you are more used to asking questions than giving answers. However, if Catherine is right and I can help you, then I need to know a little more. She thinks you have some kind of problem. Do you agree with her?”

I looked down and steepled my fingers, wondering what to say.

Finally, just before she could speak again, I said, “Catherine is a wonderful clinician. I have never known her to be wrong when she arrived at a diagnosis. She thinks I am depressed.”

Elanor smiled that wonderful smile she had.

“A cute way of saying you agree with her. Not that that is surprising. Your whole demeanour of body language tells me that you consider life a burden. The question is, why? You are a successful lawyer by your car, clothing and jewellery. Are you a solicitor or a barrister?”

“A barrister.”

“So why is a barrister depressed? Don’t you enjoy your profession?”

I shook my head.  “No, I love my profession. I love what I do.”

“But?”

“There are no real buts. I really love my job. It is all-consuming. It’s just that …” I left it hanging.

“Ahh. I see. I understand.”

“You do?” I challenged.

She grinned. “As I mentioned, I am not academically gifted. I just happen to have one small talent. I can read people quite well. The body language when you speak and the little you do say gives you away. It’s why I wanted to meet you rather than discuss things on the telephone; so I could look at you when we talked.

“But yes, I think I can really help you.”

“Well you talk a good line but, being a barrister, my training dictates that I see some evidence that what you say is true,” I grinned.

She cocked her head. “Fair enough, I suppose. But now I find I am thirsty. I need a cup of tea. It would be nice if you would join me in the kitchen and I will tell you all about yourself.”

She stood up and said, “Alfie, take your head off of her lap. Besides which, I will have to get your blonde locks cleaned off her dark pants.”  She looked at me and said, “Fortunately, his hair brushes off clothing fairly easily. I’ll make sure his hair has been cleaned off before you leave. The kitchen is through here.”

Her kitchen was nearly as large as the spacious living room we had just left, and included a central island with sink and induction stovetop. Another full double sink was set against the wall under a large window that looked over the back lawn, and there was a kitchen table with six upright chairs against the far wall under another window. A double oven and another induction stovetop with an above-counter microwave and coffee maker sat against the wall to the right.

“I see you are equipped to serve the five thousand,” I observed drily.

She laughed, “Yes, another example of my decadent living, I’m afraid, but I do so love to cook.” She filled an electric kettle from the sink under the window, from a tap that looked like it supplied filtered water. “So, let me guess. You are severely depressed. You are a barrister, which indicates you are highly intelligent. A careful and dedicated worker, detail-oriented, and you are mentally equipped to focus on buried details. You have been dedicated to your career for a long time, probably since school, I am guessing. You are childless, but you have been married. I suspect you met the man who was to be your husband at university, but I rather doubt he would have been in a law practice. Most likely he left you after about ten or twelve years, not because he didn’t love you, but because you loved your career more than you loved or respected him. It is reasonable to conclude that one of your differences might have been that he wanted children and you didn’t.

“I am thinking that your break up was ugly and that you have been trying even harder to forget about it, no doubt by burying further into your work. I can see that you are stressed, largely because of your work. You are probably nervous, even fearful, that one day soon you may not be able to carry the load expected of you or even what you expect of yourself. That fear is adding to your stress, and you are in an endless cycle of work, stress, fear. You desperately need a holiday, yet feel you cannot take one less you fall behind in the schedules you create for yourself. I am also betting that, even if you suddenly had the time, you would hardly know where to go and probably decide to spend the time cleaning or doing laundry.

“In short, you are not only depressed but I can almost see thunder clouds gathered around your head as though you are expecting a downpour any second.” She paused, and then gave another smile before adding, “and I wonder if the horrible weather outside at the moment is a direct result of you being here!”

When I didn’t respond she laughed and said, “Alright, the last part was supposed to be a joke and even then you didn’t smile.”

I looked directly at her and stared into her eyes, trying to stop myself from being so affected by her incredibly hypnotic beauty.

Finally, I gathered my thoughts and said, “I have to tell you that I, too, am pretty good at reading people. It comes with my profession. However, obviously, I am not in your class. Are you telepathic?”

“What did I get wrong?”

“Not much. I was married for twelve years and my husband left me for our next-door neighbour and her child. He gave her another child in the process. I had to leave the house because, well, all the neighbours knew what happened. Since then, except for the occasional office party and a few get-togethers with Catherine and Emma and their children, I have not been very social. And yes, I am stressed, utterly terrified of making mistakes, and not performing well and life is little else but work. I really do love work, but I know I am missing out on life and one day I may die a lonely forgotten and bitter spinster with no fond memories to look back on. I want more, but I am not sure what it is and I am too exhausted to go looking. As for your comments about vacation, well you are too scary for me. You should be in my profession. You would know when witnesses are lying and when they are telling the truth. I am good, but I would say I have never met anyone quite like you.”

She clapped her hands together in almost childish delight, just as the kettle boiled. I watched her make the tea and she sat on a stool opposite me at the island.

Then she cocked her head and said, “Chocolate digestives or Jaffa Cakes? I am betting you are a Jaffa Cake sort of woman?”

I nodded replying, “You know I haven’t had a Jaffa Cake in yonks. Do they even still make them?”

She grinned that infectious grin again, slid off the stool and went to a cupboard that seemed stocked with goodies and came back with a plate and a packet of them.

“Honestly, they aren’t as good as they used to be but I still love the mixture of dark chocolate and orange marmalade. I have tried baking my own with some success but sadly, these are store-bought. I hope they will do.”

“They’ll be wonderful. Thank you.”

I watched as she poured out the tea and wondered what to say. I had told her more in the last minute than I had ever told anyone, including Catherine. The fact that I had borne my soul to her so quickly was shocking, and I wondered just who this witch was. Her skills were impressive, even terrifying. I had to tell myself that it was unlikely anyone without real training could actually help me.

I saw her drink her tea and then look at me over the cup.

She said, “You don’t play poker, do you?”

I shook my head.

“I suspect you might be pretty good at it considering you must be quite practised at hiding your feelings in court as you cross-examine witnesses. However, your depressive condition may be affecting you. I wouldn’t play any poker until I cure you!”

Once again, she smiled, showing her inner beauty that sucked the breath from me.

She continued, “However, I am sure I could beat you easily at poker. Despite your training and experience, I can read you like a book. You are wondering just how I could possibly help you, not being trained in psychiatry or even anything medical?”

“I am curious,” I admitted. “Are you saying you can actually help me? I have to say it seems unlikely.”

“Well it sounds cocky I know, but the answer is, yes. Certainly! Your depression isn’t because of any organic brain disorder, although there probably is an imbalance in the hormones and neurotransmitters in your noggin. There is nothing physiologic wrong with your brain; the imbalances are merely the result of circumstances; not the because of anything pathologic.”  A thought seemed to strike her and she said, “I assume you are not yet menopausal?”

I shook my head. “My periods are still regular.”

“Are you on any medication and are you free of drugs?”

“No medication and the only drugs I use are caffeine and the odd glass of wine. I did get a bit sozzled last night when I finished a bottle of merlot. But other than last night, anything more than one glass is rare.”

“Excellent! In that case, I believe I can definitely help you. Probably make you as right as rain, actually. I think yours will be the simplest case I have yet come across.”

“Forgive me if I don’t share your enthusiasm. And just how many cases like mine have you dealt with?”

“Hmm, your opinions are understandable but you will forgive me if I don’t talk about other, well, people, I have helped. Their privacy is just as important as your own. Let’s just say the number is more than five but less than ten.”

“So how long does this process take?”

“Oh, not long. Not long at all. My part would take perhaps half an hour and you would start to feel better inside an hour. By tomorrow, and certainly by Sunday, you will feel almost as right as rain. You will be relaxed; your stress will have vanished as though it had never been. And by Monday you will be fit and raring to go to work. Even better, your underlings, if you have any that is, will be amazed at just how much sunshine you will be radiating.”

I sniffed. “Seems improbable. Forgive me, but you are beginning to sound like a snake-oil salesman. Just how would you accomplish this miracle?”

“Oh,” She laughed. “This will be far more potent than snake oil. But it is simple, I shall give you a jolly good hiding, the likes of which you have never felt before.”

Eleanor accused me of not being a poker player. Actually, I believed at that moment, she was quite wrong. I have had years of practice at masking my surprise in court, including adverse surprises when it was important not to show how rattled I was by a witness’s unexpected answer. Of course, it is my job to minimise such surprises, but nothing is ever certain and on the odd occasion when it does, it is important not to let the jury see it. And so, I looked over my cup at this startlingly beautiful woman and wondered if her insanity was dangerous.

We were the same height and build, but though she was older by six years, I rather suspected she was in better shape than me. She obviously had time to burn off excess energy in a gym, whereas I didn’t. I was also a little uncomfortable at the sight of all the knives hanging down from racks above the kitchen island. The thing that puzzled me, though, as my brain was whirring away, was just how Catherine had come to trust her. Had Catherine completely lost her mind?

“You are thinking our mutual friend has lost her marbles or slipped a few gears?” Laughing, she interrupted my thinking.

It was disconcerting how easily she could read me.

“And don’t worry. I won’t attack you and I am not insane. To start with, I would never even touch you, let alone spank you, without your permission. But sadly, there is no way to broach this part of the discussion easily. The simple truth is, you are desperately in need of a life reset. A severe emotional experience, I suppose. Sometimes it can happen with the death of a loved one, suddenly taking religion, or even suddenly hearing a piece of music that moves you deeply.

“The thing is, experiences like those are hard to arrange and even harder to predict. On the other hand, a good hiding, while unpleasant while it is being conducted, at least for you,” she grinned again, “is a sure-fire way to cause a severe emotional experience to order. And once it is generated, recovery is virtually immediate.”

I didn’t know what to say. I nearly always have an answer, though generally it is because I am incredibly well prepared. This time, I certainly wasn’t; I was actually in complete shock.

“Look, I know this is a complete shock. I know you think I am insane, and really, who would believe I am sane? It will take a little time to get used to, that is if you allow it. It could be that you wish to leave now and you should know that if that is what you want, please feel free to do so. While it is true, I honestly believe you need a jolly good hiding, there is no way it could be carried out without your unreserved permission. Besides, I wouldn’t want to risk any form of struggle which could hurt either of us or even poor Alfie, who actually might try to protect me though,” she suddenly laughed, “Afghans dogs have the lowest intelligence of all the canine breeds and he is so soft he might well think we are having a game. Anyway, it’s up to you and always will be. I will just say that it’s obvious you have questions, not least of which is my sanity, so I advise you to ask them and weigh my answers carefully. And please do not feel threatened. You are absolutely free to leave and return if and whenever you want. You are Catherine’s friend and I only want to do my best for you.”

She seemed as rational as anyone I had ever met and her mentioning Catherine’s name forced me to think.

I asked, “Does Catherine know that your, well, treatments are based on giving spankings?”

“Look, I make it a principle never to discuss other people with clients. Privacy is as important for me as it is to you. However, I think it might be helpful for you if I talk a little about Catherine. I foresaw this and asked her permission to reveal things I would only ever do with specific permission. And it is important to me, for our relationship actually, that you understand I do indeed have Catherine’s permission.”

She got off of the stool at the island and went over to the counter where she retrieved a mobile phone and returned. She fiddled with the phone and suddenly I heard Catherine’s voice.

“Ok, so you are recording me now?”

Eleanor could then be heard replying, “Yes. Do you realise what you are saying? You are giving me permission to reveal anything I need to convince your friend that you yourself know how I could help her and exactly what it entails?”

“Absolutely Eleanor. Jo is my best friend in the whole world. I am deathly worried about her. In a way, you are my last hope. Tell her everything she needs to know. You can tell her anything you think is necessary, including about us. For God’s sake, I am praying you can get through to her.”

“You realise that to show I have your permission, I will have to play this recording to her?”

“Yes. Yes, of course!”

“Is there anything you would like to say to her? I mean give her a message that she will hear?”

“Yes, I would. Look, Jo, if you are listening, know that after Em, you and Eleanor are my best friends in the whole world. I trust you, and to be honest I trust Eleanor just as much. Hopefully, by now, you will have listened to her long enough to learn that she has some pretty significant talents in reading and understanding people. Yes, I know you have similar talents, though Eleanor has empathy as, well, sorry, more than you. If she has already told you how she might help you, I am sure you are confused and believe I must be out of my mind. Trust me, I am not! Eleanor has helped me and if you want to know, I give her permission to explain exactly how she helped me if she thinks that will help. I trust you to always keep my confidence just as you do with all your clients and as I do with my patients. Eleanor can be trusted too.

“Well, that is all Jo. Listen to Eleanor and don’t reject her plan out of hand. I know it can help you. It did me, and there are others.

“That’s it, Eleanor. I hope you can convince her. My love to you both and…”

Eleanor clicked the mobile off.

“Well, that’s our friend. She clearly believes I am not insane so, if you are willing to listen, just ask any questions you want.”

I drained my cup and said, “I trust Cathy. I trust her with my life; quite literally. I find it incredible that she believes I need a good spanking so, yes, I am a bit confused. But in that conversation you just played, there is evidence that you may have spanked her. Is that true?”

Eleanor nodded. “Yes. The first time was when we lived together and we got drunk. She told me she had been spanked, caned actually, several times at school and that it always made her feel better afterwards. Interested and giggling like a couple of schoolgirls, I hoisted her over my lap and gave her a thorough good hiding, even leaving bruises on her backside.”

“She let you do that?” I asked incredulously.

“Let, hardly describes it. She kept yelling ‘harder’, as I recall. The next morning, we both had a bit of a hangover but I was shocked at the marks I had left behind on her arse. Yet she was thrilled and was bright and exuberant all day long and it lasted for a couple of weeks. Eventually, whenever she was stressed because of her incredible workload she would come home exhausted and beg me to spank her. It was always the same and it would magically revive her.

“Why would a spanking make her feel good?”

“I think the pain and discomfort causes neurotransmitters in the brain to be released, which no doubt affects hormone release. Cathy understands the science far better than I. I just accept it and marvel at how well it works to lift someone’s spirits. I possibly shouldn’t say this, but you already know I have helped several ladies and most are repeat customers, as it were.”

“You are suggesting they enjoy being spanked? I find that hard to believe.”

“I am not sure they all enjoyed it during their spanking. However, some did and they all felt much better afterwards. Besides, as a barrister, I am sure you have come into contact with the sleazy underground world of kink. People, particularly men, pay women all the time to spank them. There is actually a profession of Dominatrix, a class of sex worker, I suppose, though they tend to stay away from acts of sex, who make their entire living performing spankings. Many of their clients, I suppose, enjoy pain but I suspect many also feel the benefits afterwards that I am almost positive you would get to experience. Were you never spanked at school?”

I nodded. “Once actually and guess whose fault that was? Catherine was passing me notes in an ‘A’ level maths class and we were both sent to the headmistress, who caned us.”

Eleanor laughed. “Sounds like Catherine, I suppose. But how did you feel afterwards?”

“Sore. Very sore.”

“Well, yes, of course, but I mean afterwards, afterwards.”

“Hmm, I am not sure. It was at the end of our school careers and I thought it was a bit mean of the headmistress to cane us, though as I recall Catherine seemed to go out of her way to provoke her, much to my annoyance. Afterwards, once the pain had dissipated, I suppose I felt all right. We both did well on our exams, as I’m sure you guessed.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if you felt pretty good, once the immediate pain had subsided of course. Pity, though, you don’t recall it since it might help you come to a good decision.”

I didn’t know what to say and just sat and thought.

“Another cup of tea? And please help yourself to the Jaffa Cakes.”

I nodded and watched her pour the tea, so gently and gracefully, not spilling a drop as though she were some Japanese geisha. She was just so goddamned attractive. How could she be insane? I wasn’t gay, at least I didn’t think I was. Catherine had tried to come on to me at Cambridge, but although I loved her as a friend, the idea of being with another woman was somehow disturbing. Or it had been. What was it about Eleanor? I could feel her looking at me as I stared at my teacup. Her mind was somehow in my mind and it was as though she knew every thought in my brain. After only ten minutes she had me half thinking I should allow her to spank me. She would make me better.

To distract myself I said, “So what is in it for you? Would I, I mean, do your clients pay you to spank them?”

Once again, she laughed. “You ask if I am a professional Dominatrix?” She grinned, showing her perfect teeth once again. “No. I am not. For one thing, to accept money for doing something I really enjoy would spoil it. Besides, I have so few ‘clients’ and any monies I could charge wouldn’t make a dent in my finances and, besides, it would cheapen what I do.

“However, I can tell you what I get out of it. You see, decadent thing that I am, I really enjoy it. I mean take your case for example. You are a brilliant, powerful and beautiful woman, and there is a chance I get to put you over my lap and spank the tar out of you. You will moan and cry and even scream and, kinky thought it is, it will be music to my ears. It’s not every day I get to have a judicial official at my mercy! But ten times better than that is that afterwards, I know you will feel so much better. You will be healthy, thanks to my efforts and, I suspect, you may show me your eternal gratitude.”

She was laughing.

“Seriously, I think by tomorrow, or possibly the day afterwards, you will be grateful. But even if not, I will have the satisfaction of knowing I did my best for you and I really believe this horrible cloud of depression that is following you around will be gone. That alone would make it a million times more valuable than any remuneration I could ever receive.”

I looked at her. Despite the nonsense she seemed to be spouting, it was obvious that she believed totally in what she was saying. And I had to admit her enthusiasm was infectious. Another thing that was dawning on me was that she obviously cared. She really did want to cure my depression.

For the sake of something to say, I asked, “Isn’t there another way you could create this ‘emotional condition’, or whatever you called it, to make my depression evaporate?”

She looked at me carefully, almost as though she wanted me to drown in the deep green pools of her eyes.

“You remember I said I was not medically trained?”

I nodded.

“But that doesn’t mean I’m not curious as to why my spanking method works. I have done quite a bit of scientific reading on the subject.”

“Forgive me for sounding incredulous, but I can’t believe anyone serious has actually done any research on spanking as a cure for depression. To start with, I doubt it would pass any ethics standards.”

“No. Of course, you are right. However, what has been observed and well documented in the literature is that epileptics tend to have a far lower incidence of depression than the normal population. It is that reason why serious research has been done in studying seizure rates versus depression. And this is what has led to electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT as it is widely known, being the number one treatment for serious depression. It has been studied since the 1940s and of course, gave rise to films like ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ etc. The electric shocks to the head cause seizures which cure depression, at least temporarily. These days, of course, they do it under general anaesthesia so the patient doesn’t feel it.

“The thing is, I suspect being spanked is something similar. The shock of the pain and even the humiliation is similar to a sort of seizure and causes a similar and sudden release of all sorts of weird home-grown drugs that the brain manufactures, which in turn causes a re-equilibrium, a re-boot as it were, and that it is what resolves the depression. At least that’s my theory, and Catherine, God bless her, thinks I might be on to something. Pity it’s unethical really, because it would be fun to get a paper published in a real scientific journal.”

I was familiar with electro-convulsive shock therapy and its use in depression, since occasionally the subject came up in my own line of work. But the idea that a spanking could do the same was a novel and intriguing idea, and I wondered if it could be true. Apparently, Eleanor had little doubt and it was starting to seem like Cathy might believe in it too. The problem was that a tiny part of me wanted to submit to this incredible woman with the disturbing insight into my mind. I was totally intrigued and I wanted to know more.

“So, assuming for a moment that I have completely lost my mind and would actually allow you to give me this, well, good hiding as you put it; how would you actually accomplish it? What would I have to do?”

This time she looked seriously at me almost as though she knew I was going to go through with it.

“It’s quite simple, and not particularly unusual either in a school or even the domestic setting. I would take you into the lounge, taking one of those upright chairs,” she nodded at the dining chairs by the table at the far end of the kitchen. “I would sit on it and you would strip off below the waist and lay across my lap. I would then spank you until I decided that the mission was accomplished and that you will be cured, temporarily at least, of your depression.”

“Temporarily?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, just as the effects of ECT wane after a time, and thus the therapy is periodically repeated, it may be necessary to repeat a spanking every few months. It’s the reason I have continuing clients. Typically, you will find that you get great relief for about three months, depending on how stressful your life is. The more stress, obviously, the sooner you might require further treatment. I know it’s a pain in the posterior; quite literally,” she smiled at her own joke, “but it is better than ECT which requires IV’s and general anaesthesia and usually results in some amnesia. If I were depressed, I know which I would prefer.”

“And just how do you determine when I have been spanked sufficiently?”

Suddenly, I was mentally kicking myself, since I had virtually admitted I was going to let her do it.

Perhaps she pretended not to notice, though some-how, given her already proven powers to read my mind, that was unlikely.

“I would read your body language and know when we had reached the optimum point. After which I shall put you in the corner with your hands on your head for thirty minutes. I won’t allow you to touch your bottom because I want to let the pain in your bum sink in and fade naturally. Somehow, this gives a better therapeutic outcome, or perhaps the humiliation adds to the overall effect. I know it works because I’ve seen it in the ladies I have treated before, though of course, the sample size is too small to research the details.”

“Stand me in the corner? Like I was some goddamned schoolgirl?”

“Yes. I mean, think about it. I know it works, and making your depression go away is what is important. A little private humiliation isn’t a big thing if it adds to the effect. It is actually a small thing compared to the actual pain you will experience, so why not do it?”

“Hmm,” I pondered. “And it has nothing to do with your own private enjoyment, I suppose?”

“Oh, of course it does,” she laughed again. “But seriously, it does help. As they say; in for a penny in for a pound. And there is no point going through half measures. The really important thing is that you will feel so much better afterwards. What would be the point of going through half of the pain if it didn’t work? I am not that cruel. I have no interest in making you suffer needlessly.”

Suddenly I was floundering. I was used to arguing. It was how I made my living, yet this beautiful creature with the hypnotic green eyes had answers to every question. I hadn’t felt this helpless since I was a junior associate in front of my first angry judge.

The thing was, though, that the longing for my depression to go away so that I could enjoy life had been a dream for a long time. A half-hour of suffering a childish spanking seemed a small price to pay for what I dreamed about. In an hour, I could walk out of this house perhaps feeling on top of the world. Surely it would be worth it? Deep down, something inside of me wanted to let her do it. It was stupid, insane; I was crazy. Perhaps it was the depression, yet I knew I was going to let her do it. And I could see in her face that she knew I was going to let her do it. Suddenly, she reached across the island where my hand was trying to nurse my empty teacup.

“Come on, let us get it over with. It is just a short period of discomfort and then you will feel like a million pounds. Then you can relax, go home if you want, or perhaps stay and I’ll let you buy me dinner at an expensive restaurant. Either way, I promise you, you won’t regret it.”

“And if I do regret it later, can I put you over my lap and spank you?” I said, almost meaning it.

She laughed yet again. “No, of course not. I have never been depressed, even for a second. There is no need for you to ever spank me, and I have done nothing wrong. I want what’s best for you. Nothing less will do. Sadly, a spanking is the only way I know how to help you. I wish there were another way, but if there is, other than ECT or horrible pills, it is not in any of the literature. Come on, let me help you. Let’s get it over with and then I, or perhaps the both of us, can really enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening.”

Like a lamb to the slaughter, I watched her get up, still holding my hand. She walked behind me and gave me a hug. I think it was that hug that did it. I got off of my stool and watched her take a chair from behind the kitchen table and carry it into the lounge we had been in before, and I followed meekly behind. She went to a cabinet, took out a hairbrush and set it next to the chair. Then she sat down and smoothed out her dress.

“Seriously?” I asked, “You are going to use a hairbrush on me?”

“Seriously,” she mimicked. “I don’t know. It depends on how tough you are. My hand can only take so much.

“Now slip your shoes off, since I don’t want them to fly off and hit either Alfie or me in the face, and then I need you to strip below the waist.”

“Can’t you just spank me over my slacks?”

“Look, my dear Jo, this will only work if you do exactly as I tell you. Please take off your slacks, your panties and any stockings or pull-ups you are wearing. I know it’s hard, particularly for someone who is used to giving commands and interrogating witnesses, but just trust me. I know what I am doing. If we are going to do this, we are going to do it right. Just follow my instructions and, in a short while, it will all be over.”

I sighed. No one ever talked to me like this. This was worse than being in front of a panel of judges. For God’s sake, why didn’t I just get up and walk out? She must have been a witch weaving spells over me. Almost before I could think, I was standing bare-legged in front of her, wearing only my bra and blouse. She made me walk over to her right side, took my left hand and guided me over her lap.

I wasn’t scared or even nervous. I was just utterly humiliated. More than I could ever describe.

“Place your palms flat on the floor and then try to let your toes remain in contact with the carpet. I would tell you to relax, but I know once this starts you will tense up and you may kick your legs up. Please try hard not to do that. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you it won’t hurt much. It will, but rather than physically struggle against it, it’s better that you accept and deal with it in your mind. Think of it as though I am punishing you for allowing yourself to be stressed and depressed.”

“Well, I am fucking stressed right now!” I muttered.

I thought I heard her snigger, but at least she didn’t laugh. She placed her right hand on my bottom and stroked it gently as though trying to soothe me. Then, suddenly, she smacked me. It wasn’t really hard and I think I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. I could handle that. A series of smacks then followed, first on one cheek and then the other. It actually wasn’t unpleasant, and I started to relax. After a few smacks, she rubbed my bottom again and I almost wriggled in, well, it felt pretty good.

Then the slaps started again, more rapid this time, but not overly painful and I began to relax even more. I started to imagine what it must have looked like to an outside observer. Me, a strawberry blond with my own ponytail draped down over my left shoulder, over the lap of a platinum blond who, though older than me, was stunningly beautiful. She was slapping my bottom rapidly and the spanks were getting harder. No doubt the skin on my bottom was turning pink and I started to feel some heat. And as I watched in my mind, her spanks became harder and faster and it was beginning to get a little too hot for comfort.

I sighed aloud and then she really got into it. She started to pound down really hard and I had really had enough. I said, “You are hurting me. This is not alright.”

She sounded sympathetic as she said, “I know, and I feel a bit sorry for you, but there is a long way to go. Please, for your own sake, accept it. Sob or cry if you must, but try to relax and let me do my work. You must give up control.”

It was all right for her, but it was starting to be really unpleasant. Every now and again her spanks went down on my thighs and I felt my legs kicking up involuntarily. I just couldn’t help it and I asked her to stop. This time, there was no answer and I became angry and started to struggle. I needed her to stop in the worst possible way and I lifted my right arm back and tried to protect my bottom.

Somehow, she caught my wrist in a vice-like grip and said, “Stop this at once, Jo. You are being a baby. I’ll let your hand go if you promise to put it back on the floor.”

I didn’t like being called a baby, but it was hurting so bad and I relaxed against her grip and she suddenly let go. I wanted to protect my backside, but instead I let my hand fall to the floor. And as the pain increased, my anger began to subside and I started to feel sorry for myself. I tried to focus on something other than my backside as her rain of smacks continued. My backside was very sore, but the stinging horrible pain started to fade into the background and I started to think back to when I was at school in my second year and a teacher had placed me over her lap for a spanking. It hadn’t been half as bad as this, but it had made me terribly miserable.

Suddenly, almost in the distance, I hear her say, “I’m sorry Jo, I have gone as far as I could with my hand, but we are not there yet.”

To my amazement, the spanking stopped and, relieved, I was suddenly surprised and elated knowing I had survived. I suppose it was the first flicker of hope, even happiness I had felt in years. But it was extinguished almost immediately in a violent spasm as the back of her heavy ebony hairbrush smashed into me. It shook me awake and I spasmed as both of my legs shot into the air.

“Sorry dear. I thought you knew. My hairbrush packs quite a punch, doesn’t it? But trust me, you need it. You will thank me soon.”

I cried out, begging for her to stop but in my confused state, I didn’t actually fight her. Yes, my legs were thrashing wildly and I felt her left arm wrap around my waist as she held me firmly onto her lap, but in all honesty, I didn’t try to get off. I wailed and cried out, pleading for her to stop, though it made not a whit of difference. The sorrow I had felt for myself doubled as the stinging horror seemed to envelop my entire body. I couldn’t cope. Why was this beautiful yet hateful woman doing this to me? And why was I letting her do this? These questions flashed through my mind, yet I still didn’t fight her. Somehow, I submissively accepted her right to do this to me and, as I accepted it, the thrashing of my legs in the air began to subside. Gradually, the stinging horror changed to a sort of throbbing burning agony and I retreated into myself. Tears were pouring from my eyes, but I began to relax again. It was like I was becoming a little numb.

I am not sure how long this went on for. At the time, it seemed like an eternity, an eternity from which I had no hope of escape. I was utterly lost in self-pity and I know I was sobbing. But I wasn’t screaming. It was as though I had resigned myself to it and stopped fighting it.

Suddenly I was aware she had stopped.

“You need to get up, Jo. Despite your lack of experience in this, you are one tough bitch. I am afraid we have to take this to the next level. Take a breather and then see if you can climb off of my lap.”

I think I sort of flopped onto the floor, and the next thing I knew she was pulling me to my feet and I was holding onto her, almost trying to hug her.

“Sorry, Jo, later perhaps. But not yet. I have to take you further. I hadn’t really expected this, and in a way I am sorry. But you have already suffered a lot so it would be a pity if it was all a waste. We need to go a little further. Come on, work with me.”

She walked me over to the back of her leather sofa and suddenly she pushed me so I was bent over it. She held me down and actually kicked my feet apart so my waist was level with the top of the back of the sofa and I hung over it. I was groggy and confused and I didn’t resist her. I thought that in some strange way she was allowing me to relax while I recovered from her previous onslaught.

“Can you stay there? Hang on to the cushions but keep your legs straight. I just need to get something.”

I heard her walk over to the far side of the room by the curtains that could be pulled across the French Windows when they were open.

Seconds later, she was back beside me saying, “Jo, we are almost done. But I need to cane you. I know it will hurt and it is alright for you to cry out. But please try to stay in position. Keep your hands in front and don’t try to stand up. The strokes will be hard but I shall try to space them out.”

Her words didn’t mean much, but I gathered she hadn’t finished. Somehow, I didn’t care. Or I thought I didn’t. Suddenly, I heard a loud ‘thwick’ and felt something hit me. Within a half-second, an explosion of incredible stinging pain ripped through me. I tried to stand, but I was already weak and I felt her hand push me back down firmly on to the sofa. I screamed in agony for what seemed like five seconds and then broke down into gasping sobs. I relaxed back into position and breathed in and out, trying to get myself under control. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t even in self-pity mode anymore. I just couldn’t think. A part of me knew I had been caned. I had been caned by the headmistress at the school in my last year. Then I had witnessed Cath being caned first before it was my turn. She hadn’t cried or made a sound. But the first stroke had shocked me so much I knew I screeched loudly before I had it under control. Then Cath had shamed me and, fortunately, I managed to take the other strokes in relative silence.

But this had been far worse. I couldn’t understand it and even as I was trying to process it, another stroke slammed into me. This time, I tried to choke back the scream, but still I yelled. I did get it under control more quickly, but the stinging agony was worse than before. I was beginning to panic. I couldn’t think straight and then it happened again. I burst into sobs and pleaded for her to stop, yet she caned me again.

By now I was broken; a useless sobbing wretch. The next stroke hit me and I hardly cared. I know I yelled, but compared to the first cane stroke this was more of a whimper. And then another stroke hit and I think I just collapsed, or at least I tried to. It seemed like the sofa just swallowed me up.

I could no longer function on any level. I was utterly defeated and I think I wanted to die. More likely, I didn’t want anything. I couldn’t even think.

Suddenly, I was aware of her pulling me up and hanging onto me. My arms went around her neck and I nuzzled my head into her breasts. Her arms wrapped about me as she hugged me, and she was patting my back and head saying, “Jo, it is over. Just relax and gather your strength. You are OK and I shall never allow any harm to come to you. You will be right as rain in an hour or so.”

I hung onto her, unashamedly hugging her and felt the incredible pleasure of relaxing, almost child-like, as she cuddled me back. Slowly, she pulled away and I stood there half dazed, yet starting to come to. She was smiling at me and I watched as she walked over to a sideboard, opened a drawer and came back and handed me some tissues.

“I am afraid your tears have destroyed you mascara and, in a while, we shall have to repair your face. But for now, I need you to put your hands on your head and stand in the corner for a little while. I know it seems silly but it is part of the treatment. Just stand there and, if you feel weak, call out. I shall be right here to support you.”

I suppose it might be normal to think that I was angry, humiliated and downright antagonistic towards her for making me stand in the corner. Yet I felt none of these things. My bottom was incredibly sore and painful, yet the almost unbelievable pain that always exploded after the cane hit, had quickly died down. The white line of fire had already dissipated into a sort of burning soreness which, though very painful, was actually tolerable. In fact, as she eased me into the corner, all I could really think about was how wonderful it had been when she hugged me!

It really didn’t matter that I was standing half-naked with my bruised bottom on display, with my hands on my head. I suppose it was humiliating, though considering what I had gone through, what she had done to me and put me through, it didn’t seem to matter. It was especially insignificant if it was going to cure my depression. I was relieved it was all over and that perhaps now I would start to feel better and, actually, I was really happy about that. I had gone through the fires of hell and just surviving made me feel good. It was as though a soldier had been through a battle, and escaped victorious with minor wounds. Perhaps it was simple relief, yet as I stood there, I realised I was euphoric. It was amazing. I hadn’t felt anything like that since I had gone from associate to partner a couple of years before Jim left me.

As I stood there with the fingers of my hands steepled together, obediently keeping them on my head, I marvelled that I really did feel better. Even weirder, I wanted to hug the woman who had put me through it some more. As I thought about her, I wondered where she was and turned my head halfway around to see if she was in the room.

“Jo, be a good girl for me. Turn and face the corner. Keep your hands on your head and don’t fidget. I will tell you when you can relax.”

I turned back immediately, but out of the corner of my eye I had seen her sitting on the sofa with a magazine on her lap. I heard her turn a page but I had seen enough that she was sitting fairly erect, probably closely observing me rather than leaning back into the sofa and perhaps stroking Alfie, who lay next to her.

I smiled to myself. I had to admit that this lady who was so startling, in so many ways, was also really into her task. It seemed amusing that she would really watch me to make sure that I didn’t cheat and. somehow, I was even more amused that I accepted it. I began to wonder what the senior partners would think right now if they had seen what had happened and were watching me obediently standing in a corner like a naughty schoolgirl. I should have been horrified, yet instead I wanted to laugh. And even that was amazing. I hadn’t really had a good laugh in years.

Eventually, my arms got tired and my elbows started to sag from the effort. But my disciplinarian was ever there.

“Keep your arms straight, Jo. I know it’s tiring but you only have five minutes to go. Remember what you are working for.”

It seemed like a strange comment, yet the truth is I suppose I was working for relief from my depression. And I certainly wasn’t depressed at the moment. In fact, what I really wanted to do was hop and skip from foot to foot while I rubbed my bum and tried to relieve the annoying soreness. I started to wonder what Eleanor would do if I did that and I suddenly had a vision of her trying to chase me around the sofa while Alfie looked on at our silly human game.

“Jo, you are done. You were incredible. I have this amazing desire to hug you. Would you mind?”

By the time she said the word ‘mind’, I was already halfway towards her and in the next second, we were hugging each other as though our lives depended on it. First, it was cheek to cheek, but after perhaps twenty seconds she pulled her head back and looked at me. And suddenly I was hypnotized by those dark green pools she used as eyes. I aimed my mouth directly at hers and she did the same.

Three weeks to the day afterwards, I was in a taxi headed home on a Friday afternoon from the office. We had had a party to celebrate my winning a stunning victory where I had succeeded in getting the gangster who had murdered the family of one of his competitors sent up for life. I wasn’t drunk, but knew I had had too much to drink to drive home.

I pulled out my mobile and called Catherine.

“Hi, Cathy. I know you are busy with the family, but I just wanted to confirm the time for Jack’s birthday party tomorrow. Is it still four in the afternoon at your house?

“Oh, Hello Jo. How are you?”

“Wonderful. Truly I have never felt better. I feel incredible.”

“Why am I not surprised?” she laughed. “But yes, it’s still on and it looks like the weather may cooperate for once. I am afraid you will be roped in to help. There will be about fifteen four and five year-olds, as well as various brothers and sisters, so it will be bedlam. Hope you are up for it?”

“I can’t wait,” I laughed happily. “Might be good practice for me one day. Oh, and may I bring a special friend?”

“Seriously? Are you dating?” There was a slight pause and she suddenly asked, “OMG, Eleanor?”

“Yes.”

The End

© Angela Fox 2019

Angela welcomes contact from her readers. Email her at: angelafoxbooks@yahoo.com