The Bench

A quiet girl faces an awful dilemma.

By Kenny Walters

A cautious glance round the corner confirmed Mrs Wilson was alone. She seemed quite busy, going by the quick tapping beat played out on her sturdy old typewriter. Angela was never sure about Mrs Wilson. Actually, Angela had hardly ever spoken to the lady. It was just her manner; always clothed in a tweed suit, her grey hair always kept short and permed, well-spoken but always economical in words, unsmiling.

“Um,” Angela advanced further round the corner so she could see the wooden counter behind which Mrs Wilson sat, and the school secretary could see her.

Mrs Wilson looked up while continuing to type. “Yes?”

“Um, I have to see Miss Frazer, please miss.”

Mrs Wilson eyed the newcomer suspiciously. The black blazer with white vertical pinstripes confirmed she was a member of the sixth form, in contrast to the equal black and white stripes for the rest of the school. The blue-framed spectacles, mousey coloured hair tied back in a bun and general demeanour suggested this girl was more a swot than a popular player of the games pitches.

“Name?”

“Angela Bradshaw, miss. Lower sixth.”

Mrs Wilson looked across at an open diary. “I don’t have you down.”

“No, miss. I, um, I’m not expected.”

“So, why are you here, girl?”

“Um, Mr Dawson told me to, miss.”

Mrs Wilson shook her head, as though that might clear her thoughts and provide the answer. It didn’t.

“Very well. You’d better take a seat.” The school secretary waved her hand in the direction of several vacant armchairs around the outer office.

After Angela had sat down and stared vaguely at the cover of a natural history magazine on a small table, Mrs Wilson had a thought.

“This isn’t a disciplinary matter, is it girl?”

“Um, yes miss, I suppose it is. At least, it might be.”

“Are you here for punishment?”

“Um, I think I might be, miss.”

“I see.” Mrs Wilson sat upright. The picture became clearer. “How long have you been at this school, girl?”

“Um, six years, miss.”

“Six years?” Mrs Wilson allowed herself the slightest of smiles, a real rarity. “Then you know the tradition, girl. You should not be sitting there, should you?”

“No, miss.” Angela looked downcast.

“Off you go then.”

Angela transferred from the comfortable armchair to a hard wooden bench out in the main corridor, out of sight of the school secretary but in clear view of anyone who passed by. She sat with her legs crossed and her knee-length grey pleated skirt diffidently folded above grey knee-length socks.

It was not a long bench, maybe five feet long, and no more than a foot wide. It was a low bench too, little more than a foot high. The most uncomfortable thing about the bench was its situation, just outside Miss Frazer’s study; Miss Frazer the headmistress.

The school liked its tradition. The uniform was conceived back in the early part of the century, over forty years ago. Every girl had to be a member of one of the four houses, and much weight was given to a girl attaining good sporting recognition for her house. And there was the wooden bench outside Miss Frazer’s study where the naughty girls had to sit and wait.

Everyone knew a girl sitting on that bench was waiting for a meeting with the headmistress. Meetings with the headmistress rarely went well. Someone had to be pretty sure you were guilty of something before you got sent there, and it would take a very good excuse to avoid any kind of retribution. Seeing a girl sitting there waiting never failed to provide a little drama into the normally mundane school life.

A third year girl, a girl already known for both good academic achievement and some impressive displays on the hockey field, came along the corridor  with a note clutched in her right hand. She veered into the outer office in front of Mrs Wilson’s counter. There was a brief exchange of words before the girl came and looked down at Angela. The young face frowned and then tapped politely on the door.

“Come in!”

The girl went in and engaged in a muffled conversation with a much older female voice. Then she came back out, minus the note, and went back along the corridor.

A short while later, four fifth form girls came along the corridor from the opposite direction. Their quiet chatter terminated as they neared the door to Miss Frazer’s study and started up again when they felt they were safely past, with all four taking the opportunity to look back at Angela sitting on the wooden bench. They seemed to find it amusing.

After another five minutes, the door opened and caught Angela by surprise. When she looked up, she found Miss Frazer hovering over her. Angela leaped to her feet.

Miss Frazer was that little bit taller, perhaps five feet seven inches to Angela’s five feet five. Her hair, straw coloured and wavy, was held back in a ponytail that allowed a curly fringe across the forehead. She was slim and dressed in a light grey suit with a fashionably tight skirt and a double-breasted jacket.

“Angela Bradshaw?”

“Yes, miss.” Angela whispered.

“In!”

Angela followed Miss Frazer into the office and closed the door carefully and quietly. Turning, she found the headmistress already seated at her desk and waiting for her. A point three feet from the desk seemed an appropriate place for the girl to stand. Miss Frazer stared up at her, the gaze seemingly trying to pierce her very soul.

“You know why you’re here, don’t you Miss Bradshaw.”

“Yes, miss, sort of.”

“Sort of? Sort of, Miss Bradshaw? Male genitalia, Miss Bradshaw.”

“Yes, miss.” Angela looked down at her feet and twiddled her fingers uncomfortably.

“Perhaps you would care to explain how, in a picture of a typical street market, you managed to include a distinct image of male genitalia in the background.”

“Um, it was an accident, miss.”

“An accident? An accident, Miss Bradshaw?”

This was so difficult. One of the other girls must have added the feature to her painting when she’d gone to collect more paint. Because it had been added in dark paint on a dark background, Angela hadn’t immediately noticed. But Mr Dawson, patrolling round the art-room, certainly had. He was not amused, unlike several of the girls.

“You didn’t mean to draw this, this thing?”

“No, miss.”

Miss Frazer thought hard as she looked at the girl in front of her. “This is not like you, Angela. Could someone else have interfered with your painting?”

“I don’t know, miss.”

“Who was sitting near you? Who might have done this?”

“I couldn’t say, miss.”

“I could ask Mr Dawson, you know.”

Angela didn’t answer.

“This is a serious matter, you know. It has interrupted a lesson and has taken me away from other matters, important matters.”

“Yes, miss.”

“I need to know whose idea this was, Miss Bradshaw, and I want the truth, and I want it now! Do I need to ask Mr Dawson to conduct a full investigation?”

“No, miss.”

“You were responsible?”

“Yes, miss.”

Miss Frazer stared directly into the girl’s eyes, searching.

“Think carefully before you answer my next question, Miss Bradshaw.”

Angela swallowed.

“Did you yourself paint the offending item on your painting?”

“Yes, miss.” The whisper was so quiet yet it was unmistakable.

The headmistress remained looking intently at the girl’s face for some seconds.

“In that case, Miss Bradshaw, you will be punished.”

Angela bit her lip.

“I’m going to cane you, Miss Bradshaw. Four strokes.”

A faint grimace on the girl’s face was her immediate reaction.

“That will happen now.”

Angela nodded, tears now beginning to well up in her eyes.

Miss Frazer picked up her telephone and dialled a single number.

“Mrs Wilson, I shall require a cane and the punishment book, please. Bring them in straight away.”

An uncomfortable silence prevailed while they waited.

A sudden tapping on the door awoke both of them from their thoughts.

“Come in.”

“The cane and the punishment book, headmistress.” Mrs Wilson looked at Angela as she placed both items on the headmistress’s desk right up to the point she turned and left the room. It only served to make Angela feel even more ashamed and anxious.

“Pull that chair out into the centre of the room, will you?” Miss Frazer already had a pen in her hand, and she used it to direct Angela to a plain upright chair that stood against the wall nearest the window.

Angela looked to her left, saw the chair and went silently across to drag it into the open space ahead of the desk. She glanced towards the headmistress but Miss Frazer was engrossed in writing an entry in the book brought in by Mrs Wilson. In front of the book was the cane, slim rattan about two and a half feet long with one end formed into a crook handle.

As Angela continued staring at the cane, Miss Frazer completed her entry and looked up.

“Perhaps you should remove your blazer, Miss Bradshaw.”

The girl remained tight-lipped but unfastened the button and slipped the blazer easily off her shoulders.

“You may hang it on the coat-stand in the corner.”

“Yes, miss.”

Angela turned round after depositing her blazer, wondering whether she should re-approach the desk.

“You might remove your skirt while you are there.”

“Yes, miss.”

Certain doubts in the girl’s mind were quickly despatched at this point. Clarity, though, caused her a different turmoil. Angela worked very slowly at undoing the two buttons securing the waistband of her skirt, the easing of pressure around her slim waist not feeling particularly comfortable on this occasion. The side zip, too, took a little longer to slide down. And then the pleated grey skirt tumbled down her legs with unwelcome haste, leaving the girl with nothing else to do other than to step out of it carefully, pick it up and fold it. A spare arm of the coat-stand provided a suitable depository.

Changing for games had been a regular activity for almost her entire school life; stripping off in front of numerous other girls and games teachers had become so commonplace. Yet, Angela felt distinctly awkward standing in her headmistress’s study in her white blouse, tie still neatly fixed, maroon knickers, shiny black shoes and grey socks.

Miss Frazer was standing now, and she had the cane in her hand. With elegant economy of motion, she stood by the side of the chair Angela had placed in the centre of the room. Her left hand patted the top rail.

Angela knew perfectly well what was required of her. The scene in front of her left no room for doubt. Thoughts ran through her mind of staying put until directly ordered to approach the chair, but what would be the point? During the next few minutes she was going to be caned; it had been decided and there was no way out.

Miss Frazer stood back to let Angela pass as she approached the back of the chair. Now it was the girl’s turn to place a hand on the top rail. She stood looking down at the padded red baize of the seat.

“Whenever you’re ready, Angela.” A voice murmured.

Angela? Suddenly very friendly, now the moment to start the thrashing was getting near. No, probably not friendly, just a ploy to get the girl bending across the chair quickly so things could progress.

With a deep breath, Angela leaned down and across the top rail of the chair. She continued pushing her head lower and lower until her eyes were below the level of the seat. Halfway to the floor there was a cross rail supporting the legs that Angela could grasp and hold on to. It felt like her knickers were stretched tight across her bottom and that her bottom was jutting out. That surely was what was wanted.

“Well done, Angela, now hold tight.”

Actually, the girl hadn’t dreamed of moving. It somehow seemed better to keep very still and allow the cane to strike accurately and cleanly. Angela couldn’t fathom out why that was.

With barely a sound, the cane suddenly whipped down and struck the girl with a sharp crack across both buttocks. She grunted, and jerked, gripping the lower rail of the chair for all she was worth. The pain was intense and biting, and made her eyes begin to water.

After what seemed like minutes, but was in reality probably only ten seconds or so, a faint whoosh of air brought another loud crack as the cane struck the seat of Angela’s knickers.

“Unh!!!” She squealed as she snatched back and the searing pain caused more tears to form in her eyes. Just her grip on the chair held her in place.

The waiting was tedious. By now, Angela knew only too well what to expect and simply wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Then the cane struck her bottom again, searing her entire backside and causing her head to snap back with the shock. Several tears dripped onto the carpeted floor.

Knowing the ordeal was almost through did nothing to make the next long pause more tolerable. The delay went on and on until, suddenly, a whooshing sound was quickly followed by that loud crack and yet another scorching pain shot across Angela’s bottom. She screwed her face up in agony and felt her knuckles protesting at the tight grip she kept on the bottom chair rail.

Long painful seconds passed; awkward, irritating tears trickled down her face and onto the carpet. The throbbing in her bottom remained sharp and tender. Her hands ached with her grip on the chair.

“You’re done, Angela. You can get up.”

The voice was calm and placid, gentle, not unfriendly. It took Angela a few moments to comprehend exactly what had been said to her, but then she eased herself up.

Cupping her hands around her bottom, Angela very gingerly started to explore the damage caused to her by the cane. It was painful, so painful, to the touch that Angela preferred to slip her fingers into her knickers and ease the material back so cooling air could circulate around her wounded buttocks.

“In your own time, Angela, you can get dressed.” The voice was still soft and unruffled, not at all in line with how Angela was feeling.

She sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“There’s tissues on my desk.”

“Thank you, miss.” Angela sobbed quietly, but took several tissues, wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

The cane rested on the headmistress’s desk along with the punishment book, but Miss Frazer was already back at work studying reports and making the odd note with her pen. Another two tissues allowed Angela to find her way back to her skirt and blazer. She took her time stepping into the skirt, pulling it up and refastening it, then even more time slipping her arms into her blazer.

“I suspect you’ve learned several good lessons today, Miss Bradshaw.”

Angela looked up as she passed by the front of the desk on her way towards the door.

“You may think it’s the done thing to take the blame and not tell tales, but it comes at a cost. I hope you feel it was a price worth paying, Miss Bradshaw.”

“Yes, miss.” Angela sniffed, giving little away.

“Back to your lessons, Miss Bradshaw.”

The art class was a double period and so was still in progress. Angela chose to give her face a wash before facing Mr Dawson and the rest of the girls. The toilets were deserted, thankfully, and the water was cold although Angela found that invigorating. Five minutes later, she was ready to face the others.

Mr Dawson was standing by the side of one of the girls, advising on some technique, when Angela entered the large art room. She went quietly back to her place, sat down cautiously, took up her brush and continued with her painting. No-one spoke to her, although she could feel her neighbours giving her sideways glances all the while. Mixing up a wash of dark blue, she soon covered the offending part of her picture before reverting to putting in more detail of the background.

For the remainder of the lesson, Mr Dawson somehow managed to avoid even looking in her direction and he even arranged to be elsewhere when it came to handing in her work at the end. Angela was not sorry.

The End

© Kenny Walters 2014