The Unexpected

There was an ominous silence from above. Duncan never keeps me waiting on tenterhooks. Never. If anything, I’d say he’s altogether too business like, getting down to the nitty gritty and making me squirm, yell and promise amendment of life before I have time to start panicking. Granted, he sometimes voices his displeasure and issues stern warnings of the retribution to come if I so much as consider repeating my mistake but he never speaks for long. To be honest, he probably knows I’m beyond taking in much of what he’s saying once I’m upended over his knee. I think it’s more a case of him relieving his feelings, expressing his own frustration that I’ve screwed up yet again, and providing some punctuation to the salvo he’s delivering to my quivering buttocks.

This time my buttocks were certainly quivering but that was the result of long held tension rather than reaction to any chastisement. I’d taken my time lowering my trousers and underwear and getting myself into position across Duncan’s lap, miserably aware of his frustration at my refusal to talk. It wasn’t that I was trying to cover up my faults and failings. Not really. I just couldn’t bear to tell him what a mess I’d made of things when I’d promised so faithfully to take every care in his absence. I was sort of hoping that a spanking, delivered quickly in response to Duncan’s irritation, would wipe the slate clean without me having to reveal all the sordid details. After all, I’d managed to put everything to rights and I’d paid in cash so Duncan wouldn’t start asking awkward questions when our credit card statement arrived. It was just a case of gritting my teeth, taking what I had coming and then putting the whole sorry business behind me.

My body was taught as a bow string. Clenched stomach muscles held my torso rigid across Duncan’s thighs, my fingers gripped the firm edge of the mattress and my legs extended to their furthest reach, with just my toes in contact with the floor. The mental as well as the physical tension was causing my whole body to tremble. I’d been unconsciously holding my breath as I awaited the first firm contact between hand and buttock but the delay forced me to take one desperate gasp to overcome oxygen deprivation. The sound seemed to draw Duncan out of his reverie and he ran one hand gently around the curve of my naked bottom before asking, in a tone of voice which scared me because I’d never heard it before, “Where did you get these marks? And, more to the point, who gave them to you?”

He’d been far more solicitous a fortnight earlier when we’d discussed a forthcoming business trip which meant he’d be leaving me on my own for a week. He knows that I’m not confident about being alone in the house and he’d gently suggested I spend the time with my parents. But I hadn’t reacted well to the idea.

“You’re not sending me back to my parents,” I cried. “Don’t you trust me in your house on my own?”

“It’s our house,” he calmly corrected, “and, of course, I trust you.”

“Then why are you saying I have to go and stay with my parents?”

“I’m not saying anything of the sort, Matt. I’m just suggesting that you might like the company while I’m away. You always enjoy visiting your family and you know your Mum will spoil you rotten.”

“I’m not a child,” I said petulantly. Duncan’s raised eyebrow drew attention to my adolescent response but his quirky smile banished any resentment on my part. “Okay,” I conceded, “I may be behaving like a child but I am all grown up now. I’m not afraid to be left on my own. I know the daleks can’t get upstairs to exterminate me and I’ll leave the landing light on at night just to be on the safe side.” My capitulation and good humour were rewarded with a warm hug and we said no more about the matter for a while.

As the day of Duncan’s departure approached, he sat me down and embarked on a serious conversation about safety and security in the house. You see, he’s normally the one who remembers to take out the wheelie bin the night before the rubbish collection and he’s always the one to lock up and check that all is secure before we go to bed. Well, I don’t like pushing the bin down the unlit path beside the house and I don’t like being the one to turn off all the lights downstairs. It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark. I’m far too old to be frightened of shadows. It’s just that I sometimes imagine there are intruders in our garden or burglars in the house. I’ve never admitted it to Duncan but I think he knows about my irrational fears. He never makes me do the things I don’t like and he never presses me for reasons when I ask him to take responsibility for the things which disturb me.

It was strange coming back to the house the first night Duncan was away. It’s not as though I’m unused to being first back from work but when I’m alone in the house I put on the radio and start the dinner knowing that Duncan will be home by the time the meal is ready. The house feels warm and welcoming because I’m sure that, even if he’s delayed, we’ll eventually be going to bed together. But with an interminable evening stretching ahead of me, before a lonely night in our king size bed, the house seemed a less comforting place. Don’t mistake me, I’ve spent a fair bit of time on my own since leaving home. In fact, all my previous relationships have ended with me having to find a new place to live at short notice but I’ve always finished up in flat shares. There’s something about an inner city apartment which makes you feel secure, with its keypad entry system and residents on every floor. And flatmates provide some sort of human companionship, even if it’s just an exchange of greetings in the hallway.

On the other hand, a three bedroomed, detached house in the leafy suburbs may seem an attractive proposition in broad daylight but at night it assumes a more shadowy, echoing and disturbing character for the lone occupant, especially when the nearest neighbours are well hidden behind tall box hedges. I coped well enough the first evening, switching on every light in the house and turning up the volume on the television set to drown out the sound of any creaking floorboards or whistling wind. The second night I decided to lower my kilowatt consumption by retiring early and taking a snack upstairs to eat in bed. It was a good plan which would enable me to turn off all the lights downstairs and then sit in bed to watch the small television we’d had mounted on the bedroom wall. I placed a bowl of hot soup, a solid chunk of buttered bread and a cup of coffee on a tray and headed upstairs, trying to wrest my mind from thoughts of Duncan and my yearning for him to ring.

I’d no sooner settled under the duvet, with the tray propped firmly on my lap and the television remote placed within easy reach, than I was plunged into darkness, briefly relieved by a faint glow from the television screen as it too gave up the ghost. By the time inky blackness had descended on the bedroom I was already seeing in my mind’s eye a gang of burglars who had cut the power supply. I was tempted to put my head under the covers and remain there until morning but common sense reasserted itself. More likely than not a fuse had tripped and I just needed to go downstairs to check the switches on the electricity meter.

Cautiously I swung a leg out of bed, but not cautiously enough. A warm trickle down my thigh, which might have been soup or coffee, warned me that, in my confusion, I’d upended the tray in the bed. I scrambled around in the darkness trying unsuccessfully to locate the scattered crockery but a more urgent issue suddenly intruded. A faint but unmistakable smell of burning penetrated the bedroom and with a sudden jolt of realisation I understood precisely what must have happened.

Abandoning my attempt to clean up the bed and casting aside my fear of the dark, of intruders and aliens from outer space, I scooted onto the landing and headed for the stairs. Running in bare feet, with sodden pyjamas flapping around my legs, I was in no state to negotiate the treads safely and half way down I lost my footing, landed awkwardly across the edge of one step and bumped my way to the bottom. Winded and shocked, I sat for a few moments on the floor in the hallway to recover until anxiety about what I would undoubtedly find in the kitchen had me struggling to my feet, unconscious of any pain.

You see, I had suddenly remembered that I’d forgotten to turn off the fan heater which I’d moved into the kitchen. Duncan had laid such emphasis on turning off all electrical appliances before going upstairs to bed. Not only that, he never ever allowed me to take the fan heater into the kitchen, despite the lack of radiators in there. He had some sort of issue with trailing wires and trip hazards, but even Mr Health and Safety himself had failed to foresee the effect of a fallen tea towel covering the hot air outlet. Even in the darkness I knew that was the cause of the problem and, drawn by the smell of smouldering fabric, I bent to lift the scorched tea towel which was draped over the grille. It felt brittle to the touch and must have been on the point of bursting into flame when the fan heater overheated, then cut out and tripped the fuses. I followed the flex back to the wall and unplugged the heater before fumbling in the kitchen draw until I found the torch. Then it was the work of minutes to collect the small step ladders from the cupboard under the stairs and to inspect the fuse box located on the wall above the front door. All I had to do was throw the switch and the faint glow of light from the bedroom assured me that normality was restored.

I went back into the kitchen and surveyed the damage. Illuminated by the powerful halogen ceiling lights, my initial assessment of the damage to the tea towel was fully confirmed. I’d only just managed to avoid a full scale house fire. I crumpled up the offending piece of cloth and consigned it to the rubbish bin. Then I plugged in the fan heater and cautiously threw the switch. Having had time to cool down, the cut out mechanism had reset and the appliance whirred immediately into life with no sign of damage. It seemed that I’d had a lucky escape and Duncan need never know how close I’d come to burning his house down.

The scene in the bedroom was less encouraging. Blood red tomato soup and strong black coffee had not only stained the sheets and duvet but also soaked through the mattress. I did the best I could to mop up but I couldn’t have chosen worse liquids if I’d actually set out to make an indelible mess. I put as much of the bedding as possible into the washing machine and retired to bed in the spare room, spending a restless night wondering if I could get an upholstery cleaning firm to tackle the mattress.

In the end I was advised to cut my losses and just replace the mattress. It seemed there was no guarantee the marks would come out, and more to the point, the pungent smell of coffee and tomato was likely to linger well beyond the day of Duncan’s return. Luckily, I found the maker’s label at the foot of the mattress although it was a shock when I discovered what it would cost to replace. I more or less used all my savings on the purchase and then paid extra to ensure immediate delivery and removal of the damaged mattress. By the time Duncan came home there was neither sign of the mishap nor evidence of any change in the bedroom. How could I have guessed that Duncan would spot the difference the minute he sat down on the bed?

“Who did this to you?” Duncan enquired again in a tone of suppressed anger.

I’d been unable to answer for a moment, honestly unsure what he was referring to. Then I realised that the bruising to my bottom must still be visible and I started to babble. “No one. No one did it. I slipped. Slipped on the stairs.”

“You expect me to believe that! You’ve got a welt right across your bottom. Did he use a stick on you?”

“No,” I shouted. “Who do you mean? No one’s touched me. I hit my bottom on the edge of the step when I fell.”

“You refuse to tell me why you replaced the mattress in my absence and now I find that you’re marked from a violent beating. It must have been quite a scene! I dread to think what went on in here during my absence.”

I must be slow on the uptake but it was only then that I realised exactly why Duncan was so angry and upset. Actually I was the only one shouting but I could tell from the sound of his voice and the tension in his body that he was exercising a tight control on his emotions. Ironically, with understanding came a flood of relief. Duncan had entirely misjudged the situation and I only needed to tell him the truth to dispel all his suspicions. “No,” I said quietly, “nothing like that happened at all. I’m so sorry. I’ve been such an idiot. I should have told you the truth from the start. You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’d never go with anyone else.” Just saying the words broke some sort of floodgate in me and I started to cry, although I’d not received so much as one stroke of the threatened spanking.

Gentle arms clasped my shoulders and I was lifted up bodily to sit on Duncan’s lap where I hung my head, rested my cheek against his broad chest and tried to disguise the fact that I’d been reduced to tears. “Don’t cry, Matt. I know you’d never betray me,” came the reassuring but utterly surprising words. I risked a glance up at my partner’s angry face but his expression revealed only love and compassion. “When I saw the state of your backside I decided against a spanking. I knew I had to try new tactics to shake the truth out of you. I can’t begin to guess what you’ve done but, knowing you, you’ll have got yourself into some ridiculous mess. So tell me all about it.”

For the moment I gave no thought to the confession I was being invited to make. I was too busy coming to terms with the deception which had been practised on me. “You mean you never thought I’d let another man spank me,” I exclaimed in amazement. “How come you were so angry then?”

“You never listen when I have you over my knee, Matt. I thought a bit more of a threat might get your attention.”

It was a surprise to hear Duncan acknowledge that he knows I never take in a word he says once I’m bared for punishment. Does he possess second sight? I’ve never given him any reason to believe I’m not gripped by every reproach and warning he utters. “You weren’t angry then?” I asked again, still unable to believe he could counterfeit so effectively.

“No, I wasn’t angry. I’ll admit to being a tad exasperated to find you’d replaced our mattress, yet steadfastly refused to acknowledge having done so. Are you ready to explain yourself now?”

I wasn’t exactly ready but there was nothing to be gained by evading the issue any longer. “I tipped soup and coffee all over the old mattress,” I admitted shamefacedly. “I was advised that professional cleaning wouldn’t shift the stains.”

“And you couldn’t have told me that? I presume it was an accident. I hope you know I wouldn’t have been angry. I’ve been thinking for a while that we needed to replace that mattress.”

“Have you?” I asked in surprise. “How did you know I’d bought a new one?” Throughout all the preceding trauma that question had been nagging at the back of my mind.

“The springs didn’t stick into me the moment I sat down on it, that’s why.”

It was good to know that Duncan didn’t possess superhuman powers of observation. I’ve sometimes wondered about that. “I’ve never noticed a problem,” I replied.

“That’s because you’re considerably lighter than me. The damage was worst on my side!”

“You never said.”

“I was putting off making such a major purchase. I hope you put it on the credit card. We need to spread the cost a bit.”

“Well, no, not exactly.”

“What do you mean, not exactly?”

“I paid cash,” I admitted in a rush.

“Cash? Where from?”

“My savings.”

“Oh,” said Duncan with that immediate understanding which is so often my undoing. “You needed to disguise the purchase from me. I presume you paid cash and have more or less emptied your savings account. There must be more to this than meets the eye.”

“If I tell you, will you promise not to be angry?”

“You WILL tell me,” responded Duncan with heavy emphasis, “and you know I’ll not shout at you, no matter what you’ve done. Now come on. We’re both tired. Let’s get this over with.”

I embarked on a miserable recital of the events of that fateful evening, only daring to lift my eyes to Duncan’s when I’d finished confessing to the little mishap with fan heater. He was smiling at me and didn’t seem unduly worried.

“I suppose I should be grateful that you didn’t succeed in burning the house down in my absence but all I feel is relief that you’re safe and unharmed. Apart, I suppose, from a sore bottom. Sorer than I would have made it for your deliberate flouting of the rule regarding use of the fan heater and disregard of my careful instructions about turning off appliances before bedtime.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause so much damage in your absence.”

“I know you didn’t. But you sorted it out very nicely. And tomorrow we’ll get that money back into your savings account and put the balance on our credit card instead.”

“That’s not fair,” I protested, some stupid sense of justice forcing me to reject Duncan’s generosity. “You’ve said you weren’t planning to make such an expensive purchase just now. I won’t let you pay for my mistakes.”

Duncan looked at me for a long moment during which I held his gaze. He must have seen my determination because he gave a brief nod and said. “All right. I think you’ll feel better for making some contribution towards the cost of a new mattress.” When I opened my mouth to protest that I would pay for it all, Duncan cut me off. “You deserve to be punished for risking life and property and then attempting a cover up. I would have spanked you for your disobedience and deceit but not when you’re so bruised. So your punishment is my call and I’ll decide how much you contribute to the cost of replacing the mattress.”

When Duncan speaks like that there’s a finality to the discussion and I didn’t argue further. I just put my arms around his waist and whispered yet again, “I’m sorry.”

“I know. You won’t make that mistake again, Matt. It’s over and done with, forgotten and forgiven. Now, I need to give my attention to a full test drive of this new mattress.”

I didn’t understand what he meant until he rolled back onto the bed pulling me on top of him. It was some while later, lying in sated comfort, that we pronounced the new mattress an excellent buy. The springs were most resilient and stood up to considerable pounding. I offered to say as much on the manufacturer’s feedback form but Duncan promised that he really would spank me if I did so.