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Girl on a Swing
I can see the painting from my place in the cloakroom. It's so lovely. When I'm alone, I can't stop staring at it. I want to find its secret. I'm quite sure there is a message in there for me, hidden in the branches intertwined at the top of the canvas, or perhaps in the fluttering skirts of the woman on the swing, the painting's focal point.
I don't dare go any closer. If Madam Cleo finds me anyplace but where I belong, there will be consequences. She threatens to take me to her office, slam the door behind her, and throw me over her knee. With my panties around my ankles, I'll be spanked until my bottom smarts. Just thinking about it makes me squirm.
So why do I smile as well?
I snap back to reality. Mr. Bach is here, one of our regulars. I take his coat from him and hang it with the others, brushing its cashmere softness against my face as I put it on the rack. It carries his scent, a woodsy aroma with a hint of leather, like none I've ever known. Sometimes I spend the entire evening pressed against it, wishing that I belonged to this man, a treasured possession just like this coat. I hand him a brass tag with a number on it, although he won't really need it when he comes to claim the coat again. Believe me, I will know which one to give him.
He takes the tag from me and slips it into his pocket. His dark eyes twinkle. "Thank you, Madeleine. How are you this evening?"
"I'm well, thank you, sir." I'm always careful to address every guest as "sir" or "ma'am." Failure to do that would also be cause for one of Cleo's spankings, or so I'm told.
"You look lost in thought."
"Just daydreaming, sir."
He laughs. "Well, I hope they are pretty dreams, my dear." Then he turns and goes down the hall toward the red door, where the secrets of the house wait for him.
I don't know much about those secrets, myself. I've only worked here for three weeks. When I came to New York to go to graduate school, I knew I would need a job, but what could I do? I tried waiting on tables like my roommates, but after dropping three trays in one night and creating massive amounts of broken glassware, I knew it wasn't for me. I can't type very well; cash registers bore me. What was left? Would I be forced to stand on the sidewalk in the rain, handing out flyers to people who would only throw them away?
Then I stumbled across an advertisement for a "discreet attendant" in a private club, and now here I am, taking coats and being polite to people who travel in circles quite different from mine. Madam Cleo hired me on the spot, thank heaven. "You can keep a secret, can't you?" she said that first night, after she dressed me in my uniform, a stiff black dress, black stockings, and heels so high, I felt ready to topple over without warning. She answered her own question as she pinned my hair atop my head. "Of course you can. And you will."
But the secrets, behind that red door... the cries, the shouts, sometimes the sound of a cracking whip. I have seen Madam's cabinets where she hangs the "toys," although she won't let me look for very long. All I get is a glimpse, and the rest is up to my imagination.
My eyes wander to the painting again. The girl on the swing wears a pink dress with skirts that billow around her; that particular shade, I must confess, reminds me how much I hate that color. It's the color of weakness, of mushy overchewed bubble gum, of pretty girls who are just so damn perfect. She doesn't look happy to be in that dress; indeed, on that swing she looks a little out of her element. A man on the ground below points with glee; he looks at her legs and those private places revealed by the swing's movement. Then back she'll go, toward the man in the shadows behind her.
I squint, trying to see that second man. He is half-hidden by darkness, holding ropes that control the girl's motion. He looks older, wiser, more diabolical. Why does he look slightly familiar? The answer comes to me immediately, and I shudder and close my eyes. He reminds me of Mr. Bach.
The door from the street opens again and a group comes in, one member accompanied by several guests, probably from out of town. I take their coats and smile, but am relieved when they disappear behind the door, greeted by Madam Cleo herself. My eyes meet hers; "Behave!" they seem to say. I look away as the door closes quietly.
And so the evening goes, here at Madam Cleo's house...
* * *
I have only had one boyfriend. Yes, at my age, I should have more of a track record—after all, I'm already in graduate school! Schoolwork kept me busy, and I went to college close to home in Massachusetts, where my parents could keep an eye on me. When I met Peter, they reluctantly let me go out with him, and only because he was the son of one of my father's best business associates. I guess they figured he was safe.
Little did they know! "I like your ass," Peter would say, running his hand down my backside in admiration. "I'd like to see it naked." So we hid in his father's toolshed, where he ordered me to grab one of the low rafters and with my feet barely touching the floor, my jeans and panties would be yanked to my knees. Now he could admire me by the glow of a kerosene lamp. "Oh, yes," I heard him whisper. "Madeleine, please let me mark you."
"Mark me?" I swallowed. What did he want?
"Yes, with my belt."
I shook my head. What a sick thing to ask! I let go of the rafter and landed on the floor with a thud. "No!" I shouted. "Are you out of your mind? Let me out of here!"
We broke up the next day.
Yet I couldn't stop thinking about Peter. I shouldn't have broken up with him, he was the only boyfriend I'd probably ever have. My girlfriends had a steady stream of guys, one right after the other. Was I destined to attend parties alone for the rest of my life? Worst of all, the scene in the toolshed played over and over in my fantasies. What if I'd allowed Peter to do what he wanted? Would it really have been so bad? How was being "marked" any different from wearing a guy's ring or some other symbol of endearment?
One night, out of curiosity, I went to my closet and took out a belt, not as wide and harsh as the one Peter wore that night, but the nearest I could come to it. Naked, I knelt on my bed and gritting my teeth, I began to thrash at my backside. Yes, it hurt, I won't deny it! But it was not like any other pain I'd ever known, not like menstrual cramps or getting a tooth pulled. It had a certain—what's the word I want?—deliciousness to it. I stopped after ten good swats.
Later, sitting in front of the TV with my parents, I could still feel it. I should have let him, I told myself. If I had, we'd still be together.
Even to this day, I relive those moments in the shed, rearranging them to suit myself. Sometimes Peter uses a small paddle, sometimes he ties my hands to the rafter so I don't have to hold on so hard. Sometimes it's not Peter at all, but someone else—more often than not, it's Mr. Bach. He strips me naked and when he finishes, he holds me in his arms, where I cry with relief and love into the fine fabric of his coat.
* * *
I have to get a better look at that painting. I just have to.
The tiny clock on the cloakroom shelf, next to the jar where I keep my tips, reads 10:15. The lull usually begins right about now. This is when I bring out my schoolwork, knowing that I'll probably have a good hour or two before anyone wants to retrieve a coat. A new arrival at this hour would be rare. I take out my literature notes, but somehow, I can't seem to get interested. My handwriting swirls before my eyes and makes no sense to me. With a sigh, I close my book and rub them with the back of my hand.
The painting beckons. So many details, so many secrets. One peek, close up, couldn't hurt. I'll be right here; if someone comes looking for me, I'll see them first.
With my ears attuned to any approaching voices or footsteps, I walk down the hall to where the painting hangs. I take a place before it with my hands behind my back, raise my eyes to its top, then let them scan, falling like a leaf toward the bottom. So much to absorb on the way! Such fine detail in the leaves, the trunk of the trees. The stone cherubs have as much expression on their faces as the humans. The woman flies through the air, bright, brave, one shoe lost, hurtling toward the ground. The suitor before her smiles, eager to touch. But he never gets a chance, because the man in the shadows pulls her back. Her hidden lover never allows her to fly too high.
Fingers surround my wrists, holding them together at the base of my spine. "So, do you like the painting?" a voice whispers in my ear. "I sold it to your boss, you know."
No need to turn around. No need to look. I recognize his scent.
"I'll tell you a secret," Mr. Bach says. "It's a forgery." I gasp. "But don't tell Cleo. She thinks it's the real thing."
I try to wriggle free. "I—I think I better get back to work."
He has other ideas. "Study the woman for a moment, my dear Madeleine. Look at her face. She's not smiling, is she? In fact, she looks a little scared, a little hesitant. Do you think she desires the man at her feet? Or is it the man in the shadows who's her true love?"
"Please, Mr. Bach, I need to get back to the cloakroom."
"Oh, I'm sure Cleo won't mind if you take a little time for an art appreciation lesson."
"No, she won't like it. She won't like it at all. I'm not supposed to leave my post."
He laughs. "'I'm not supposed to leave my post!'" he says, imitating me. "Such a good girl you are, Madeleine! So obedient! Such a prize! Come with me, my dear. Let's go back to the cloakroom."
Not letting go of my hands, he returns me to the tiny room where his coat hangs with all the others, a black shadow hidden among the rest. I open the half-door and slip inside, but when I try to close it, I discover Mr. Bach has followed me. He closes the door and latches it, then does the same for the upper portion, effectively closing us off from the rest of the world.
I shake my head. "No, please, Mr. Bach! What if Madam Cleo comes out and finds me in here with you? She'll punish me!"
"Has she ever punished you before?" His dark eyes meet mine in the dim light of the tiny room as he brushes a bit of hair away from my face.
"No, not yet."
"Then how do you know what she would do?"
"She's told me. She's described it for me."
"Tell me more," he says, drawing me closer and placing a gentle kiss on my forehead. "What would she do if you disobeyed her?"
"She—she would take me to her office. I've only been in there a couple times, to get my paycheck, and she never lets me stay very long. She has all those cabinets? The tall black ones where she keeps what look like—like whips?"
He nods. "Yes, my dear, those are whips. Among other things." Then he kisses me again, on the cheek this time. "What else did she say she would do?"
"Well, she said she would pull down my panties and take me over her knee, and give me the spanking of my life, hard enough that I won't be able to sit. Hard enough for me to remember for a long, long time. That's what she says."
"Does this frighten you, my dear?" I start to nod, then I switch directions and shake my head no, an action which makes him laugh out loud. "Ah, your indecisiveness is so charming! Tell me—have you ever been spanked before?"
"Of course, when I was a girl."
"But as an adult?" His smile warms my face. "You know, it's different when you're all grown up. Quite different indeed." He nods toward the folding chair where I am allowed to sit briefly during the slower periods. "Would you like me to show you?"
Without waiting for my answer, Mr. Bach takes a seat and beckons to me. I approach with caution, still holding my hands behind my back. He looks up at me; even in the scant light, I can tell that I have become an object of great fascination. For a moment, we just stare at each other. Then he puts one arm around my waist and in one swift movement, pulls me across his knees. I yelp.
"Shh!" he cries. "I can see you're going to need to be silenced." Cool air brushes my derriere as he pulls off my panties and twists them into a compact little ball which is then crammed into my mouth. "Now, on to the business at hand."
I hold my breath. The first blow is coming, I just have no idea when. He surprises me with a caress instead, down one cheek and up the other, his palm tracing large circles around the contours of my flesh. I sigh—how good it feels! No one has ever touched me like this. I want more, but all too soon, he lifts his hand away.
And then—smack! I startle, but his arm holds me fast against his knee. Again—smack! Smack! Three more times he lets loose, stinging first the left side, then the right. "Equal treatment!" he says. "We wouldn't want one pretty globe to be jealous of the other, now would we?" Back and forth he goes, until the pain begins to melt into a curious warmth. I feel moisture gathering in that secret place between my thighs. Once again, I want more, I need more. I squirm against his gabardine slacks, unable to help myself, the mix of pain and pleasure is that delicious.
The loud thump of a fist against the closed door demands my immediate attention. "Madeleine! What are you doing? Come out here immediately! You have people here who want their coats!"
But Mr. Bach chuckles, and gives me two more slaps in quick succession, right-left. "Madeleine is a little preoccupied, Cleo. Tell them to come back tomorrow for their damn coats."
"Maximilian Bach!" The door flies open and Madam Cleo is standing outside, four feet and ten inches of rage. "What are you doing?"
"Come on, darling Cleo. Surely you don't expect to leave a tasty creature like this one out here in the cloakroom, do you? She surpasses anything else you have to offer."
"Don't touch her!" Madam Cleo grabs my arm with unexpected force and yanks me to my feet, grabbing the panties from my mouth and throwing them in Mr. Bach's face. "I have a house full of fine merchandise, and this is the thanks I get!"
"Fine merchandise? Maybe at one time, Cleo, but not lately. I have been sorely disappointed for quite some time now. In fact, I was thinking about going elsewhere—until you placed this tempting creature in your cloakroom. This one has spark, passion, she's ready to learn and to be properly trained. A refreshing change from the jaded sluts you've been pushing on me."
"How dare you!" The tiny room echoes with the sound of Cleo's slap across his face.
Time seems to come to a halt, as it often does in moments like this. My stomach quivers and I suddenly realize that I have forgotten to breathe. Mr. Bach rises to his feet, taking his time, coming up slowly until he towers over Madam Cleo. Without taking his eyes from hers, he speaks to me. "Madeleine, get my coat."
I do as I am told, drawing in his scent one last time, so I will never forget it.
"Now, get your own," he says. "That is, if you would like to come with me."
"If you do, you're fired," Madam Cleo growls through her teeth.
So, it is up to me.
I pause. My coat hangs at the end of the rack, a threadbare trench coat I've had since high school. I'd been saving for a better one, a faux fur that I'd seen in a second-hand shop on the way home. If I go, that coat is nothing but a broken dream.
Or is it? I look at Mr. Bach, and he smiles. "Get your coat, Madeleine. You will not regret it." He touches my cheek. "I know what you need."
I melt inside. I can't put on that coat fast enough.
As Madam Cleo hustles us past a cluster of customers who are no doubt baffled by all this brouhaha and just want their own damn coats, I take one last look at the painting. A forgery, if Mr. Bach is to be believed, with the real one hanging in a museum somewhere—but does it matter? The man in the shadows looks back at me, holding the ropes that control the swing. Go, he seems to say. And remember—the girl in pink, she could not fly without me.
I take Mr. Bach's hand and we walk into the cold, cold night. The ropes pull me back, deep into the shadows. I know I will be happy there.
© 2004 J.Z. Sharpe . All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.
Copyright © 1996 and on, Erotica Readers Association, Inc.
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