Yes, they’d be caned if they were caught. But that would be a price worth paying. Caned girls were cool girls: the centres of attention. Rebels with a cause, martyrs for youth and freedom and breaking stupid, dictatorial rules.
And it couldn’t hurt that much, after all.
Couldn’t hurt that much, when daddy finally put her out of her misery by coming upstairs. Plunged her deeper into misery, taking off and folding his belt. Making her get out of bed; drop her pyjama bottoms; bend over and touch her toes.
Saw the fourteen neat-but-overlapping stripes, still raised, still sore. Whipped her, nonetheless. Whipped her, because. And left her to sleep, hugs a matter for the following morning, not for a disgraced girl punished and put to bed early.
Hadn’t hurt, when he’d read the headmaster’s letter. When he’d folded it neatly into his pocket. When he’d told her he was ashamed of her. When he’s sent her to her room.
When her sister had brought in tea and toast, in lieu of the family dinner, and scampered off quickly for fear of a scolding for staying and sympathising too long.
Hadn’t caused their hearts to beat, when they realised they’d been caught. To try to hide the still-lit cigarettes, to pray that the search of her blazer pockets would somehow not reveal the near-empty pack. To hope that the wind would magic away the unmistakable aroma. To damn fate for letting a prefect patrol the woods at the far-flung reaches of the playing fields – “just in case there happens to be anything untoward going on…”
Hadn’t caused her tears to fall, standing in the corridor as the first of the trio had been called in by the headmaster. As, through the door, she’d counted the unmistakable sound of the strokes: one, two. Surely enough for a first offence? Three? Four. Then blessed silence, before the youngest girl emerged, utterly unsuccessful in her attempts to feign bravado.
“He wants you next” – pointing to her best friend. Whose cries, moments later, would punctuate the still air of this attic floor atop the school building. Would break her heart, as much as terrify her soul.
Whose beating would precede her own. “Your cigarettes, I believe?” Her nod condemned her to six strokes. “Doubled, as you know the rules dictate, for a scholarship girl.” Condemned her to bend over his hastily-cleared desk, on tiptoe as she reached for the far side to cling on. To flinch at the touch of him lifting her skirt; lowering her knickers.
Couldn’t hurt that much Couldn’t… Couldn’t…
Couldn’t be possible that anything could hurt more. That this was happening to her. That there were eleven, ten, nine still to go.
That she had been so stupid. Eight…
That they’d been caught. Seven, six…
That she was standing up, clutching her behind, a scared girl in front of him being ordered to bend back over “right now! and I’ll give you that one again and add an extra one for the trouble.”
That she could possibly hold on. Clenching the desk edge tight. Five, four.
That the tears were running down her cheeks, and she couldn’t wipe them away as they fell onto the oak. Three. Two.
That it would be over in just a moment…
Silence. Pain. Humiliation. Disgrace.
“And now for the two extras that you earned yourself…”