Dennis was sitting on the edge of his bed. His eyes were welling with tears that pooled in his eyelids, threatening to overflow onto his cheeks. Mother bent down to his eye-level, resting her forehead milimeters from his own. She spoke slowly and sternly, her words melting him like a warm knife through butter, “I have taught you better than this.”
Dennis started to choke, but composed his nine year old voice as best he could. “I didn’t do anything,” he quietly lied.
Dennis had been caught stealing baseball cards from a neighborhood convenience store. A remarkable lack judgment by a child that was boldly underscored by the fact that his parents let him wander back and forth from there unsupervised.
“You know what you did.” His mother had mastered showing and not telling. Dennis unconsciously bit his lip waiting for the big reveal.
“I didn’t do anything,” Dennis protested even more fiercely. His voice rising to a girlish shriek.
“You won’t do it again,” Mother said in a harsh, even tone that never once wavered.
He tried to save himself with a last ditch half-hearted confessional. “I won’t do it again,” Dennis fearfully promised.
Mother revealed the paddle she had been hiding behind her back. It was carved from a solid piece of blonde wood. There were holes on the flat end to cut down on the wind resistance. It would swing unencumbered, inflicting the maximum amount of pain. A cartoon drawing from the 40s depicted a bare bottomed child with throbbing buttocks, a sadistic parent was standing over them bearing an expression of grim satisfaction.
“Take down your pants and turn around,” Mother commanded.
Dennis obeyed. There was a moment where nothing was spoken, and no one moved. It may have only been a few seconds, but to Dennis it felt like an anguished eternity. He felt the air behind him move, he heard the whistle of the paddle, he experienced excruciating pain as the flat end met his flesh. Dennis let out a yelp and started to sob. He started to stand up. Mother put out a hand to stop him and intoned, “We’re not finished yet.”
A second smack. A third. A fourth. A fifth. Each coming faster in succession. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. A pause. He heard Mother take a breath. Ten. Mother hit him ten times before she stopped and allowed him to stand up. Dennis started to touch his posterior but flinched as his hand recoiled from his bruised, crimson skin.
She briefly softened before Dennis saw her eyes narrow. Mother asserted, “Now I know you won’t ever do that again.” Dennis slowly nodded in agreement. She turned and walked out of his room, lightly tapping the paddle against her thigh.
Mother was right. She would never know that he did anything like that, ever again. Dennis had learned.
Dennis had learned that he was never going to get caught, ever again.