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The canal was pretty, with trees on either side; upon it there were swans and geese and beautiful narrow boats in traditional greens and blues, many with plants growing in pots on their roofs. His boat was beautiful, a faded dark blue. He stepped on first and handed her his arm. She followed him inside to the little living area. It smelled of fresh wood and was lined and panelled with pine. Outside through the little windows she could see the swans and geese on the water. He sat down on one of the bench seats and she did the same. She felt faint with terror. He looked at her.
Silence. He wasn’t even looking at her any more.
‘I really am sorry, I shouldn’t have done it.’
‘Then why did you?’
There was no answer to that. She didn’t know why she’d done it, so she couldn’t say.
‘What can I do to make it up?’
Her face burned. She just wanted to get back into her car and drive home. But she couldn’t leave it like this. She almost felt like crying when she thought back to her journey there, the sense of delicious anticipation, not just about the weekend but about the potential relationship ahead. They had talked on the phone about what they liked and he had said in a voice cracked with desire, ‘Oh girl, you and I are going to have so much fun together,’ and she had felt like nothing could be more perfect.
Why, oh why, had she done it? She was a fool! A fool, an idiot girl who deserved to be punished. Deserved to be punished.
So maybe, just maybe, there might be a way out of this mess. She didn’t want to leave, and nor had he asked her to, but she couldn’t spend the rest of the weekend there with him angry and not speaking to her, even though she was quite sure he would have no problem keeping it up. He’d left her in no doubt as to whether or not he took shit from anyone. He didn’t
Anything was worth a try. Anything that might mean she wouldn’t lose him.
He was looking out of the window as if she wasn’t there. She took a deep breath and went and knelt down on the floor by his feet. She took his hand. It sat lifeless in hers. Oh God.
‘What did you say?’
‘Punish me. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t bear that I’ve made you angry. I want you to punish me enough so that you can forgive me.’
‘If I punish you enough to make me forgive you, that’s going to have to be one hell of a punishment. You’ve really pissed me off, Rebecca. I’m really fucking disappointed in you.’
‘I know. I know you are, and I am really, really, so, so sorry.’
He looked at her and squeezed her hand for a fraction of a second.
‘I know you are. But it’s difficult for me to forgive something like that.’
‘That’s why I want you to punish me. So that you can.’
‘Rebecca, I’d have to really hurt you, and I don’t know if that’s a good idea.’
He scowled, as if he were struggling with conflicting emotions. She held her breath and prayed. He sighed loudly, and then he stood up and drew the curtains.
‘All right. Get up and get undressed.’
Shaking with a mixture of relief and terror, she undid her blouse, unzipped her jeans and took them off. Then removed her bra and knickers, as quickly and as unceremoniously as if she were getting ready for a swim.
He picked up an old wooden chair.
‘Kneel down and hold on to the seat.’
She did as she was told, her knees on the hard wood floor of the boat, her forearms resting on the seat of the chair, her hands gripping the uprights at the back. She heard, rather than saw, him taking off his belt.
There was a loud crack, almost like an explosion, and then her body buckled in shock as he brought the belt down across her buttocks. For a second it was like jumping into cold water, the breath was knocked out of her body, and then a split second later the pain ripped through her and she screamed. The pain seemed to build in intensity and to be going on for too long, and then just as she thought that he brought the belt down again, layering a new pain on top of the first one.