When the Cat is Not Home…
The real world had dissolved for Alex a few good hours before, when he started playing online with Josh WWE Smackdown! VS Raw 2008 for PS2. His Dad was attending a conference on ‘who-the-fuck-cares’ in
“Tag me, Josh. Fucking crawl and tag me, man!” His bloodshot eyes could only see the screen.
“Alex,” the woman called on an irritated tone. “How many times do I have to call--“
She walked in Alex’s room, slightly aware that her son couldn’t care less about her shouting. She stared in disbelief at the pile of clothes on the floor, on the chair, on the bed; at the magazines lying all over the desk. Drawing pencils were scattered on the floor, and the crumpled papers buried the trash bin.
“For God’s sake, Alex, you were supposed to clean up this mess already! Martha will be here in an hour. How can she clean your room?”
“Josh, tag me you idiot!”
“Alex! I’m talking to you.”
“Mom, I’m busy, I’ll talk to you later, ok?” He stared at the screen where a very groggy Shawn Michaels was slumbering on the ring and an angry Undertaker was viciously attacking the referee with a chair. “Get out of there, you moron!” – Alex shouted in his mic.
“Alex Pierce, I am talking to you!” Without Jack around to knock some sense into Alex, Clara could only waste her energy on shouting. The fury was mounting though.
“Who’s that,” Josh asked in the headphones.
“Just my Mom. I’ll get rid of her in a second.”
“Excuse me?” It was the flipping out moment for Clara. “Turn it off right now or I’ll call your father.”
Alex rolled his eyes. “Josh, can you give me a second, man? I’ll be back in five. Don’t get yourself killed, ok?” He pressed the mute button and turned to his Mom. “Dad’s in a conference,” he explained patiently as if he was reasoning with a toddler who wanted a candy before lunch. “I’ll finish the game and then I’ll clean the room. What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve said because I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“Give me the phone!”
“Mom, I am playing, remember? I can’t hang up. Use the one downstairs, it won’t make a difference. Dad’s still in a conference.” She wouldn’t tell on him. She never did. But he had to play a bit less dangerously because one never knows with women and their PM syndrome.
He wished he had that brilliant thought before his last sentence. He watched as Clara’s eyes bulged in her head and she attacked Alex’s Play Station, pulling out the plug.
Forget about playing safely - He shot up, standing, black screen of the TV staring back at him.
“What the fuck?... Mom!”
“You are not playing anymore. You are tiding up this room this instant, young man, you hear me? Now!” She fumbled with the cables and the joysticks, picking them up. If he had the tantrum she was having now with his Dad he would be get the spanking of his life. And she hadn’t even reached her peak – but Alex’s overcooked brain could only work one way – the game, the precious game he had tried to win for the past few days. He and Josh had to win it. “What the hell are you doing?” He wanted to snatch them back so badly he had to grit his teeth to refrain himself.
“God help you when your Dad gets home. I won’t be there to save your ass this time, trust me on that!” The cables writhed dangerously around the floor, as Clara bent down to tug at them, unplug them, throw them all around. Looking up at him, she finally took the cable-free console away. “Clean you room.” She turned around leaving Alex in a shock.
He followed her closely. “What are you doing with my Play Station? Have you lost your mind? Mom!”
She stopped to confront him, - “I’ll show you lost my mind. If you don’t understand when I you are told nicely, maybe you understand like this,” – then continued her march, with Alex behind her, like a famished dog tracking down a juicy sausage.
“If you don’t give me back my game, I swear I won’t clean up the room. I swear!” They made eye contact, as Clara pushed the Play Station into one of the drawers in the master bedroom. Alex’s fists tightened and he seemed to grow by five inches in her eyes.
“Go to you room!” – she ordered, straightening her back. But he didn’t move. “Are you defying me? How dare you?” She slapped him hard across his face and he stared at her again, not even bothering to sooth the hot pain in his left cheek.
“I just want to finish my game. Then I’ll do whatever you want.”
“I said NO.”
“I’ll take it from the drawer when you leave anyway…”
Clara gave up her fight. There were other ways. She fished for her cell phone in her pocket. She didn’t care about any of her husband’s conferences; she only cared about settling this down with Alex. Alex dropped his hands in his pockets, taunting her. But she could see the confidence fading away from her son’s eyes as she dialed the number. Still sure his Mom would get the ‘leave a message’ reply, he stubbornly refused to leave the room. The ring surprised her as much as her first words to Jack surprised Alex.
He started for the corridor, his fury melting into a pond of fear.
“Alex,” Clara called before he got past the door. She extended the phone to him. As he took it gingerly, like you’d manipulate a fragile porcelain that could blast the moment you touched it, she crossed her arms across her chest, watching. He glared at her with the incredulous look of someone who had been set up. He was good at exploiting her; he was even better at manipulating her feelings. This time he had failed.
“Dad, I was just trying to finish my game…”
“What did I tell you when I left the house three days ago, Alex? About sassing your mother?”
“I was just playing and she came fuming in and unplugged my game, Dad! I’ve been playing all night to get to this point-“
“Not all night. It’s just a figure of speech…”
Pointless to add this was not going the way he had expected. Well, the phone call wasn’t part of the plan in the first place, to be honest.
“This is so unfair,” he mumbled. “She is just ticked off because it’s cleaning day. You know how she gets when Martha has to come.”
“Watch it, mister…”
“That’s the truth, Dad.” He stared at his Mom defiantly. He thought he saw her eyes getting watery and maybe for an instant he felt ashamed with himself; the feeling was gone when the trumpets of victory – victory over her will power - began playing in his mind.
“You listen to me, young man,” Jack hardened his voice and Alex’s brain felt trapped in the man’s words. “You are going to clean the room right now. Do you hear me?”
“Are you walking to your room right now? I don’t hear you moving…”
Alex sighed, turned around, and left his Mom’s bedroom behind. He dragged his feet towards his own room.
“You are going to tidy up that room spotless, you hear me? Spotless, Alex. And when you’re done, you will call me to tell me that you’re done. If I have to check on you the way I did when you were in kindergarten, I will. You’d better not bother your mother again. And I will be home for dinner, and then we, as in you and I, are gonna have a small discussion about this. Is that clear enough for you?”
Alex paused frowning. He was kicking the foot of the bed hard enough for the whole house to hear it.
“I am talking to you, mister.”
“Yeah yeah I heard,” he mumbled.
Jack paused enough to recover from the shock himself. “You’re in deep trouble and I hope you know that,” he added. “You know what? Martha is not touching your room. You are going to clean and scrub it, got that?”
“As if I care…” – it was barely a whisper but Jack heard it.
“I’m home at seven. And by eight your ass will be so tanned you will sleep on your stomach for a week, mark my words, Alex. Start cleaning that room.”
He hung up. Alex threw the phone against the bed, paused, unsure of the anger still bubbling inside his veins, then picked up the phone again and smashed it against the wall. He threw himself face down on the bed. How dared his mother call his Dad? How dared she? She had ruined his game. He and Josh had been working on the strategy of that match forever. Now all his work had been for nothing and he had to start all over again. He turned around on his back, staring at the ceiling, both arms supporting his head, like a pillow. Rushing to his parents’ bedroom and getting back his console crossed his mind and he even indulged himself with the look on his mother’s face if he went for it. He almost pushed himself to defy them even more, but in the back of his mind one small worry was building other small worries and they all created panic as realization of what he’d done dawned onto him. He stared at the shattered phone pieces. Oh fuck! Oh fuck! He grabbed his cell phone in a desperate attempt to call his dad but this time, when he did want his Dad to answer, the “leave a message” reply greeted him.
By he was so famished he could have eaten one pound of green beans without feeling the taste and so tired that he remained down on the floor, with his back resting against the leg of the desk. The attempt to reach his Dad failed again and for a long time he sat there, phone in his hand, eyes at the ceiling. He used to be a good kid – well behaved in front of his parents and certainly more careful. During the past two or three years he had become a dick-head and he was well aware of it. Controlling himself was not an option anymore; controlling himself had become almost as hard as not having a joint in the weekends. Joints were not addictive; he knew that for a fact. But how he wished he could have had one now. He gathered his energy and will to stand up and crawl towards the bed, like a drunk, throwing himself face down. He rummaged for the pillow under the blanket, scooped it out and doubling it over he tossed it under his head. He lost track of his thoughts the moment his eyes closed.
He moved a few times in his sleep, breaking free from one dream and falling back into another. When he finally budged again, his tongue felt heavy in his mouth. The room was dark and silent. An orange streak of light squeezed in the room through the ajar-left door. The TV was on downstairs; he could hear the soothing gurgle of voices but the words remained a mystery to his ears. A few kids were playing outside, calling each other and laughing. They were probably ten, maybe eleven years old. And he envied them. He was growing up too fast. If he closed his eyes again, he could almost ignore his age and relive any other day of his childhood, especially those afternoons when he would be put to bed and he would wake up in the laughter of his friends playing outside.
“You feeling ok?” The voice of his Dad didn’t startle him.
Alex nodded in the dark.
“Do you want to talk?”
Alex shrugged. “I tried to call you,” he said, one hand under his head, the other playing with a rebel streak of hair running into his eyes.
“I know. What happened today, Alex? You went too far.”
“She’s exaggerating. She burst into my room and started screaming. I was in the middle of a game.”
“She asked you to tidy up your room on Monday. I was there so you can’t deny it. And she comes in today and finds a room which is still a mess and you, playing your game, having no intention of cleaning it up. And you sass her.”
“I was pissed off.”
“That kind of behavior is not accepted in this house, Alex. You know it. And for your own sake you don’t want me to remember the way you spoke to me on the phone.”
A cold chill ran down his spine. He went silent, staring at the ceiling.
“And you smashed the phone too.” The voice was calm, merely pointing out a fact.
“I was angry. And frustrated…”
“We could have talked about it.”
The boy shrugged. “I know. But I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I want to solve my problems alone.”
“Anything going wrong between you and Alexis?”
“We broke up.”
In the dark, Jack nodded. He was still holding in his hand the main piece of the broken phone.
“I don’t want to talk about it. It’s over anyway. Besides, I need to focus on my stupid classes and grades. I really don’t want to talk about it.” He bit his nail nervously and Jack allowed him this moment to recompose himself.
“You gonna spank me?” – the boy finally asked, and as much as he tried to look indifferent, his edgy tone gave him away.
With his chin in his chest he managed an “I knew it.”
“I care about your problems and I care about your feelings but you don’t talk the way you did and you don’t act like you just did.”
“It’s still unfair.”
“I am not going to discuss the fairness aspect because by now you should now what is fair and what is not. And before you opened your mouth to say the things you said you were aware of the costs. So I have no sympathy for the way you acted. Get up, go brush your teeth, wash your face and come back in here.”
Alex must have accomplished each one of the tasks while his mind has been wondering ‘what next?’ because the next thing he acknowledged as happening right now, in that reality, was stepping back into his room and blinking away the invading dirty light of his lamp. As usual, only the TV voices came bouncing through the walls from downstairs. He realized he was still groggy from his dreams when Jack unleashed the belt from the loops of his pants and pointed to the bed – Alex hesitated, as if not understanding the obvious. Jack’s fixed look upon him determined Alex to start unbuttoning his jeans. His sigh might have moved anybody who would have taken the picture out of the context.
“I tolerate many things, Alex, but such disrespect and disobedience – those are things that don’t get unnoticed and unpunished in this house.”
Alex kicked away his jeans, towards his desk. He paused, thumbs hooked in the elastic of his boxers. “I wasn’t thinking though… I’m sorry…”
“You’re still not getting away with it. Next time think twice before acting the way you did. Yes, Alex, those boxers come off too. Not down. Off. You won’t be needing them when I’m done with you. You’ll only be needing your pajamas because you are going straight to bed.”
“But I slept already.”
“Then you will sleep some more. Or I can get you tired by putting you in the corner for the next thirty minutes.”
The boxers joined the jeans, on the floor. Jack shook his head disapprovingly at the pile of clothes under the desk, but didn’t say anything. Again, he pointed to the bed. “Face down, please.”
Alex moved, but gazed one last time at his Dad, as if hoping for a last-minute miracle to happen. But miracles are called miracles because they are impossible to happen. He was actually milking some sympathy. There was none.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t home today to straighten things out before they got out of hand,” Jack said.
Alex wrapped his forearms on top of each other and hid his face in them. “For back talking, for being that sassy, and for your attitude towards your mother and myself, I’m gonna tan you really good.” He pulled on the side of the doubled-over belt, snapping it.
“I wasn’t thinking…” – Alex played his excuse again. His voice was small, barely audible. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I swear.”
“Believe me it won’t.”
The first one was hard but he could take it reasonably well. So was the second one. And the third. But the fourth one was already overlapping the previous lick of the belt and his body stiffened at the pain.
“Dad, please, I really swear it won’t happen again. I promise.”
He closed his eye, fighting back the tears. The screams were piling up in his throat after each blow. He stopped breathing, scared that the mere act of breathing out would let out a cry. Jack knew him well. So when the first whispered “owe” came out he knew that Alex’s roller-coaster had reach its peak, and from there to the end it was only a constant and accelerated fall. Another soft “owe” came, followed by a frantic move on Alex’s side to shift the position of his butt, trying to avoid the belt falling on some already sore spots. Jack increased the pace. Alex’s hand moved to his side with the intention of covering his burning ass, but without actually daring to do so.
“Both hands in front of you, Alex. I don’t want to see them anywhere around your butt, you hear me?”
The boy whimpered but brought his arm back, holding it down under the blanket.
What followed was a cascade of stingy licks across his butt, reaching down to the upper part of his legs. He screamed and kicked his feet, but his hands never came back to cover his butt again.
“You will never ever, in my presence or not, talk to your mother like that again.” – Jack marked his words with sharper strokes. “Do I make myself clear?”
“And when I talk to you, you don’t raise your tone. The answer ‘whatever’ and ‘as if I care’ will vanish from your vocabulary.”
Alex’s body trembled with sobs. He knew he could have expected this the moment his mother had dialed that number; but if things had stopped right there and if he had been talking to his father in a civilized manner, he might have gotten away with a lecture and with being grounded. Sassing his mother was a wrong move; sassing his father was suicide. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t there when it happened, because sooner or later he would be. And his Dad would occasionally forget about or ignore smaller crimes, but on his list, disrespect was a major crime.
“I swear it won’t happen again.”
“No, it won’t.”
The last strokes got the boy begging. He shouted anything that went through his head that could make the spanking stop. The pillow had become a pond of tears, similar to the sleeves of his shirt. His feet were rubbing against each other and he had managed to move himself a foot higher on the bed, with the bed sheets gathered in front of him, in his fists.
“Do I need to repeat any of things I’ve just said again? Ever again?”
Alex shook his head ‘no’ desperately. “I’m sorry…”
The belt unfolded and started sliding back in the loops of Jack’s pants.
Alex recovered slowly. He pushed himself up, without looking at his Dad, more preoccupied with wiping his nose and eyes. He nodded a ‘thank you’ when Jack offered him the paper towels.
“Now,” Jack said, still staring at his son’s crumbled figure on the bed, “I want you to put on your pajamas bottoms, wash you face and brush your teeth, and go down to your mother and apologize for what you did. Then you come back in here and you put your nose in that corner for twenty minutes. And when you’re done you will be getting to bed. I’ll be here to make sure about that. And tomorrow, if you want to talk about it, we will. Clear?”
Alex nodded. He fished for his PJ’s in the drawer and, head hung down, started for the bathroom.