Wrong For Right

June 16, 1896
Margaret Spooner

“How long have you been home?” My father asked.

His face was drawn tight with signs of exhaustion as he sat behind his desk. The room was dimly lit, causing both our forms to be shadowed in exaggeration on the walls and ceiling of his study. The air was full with the oddly mixed yet pleasant scent of musty leather, paper, cigar smoke, and cognac.

“About two weeks.” I replied wondering if he really did not know or if he was baiting me with the rhetorical.

Either seemed a fair assessment given we had not really spoke since my arrival and he seemed perturbed with me over something as yet unknown.

“Twelve days. Not two weeks, twelve days, Margaret.”

I silently counted the days in my head confirming his accuracy before nodding.

“You have three brothers and three sisters and not all of them combined can manage to cause your mother as much consternation in an entire year as you manage in just twelve days.” He said without even the hint of a smile.

I chewed on my lip to avoid appearing smug or proud of the revelation. To be honest I was a bit of both, but neither would benefit me in the eyes of my father.

“It has not been my intention.” I replied.

“I suppose you think that makes it better?”

“No, sir.”

“I think what you are really saying to me is you think you are right and your mother is wrong. You seem to think being right is excuse enough for being rude.”

“I did not say that.”

“No, your too smart to say it straight out but your actions speak the words loud enough.”

“My actions? What did I do?”

“Have you all ready forgotten your afternoon tea with the Patterson’s?”

“I would certainly like to have forgotten. You cannot hold that against me. They were being condescending and rude to me and all I had been doing is sitting quietly and enjoying the garden.”

“Naturally the bad behavior of guests justifies a temper tantrum.”

“You weren’t there and I wasn’t having a tantrum. I excused myself and they wanted to make an issue of it.”

“Their actions, whatever they were do not concern me, Margaret. It your actions we are talking about.”

“How can we discuss one without the context of the other?”

“Simply, by acknowledging the fact that you alone control your actions and words. It is not necessary for you to engage in verbal sparring with guests, regardless of their manners or lack of them. You are old enough to know this all ready.”

“I was trying to walk away.”

“You were embarrassing your mother and you made no attempt to gracefully accept you held a different opinion from her guests and move on. Instead you challenge them and return name calling with more name calling. This kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

“I stood up for myself. I did not engage in name calling.”

“So your mother was mistaken when she says she heard you call Mrs. Patterson under educated and overly socialized?”

“That is not name calling.”

“What do you call it then?”

“The truth.”

“Is it the same version of truth you told your mother about this letter?”

He held up the letter from Mrs. Carrington which informed of my less than appropriate interactions with a boy named Edward. I felt my face flush hot.

“What are you talking about.” I asked bravely.

“Margaret, I am your father, but once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a young man myself. There is nothing unbelievable about this letter except you expecting your mother and I to believe it isn’t mostly factual.”

“I don’t even know an Edward.” I replied in desperation.

“No, you know and Edgar though and I am willing to bet that is the only detail Mrs. Carrington got wrong. Am I right?”

I stood silent under his gaze. There was no good way out and certainly nothing I could say which would make things better.

“Your silence is confirmation enough. You see truth can be a matter of perspective. There are all kinds of truths and even liars can claim the truth as their ally if they use it selectively enough. But, you all ready know that. You chose to call this letter a lie because a name was not the truth, Edward instead of Edgar. It was convenient for you to do so.”

This is the problem with fathers. They know their children too well and can see through all the charades that mothers seem to get lost behind. I found it impossible to continue meeting his gaze and instead stared at his desktop. Tears threatened to spring from my eyes.

He dropped the letter down on his desk and sighed. He pushed himself back from the desk and stood up. The room seemed horribly quiet as he walked around his desk only to lean up against the front edge of it. He crossed his arms in front of him.

“You are twenty-three years old Margaret. Your mother and I had been married six years when she was your age. I am not concerned about you becoming involved with a man, it is about time.”

I looked up at him. Did I really hear that right?

“But mother was furious?” I said.

“She was embarrassed not angry. Think about how you would feel to receive a letter like that from a relative stranger.”

I nodded my head, actually thinking about just that.

“This is really the heart of the matter. You are a grown woman and I am very proud of you, but you still have some growing to do. You see the whole world just as it matters to you. The concept that the world might not look the same to someone else seems to have eluded you thus far.”

“That’s not fair. I know mother has different ideas about a lot of things from me. I just don’t understand why she can’t be supportive of my dreams.”

He chuckled. I stared at him blankly wondering what was funny.

“You don’t know your mother too well.” He said at last.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll let you ask her sometime but you should know you are far from the first young woman to have dreams of a different life.”

Our eyes met again. All my preconceptions suddenly faltered and the world turned on its edge as I considered my mother wanting a life of meaning beyond what it is. Maybe Mrs. Patterson was right. Maybe the world is not ready for a woman doctor and if it is not, what will become of me? Will I live a bitter life without room for new dreams?

“You have an admirable goal, Margaret. You are everything I wished your brothers would be, but God had the sense of humor to give it to me in you. You’ve got a hard road ahead of you and whether you acknowledge it or not, you want something that just wasn’t even possible only a few years ago. I still don’t know if it is possible for a woman to become a doctor but you have my support.”

“Thank you and yes I knew that all ready, but it’s not impossible. You’ll see.”

“That is why you will succeed. You just don’t see all the obstacles which should be stopping you. It is that same blindness which ruffles the likes of Mrs. Patterson and plenty of others. You need to learn to handle yourself better with those kinds of people.”

“Mrs. Patterson is a lost cause. She lives in a world that doesn’t exist anymore and she won’t ever realize it because the walls around her reality won’t be shattered by words.”

“All the more reason for you not to try. Let it go next time. Nod, smile, agree with the one word you can and ignore the rest, like you did with that letter.”

I sighed.

“Yes, sir.”

“I think maybe we’ve made a little progress tonight.”

I nodded.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a problem.” I said.

He opened his arms to me and I stepped into them for a warm hug. He kissed my forehead and gently patted my back. It felt safe and secure and just a little like Edgar holding me only without a few wild urges.

“Take some time this summer and talk to your mother, honestly for a change.” He said pushing me back a little.

“Yes, sir. I will.”

“Good. I expect you to tell her the truth about this letter and Edgar.”

“She doesn’t know?”

“I haven’t told her my suspicions, although she is far from dumb.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And I want to meet this man before you go back to school.”

“Yes, sir. He was wanting to visit this summer all ready.”

“Good. Arrange it and let me know when.”

“Yes, sir.”

The room fell silent again. After a moment I turned and started to walk out.

“Just a moment, Margaret Ann.”

I stopped in my tracks not liking the sound of my middle name being used.

“I realize we have come to an understanding here tonight but I would be remiss as a father if I did not make certain this lesson is well remembered. Come over here and bend over my desk.”

I turned back toward him and dragged my feet along the floor until I was pushing up against the edge of the desk. I looked at him, hoping for a last minute reprieve. His eyes had hardened though and there was only a serious gaze of man about to engage in business. I leaned over the desk. I grasped the far edge with my hands and closed my eyes, bracing for the inevitable.

He scooped my dress up and tucked the hem of my skirt into the back of my neck. A moment later I felt the cool air of night on my naked flesh as he drew my under things down to the floor. I heard the creak of his armoire door swinging open and a moment later swinging closed. I shuddered at the final loud click of it locking shut.

The leather of the strap was cold against my skin. Tears escaped my closed eyelids before even the first stroke fell. I could hear the quiet ticking of father’s clock and then suddenly the sound faded away, replaced by the loud slap of leather against hide and the stinging burn of the first stroke on a cold bottom.

I cried.

The second, followed closely on the heals of the first spaced to strike precisely the width of the strap lower on my buttocks. The burn consumed me and then the room fell silent again except for the ticking of the clock.

My tears stained the desktop. I would like to say it was unfair but my heart knows it was justice being served.

The third and fourth were just as quick as the first and second. They were spaced accordingly, just above and just below, respectively. I screamed for forgiveness for the third and begged for it on the fourth.

The fifth and sixth were whipped down at the crease of buttocks and thighs, one on top of the other. I sobbed in response and my voice failed me in the endeavor to express regret. Nonetheless my father understood the intention and put his strap away.

I laid on his desk, quietly crying tears of shame.

“Stand up.” He ordered.

I complied feeling small and vulnerable.

He walked around to the front of his desk and opened a drawer. He pulled out two sheets of paper and laid them before me. He pushed his pen closer to me.

“You will write Mrs. Patterson and Miss Olivia Patterson each a letter of apology for your behavior.” He instructed.

I wiped away tears from my eyes on my sleeves. I keenly felt the bareness of my buttocks and the shame of the marks so recently applied. My shaking hand lifted the pen and brought it down on paper.

It is not fair, I thought but that is not what I wrote.


Paul said...

Ashley, excellent writing, seems father was quite restrained, only six strokes.
Warm hugs,

Jen said...

I enjoyed the exchange between father and daughter. Thanks for bringing a little warming back to the story.

Was this a father's day story?

Gary said...

I love your writing and the story, even thought this is the 2nd time I read this one I still enjoyed it! Thank you@ Gary...standards47a..