A Boy Forever
George Lemke pulled into the driveway at his mother’s house just as the setting sun and lush oaks at the end of her development meshed to turn the low, western sky into a cloudy blue-green and luminous lavender patchwork worthy of Monet. He had told his wife, Irene, he wouldn’t be coming home that night figuring it was better to cool down and analyze things clearly rather than spend all evening arguing or brooding in mutual cold solitude.
His mother naturally told him he was welcome to spend the night in his old room. She didn’t like the idea of the bickering newlyweds avoiding each other, but knew from her own experience that sometimes some time apart was even more valuable than time spent together. This was her son’s second marriage, and she truly approved of Irene. But even though she loved her son, she also knew his stubbornness could cause problems.
As George tossed a small bag of clothes and personal items onto his old bed, he looked around the familiar room and reminisced about a simpler time. “You know, Ma,” he sighed, “life was a lot simpler as a kid living here.”
“You didn’t think that way then, son,” she grinned, “people have a tendency to paint the past in only the colors they like. You and I had plenty of disagreements.”
“Yeah, sure, Ma, but I was a kid. It’s to be expected. As I remember though, we never stayed mad at each other for long.”
“True, but I had my ways of dealing with you when you got too stubborn to listen,” she reminded, her voice and expression clearly reminding him of precisely what she meant without actually saying the words. But George didn’t need to hear the specifics. He knew exactly what she meant, and just nodded with a wry smile of reluctant agreement.
“Yes, you did,” he admitted, adding, “say, whatever became of ‘Miss Spankenhinder’ ?”
Mrs. Lemke chuckled and pointed to the hall closet. “She’s still where she’s always been. Just open the door if you want to say ‘hello’ to your old friend.”
“I wouldn’t call her a ‘friend’....more like an old nemesis. I think you and she were on friendlier terms than she and I ever were.”
“That’s probably true,” his mother admitted, adding, “still, she helped make you see past your stubbornness on more than one occasion. That counts for something.”
“True enough,” he nodded. Then, with a curious squint, he added, “weird that she’s still there though after all these years. Why did you keep it?”
The aging mother had never thought about it and just smiled at the validity of the question. In all honesty, she wasn’t sure why she had kept the old thing. Perhaps to remind her of that same, ‘simpler time’ George had referred to moments before? Nostalgia, perhaps? With raised eyebrows she just replied, “I don’t know, son. Maybe I thought she might come in handy one day.”
George laughed with her at the humorous insinuation and then, growing a bit thoughtful, made an excuse about being tired and excused himself from further conversation so he could to go to bed early. He had a lot to think about. With a quick peck he said, “goodnight,” to his mother and turned towards the bed. Mrs. Lemke smiled to herself, returned the sentiment, and left her son to think, and sleep, and hopefully find his way.
“Wake up, sleepy-head.”
George stretched and rubbed his eyes to a familiar face. “What time is it?” he asked in a voice not quite his own, the shock of his altered speech waking him fully like a dousing of ice-water. He looked up to see his young wife, Irene smiling down at him and wondered when she arrived since he was still in his old room. She must have come over this morning to see him after their night spent apart.
“It’s already, 8:30, mister, and you have a busy morning ahead, so let’s get crackin’,” Irene explained. But something wasn’t quite right. The person speaking to him certainly looked and sounded like Irene, but she was wearing some retro-70’s outfit that reminded him of something his mother used to wear. And for some reason, she seemed……bigger. Looking down at his feet he realized why. When he went to sleep, his toes were up against the footboard, but now they wiggled at him from only about four feet away. In a panic he bolted up and saw he was wearing his old, pale-blue cotton PJs from when he was a kid, the ones with the navy blue anchor on the pocket and piping on the cuffs and collar. And somehow, they still fit.
“What’s going on?” he asked in confusion.
“Going on? Don’t you remember our argument last night?” Irene asked suspiciously.
“Argument? Yes, I remember, and then I came here and I went to bed, and.......”
“There’s my George, only remembering what he wants to. Yes, you went to bed, because I sent you……right after telling you that we would be taking care of your attitude this morning before breakfast. So, now I want you to march your little hiney into the bathroom and take a shower, and brush your teeth, and comb your hair, and then you can come back here so that you and I..... and Miss Spankenhinder, can have a long discussion.”
“But……I, no, this isn’t right,” George blubbered in a voice too highly pitched for a man of his years.
“The only thing that isn’t ‘right’ is your attitude, young man. But like I said, we are going to fix that very soon.”
George began to protest further but caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror before he could utter a word. He saw himself as he was when he was 10. There was no doubt that the reflection was his. It mimicked his every move. Somehow sleeping in his old bed had regressed him back to childhood. The only thing that made no sense was that his real mother was nowhere to be found and in her place was his current wife, looking exactly as herself. She was not even a year younger than her 35 years. It didn’t make sense. Why was only he affected? The whole thing seemed surreal, but given his juvenile stature and Irene’s determination, he thought that he had better obey her at least for now and take the shower. If anything maybe a spray of cold water might shock him out of this Twilight Zone illusion.
Once safely in the bathroom, George again examined his reflection. There was no mistake, he was himself, except he was the George he had been 30 years ago. He unbuttoned his pajama tops to see a smooth pale chest flanked by a set of bony ribs. He dropped the bottoms next and blinked as he saw his utterly hairless crotch. In fact as he turned about, every inch of him was smooth peach. Even his bottom looked like that of a pre-teen cherub. How could this be?
He entered the shower hoping for a miracle of transmutation, but emerged merely clean and wet and still every inch a little boy. Thinking of Irene in her woman-sized body waiting for him along with Miss Spankenhinder scared him. He turned to the mirror once more. His pint-sized boy-butt seemed hopelessly outmatched. He thought that at least if he had his older, tougher body back, maybe the spanking wouldn’t be so bad.
As soon as that thought popped into his head, another followed in a different vein: what if he was back in his old body? It would be just him and Irene.....and the issue at hand, but as adults. He wasn’t even sure why he was about to be punished now, but he easily recalled the argument that led to him leaving home the night before. Irene had been counting on him to take care of a computer issue plaguing her laptop so that she could finish a report for her night class whose deadline was approaching quickly. He had told Irene he a good idea on what needed to be done, but he kept procrastinating until the report was nearly due. When he finally got to it, he discovered his solution didn’t work and Irene had to take the laptop into BestBuy for repair. By the time she got it back she had one night to finish the report. She skipped dinner to meet the deadline and he had actually given her attitude about not eating with him. At the time he felt ignored, but in looking at the issue now, he realized what a total jerk he had been. In fact, if the ‘Irene’ waiting to paddle his little butt now had as good a reason as that, he could see no way to defend himself. She would be totally right to roast his bottom but good.
George squeezed toothpaste out onto his brush and as he scrubbed away his ‘morning breath’, began to wonder if he might not be an embodiment of the ‘puer aeternus’……a misbehaving Peter Pan doomed to never fully mature. Thinking honestly of how he often acted, it appeared that it might very well be the case. And if it was……what then? Might he not need a strong, firm hand to keep him in tow? He looked again at his boyish body and recalled the harmony that always followed a deserved punishment from his mother. Maybe he had not outgrown that need?
This personal catharsis led to George’s conviction in returning to his old room and suffering whatever fate awaited him. He felt, regardless of the bizarre transformation, he owed Irene his complicity in accepting her intended punishment no matter the reason. So, after hurriedly dragging a comb through his damp, tangled mop, and with a deep inhalation of determination, George exited the bathroom and rejoined Irene. He did not even bother to redress, figuring it was probably unnecessary, and upon entering the bedroom, realized he was correct in this assumption since Irene did not seem the least surprised and rather acted as if she fully expected him as he was. Her one hand gripped the feared paddle jocularly referred to as ‘Miss Spankenhinder’ and impatiently tapped it against her other palm.
“Ah there’s my naughty boy,” she announced. “Are you ready for your punishment?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” George nodded, quietly blushing under her gaze.
“Then let’s get to it, mister.”
In short order, George found himself dizzily imbalanced across Irene’s lap which now felt like a wide platform. His unprotected bottom jutted up towards her menacing smirk as she gripped his right arm and firmly pinned it across his waist, immobilizing any attempt at escape. In the next second the paddle landed with burning impact. But as it did he felt himself somehow sinking into Irene’s lap. Her legs had become intangible underneath him as he kicked from the sting. Each subsequent spank pushed him deeper into a sort of abyss. He yelled up pleading for mercy, promising to be better behaved, but Irene just faded upwards and away as he sunk lower and lower. He looked back plaintively, feeling the growing burn in his soft bottom, only to see his disciplinarian grinning with satisfaction while he fell into the darkness.
“Please, I don’t want to disappear,” he begged. “Punish me as hard as you wish, as hard as I deserve, but don’t leave me alone. Keep me with you!”
“Why should I?” came the response in a voice drifting further away.
George grew desperate to be saved, to be reconnected to this person who loved him despite his faults, and loved him even as she punished his misbehavior. “Because I love you……and because deep down, in spite of how I sometimes act, I want to be a good boy!”
But now even the faint image of his beloved Irene had faded from view. All that remained was the sting in his bottom....and oblivion. Exhausted, he let the darkness overtake him as he repeated, “I want to be a good boy,” over and over.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
George was roused from his internment in limbo grateful that his descent had merely been the stuff of dreams, when he looked up at the source of the chorus-like voice and saw a creature that defied logic. It appeared to be a giant woman dressed in grey tweed, but whose broad shoulders sprouted a series of heads….all familiar in one way or another. One was his mother’s, another was Mrs. Grady, his third grade teacher, and yet another was his grandmother who had died years ago. There were also celebrities he recognized, like Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren. Another resembled someone he recognized from the internet but whose name he did not know. Strangest of all was a cartoon head of the cuckoo clock mother from ‘Pinocchio’. And in the midst of all of these hydra-like heads, he clearly saw Irene also present in their midst.
“So, you want to be a good boy?” the thing bellowed from all of its mouths simultaneously. “Do you even know how? Some little boys only remember the lessons that are burned into their bottoms, and you have much to learn!”
The multi-headed giantess approached him, extending multiple arms from its sides like the Indian goddess, Kali. Half of the arms grabbed and restrained him while the other half wielded an array of paddles. He tried to escape only to have the monstrous embodiment of female disciplinary authority grab hold of all his juvenile limbs and pull him down. More free flailing arms tore away his pajamas until he was naked and restrained. Then with a shrieking cackle, the thing used all of its other arms to spank his exposed bottom without mercy.
George screamed in agony at the incessant paddling. The multiple arms allowed him no respite. As soon as one paddle struck and pulled away, the next struck in turn. Both flinching cheeks were often spanked at the same time from different directions until he thought the sore skin of his bottom would be worn away until nothing remained but raw muscle.
“Please, please……I promise to behave,” he yelled, only to hear the creature’s cacophonous laughter in response. The pain grew so intense and constant that George felt faint and again let a shroud of black nothingness envelop him.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
George again awoke to the sound of his beloved Irene and felt a wave of relief, but the feeling did not last once he saw that he was still trapped in his 10 year-old body.
“It’s getting late and I have something to tell you, George, so you need to wake up and listen. I’m leaving and I won’t be coming back. I married you because I thought you were the man of my dreams, but look at yourself, George. You’re just a little boy.”
George looked at himself and couldn’t argue. He just fidgeted guiltily in his little jammies and listened as Irene continued.
“I don’t want to be married to an irresponsible child. If you had only shown me you’d be willing to take responsibility for your actions, maybe it would be different, but you never do. You do things to upset me and you give me no recourse, no outlet for my anger. And worse than that....you never make amends, and never apologize...at least not sincerely,” Irene sniffed as she fought hard not to cry. “I’m sorry, George. I do still love you, but I can’t continue like this. I wouldn’t mind helping you, even guiding you. I could even give you the discipline you seem to lack, but desperately need. But you have never wanted it enough or trusted me enough to ask me for it. So, goodbye, George.”
George’s eyes teared at the accurate accusations, but before he could speak and beg for what he had never requested before, his beloved Irene was gone and the room grew dark in her absence, as if she had been its sole illumination. All that the child-George could do was cry alone in the gloom. As he sobbed, he heard something bumping about behind him. He stood and peered curiously into the dark corners but could not see anything. Then something rustled about in another corner and he spun to the sound still seeing nothing. He shivered in fear but as his hands gripped his upper arms to rub away the chills, he felt only bare skin. He slid his hands down quickly to discover his pajamas were gone and he was completely naked. George felt even more vulnerable now and, as if in confirmation of this fact, he was jolted by something hard slamming into his unprotected rear.
“Ow!” he yelped and turned to see nothing. And as he bent to peer in the direction of the smack, he was struck again from the opposite side. He rubbed his stinging cheeks and furtively sought out the source of his torment. But each time he faced one direction, his bare bottom was struck hard from the other. After several powerful swats had warmed him, George decided that perhaps escape was a better idea and stumbled to the door. He yanked in hard, rapid shakes but the door was locked and as he rattled the knob, his bottom was spanked again and again.
Now, in a panic, the naked child-George scampered about the room, unable to see anything clearly. And as he did, he was inevitably followed by some unseen, yet persistent paddle. Wherever he went the paddle found him and struck hard. His bottom burned hotly, feeling as if it was on fire. In the dark he instinctively sought his reflection in the black pool of his dresser mirror. Surprisingly he now saw that his beaten posterior was literally glowing like the last minutes of a sunset, and in the faint illumination, he saw Miss Spankenhinder floating behind him. Before he could react, she struck again, without any hand to swing her. She just acted on her own with spiteful cruelty.
“Ow! Please, go away. Leave me alone,” George begged.
But the evil paddle just mocked him, “this is your fate, George. You can never escape me. We were always destined to be together forever, but if only you had realized that sooner, I would be partnered with someone who loves you and your pain would have purpose and be tempered with mercy. When combined with a loving disciplinarian, I can be an effective tool to teach responsibility, but by myself I am a creature without pity. Alone I exist only to cause suffering, and now that you’ve driven your loved ones away, it is just you and I for eternity. You will never leave this room, and I will follow you everywhere. The fires of your own hell will exist solely in your punished bottom which will be spanked for every reason ……and for no reason. See that hellish red glow around us? It is emanating from your own sore little tushy. Poor little boy, I will relish feeding that glow until your bottom is on fire. Won’t you just love to spend eternity with me all alone? No devil, no sulfurous pit, just the flames of your tortured behind and me to keep them burning?”
George shouted, “no! Go back to your closet!”
But Miss Spankenhinder only howled and pursued him relentlessly, peppering his bottom with stinging spanks. He screamed at the pain and frustration and kept screaming …….. terrified that his screams now were all suddenly silent. His mouth opened, but no sound came forth. He ran from the paddle but in the small room, there was nowhere to hide. And as he tried to run his legs felt heavy and his motion slowed as if he was running through gelatin. Eventually he gave up and flopped onto his bed where Miss Spankenhinder no longer needed to chase him. Instead she just laughed as she repeatedly slammed into his bottom with upward swoops that lifted his lower body clear off the mattress, while he buried his face in his pillow and cried.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
“Ahhh, aaaauuuuhhh!” George shot up in a panic to see his mother standing over him. One look at his face told the woman his reaction was the result of some dream or nightmare.
“What is it dear?”
Once he realized his mother was really his mother and his toes were back at the foot of the bed where they belonged, he breathed deeply. “Nothing, Ma. I’m OK. It’s just that for a minute there I thought today might have been Groundhog Day, but since I don’t hear Sonny and Cher, I guess it isn’t,” he quipped sarcastically though his mother did not understand the joke.
“Are you OK?” she asked with typical maternal concern.
“Fine, Ma, really. I just had an odd dream....or bunch of them actually. The thing is as weird as the dreams were, they gave me an idea. I’m wondering if maybe you understood me better as a kid than the women I’ve pursued in my adult life.”
“I’d like to think I understand you enough to have been able to raise you to adulthood. But I would have to say when it comes to your relationships I have always worried about you. Sometimes I think you’re your own worst enemy,” she sighed.
Rubbing his head roughly, George nodded, “I would have to agree with you but I think I might know what I need that I’ve been missing since I left this house to go out on my own. I wonder if it’s possible as an adult to let someone else help guide you when you lose your direction? I mean…if they can help keep you on the right path, it’s not so bad to admit to needing their help, right? There wasn’t anything wrong when I needed yours. Just because a lot of years have passed doesn’t mean I might not need similar direction and boundaries just like when I was young and let my enthusiasm or worse, my selfishness distract me from what was important.”
Mrs. Lemke thought she had some idea of what her son was getting at but wasn’t sure. Regardless, she thought his question was valid and her personal belief was that no one ever needed to be ashamed of asking someone they trusted to act as a guide or anchor for them.
“As long as the person you entrust to help you has your best interest at heart, there is nothing wrong with trusting them when you can’t fully rely on yourself. Seeking help is also a mark of maturity.”
George nodded. “Uh huh. That’s what I think too.” Then with a faraway look asked, “say Ma, you’ve known Irene a while now. Do you think she’s someone who has my best interest at heart?”
Mrs. Lemke smiled warmly and nodded assuredly. “Yes, son, I think so.”
“Well, look, Ma, I think I’m going to grab a few things and head home. I hope I can work everything out with Irene. Thanks for letting me stay the night.”
“Anytime, dear. You’ll always be my boy,” she said with a hug and left her son to dress.
As George’s SUV pulled away, Mrs. Lemke curiously walked over to her hall closet and opened it so she could see the inner side of the door. In the middle of the panel she espied an empty screw with only a familiarly-shaped faded outline against the yellowed paint. She could not help but smile to herself. Then, realizing the possible reaction to her son’s obvious plan, she reached for her cellphone and texted her daughter-in-law.
“Hi, Irene, George is on his way home. I have a feeling he may suggest something to you that you won’t be expecting. My advice as someone who has known him longer than you, and who would like to see you both have a long and happy life together, is: think about it before you say no. If he suggests what I think he will, I fully believe you’d be wise to take him up on the offer and would support you whole-heartedly if you did. Love you, Hon. Good luck.”
The concerned mother eyed the text uneasily for several long minutes wondering if she was over-stepping her bounds, but she then recalled how sweet George would be for days after one of her punishments, and how much fun they had once all the anger and guilt was gone. With a smile and a sigh, she tapped the ‘send’ key and hoped Miss Spankenhinder would be welcome in her new home.