The infernal jangling of the alarm abruptly shocked her from sleep. That diabolical, inhuman, nerve-jarring jangling that she had always hated. But today it was ten times worse.
Before, in all those years of marriage, it had been for Mark. Alison could at least put her head under the bedclothes and ignore it for half an hour longer. But not any more. Mark wasn't here any longer and Alison was alone in the big double bed. The nerve-wracking racket meant that today, she, Alison Clements, had to get up and face the cold, unfriendly world.
She and Mark had finally decided that the only answer was a separation, at least a temporary one, because their relationship had simply been going from bad to worse. Constant arguments, frequently about nothing, or alternatively those long stony silences. Mark had suggested they split up and Alison had agreed it was a good idea. And somehow they had agreed to do it - about the only thing they had been able to agree on for a year. But while the idea seemed sensible, the reality of life alone was something else.
Groaning, Alison forced herself to get out of bed. She naturally had to have a job now if she was going to be independent, or even survive. In seven years of marriage she had held one or two temporary jobs, mostly part-time and mainly for pin-money with the comforting feeling that she wasn't dependent on it. Her husband was the primary wage-earner, even if she did quarrel with him most of the time. But now the job was serious, her main source of income. Mark had agreed to give her an allowance but it wasn't a lot and anyway she didn't want it - did she? Alison had her pride and she didn't want the stigma of feeling 'kept'.
Alison slipped off her shorty nightie and got in the shower. Now she was fully awake she didn't feel so bad, and the warm water spraying her slim, shapely form felt marvellous. The thought of the job, though, was scary; new people; a whole new frightening world with everyone eyeing her, watching her mistakes. In particular her new boss - what would he be like?
Oh cut it out, she admonished herself. Once the first day was over it would seem like nothing, she would be laughing at herself for being so frightened. Before she knew it the job would simply be part of her life - and probably very enjoyable. And apart from the money, getting out and meeting people was just what she needed.
Alison put on what she had already set aside to wear to work. Her smart grey linen suit with the white buttons on the jacket. Smart but not showy, a suitable outfit for a sensible but modern young woman. And 29 was still young. You still had all the world before you and at the same time a little maturity and experience to go with it. Alison tried to convince herself but the hesitant, timid side of her subconscious kept repeating that the only experience she had was of marriage. Of shopping and house cleaning and cooking a man's meals. Office life and all that responsibility could be frightening!
Stop it, Alison told herself. She was being stupid again. She applied some make-up, not a lot, she didn't want to look tarty just nice and attractive.
A crowded train and then a crowded tube, packed like sardines, a hand at her bottom that Alison felt sure was deliberate, but there wasn't much she could do. The world wasn't really a very friendly place. Then her office building, when she found it, didn't look too inviting either. It was in a seedy back street, a featureless bleak-looking structure of dirty brick that had once, no doubt, been red. It was the first time she'd seen the place because she'd been interviewed first by the agency and then by the company's personnel department at a smart city centre location. This really did look something of a let-down.
The wall plate in the dingy foyer listed Rudgefield Engineering as being on the fifth floor. Alison felt an awful urge to turn straight round and catch the train back home; then perhaps phone Mark in the evening. But she gritted her teeth. No she couldn't do that. She pressed the elevator button. Glancing at her watch she saw it was five past nine. The letter had asked her to start at nine. Oh well...
* * *
Frank Kirkham, up on the fifth floor, had been in his office since 8:15. He enjoyed getting up early, a habit he had acquired in the army where, naturally, everyone had to obey orders. Of course, in civvy street that kind of discipline was impossible. But at least you'd think the bloody girl could manage 9 o'clock! He gave his watch another impatient glance. Where was this new girl?
The philosophy of the barrack room was that women were useful in only two places, in bed and in the kitchen, and if they couldn't perform satisfactorily in those two areas you took the belt to their bare arses! Frank Kirkham looked again at his watch. Gone five past nine! What this new girl undoubtedly needed was Frank Kirkham's belt across her arse as soon as she stepped through the door.
He had in any case viewed her coming with some foreboding. If you had to have a woman in the office you needed an older one. Like Mrs. Thornton. Mrs Thornton had got into the office at 8:45, regular as clockwork, and then got her head down and worked - just like a man in fact with never any of the histrionics or complaints about vague illnesses that you always got from the younger women. But Mrs Thornton had unfortunately decided to retire and personnel were sending him this Clements girl. Twenty-nine and 'a pretty young thing' according to that stupid woman in personnel.
Frank Kirkham knew what he'd like to do to a 29 year old 'pretty young thing' who couldn't even make a 9 o'clock start on her first day. Bend her over his desk with her knickers down and lay into her bare arse with his belt - or his cane.
His stimulating reverie was interrupted by, at last, a hesitant knock at the door. He got to his feet, glancing again at his watch. 9:08.
"Come in!" he barked.
Alison entered - a gloomy masculine sort of office with dark, battleship-grey walls and an equally dull, nondescript carpet. Standing behind the central desk was a frightening-looking man, late fortyish, heavy-set, his craggy face wearing a decidedly unfriendly expression.
"Uh...er... Mr. Kirkham?" she stammered, "I...I'm Alison Clements."
"Haven't you got a watch?" he growled.
Alison mumbled, "Er...yes."
"Then perhaps you don't know how to tell the time?" he queried, sarcastically. "For your information, it's ten past nine."
She flushed scarlet. "I...I'm sorry...the train...."
"There are plenty of trains, young woman. If I can get here at 8:15, a late train is no excuse. One thing I insist on is punctuality. Not the only thing but certainly one of them."
Alison stood in front of him, trembling, her hands nervously twisting the straps of her handbag. This was simply dreadful. This bully with the hard grating voice and the contemptuous gaze was going to be her boss! He was clearly going to be worse than anything she had imagined!
At last Mr Kirkham grudgingly invited her to sit down. Now she regretted not coming for a personal interview where she would have had a chance to say 'No thanks' - and would have done! But stupidly she hadn't. Now even if she said right away she didn't want to stay she was stuck with a month's notice or she would forgo any benefit. Alison could feel herself sweating.
Across that big desk Mr Kirkham was going through her file that the personnel office had sent. Why the very patchy job record, his grating voice wanted to know? What had she been doing? And why did she suddenly want a job now, at 29? Especially as she couldn't seem to be bothered to arrive on time on her first day?
Alison found herself helplessly stuttering out all the facts - that she and her husband had separated. As son as she said it, Alison knew she'd done the wrong thing. Anything this awful man knew about her might be used...
Why had they separated, he demanded, his eyes glinting?
Although clearly it was none of his business, Alison was too frightened to say so. "We...we kept arguing, " she whispered.
Frank Kirkham gave an incredulous laugh. "Arguing? And your husband put up with that? He must be a real weak fool. You don't argue with a woman. You tell her what to do and if she doesn't like it you damn well give her something to think about!"
His bull-like head was thrust out across the desk, almost into her face.
"A touch of the whippy stick, Mrs. Clements, that's what I'm talking about. That's what you modern young women need. A sharp stick across your backsides...or a dose of doubled over trouser belt. That's the answer to domestic arguments!"
Alison found herself studying her handbag with great interest. Her face was boiling hot. This was unbelievable!
"Look at me, Mrs Clements. I hope you're not planning any arguments with me?"
Briefly Alison met his eyes and then looked away. The incredible thought of what he was suggesting flared hotly in her mind.
"Answer me, please!"
Frantically, Alison shook her head. Mr Kirkham persisted, clearly spurred on by her cowed, submissive reaction.
"Didn't your husband ever take his belt to you?" he demanded.
"Oh, please..." she whispered, blinking back tears.
The frightening man was suddenly on his feet and striding over to a bookcase full of catalogues and things. "Let me show you something," he said, as he reached in behind the books.
When he turned back, Mr Kirkham held in his hand a long thin straight stick. A bamboo cane.
"Do you know what this is?" he demanded.
Alison felt too weak, too terrified, to answer.
"I got this in Egypt when I was in the army. They know how to deal with their women. This cane is the kind they use on their wives' backsides."
Frank Kirkham gave the cane a horrifying swish through the air as he went gloatingly on.
"I was given a demonstration by this Egyptian chappie who worked in the NAAFI. He took us round to his place one evening. He had a pretty little wife, very Westernised, and she did something to upset him. Whatever it was he gave her a caning in front of us. Me and two other squaddies. He bent her over a chair, yanked up her dress and pulled down her knickers. And then let her have it good and hard across her bare bottom."
Mr Kirkham's cane whistled again through the air and he was almost licking his lips. "A cane just like this one, Mrs Clements."
The tears were welling in Alison's eyes. How could she have ended up here with this monster. A vivid picture of what he had described floated across her mind. Mr Kirkham and his mates greedily watching as the Egyptian caned his wife. What if Mr Kirkham told her...
He put the cane down and produced a sardonic grin. "So now we know, don't we, Mrs Clements? Now we know we must keep very much up to the mark. No sloppy work or typing errors. Everything filed properly away. No complaints of any sort. And above all, we get in before 9 o'clock."
Alison sat with bowed head. "Look at me when I speak to you!" he ordered. She gave a quick darting look and then turned her head away - but not before Frank Kirkham had seen real tears welling up in those big grey eyes.
He experienced a surge of excitement. He didn't want some silly young girl in his office but if he had to be landed with one - well there was clearly something to be said for one he could clearly scare the daylights out of. And what possibilities!! He glanced at his cane. Frank Kirkham had been dreaming about ever having the chance to use it and had doubted it. But this Clements girl...this timid, frightened little mouse...
Frank Kirkham did his best to produce a smile; a crocodile smile, perhaps? He stood up.
"Right, now we're clear on that I better show you what you'll be doing. It's reasonably straightforward - and I'm not such a difficult man to get on with."
Frank Kirkham could say that and somehow believe it. It wasn't him who was difficult, it was other people - and especially feather-brained young things. He showed his frightened mouse what had to be done and where things were. It was general secretarial work and there was a small - not very attractive - metal-walled office leading off his where Alison would work. As he showed her around, Alison's new boss had his sharp eyes glued to her. She had a nice shape on her in that snugly-fitting suit. A full, firm arse emphasised by her slim waist. In fact he thought that with her skirt and knickers off it would look very much like the Egyptian bloke's wife's arse, but a slightly paler shade, of course. That thought had really made something stand rigidly to attention.
* * *
Alison phoned Mark that evening. She would have phoned him as soon as she got home but she forced herself to wait until she'd had dinner. She didn't want to appear too desperate. Not that Alison felt like eating, not with the horrifying prospect of going back to that dreadful office tomorrow, and to the atrocious Mr Kirkham who simply made her freeze with fright. She asked Mark how he was getting on and he sounded quite cheerful. He had gone out for a meal and Alison wondered, with a pang of pain and misery, if he'd taken a girl. Of course she was too proud to ask.
Mark asked about her job and, doing her best to keep her voice even, Alison said it was 'quite interesting'. What else could she say? She couldn't tell him the truth, not after one day. She was determined to stand on her own. She tried not to think of Mr Kirkham's cane. The cane or a man's belt, Mr Kirkham had warned in that first stunning meeting. And she could quite imagine him doing it. That harsh grating voice ordering her to take her skirt off. And then her knickers. It was totally outrageous but oh, she could imagine it all right! What on earth would she do if he took it into his head to do that? Because she was frightened of him. He literally scared the living daylights out of her.
So she told Mark it was 'quite interesting'. What she really wanted to do was tell Mr Kirkham that she was walking out on his job. She knew he could insist on a month's notice, that was in the contract she had signed, but...perhaps she could offer to pay something to get out of it. Quite frankly she didn't even want to go back there in the morning. She didn't ever want to see that dreadful man again. Not that Mr Kirkham had done anything yet but after that first devastating blast Alison knew that, at the slightest excuse...
The two letters she had typed for Mr Kirkham she had read through about a hundred times and even then she had been afraid to take them in to him. Afraid there might be one spelling mistake she hadn't noticed. And then, that cane he had put back in the bookcase - who could tell what a man like that might do?
But telling Mr Kirkham she didn't want the job meant confronting him. Alison didn't know if she had the nerve for that.
* * *
When the alarm once more jarred her awake in the morning, Alison's automatic thought was that it was for Mark. As she had done so often in the past she out her head under the covers. Another half an hour and then...reality came flooding horrendously back. Reality? It seemed more like a nightmare. She stumbled frantically out of bed. She had to be there by nine.
She was fortunate because by tearing round, Alison got out of the house earlier and managed to catch a slightly earlier train. Perhaps all right wasn't quite the word, it was still horrible and, on the tube, there was another intimate hand groping her bottom. Which, when Alison tried to get off, took a firm and unequivocal hold on one cheek of her bottom. But compared to being late for Mr. Kirkham, that seemed like nothing.
It was 8:55 when, after a nervous knock, Alison entered the office for her second day. Frank Kirkham, of course, was already behind his desk. He gave her a brusque 'Good Morning'. She was on time, he noted with satisfaction, which meant he had put the fear of God into her. Or more accurately, the fear of his cane. In a way he was sorry she was on time because he was relishing having another go at her. She was clearly scared of him, a frightened little mouse, and a little mouse all on her own. He knew if he turned the screws on her she would just fold up and do anything he asked...
Frank Kirkham's eyes followed Alison as she went into her little room. The same tight-skirted suit as yesterday. Tight over trimly rounded buttocks. He could just make out the hemline of her knickers. Were they white like the Egyptian girl's? Quite probably. White seemed a suitable colour for a scared little mouse. Frank Kirkham shifted on his seat, easing the front of his trousers. Yes he quite regretted the fact that the little mouse was on time. But there was always tomorrow...
As Alison opened the door to her office, Mr Kirkham's voice grated out behind her.
"Glad to see you're on time, young woman. I daresay the thought of that cane made you hurry yourself."
Scarlet-faced, Alison sat down. It was true but by spelling it out like that, her dreadful boss had brought it out of the shadowy realms of possibility to become a clearly stated threat. What she should do was immediately challenge it; threaten him back, say she would report him if he tried such a thing. But Alison was too scared to say anything.
By not speaking out she knew she was tacitly accepting the horrendous possibility. Alison put her head down, fumbling in her desk. She had planned to say she wanted to leave but she was too scared even to say that. She was also scared to realise she needed her salary here. She needed to keep this job.
Somehow she got through the day, keeping in her depressing little room as much as possible, a quiet little mouse, while Mr Kirkham, in the main office, got on with the business of phoning people and seeing clients. At lunchtime he told her, "Strictly one hour, Mrs Clements." He didn't exactly say 'or else' but his hard stare seemed to say "Or else, Mrs Clements, I'll put you across my desk with your knickers down and I will very much enjoy doing it."
The afternoon was a repeat of the morning. Some typing and looking things up in catalogues. All the time Alison was in a panic that something would go wrong and then... She was still thinking about saying she wanted to leave, trying to summon up the courage. When it's time to go home, I'll say it, she told herself. I can't stand it here. I'd almost rather be destitute. And at 5 o'clock Alison had almost worked up enough nerve. But then, as she went into the main office, Mr Kirkham got in first.
"So, Mrs Clements, my new girl has never had the cane?"
It simply took the wind out of her sails - what little wind there was. She stared at him like a stuffed dummy.
"Not even at school? Never had a sensible Headmistress putting the cane across the palm of your hand? Or across that pretty bottom?"
Colouring like a beetroot, Alison shook her head. Anything she had bravely rehearsed just disappeared.
Mr Kirkham pursed his lips and stared at her. "It's never too late." he said.
Going down in the elevator, Alison told herself: He's just waiting for an opportunity. I know he is. Any excuse.
That's enough to digest for one day. I'll post the rest of the story next week, when naturally, the opportunity arises.