The coffin glided almost silently through the closing velvet maroon curtains and Amy Etheridge's mortal remains made their last earthbound journey towards the incinerator. Inside the small Chapel of Rest at the crematorium sat just three mourners; a smartly dressed elderly gentleman who sat alone at the back and two women who had made a point of sitting geometrically as far apart as they could; on the left and right front pews.This story is rather long, so I'll save part two for next week. Sorry to leave you hanging!
Befittingly for these sombre occasions, the two ladies were dressed from head to toe in black; however their behaviour did not follow the conventions commonly observed at funerals. There were no tears being shed for the dear departed and when both had arrived at the chapel there were no exchanges of condolences or comforting embraces, not even a brief nod of acknowledgment, which was all very strange as the two women were sisters.
As soon as the curtains had closed both women shuffled along the constricting pews to the central aisle in an obvious race to be first out of the chapel. Outside, the waiting pall-bearers and crematorium staff looked on in astonishment as the sisters ran awkwardly in their high heel shoes over to their respective cars. A few seconds later the two vehicles sped off from out of the memorial car park with contemptuous disregard for the sign which requested drivers to observe a respectful speed.
Mile after mile they raced, the lead changing several times, but never were more than a few hundred yards apart. Zooming recklessly around a labyrinth of narrow rural lanes as though they were competing in a stage of the British Rally Championship. Finally, both cars came to a screeching halt in the front drive of an isolated country house. The doors of the two cars flew open and the women jostled and pushed each other in their frantic attempts to be first to enter the house.
"I did it!! I'm first!" announced a breathless Jane Etheridge to a rather startled looking woman who was sitting at the head of an old oak table, "I win the lot, don't I?"
"She cheated! She pushed me over, the bloody cow!" Gillian Etheridge, Jane's younger sister howled indignantly, as she lurched in an ungainly fashion into the room.
"Oh shut your face, you whining bitch, don't you know all's fair in love, war and inheriting money!" Jane triumphantly crowed at her ruffled sibling.
"Ladies, PLEASE! I don't know why you would assume that whoever arrived here first would be entitled to all your aunt's worldly goods," said the woman at the table, trying to restore some semblance of calm and sobriety to the proceedings.
"And just who might YOU be?" asked Jane, suddenly suspicious that the mysterious interloper in the fashionable but businesslike attire, might be another claimant of her aunt's will.
"I'm Lucy Hooper, a local solicitor. Your aunt appointed my firm to make sure that her dying wishes were carried out to the letter."
"The letter!" Jane remembered just why she and Gillian had raced each other to the house. "I received a letter from my aunt that she had written on her death bed, explaining that she couldn't make up her mind to whom she would bequeath the house. The letter said Gillian and I would have to compete in some simple test on the day of the funeral, the winner taking everything. So we guessed it would be the first of us to arrive for the reading of the will. So do I get the lot?"
"No, I'm afraid not. That isn't the sort of test your aunt had in mind. But I think it's best that she explains," answered Miss Hooper, amused by the looks of bewilderment on the faces of Gillian and Jane. "Your aunt made a video-will." Miss Hooper then took a video-cassette from her executive briefcase, crossed over to the far corner of the room and inserted it into the VCR. The television screen went a lime-green colour for a few seconds and then some wording appeared.
"This is the last will and testament of Amy Elizabeth Etheridge" the block typeface proclaimed. Some more irritating buzzing sounds accompanied the flickering of the title page and suddenly there she was - Aunt Amy! Sitting in her favourite armchair and exuding a relaxed confident air in the manner of a presenter who about to introduce yet another cooking or gardening programme.
"Ewwwww, isn't this creepy! To think we've just been to her funeral," commented Gillian, wringing her hands in a gesture of distaste at the sight of her now-dead aunt.
"Sshhh! She is going to tell us who gets the house," snapped Jane who was staring, wide-eyed, at the television and desperately hoping she was to be the lucky one.
"Well, girls, today must be the first time that you have seen or spoken to each other for almost a decade," Aunt Amy began her much awaited audio-visual recital, seemingly talking to them from beyond the grave. "Let me see, what was the last occasion on which you spoke to - or should I say 'screamed at' - one another? Was it the time when Gillian found Jane in bed with her own fiance - or maybe it was the time Gillian went on a spending spree with Jane's credit cards?
"My memory fails me now but there were so many times when you were at each others throats over some act of jealousy or spite. Even as small girls you were always fighting over something trivial, and of course your indulgent parents never corrected you, as they should have, for your dreadful behaviour. It is little wonder that you have both turned into such thoroughly despicable adults. But, as they say, "blood is thicker than water" and as all my other relatives are dead, it's Hobson's choice , I'm afraid to say. In my letters to you both I informed you that I shall leave the house to just one niece - the winner of my little head-to-head contest. After all you did both visit me, spasmodically, over the last ten years.
"Unfortunately these visits always seemed to coincide with the disappearance of some of my jewellery or small china ornaments - which I suppose you didn't think I would miss. Not to mention the sizeable loans that I made to you both, which of course, were never repaid. The truth is,I despise you both, in equal measures, therefore, to amuse myself in these, my last few days, I have devised a fiendish little contest which I trust you will both participate in. The winner will inherit the building only, all the furnishings and knick-knacks , or at least those you haven't already pilfered, are being collected by a charity and this TV set and video are rented.
"The house was purchased by my great-grandfather - your great-great grandfather - nearly one hundred years ago. I have lived here all my life so my main concern is that I leave it to the right girl, the one who wants it most. The one who can prove that she is mentally and physically the stronger."
Aunt Amy paused and, savouring the moment, she smiled to herself; reaching over she picked up something from the table beside her.
"The aim of my contest is quite simple. The winner will be adjudged as the woman who can take the most swats on her rear end with this."
Amy held up and offered to the camera lens the object she had just picked up.
"It's a leather paddle or, as it's sometimes known, a 'spanking bat'. I have chosen this implement as opposed to a traditional swishy cane because, experts tell me, due to surface air resistance it is impossible to apply it too vigorously and, knowing how much you both hate each other, I don't want to be held posthumously responsible for inciting grievous bodily harm. However, the punitive effect of the paddle is a cumulative one which relies on a reasonable number of whacks to be given before it becomes too excruciating to endure any longer.
"Now listen carefully. The rules are these:
1. The paddle will be applied in rotation - six smacks given, then six smacks received. This will continue until one of you girls decides she has had enough, and at this point she must shout 'I submit'. Then, if necessary, it will be incumbent on the other sister to surpass that final total to be victorious.
2. The paddle will be applied to the bare bottom so there are no arguments about thickness of knickers and the like.
3. There cannot be a draw, should this happen or if you both decide you do not wish to take part in such a contest, Miss Hooper has alternative instructions regarding the disposal of the property.
"There is, of course, one obvious way in which you can both benefit without having to go through with my rather sadistic game. You could - for the first time in your lives - agree to trust one another. One of you could take a token whack and be proclaimed the winner, then she could promise to share equally any future profit accruing from the house with the losing sister. If Miss Hooper would kindly pause the video, you might like to discuss this option."
Lucy Hooper pressed the correct button on the remote control and Amy's image was frozen eerily onto the screen. "Well," she said, "your aunt has given you an ideal way to reconcile your differences and, at the same time, become like real sisters again. All it needs is a little trust on both sides and we can avoid going any further with this vicious charade which your Aunt has thought up, presumably as some kind of malevolent joke." Lucy implored the two sisters, who were suspiciously contemplating each other. A long period of tense silence ensued as both women awaited a conciliatory gesture from the other. Finally Gillian's patience snapped.
"You must be joking! I wouldn't trust Jane with a second-class stamp, the cheating cow!" she blurted, clearly deaf to Lucy Hooper's appeal for sanity and logic.
"And that goes for me too!" Jane responded, with equal venom to her sister's insult, "Anyway this house must be worth at least two hundred grand, so why should I share it with her when I can win this contest with ease. I can remember when we were girls, I only had to pull her hair for a few seconds and she was bawling the place down. Gillian has got a very low pain threshold. I reckon it will only take a maximum of three smacks on her bare arse with that paddle and she'll be begging for me to stop."
"You realise that you have to take one more blow than your sister to win, don't you?" interjected Lucy, making sure that the rules of the contest had been fully understood.
"Yes, of course I do! But I think I could stand four of the best from the Heavyweight Champion of the World if I was getting 50 grand a whack," retorted Jane, brimming with self-confidence.
"Pah! Being two years old than me as children, you were always bigger and stronger, therefore you could make me cry, but now we are both adults in our early thirties we will be on equal terms at last and, believe me, I am looking forward to making you suffer for all those years of pain you caused me," Gillian aggressively warned her sister.
"Well I think you must both be mad but it is clear that you wish to proceed with this foolishness," Lucy commented disdainfully, as she released the pause button and Aunt Amy came back to life, albeit only on the TV screen. There were a few seconds of the old lady staring vacantly into the camera and then she smiled and concluded her performance.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to agree," she cackled, "so Miss Hooper, please take the girls into the front parlour and oversee what I fervently hope is going to be a long, painful and drawn-out battle. At long last you will both be getting the spankings you should have had twenty years ago!"
With this last, final statement, Aunt Amy's image faded and disappeared, leaving the screen a mass of black and white meandering horizontal lines. Lucy switched the set off, opened the living-room door and invite the two women to join her in the next room. "Well, ladies, shall we retire to the front room where everything is set-up and waiting for you both?"
The three women trouped down the hallway and then into the large front room. On entering the two sisters were surprised to find that all the furnishings had already been removed by the charity referred to. Everything was gone except for Aunt Amy's favourite armchair which had been placed in the middle of the room. In the chair sat a serious-looking young lady holding in her hands the aforementioned paddle. "Oh, you're not going ahead with this ridiculous mediaeval trial-by-ordeal, are you?" she asked.
"This is Annette, she will be the second witness which is legally required," Lucy introduced her office assistant to Gillian and Jane. "Yes, Annette, I'm afraid that the two ladies could not come to an agreement, so, against my advice, they are going to do battle with each other to decide the inheritance."
"Gosh! This bat thingy looks like it will cause an awfully nasty sting, especially on a bare bottom," said Annette, then, unable to contain a smile from forming at the thought of the sights she would be required to witness, quickly looked away from the two sisters.
"Right, we must toss a coin to decide who goes first," Lucy interjected as she balanced a fifty-pence piece on her crooked forefinger, ready to spin. "Miss Etheridge...er...I mean, Jane, would you please call."
"Heads!" called Jane as she watched the silver coin rotate through the air and land, making a clinking sound on the bare wooden floorboards.
"Heads it is, I'll...er...I'll..." Jane wandered down to the window end of the room, pondering her tactics like an England cricket captain examining the state of the wicket before deciding whether to bat first or put the opposition in. "I'll spank Gillian first," Jane eventually decided, "so get those pants down and bend over the back of that chair."
The moment of truth had arrived for both women. Gillian fumbled with her belt and then unhooked the clasp of her black trousers allowing them to slide down her legs. She then pushed her panties down in the same direction and carefully leant over the padded top of the armchair. Jane took up a position at the far wall, some twelve feet away from her intended target.
7 hours ago