Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From the Top Shelf - The Baker's Dozen, Part 1

This week's From the Top Shelf was bumped from its usual day because of the Sunday Brunch recap, so here it is, a day late. This is a short story by Rachel King, about a young lady with very traditional views on discipline.


Sallie visits the tiny bakery in The Square twice a week. It's a craft bakery, run by a real enthusiast, who does most of his baking on the premises. The shop, and its neighbours, have a Dickensian feel and the old lop-sided timber-framed buildings, three storeys high, are part of a group of other genteel shops selling knitwear, designer dresses, antiquarian books and souvenirs for tourists who visit the cathedral in this tiny city. The Cathedral Green backs onto the bakery, and the medieval west front with its magnificent crumbling stonework looks down on them all.

It's a very pleasant place to shop. Undeniably English. Proper - that's how Sallie describes it in her latest novel. A rare bastion of old-fashioned values which seem to exist here in state of arrested development. Once a year the city holds a literary festival, which Sallie organises, and classical music is played on the Cathedral Green on midsummer night. In summer it becomes a little overcrowded. But in winter, the smallest city in England is silent and its population seems to go into hibernation.

That January Tuesday morning Sallie went into Mr Tuphall's as usual. She wore a black faux-mink coat, matching gloves and a small felt hat. She always dressed to look attractive, relishing the fact that for her twenty-eight years, she turned many a male head. It gave her great power to be so desired, and not to give her affections to anyone. That way there was always someone to boost her ego, but he was kept, frustratingly, at arm's length.

The shop was empty apart from Ben Tuphall. He was around fifty with a dark complexion and wore his hair in the style of a 'forties shopkeeper. In fact the shop had that feeling too. It was well known Ben and his ex-wife were obsessed by the 'forties and belonged to a retro club where they dressed up in the styles of the time and danced the jitterbug.

Ben looked up as Sallie entered. She was a pretty young thing, he thought - sometimes a little hoity-toity, but with an underlying innocence he found intriguing. He often fantasised what she would be like if she lost that self-possession for a moment - if she could be made to lose it perhaps...he had a sly and growing interest in her since his marriage had ended a year before. But Sallie was just out of reach, and although there was an obvious mutual attraction it proved harder to take it any further. The baker and the writer. He the artisan, she the artist. A little in awe of her, he was also annoyed with her flighty dismissal of his intentions. She'd lead him on but was never serious. She lived too much in her head, in her books.

Somewhere under the skin of Little Miss Intellectual there was passion, he just knew it. He just had to find the right key.

He was arranging cakes in the bay window when a group of small boys ran past and one threw a stone, breaking a small leaded light pane. Fragments of glass flew onto the window display. Ben rushed out of the shop but the boys had run away.

Sallie stood rigid in a state of shock and horror as Ben came back inside.

"Well," she said hotly, "I've never seen anything like it! I can't believe it!"

"Are you alright? No harm done?" Ben touched her arm and gave it a squeeze before walking swiftly past her back to examine the shattered window.

"I'm fine, thank you. What an awful thing to do."

Ben's face was dark. "Too much of it about these days," he said. "If I got my hands on them..." he shouted through the strip-curtain into the bakery for someone to come and clear up the mess.

Sallie, still wide-eyed, nodded her head vigorously. Why she'd...she'd...she couldn't think what she'd do, other than grab the offenders by the scruff of the neck and... But you couldn't do that anymore. The law was on the side of the offender. If you defended yourself, hurt your attacker, he'd sue you for assault. Sallie, being small, blonde with porcelain skin would merely be laughed at for such an attempt, no matter how feisty she was.

Ben sighed, and smiled at her. "Let's forget about that for a minute. What can I get you from the back of the shop? The glass didn't fly that far."

Sallie asked for a wholemeal loaf, but the act of vandalism still hung in the air and she went back to the subject as soon as he had wrapped her bread and handed it over the counter.

"I think it's all down to lack of parental discipline," she said.

Ben made a rueful face. "And don't I just agree with you!"

"When I was a child," she went on, her face pink, "parents used to smack their children - but they're not allowed to any more. I think that's crazy!"

"A very old-fashioned point of view," Ben observed, his lips twitching, "from one as young as yourself."

"I guess I'm just living in the wrong age. I'm what' s called an 'anachronism' "

Ben poked out his tongue and licked his lips. "So what would you do? Spank them?" he said casually, lingering on the words to see what effect they had on her.

"Well...someone should have." She paused, looking straight past him. "It never did me any harm." She stopped, blushed, and made a little kiss with her mouth, spreading red lipstick over her mouth. What was she doing telling him that?

"So you were spanked then?" He held her gaze.

She took a breath. "Yes, when I was naughty."

"And were you often...naughty?"

Sallie laughed and tried to turn away so that he wouldn't see her flushed face. He was teasing her. But she wouldn't let him win the point.

"I still am," she said, boldly turning back to meet his eyes with a laugh and a flirtatious flick of her blonde hair. "So all that spanking did me no good at all."

There she was again, twice the match for his teasing. Just begging for it. "Well we can't have that!" He went to the back of the shop and wrote something down on a piece of paper. "We have a little spin-off from our 'forties club," he said, handing her the paper. "Bearing in mind what we've been talking about, you might find it interesting to come along - you and your writer's mind. But if you do come, you have to promise me - no reporting. We are very discreet and intend to keep it that way."

"OK. Sounds like fun. What's the club called?"

" 'The Spanking Club'. I've written down the time and day."

Sallie paused before replying. "This is a joke, right? I've never heard of it."

"Of course you haven't. It's a private club. Invitation only. So keep it to yourself, or else," he added with a low laugh.

"Oh I will, I promise. It sounds fascinating."

She said goodbye and left the shop. A spanking club...here? The very idea! It was a joke, it had to be. Ben was always teasing her about her insistence that he write poetry for the literary festival - and he always wrote something rude just to wind her up. This was another bit of revenge. But she had always managed to keep one step ahead of him. Always the customer, she could flirt but he mustn't overstep the mark. The customer was always right. No doubt he'd think she wouldn't have the courage to turn up. She'd show him!

Thursday evening, 7:30 pm, she arrived at the back entrance to the bakery and climbed the stairs to the flat above. She could hear voices as she went up - women's voices. It's a W.I. meeting, she thought with a smirk. Baby showers and cakes. Concealed in her pocket was a tiny tape-recorder to record the event. She could write it up as a short play for the literary festival. Nobody need know.

A note on the door directed her to the top floor. She climbed the stairs and the hubbub grew louder. At the top two rooms branched off from a hall. One door was open. Clearly the adjoining walls of several properties had been dismantled to create this venue and Sallie was astonished. The room reminded her of a church hall with rows of wooden chairs in the back, then a space and a small raised platform on which was a single chair. The women, in 'forties-style dress were standing in the middle, talking animatedly, drinking tea from old-fashioned china. A young woman of about twenty-five came to Sallie, a welcoming smile on her face. She wore a tight skirt with a kick pleat, a matching jacket with flared peplum, a small cocktail hat with a long black feather. Her shoes were red suede heels and she wore seamed stockings. Very authentic, Sallie thought. Most elegant. It must be the 'forties social evening, not a Spanking Club. Trust Ben Tuphall to lead her on!

The woman introduced herself as Joanne and went to get Sallie a cup of tea from a little kitchen. Sallie followed.

"I'm the odd one out," Sallie looked down at her loose pleated skirt and blue silk blouse and cardigan. At least she was wearing high heels.

"Oh don't worry. But I hope you're wearing stockings. They are de rigeur."

Sallie nodded. She was - seamed grey ones. She hated panty-hose.

"Are there any men? Is this a women-only club?"

"Ah, wait a minute," Joanne said and tip-toed out into the hall, taking Sallie with her. At the opposite door they stopped.

"The men are in there. Can you hear them?"

Sallie listened and made out the rumble of male voices.

Joanne tapped on the door and put her finger to her lips. A moment later came the command "Enter" and Joanne opened the door and waited. "The new one has just arrived," she said.

Next week, we'll find out if Sallie enjoyed her evening at the club.

From Hermione's Heart


Anastasia Vitsky said...

Oh! What a great story. Thank you for sharing with us. I can't wait to see what happens next. I had to giggle at the part about still being naughty after all those spankings. What does that say about us all? :D

Thank you so much for putting up the Advent Calendar button! <3 You're such a sweetie.

Katie said...

Hi Hermione! :) Seems as though Sallie doesn't know what is coming her way!!! Naughty Naughty!!! LOL! Fun story! Can't wait to read the rest! Many hugs,

<3 Katie

Anonymous said...

A good start. The author does a nice job of setting this up. The hidden recorder is sure to come back and bite her in the ass.

Hermione said...

Ana - I liked the idea that spankings did nothing to improve her behaviour.

Katie - I think perhaps she suspects.

Rollin - However did you guess?


ronnie said...


What a good choice, enjoyed the start. Thanks. Look forward to the rest.

Does it mention the name of the English city?


Aimless Rambling said...

Good story, thanks for sharing, next week can't come to soon.

Minielle Labraun said...

I bet she is about to say...'ugh oh'

Hermione said...

Ronnie - No name was given for the city. It's up to the reader to guess.

Leigh - Only 6 days till the next installment.

Minelle - Quite possibly:)