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She does not enjoy the discipline of the rod, nor does he – or so he believes, though what would it matter if he did? Rather, they are both dedicated to the fundamental proposition (she winces at the painful but unintended pun, while peering over her shoulder at herself in the wardrobe mirror, tracing the weals with her fingertips) that her daily tasks, however trivial, are perfectible, her punishments serving her as a road, loosely speaking, to bring her daily to nearer God, at least in terms of the manuals. Tenderly, she lifts her drawers up over her blistered sit-me-down, smoothes down her black alpaca dress and white lace apron, wipes the tears from her eyes, and turns once more to the unmade bed. Outside, the bees are humming in the noonday sun remind her of all the time she has lost. At least, she consoles herself, the worst is past. But the master is pacing the room impatiently and she fears his restlessness will confuse her again. “Why don’t you go for a stroll in the garden, sir? she suggests deferentially. “You may speak only when spoken to!” he reminds her, jabbing a finger at her sharply. “I – I’m so sorry, sir!” “You must be careful not only to do your work quietly, but to keep out of sight as much as possible, and never begin to speak to your master unless-?” “Unless it be to deliver a message, sir, or to ask a necessary question!” “And then to do it in as few words as possible,” he adds, getting down his riding whip. “Am I being unfair?” “But sir! you’ve already -!” “What? What-?! Answering back to a reproof-?” “But-!” “Enough!” he rages, seizing her by the arm and dragging her over to the bed. “Please-!” But he pulls her down over his left knee, pushes her head down on the stripped mattress, locking her legs in place with his right leg, clamps her right wrist in the small of her back, throws her skirts back and jerks her drawers down. “Oh, sir-!” she pleads, what is now her highest part still radiant and throbbing from her previous lesson. “SILENCE!” he roars, lifting the whip high above his head, a curious strained expression on his face. She can hear the ship sing as he brings it down, her cheeks pinch together involuntarily, her heart leaps – he’ll draw blood!


Where does she come from? Where does she go? He doesn’t know. All he knows is that every day she comes here, dressed in her uniform and paraphernalia with her, which she sets down by the door; then she crosses the room, opens the curtains and garden doors, makes his bed soft and easy, first airing the bedding, turning the mattress, and changing the linens, scrubs and waxes the tiled floor, cleans the bathroom, polishes the furniture and all the mirrors, replenishes supplies, and somewhere along the way commits some fundamental blunder, obliging him to administer the proper correction. Every day the same. Why does he persist? It’s not so much that he shares her appetite for hope, (though sometimes, late in the day, he does) but that he could not do otherwise should he wish. To live in the full sense of the word, he knows, is not merely to exist, but to give oneself to some mission, surrender to a higher purpose, but in truth he often wonders, watching the broad past destined by Mother Nature for such solemnities quiver and redden under his hand (he thinks of it as a blank ledger to which to write), whether it is he who havs given to a higher end, or the end which has chosen and in effect captured him?

-Robert Coover, Spanking the Maid


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