Other parents think Bob and Betty are strange.
James is two now, and breastfed. He sleeps with Betty and Bob and takes Betty’s nipple like a champ. He opens the refrigerator door and pours the milk on the floor. He hugs the dog’s neck too hard. Bolts into traffic. Runs with scissors. James bashes Bob’s ear with an empty cardboard paper towel roll as Bob tries to relax on the couch with his cop shows at the end of the day—Pshoo! Pshoo!—and James swipes Betty’s cornea when he swings back for another attack.
Bob says, “We have to do something,” and Betty feels blamed because she’s the one home during the day.
“We are,” says Betty. “Positive Discipline.” This is the book they bought. Along with Attachment Parenting. Back before James was born but already between them in the bed, in utero.
“The point is,” Betty said then, with the reading light attached to the large book and her back propped with a pile of pillows, “It counts what the baby wants, what the baby needs. Because babies are people too.”
Bob is worried how things will get worse, how James needs to understand no. And James, stealthy and silent, comes up behind Bob with a lead pipe from the basement as the D.A. on the TV makes his closing arguments. Betty strong-arms
their willful toddler before he can say Pshoo.
“That’s it,” says Bob, up from the sofa.
“No!” yells Betty, who talks him down. “If you don’t want James hitting you, you can’t go hitting him.”
That night, with James asleep between Bob and Betty, Bob whispers, “Betty? We have to talk.”
Betty wants to sleep. “What is it, Bob?”
“Just come on,” he says, and they go upstairs to the guest room, Bob leading a sleepy Betty by the hand.
They get there, and Bob takes off his pajama bottoms.
“Not now—” says Betty, who sits on the edge of the bed and yawns.
“No,” says Bob. “It’s not what you think. I want you to spank me.”
“It is what I think.”
“C’mon, Betty. Have a good swing.”
“I’ve never spanked anyone,” says Betty.
“I know,” says Bob. “So make it count. Don’t you imagine—?”
“Hitting James? No, no.”
“Then why were you able to fill in the blank?”
“We’re not spanking James, okay?”
“Fine. Spank me.”
Betty wants to go back to sleep. “Fine,” she says, and she gives Bob a weak wallop on his bare buttocks, which he’s stuck in her face for convenience.
“Okay,” says Bob, still bent over. “Okay, Betty. Not bad. How’d it feel?”
“So do it again.”
She spanks him once more, this time harder.
“Nice job,” says Bob.
Betty asks, “What’s the point of all this?”
“Imagine I’m James. You can do this.”
“Bob!” yells Betty.
“Please?” says Bob.
He looks pitiful. Bob has craned his neck around, his face in line with his butt cheeks. His eyes earnest and desperate. He could burst any day, just haul off and ruin their clean record with James. She sees fear in him too, and she doesn’t blame
him, because, no, they can’t hide all the lead pipes and knives and ratchets forever. And, yes, something has to give. James would get bigger, and perhaps grow deviant. It was unspeakable but they both wanted the spanking tool in their arsenal. So Betty imagines, and she spanks Bob so hard her hand aches. “Jesus!” she says, and her strength surprises her.
“Wow,” says Bob. “Now, really, that didn’t hurt me much at all. I think James could handle it. Could you?”
“No—” says Betty, and that’s her last try of the night.
Bob calls Betty from work the next day and says he wants to see her in the guest room when junior falls asleep. Betty gets a thrill out of it, but doesn’t let on.
“You’re not right in the head,” she tells him. She laughs. Says, “It’s fish sticks for dinner.”
“Like hell,” says Bob. “I’m taking us out.”
Betty’s heart lifts. She loves this new side of her husband. But James chases the cat with the fire extinguisher, and her tone contradicts her true feelings as she’s short with Bob and she gets off the phone.
They decide on sushi, and James comes home from the Bonzai Dragon with a red balloon. No sooner are they in the door than the boy finds the sharpest thing to pop it. “Time for bed, looks like,” says Bob, and he motions to Betty, who is a little drunk on sake.
She lets James breastfeed in the bed, because she never was a big believer in pump-and-dump, not that she ever had much occasion to think about it. He nods off, clamping Betty’s nipple between his two neat rows of teeth. “Fuck!” whispers Betty. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” She pries herself free without waking the boy, and she climbs the stairs, curious if Bob meant what he said.
She hops in the guest room, removing her pantyhose as she grabs the door handle, and is more than a little disappointed to find the room empty and the lights off. Earlier in the day, after the phone call, she had washed the sheets and pulled them tight across the bed. James had fought her, undoing the corners, pulling the pillows out of their cases, as if he knew.
“A-HA!” yells Bob, who jumps out of the closet naked, startling the wits out of Betty, who is still trying to make it out of her clothes in the dark. She falls onto the bed, and he pounces on her. “You were looking forward to this!”
“How about I get to spank you this time, huh?”
Betty thinks about it. Betty had never been bad, not even as a kid, and she wonders what it might feel like to have a big strong hand strike her bottom. “Fine,” says Betty. “Knock yourself out.”
Betty has a spankable butt, no doubt. When she stands, Bob can barely tell where her cheeks end and her legs begin, everything is so taut. It was a shame, almost, to cover her bottom with cotton panties, dresses, shorts, hose, skirts. Bob
wanted her bent over, always, and smiling at him, just as she is now.
Bob is afraid his palm might crush her—Betty is small, extra-small when buying blouses—and he feels, for a moment, ashamed that he could exercise so much power over her, that she would allow him. But she welcomes it, asks for it in
the way she looks at him, with a corner of her thin mouth curled upward into a shallow dimple.
Betty is still buzzed. “Do it, Bob,” she says. “Do it to me.” Her hair has gone limp with sweat. Betty is ready.
Bob’s eyes have grown wild. He raises a hand, and he imagines if this is the same high James gets when he aims something heavy at his father’s head. He thinks for a second, That’s messed up, James, but God, here’s Betty, and she’s wanting him to spank her, and he has business to take care of. His hand catapults itself onto Betty’s flesh. The bones of her rear dent the soft tissue on the side of his hand.
Betty squeals. She is ecstatic. “Again!” she says, and Bob goes for it. “Harder!” she yells, and Bob’s hand goes faster than Betty can ask for it. Her back arches, and she gasps. “Oh, God, Bob. Oh, God!” And Bob knows what that means.
Betty leans back on her elbows breathing hard, gathering her energy, and shoots up from the bed. She sees Bob is hungry. She fishes through her pile of dress and stockings and produces a thin belt that is more of a chain, a chain that is just perfect, and she unthreads it from her dress and swings it for Bob to see.
“Ha!” says Bob. “Yes!”
When Betty is done with him, the sheets around Bob’s waist are sticky and caked together, and his mouth drools, and his eyes roll back. Betty thinks, quite accurately, that she can hear his heart pound, and she watches the patch of curly chest hair as if his heart might leap out at her, or stop altogether.
They are both silent. They are tired, and Betty moves her ear to Bob’s chest, his contented heart slowing. She could fall asleep here, and it would feel so good after years of James in the bed between them. Face to chest, just like this, and Bob stroking Betty’s back in a rhythmic flourish.
And they nearly do fall asleep—they do—except that the thought of James keeps some of their cells alert and twitching. Bob faces the door and sees the glint of something long and metal, raised high and teetering through the open door that Bob knew Betty shut behind her. Bob wonders how long it’s been open. He sees the pipe coming at them, and the blood swells in his thighs. Bob sees a shadow of James and he instinctively presses Betty’s spongy breasts into his hips, squeezing her close and smothering her for protection.