A Hard Learned Truth

by Sewell


As she summons her step-brother, Nicola Levin is lying stretched out comfortably on her bed, reading, her feet crossed at the ankles. Stewart of course knows better than to yell back across the house at his younger sister, and Nicola allows herself a lazy smile, as she listens to him scampering up the stairs before quickly appearing before her, out of breath and standing at attention at the foot of her bed.

“Yes, ma’am?”

Nicola turns her attention back to her book, not bothering to look up. Though unspoken, her command is clear,

You just stand there and wait.

Fifteen year-old Stewart can feel the twin tears as they fall, bisecting his crimson cheeks, as he silently stands, smelling her cocoa butter lotion. He must remain perfectly still (don’t FIDGET! he reminds himself) until the thirteen year old is ready to deliver his marching orders. He has become quite accustomed over the preceding two months to his younger sister telling him what to do, as well as where, when, and how to do it. Never why, though. There is no need for Nicola ever to tell him ‘why,’ for he well knows her answer to THAT question, can in fact hear her voice repeating it to him endlessly, in his own interior loop:

Because I SAID so, Stewart.

He looks at her tanned, lightly freckled face as she calmly reads, and as is so often the case lately, feels his chest tightening with awe.

She is only thirteen, and already a GROWN-UP. Stewart thinks in wonder. His own adulthood seems so far off into the future as to be meaningless.

Some part of him recognizes this for what it is: a defense mechanism. It is easier for him to believe in his younger sister’s moral superiority than it is for him to accept the fact that, using nothing more than her own cunning, she has engaged successfully in a systematic campaign to strip him every bit of “older brother” authority, and to take away from him every last vestige of adult privilege.

His fear of displeasing her though is so huge that usually there is simply no time for such thoughts. There is room enough in his brain now only to worry about one thing: obeying Nicola. So he waits, slavishly eager for her to speak. And allows himself to think, very briefly, of a time only a few months earlier, which seems to him now like part of some other boy’s life.

This is going to be the BEST year ever, Stewart Randall thinks to himself.

It has only been three days since he turned fifteen years old, and Stewart is lying in bed, feeling like the king of the world. As soon I can get these LADIES out of the house, he thinks to himself. I can meet up with Steve and Clay, and our “day of wilding” can OFFICIALLY begin!

His stepsister Nicola passes by his door, fully dressed and ready for school in her crisp white blouse and gray uniform skirt. Why, is that a look of JEALOUSY he can detect on her face?! Stewart gives his younger sister his best shit-eating grin, smiling around the thermometer clenched between his teeth.

I get to stay home from school today! He silently teases her. I get to stay home from schoo-oool! And YOU don’t even have any IDEA what ELSE I’m going to be getting up to!

Suddenly, though, Nicola is turning, and with a look of fierce concentration on her face, heading straight for him! Before Stewart can murmur even the weakest of protests, the thirteen year-old girl pops the thermometer out from between his lips and brings it smashing down on his bedside table. Even as she tosses the broken end back on the shocked boy’s chest, she is already calling out:

“Mooom! Can you please come in here? Stewart was holding the thermometer up to the LAMP, and it broke!”

“WHAT? No, I WASN’T!” Stewart cries, a familiar whiny tone already settling into his quivering voice. Miriam Randall, Stewart’s tall, auburn-haired mother, rushes into the room, still dressed only her silk nightgown. To Stewart, his mom’s eyes seem enormous.

He points at Nik and helplessly sputters: “SHE broke it!”

“Stewart was holding the thermometer up to the lap,” Nicola repeats serenely to her stepmother. “And it broke.”

Stewart turns and tries to stare indignantly into his sister’s face. Instead he can read within her impassive dark eyes the long history of his own humiliating defeats at her hands.

He turns back to his mother, tears now welling up in his eyes.

Mooomm! My light wasn’t even ON!” he wails. And then, instantly wishes he could call back these panicked words from his lips.

“Yes, Stewart!” Nicola shoots back. “Because you turned it off when you broke the thermometer.

Miriam eyes her son warily.

“Well that is easy enough for me to check, isn’t it?” She says calmly, as her eyes lock with Stewart’s. She circles over to his side of the bed. “Let’s see, shall we?” She leans over him, her nightgown shimmering, as she reaches up her hand to touch the bulb.

“OW!” Miriam pulls her hand back quickly. “God DAMN it!”

She stares down at him furiously. Then reaches down and begins drawing back his bedspread.

SIT UP,” she orders her son.

The fifteen year old is now openly crying.

“I mean I had it on, but I had turned it off, like twenty minutes ago.”

Which was true. Stewart had turned the lamp off, right after he had held up the thermometer to the bulb, more like thirty minutes earlier, actually. Unfortunately for him, he had gotten it a little too hot—it had read 103 degrees, and his very worried Mom had announced she wanted to re-check his temp, now that she had given him a couple of aspirin. So Stewart had held the thermometer up again, though having learned his lesson, this time for not quite so long. He had snapped the light off, with satisfaction at a job well done, only moments earlier.

“Nik, there is another thermometer in my bathroom. Would you go get it for me please?”

Nicola flashes him the briefest of smiles, as she turns to his mother and responds, just a little bit too brightly, “Sure thing!”

Miriam holds up a warning hand to her son, letting him know that he is not to speak. She brings that same hand up to the boy’s forehead, staring intently into his eyes until he has to look away.

When Nicola returns, his younger sibling is holding in her fist what is clearly a thermometer meant for infants. Atop the non-business end of the digital reader is a plastic duck’s head, which grins out at Stewart cheerfully. Miriam had purchased it only weeks before, for use on those occasions when Simone, her 9 month-old niece, stayed with them overnight.

“I looked everywhere,” Nik says innocently, blowing upwards to shoo away her dark hair from her eyes. “But this was the only thermometer in there.”

Which was technically true. When she had overheard her older brother on the phone the night before discussing his plans for today, Nicola had carefully taken the spare adult thermometer out of her stepmom’s medicine cabinet, and had secreted it away within the safety of her own bedroom, where it now rested, at the bottom of her jewelry box.

“Never mind, Nik. I think a baby thermometer will do just fine.”

“Uh uh! NOO way!” Stewart squeals in protest. “It’s in the bathroom downstairs! I know it is! I remember seeing it!”

“Fine, I’ll look,” Miriam sighs. She points her finger at her son, not quite jabbing it into his chest, “But I will be right back, mister.”

As soon as she and Stewart are alone, Nicola turns and smiles brightly at her brother. The boy quickly averts his eyes, as if he has been caught looking directly into the sun. He keeps his face trained down into the corner of his bedroom, crying softly. The two youngsters listen, each one thinking very different thoughts, as Miriam pulls open doors and drawers, shuffling items around, for several minutes.

Finally, they can hear the creak of each of Miriam Randall’s footsteps, as she rises up the stairs.

“Your sister was one hundred percent correct,” She says coolly, when she strides back in to Stewart’s room. A plastic shopping bag is tucked into the crook of her arm, and she is carrying a box of latex gloves and a small jar of Vaseline. “Which means we are just going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.”

She sets the items down, then claps her hands, sharply rebuking her son’s loud staccato sobbing. “Roll over on your tummy, young man!”

Nooo!” Stewart whines. But when he sees the dark storm cloud that crosses his mother’s face, he immediately begins turning over. There is at least some comfort for him in being able to shield himself, albeit only temporarily, from the smirk on his younger sister’s face.

“Take your pajama bottoms down.”

Lying face down on the bed, he lets out a long, shaky sigh, then sucks in a huge intake of air—the moment of calm, before the breaking of the storm.

“NO-HOOO!” he screams. He begins kicking his feet rapidly up and down against his bed. “Waaah hah!! It’s not FAIIIRRR!!”

Nicola can see that those two little telltale points at her stepmother’s temples are pulsing rhythmically.

Miriam leans over, so that she is speaking directly into her thrashing son’s ear.

“You do NOT want to push me, child! Get your pjs down THIS second.” She pokes his shoulder with her index finger. “And if I find out that you have been LYING to me, Stewart, you had better BELIEVE your naked little bottom will have a LOT more to worry about, than just having me take your temperature!”

“WAAH HAAH!” Stewart responds.

Up until that very moment, in fact, giving her son a spanking had been the furthest thing from Miriam Randall’s mind. Though she had been sorely tempted many times, it had been nearly a full year since she had used corporal punishment with the boy. And, while certainly immature, he was now FIFTEEN years old!

Maybe it is just the fact that Nicola happens to be in here with her to witness this pathetic display. But seeing her teenaged son scream and kick in what could only accurately be described as a child throwing a temper tantrum, Miriam finds herself infuriated, not only by her son’s actions, but by the contrast they make with those of the beautiful young woman standing next to her. Nicola is two years younger! She thinks to herself incredulously. Never in all the years since she had entered their lives—back when she was nine!—had her stepdaughter behaved in such a fashion. Not even close.

Miriam Randall makes a snap decision. Whether lying or not, Stewart will NOT be pulling his pants back up this morning until she has given him, at the very minimum, SEVERAL good smacks to his bared backside.

But first things first:

“Pull. Your pants. DOWN!” she orders the hysterical boy

As if his mother was a puppeteer expertly pulling on his strings, Stewart’s trembling and somehow dainty little hands reach behind him, and tug down his canary-yellow pajama bottoms, even as he moans impotently into his pillow,

The now bare-bottomed teen wails: “Make her lea-heave, Mom, PLE-HE-HEEEASE


Miriam unscrews the jar of Vaseline. She sets it down open on Stewart’s bedside table, while she snaps on a pair of latex gloves. Like a no-nonsense nurse attending to a fussy toddler, she spreads the weeping child’s buttocks with one hand, then reaches back with her other and scoops out a generous dollop of Vaseline. She smears the gooey mess in and around the boy’s rectum, causing him to squeal sharply. The latex gloves are then peeled off and deposited carefully into the shopping bag. Miriam plants one hand firmly on her son’s lower back, ignoring his sobs and groans as she facilitates the glass rod’s gentle but insistent intrusion into his bottom. Stewart cries and kicks his feet, until Miriam silences him with a sharp slap on the side of his naked fanny. “HUSH!” she commands the child again.

With one hand, Miriam holds the thermometer in place; the other planted firmly on her miserable son’s bare hip. The grandfather clock in the parlor downstairs ticks away the seconds.

Finally, Miriam pulls the baby thermometer out and shakes it.

When her eyes rise to meet Nicola’s, it is apparent to both women that some seismic shift has taken place. For the silent exchange that now passes between the two little resembles one between a stepmother and her stepdaughter. This, rather, is a look of acknowledgement and respect, conferred by one adult upon another.

“Ninety eight point five,” Miriam announces coolly. “Not that I doubted you for one second, Nicola.”

“You know, I think I AM starting to feel a little bit better,” Stewart says to no one in particular, as he reaches down nonchalantly and begins to inch his pajama bottoms back up.

“You leave those RIGHT WHERE THEY ARE!” Miriam brings a whistling slap down on her son’s naked rear-end, eliciting a shriek that, but for its slightly lower register, could easily have originated from the lungs of a five year-old girl.


While Stewart splays out his hands behind him to shield his bottom, Miriam quickly seats herself on the bed and pulls the squalling child up and over her lap. She delivers several hard smacks to the teen’s hands, and he quickly abandons this doomed defense of his rear-end, tucking his stinging hands underneath his tummy in wounded retreat. As if annoyed to have even the slightest of impediments to her target, Miriam pushes the boy’s pajama bottoms all the way down, until they bunch up around his feet.

“No! No-hooooo!” The bare-bottomed, suddenly not-feeling-very-old-at-ALL teenager screams.

While bracing against her son’s shoulder with her left hand, Miriam raises up her right, then brings it whistling down, marking the official end, for young mister Stewart, of her ill-advised moratorium on good, old-fashioned, pants-pulled-down, SPANKINGS:

“You! Do NOT! Say! NO! To me! Yong man! Do! You! Understand! ME?!”

“OW! Ow! I’m sorrrry! Pleeeease! I’m sorry!” Stewart’s plump posterior ripples at each violent collision with his mom’s hand, his body contorting helplessly over her knee as he tries to avoid the sting. “Ple-heeeasse! Stoooooop!!”

But Miriam is nowhere close to stopping. Indeed, her hand only falls harder and faster.

“You! Are GOING! To be SORRY! STEWART! I! Am going to make! Sure! Of THAT!”

Nicola stands with hands on hips and watches, fascinated, while her pants-down teenaged brother kicks and cries, turned over his mother’s knee like the most helpless of pre-schoolers. The house echoes with those familiar sounds she has missed so dearly, and vows now she will never again forego for so long: Stewart, reduced to his proper place, finally truly contrite, sobbing uncontrollably, what words he manages to gasp out merely to beg for Miriam’s forgiveness, as well as her own. And then there is that other unmistakable, delicious sound! Miriam’s experienced hand, repeatedly, and with great force, whistling down to strike naked flesh—her older brother’s defenseless bare bottom.

“Ow! Ow HOWWW! Pleeease STOP! Waaaaaaaaaaaahh! Mom, I’m sorrrry! OWWW! OWHOWHOWW! Anh! Anh! Pleeeeeeease! WAAAAAAAHHH! WAAANH HAANH!

Miriam seems determined though to make up for lost time, and little Stewart’s spanking goes on and on and on.

“Are you? SMACK! SORRY? SMACK! For calling your sister? SMACK! A LIAR?!

“Yes!” The hysterical boy eagerly agrees. “I’m sorry, Nik! I’m sorry I called you.... UUNH! A liar! PLEEEEASE! I’ll never do it AGAAAIIN!!”

Stewart wiggles his reddened bare bottom back and forth rapidly, as if offering it up to his younger step-sibling as proof of his repentance.

For Miriam though, her son’s swishing derriere is like a red cape to a bull, and she responds with the blur of her hand:


“I am never! EVER! Going to trust you again, young man!”


A car horn blasts twice from the curb outside.

“Dammit.” Miriam breathes. She snakes her arm down around the boy’s waist, lifting his entire lower body up, so that his bared middle section is now suspended a few inches above her lap. Nik watches almost in awe as a hail of the most determined hand spanks yet are delivered to her squalling brother’s naked fanny.

“We! Are not DONE! Here! Do you! Understand me! MISTER!?”


Miriam is taking hard, even breaths, like a well-trained fighter in the later rounds.

“Nicola, will you please go down and explain to Mrs. McGuirk, and the rest of the carpool, EXACTLY what has gone on in this house this morning? Please apologize to her on my behalf, and let her know that I will be taking you both into school this morning.”

She turns to the crimson-bottomed boy draped over her lap, sobbing and softly waving his feet. “Which means! Stewart! I am! GOING to be LATE! For my MEETING!”

The spanking is showing no signs of slowing. As Nicola casually makes her way downstairs to convey Miriam’s message, she can hear it continuing unabated over her shoulder:

“BAD BOY! The next time you lie to me, Stewart! I am going to spank your! NAKED little BOTTOM! Until you cannot sit down! For! A! MONTH!!”




Indeed, it is another twenty minutes or so before the trio—Miriam and Nicola, both now chatty and smiling, as well as the still sniffling and pouty Stewart, are finally able to set out in Miriam’s Crown Victoria. They make a brief stop at CVS, where the tearful young man leaps from the sedan’s back door and sprints into the store. He tugs at the sleeve of a young redheaded pharmacist, who is startled to say the very least at being accosted at this early hour by a crying teenaged boy. She nonetheless is able to direct Stewart to the appropriate shelf. The boy hurries to the counter with two plastic-wrapped packages, takes out the money that had been removed earlier from his piggy bank, and pays.

One half of that purchase is carefully tucked into Stewart’s backpack, where it joins a letter addressed to St. Josephine’s head school nurse Mary Deacon:

Dear Mary:

Stewart has sadly proven to me that he cannot be trusted with an adult thermometer (some children unfortunately insist on maturing only at their own speed). For this reason, whenever it is necessary this school year for you to take Stewart’s temperature, would you please have him take his bottoms down, and use the rectal thermometer that I have enclosed for that purpose? Would you also please sign this note and have Stewart return it to me, so that I know that he has obediently made my wishes in this matter known to you?

Miriam Randall

This note, which of course was indeed returned to Miriam that afternoon with the proper signature obtained, marked but the first of many changes for Stewart. If a poll were to be taken of Miriam Randall’s friends and employees, she would be almost unanimously be described as a fair woman, but also one who, once her trust had been broken, rarely, if ever, conferred it again.

The second rectal thermometer Stewart bought that morning was reserved for his exclusive home use. Never again in all the years that he remained living under his mother’s roof was he allowed the use of an adult thermometer. Spankings once again became a very familiar part of the boy’s life, certainly, but Miriam often found she didn’t even need to invoke the dreaded punishment. Merely asking a fussy Stewart if he felt feverish was often enough to button his pouting lip quite nicely.

Nor was the boy spared the indignity his behavior had earned him when the family visited pediatrician Helen Nichols’s office. Miriam always found herself having to stifle a smile (though none of this of course was even remotely funny) at just how beet-red Stewart would turn, whenever Bobbi, Dr. Nichol’s nurse with the close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, would enter the examining room. This old pro clearly understood the message Miriam was trying to deliver, and while the RN’s aggravation with the child was undisguised, she still managed to sound like a rooster crowing when she announced, “All right, mister man, your mom has told me ALL about YOUR shenanigans [Usually at this point, knowing where the nurse’s speech was headed, Stewart would begin sobbing softly]. So while I have your younger sister in the other room, using the big girl thermometer, we’re going to get these underpants of yours pulled right down. Do you know why, young man? Because with the little boy thermometer, I need to be able to get it nice and snug, poking right out of your bare little fanny! How does that sound to you, young man? Boo hoo hoo is right! Does it maybe seem now like playing games with mom’s thermometer at home wasn’t such a hot idea after all? Hmmm? What do you think?”

He is snapped back to the present by the feel of Nicola’s eyes on him, and he chances a furtive look up into her face.

As he is met by her broad, tight smile, he retreats within another memory, this one only two days fresh, of himself over her lap with bottom bared, the rough feel of her blue jeans under him as he struggles: “Please, Nik! I promise, I’ll do whatever you SAAAAY! Whenever you say-hayy!” Stewart relives the experience with almost total sensory recall; it is as if his own gangly body has dissolved, and he exists now only in order to provide an outline of the confident, athletic young female body which supports him. How thrilling it is on some level, to feel himself connected, on any level, with such power! But, oh, how it stings!

He closes his eyes and wills himself back to the beginning. He sees the tip of the thermometer, where he is holding it, against the bulb. As Nicola appears in his bedroom doorway, her mouth open in shock, the glass explodes from his hand into a thousand pieces.

Caught! he thinks to himself. You caught me! Red-handed.

As he looks up, gulping and trying to swallow his tears, into his little sister’s serene face, it is as though she is silently correcting him, refusing him even this comforting illusion:

Caught you red-handed? Her little half-smile seems to be communicating. Ha! More like I GOT you, red BOTTOMED!

“I deserve it.” As his tears drip onto the floor, he is surprised to discover he has actually murmured this aloud.

Nicola stares at him for a moment.

“Go back downstairs, Stewart, right now, and take the garbage out.” She orders, before pausing a moment. “Then wash your hands, and bring me back up a glass of lemonade.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, nodding his head emphatically.

She winks at him, yawns lazily and turns back to her book.