“I’ve been waiting for you to come by for the past fifteen minutes! My halibut is overcooked. Given the cost of dining at this establishment, I shouldn’t have to pay for your inattentiveness.” Lynn regretted the flippant remark as soon as she had uttered it. Her shame swelled like a tide as she watched the server’s countenance wilt.
“I’ll have them redo your order right away, ma’am.”
Although her job at the insurance firm could be trying at times, Lynn Thompson knew that she had never worked harder than this beleaguered, young waitress, not even on her best day. She shuddered at the sound of her mother’s voice.
“How could you be so rude to that poor girl! Get up this instant, and head straight to the ladies room, before I take care of you right here, in front of God and everybody.”
Lynn didn’t bother to debate with the voice. She knew her fate was well-deserved. Rising from the table, she ruefully proceeded towards an alcove at the rear of the dining room. Upon approaching, she could see that the door to one of the single-occupancy restroom was ajar. Sighing, Lynn stepped inside and switched on the light. In front of her stretched a pink granite vanity, with a large, rectangular mirror mounted just above the backsplash.
“Bend over!” commanded the voice.
“Yes, ma’am.” Lynn did as she was told.
Moments later, Lynn noticed her modest linen skirt being raised and tucked above her hips. Unseen fingers reached inside her apricot tights, tugging them down just below her knees. The phantom extremities then lowered her panties till they bunched up against her hose.
“Oh, Mom! Please! Not on the bare!!” Lynn pleaded.
“Hush, or we’ll be here twice as long,”the voice rebuked her.
“No, no, no! Please!” Lynn cried, knowing full well that Claire Thompson had never issued an empty threat. “Not another word, then,” her mother warned.
Soon, Lynn could hear the unzipping of her handbag, followed by the rustle of a fairly sizeable object, extricating itself from an assortment of keys, coins, and lipstick. The next few seconds seemed interminable, as Claire Thompson’s daughter braced for what had become a routine ordeal.
From an early age, Lynn learned that naughty meant sitting on pillows for the next several days. Whenever she chose to misbehave, Lynn’s mother spanked her with a hefty wooden paddle brush. For as often as she claimed to dread her mother’s hairbrush, Lynn found herself in need of its sore and searing grace.
A loud crack reverberated within the tiled walls of the lavatory, stinging her backside like a dozen angry hornets. Lynn gasped, barely able to process the discomfort before having to endure a second, similarly painful sting, and another, and still another. It took all of her will to suppress the cries that desperately sought to escape her. However, being in a public place, she dared not let her voice betray the intensity of her pain, for fear that anyone who stood within hearing distance might become alarmed, and subsequently notify the authorities.
Growing up, many of Lynn’s schoolmates discovered that her mother had no qualms about paddling her, in front, if not alongside, of them. However, not even her closest friends knew that she was still subject to maternal discipline as an adult. Despite her thirty-six years, Lynn knew to expect the brush whenever she neglected her household chores, or arrived home late without prior consent.
When Claire Thompson passed away unexpectedly, Lynn inherited the small farmhouse, which had always been her home. As she struggled to function without her mother’s approval, Lynn gradually learned how to answer to only herself. Within a matter of months, she bought several stylish dresses, which her mother would have surely forbid her from wearing, and she got into the habit of staying out after work.
A thick wad of paper towels muffled what would have been a tile-rattling shriek. In these moments, Lynn often imagined herself attempting to explain her predicament to the investigating officer, who had been called to the scene, sounding rather dubious as he inquired about the brush.
“Yes, officer! My deceased mother haunts my hairbrush, and she punishes me whenever I misbehave. She’s been tormenting me for over two years now!”
Having said that, Lynn could see herself being transported to the nearest Acute Psychiatric Unit, where she would undergo a full evaluation.
For as unpleasant as her present circumstances might seem, the prospect of having to explain who or what was causing her such audible distress in a public restroom seemed even more objectionable. Lynn had been living n her own for nearly six months when she first heard her mother speak through the brush. Initially, the voice came as a great relief. The brush seemed like a comforting reminder of her mother’s firm guidance. Over time, however, the admonishments became progressively harsher. The condition of never knowing when she might hear the voice caused Lynn to seem perpetually irritable, and the severity of the brush’s reprimands eroded her burgeoning self-belief. That’s when it started.
She had arrived home very late one evening, dazed and queasy from quite a few too many. Upon entering, Lynn wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed as quickly as her impaired judgment would allow. Various articles of clothing lay strewn about the hallway as Claire Thompson’s daughter stumbled into her bedroom. As she attempted to remove her earrings, one of them fell to the floor. Cursing, she bent over to pick it up, at which point, a startlingly painful impact struck her from behind.
Just then, she heard her mother’s voice.
“Lynn Marie Thompson! Did I raise you to go falling around drunk in your underwear at two o’clock in the morning?!”
“N…n…no, ma’am,” Lynn stammered.
“You seem to have forgotten yourself, young lady! Do you still need me to remind you?” the voice asked rhetorically.
Lynn was slow to reveal her truth.
Nearly two years since that fateful night, Lynn still carried her mother’s reminder. As she struggled to bear it yet again, a sharp knock at the lavatory door rattled her composure. Panicking, Lynn let the damp paper towels fall from her mouth, so that she could respond.
“I’m almost finished!” she gasped.
“Are you alright in there?!” asked an alarmed male voice.
“Yes. Yes. I’m…I’m fine,” came her wavering reply. Lynn hoped that she could assuage the well-meaning stranger’s concern, at least temporarily, for she knew that her mother wasn’t finished yet. The brush pronounced its final sentence.
Lynn grabbed another handful of paper towels, and bit down hard. A resounding smack echoed from within the restroom.
She was shocked by the sheer magnitude of the pain. The thought of having to endure nine more seemed inconceivable. Then, for reasons beyond her understanding, the brush did not strike again.
“I can’t do this anymore, Lynn. You’re a grown woman. I can’t absolve you anymore.” It was her mother’s voice.
“No, no…no, Mom! I need you! Please! Don’t stop!! I’ll try harder!” Lynn insisted, in spite of herself.
“No, Lynn. I’ve let you rely upon the brush for far too long. You need to form your own conscience.”
The shaming voice only served to heighten her anxiety. “Mom, please! I can’t! I don’t know how!”
“I know, sweetheart, and that’s my fault. I never taught you how to forgive yourself.” Her mother sounded regretful now
“Mom, please, don’t go. I still need it!!”
“I’m not in the brush, sweetheart. I’m in you…always. Goodbye, Lynn.”
The voice spoke to her reassuringly, as if for the last time.
“Mom!!!” Lynn cried out, unable to contain her despair any longer.
A moment later, she heard the sound of the restroom door being unlocked.
“No…no…Oh, God! No! Please! Wait!!” Lynn implored sobbingly. Just then, the door flew open, followed by the collective gasp of half a dozen stunned onlookers.
“Oh, my God.” they murmured.
“Someone call 911!” exclaimed the restaurant manager, unable to avert his eyes from Lynn’s frightfully inflamed bottom. Too mortified to speak, Claire Thompson’s daughter looked up at the mirror. Her face was flushed and wet with tears, as she stood fully exposed from the waist down, clutching her hairbrush in her trembling hand.
Lee Todd Lacks is a mixed-media artist, music therapist, and clinical counselor, who tends to be informed by his experience of living with significant vision and hearing deficits. His writing has appeared in Bop Dead City, Tincture Journal, Liquid Imagination, Crack The Spine, and elsewhere. His poem, “Durgin-Park,” won the Bop Dead City Beginnings Contest in July of 2015. His spoken word piece, “Holocaust Memorial,” recently won the Blue Monday Review Storytime Challenge.