THE SPANKING MACHINE
There was a rumor at Saint Michael’s Elementary School that Sister Antonio, Mother Superior, had a spanking machine. No one could actually describe it, as its reputation caused every student to be fearful. Word on the playground was that she hid its mammoth size with grey sheets, to be unveiled only when a child needed punishment. Dread spread like measles with kids telling tales of unmitigated terror at the hands of Sister Antonio.
That’s when my nightmares started. I dreamt of being escorted by two of the meanest nuns into Sister Antonio’s office: Sister Siena and Sister Picky-Un, my accusers. They were to put my three-foot frame through the grueling spanking machine! I always woke up at the part where they were strapping me down and had pushed the red button to start the thousand punishing hands. Beads of sweat appeared on my upper lip after each of these dreams.
Saint Michael’s had strict rules that were not to be broken or else. No talking back to the sisters, no fighting and especially no using bad words. I had to be very careful or else.
Fate has a way of bringing about the very thing that causes you anxiety.
The day of doom arrived right before Christmas. Santa was coming to school for a visit. Santa made my heart do flip-flops and our class was wound up with anticipation, too. When it was time to stand in the bathroom line, I overheard Sister Siena announce to Sister Picky-Un that if we did not behave, there may be no Santa Clause today! Panic hit my chest like a hammer.
I whispered under my breath, “Darn-it!”
I had neglected to notice the first-grade snitch; Shirley Supper standing right behind me. Alarm, panic and doom, descended upon me. My big brown eyes widened in horror as I searched for a way to retract my words and negotiate with Shirley Supper. Alas, she was set to expose me; no begging on my part would stop her. She stuck her skinny nose in the air and raised her hand.
“Sister Siena, Celeste said a bad word, Celeste said a bad word!”
The bathroom line fell silent. Both nuns were at full attention and then Shirley said, “She said darn it!”
In my mind I saw the spanking machine and Mother Superior taking off the grey covering just for me. Tears were pushing through my closed eyes and shame enclosed me like a shroud, my hands sweated and darkened fear enveloped about me. My wee frame shrank under the weight. Sister Siena was now looming over me and asked if that was true. My head bobbed up and down the affirmative. I was yanked from the line and escorted by Sister Siena and Sister Picky-Un to Mother Superior’s office. I began to die on my insides for there was no hope for me. Even Santa may not forgive me. That was a bad word I had let escape my lips. What was death by spanking machine like? I wanted Mommy.
The floor tilted and tipped as the nuns walked me to Mother Superior’s office. I vaguely heard them talking over me that the spanking machine was waiting for me. Fear-filled my being as my stomach rolled. I looked up into Sister Antonio’s face as she put her finger under my chin and told me to open my eyes. A small smile appeared at the corner of her lips. No, that could not be. Mother Superior never smiled.
“Child, is it true that you said, darn it?” she asked quietly.
“Yes,” I replied weakly. My tears were a torrent now.
“Are you sorry?”
Now was my moment of execution. The grey coverings were still over the machine. Soon I’d be strapped in.
Suddenly Mother Superior grabbed my wrist. This was it then, doomsday. I winced and balled up my hands in anticipation. Mother Superior told me to open my hands and I obeyed. She slapped my palms with something lightly.
With kindness in her eyes she said, “Don’t say that word anymore.”
The two nuns walked me to my classroom. That was the spanking machine? Awareness began to dawn. There never was a spanking machine, only a small wooden ruler. I knew something Shirley Supper didn’t. God had saved me that day from spanking machine death, Shirley Supper, and fear. A silly smile spread across my face as I slid into my seat. Peace was mine.
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