The man on the train had been watching me for the last twenty minutes.
Granted, I was probably annoying the hell out of him by snapping the elastic band on my wrist every two minutes. I hadn’t had a cigarette since eight o’clock the previous night, and I would have shanked a nun if it meant I could have just one good drag.
Cold turkey, gum, lozenges, inhalers, e-cigarettes, hypnosis – you name it, I tried it. The rubber band was something I had tried before. It hadn’t worked then, and it wasn’t working now.
I’d felt good for the first hour after waking up. I enjoyed my coffee and a fruit cup, I marked the date on my calendar with a red star, I loaded an app on my phone to tell me how much money I was saving, and I skipped down the stairs from my upper flat feeling sure that this time I’d kick my disgusting habit.
By the time I neared the train station, the cravings got to me. At the coffee shop, I bought a red velvet cupcake with frosting heaped an inch and a half. I ate the whole thing while I waited for the train. It didn’t make me feel better. Not one bit. By the time I took my seat on the train, I decided I was going to buy a pack of cigarettes the first chance I got.
In the meantime, I was stuck on the train for another ten minutes with nothing but my elastic band and a man across from me who wouldn’t stop giving me that look.
I thought about saying something. I imagined it in my head.
You know, it’s really rude to stare at strange women on public transportation.
You’re making me uncomfortable, and I’d like you to move before I call for help.
Hey fucker, keep your eyes to yourself.
Then I realized I wasn’t going to say anything to the man who kept shooting me looks as he read on his iPad. I was just going to sit here and long for nicotine, because I was weak and addicted and dealt with stress by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Half-a-pack, I reminded myself. I was down by half-a-pack since Christmas, which was something. Every attempt to quit altogether had been a flop, but this was one victory I could claim.
Still, it didn’t change that I’d finally gotten the cough. That was supposed to be my threshold. When I got the cough, I’d quit. Well, when I first got the cough I told myself I’d quit in the spring. Then the cough became started to appear first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. I chalked it up to being tired, my body’s cue to go to bed.
Then I coughed so hard the previous night that I threw up in the sink. I threw out my cigarettes. I’d go cold turkey, I decided, save for the elastic band.
I’d feel terrible when I did have a cigarette, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t spend the rest of my day on the verge of ripping someone’s face off. I couldn’t spend the rest of the week like that. I couldn’t function like that. I had a life to live. I had things to do.
Sitting back in the cushy seat, I looked out the window and rolled the rubber band off my wrist.
“So what is it you’re trying to give up?”
I looked at the man. His eyes were on his iPad. He touched the screen, then glanced at me.
“I assume that’s what you’ve been doing. I also assume you’ve just given up on it.”
I almost told him to mind his own business, but there was nothing in his tone to take offense to. Stretching the elastic between two fingers, I shrugged. “Cigarettes.”
“That’s what I figured.” He touched his screen again and I thought that was going to be the end of the conversation, but after a moment he closed the lid and tucked the computer into the satchel at his side. “How long since your last one?”
“Couldn’t even make it twelve hours?” Annoyance must have shown on my face, because he held up a hand. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I usually crack in under twenty-four hours.”
He chuckled. It was actually quite a lovely sound, deep and rumbling, and he had a voice to match. Based on the conservatively cut and styled brown hair, the expensive charcoal business attire, and the leather satchel he carried with him, I’d guess he was one of those suburban dads who commuted from some seaside village to the heart of the city.
“I smoked for a while,” he went on, leaning back to mirror my pose, and grinned. “Wouldn’t want to have to quit again.”
Oh Christ, here we go. The only thing worse than craving was craving while a reformed smoker decided to dish out motivational nuggets.
But if the man had them, he wasn’t ready to dish them out yet.
“How long were you a smoker?”
“A couple of years in high school.” He brows flew up. “My grandpa was a smoker. He lived with us and it was easy to take them out of his coat pocket. You’re in for a whole lot of hurt before you can claim a victory.”
I was equally annoyed and relieved. While I was glad he hadn’t shared how he quit using hypnosis or drinking detox tea or some thing equally unhelpful, I didn’t quit like the cynicism in his remark.
“So, how did you quit?” I poked him.
“The patch and an hour a day punching a bag at the gym while listening to death metal.”
“Maybe I should try that,” I replied with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to stay mellow. Maybe taking the opposite approach would be more successful.”
“How long have you been smoking?”
He clucked his tongue. “That’s going to be tough.”
The intercom piped up announcing we had arrived at the station. I breathed in deeply through my nose and expelled it slowly. Finally.
I reached for the rubber band, remembering too late that I had taken it off.
The man across from me chuckled again. “It’s funny how one addiction can lead to another, isn’t it?”
“If I get addicted to abusing myself with a rubber band, I’m really in trouble.”
The train stopped and I stood. We joined the rest of the commuters in filing towards the exit and stalled when the line did. Just like that, I was in a seething rage. I nearly bulldozed an old woman to get off the train. I bolted through the station and to the outside, to my usual corner store.
It made me a little sad that Tarif didn’t even have to ask what I wanted or what brand. He just automatically put the pack on the counter. I handed over my money without asking how much. As soon as I had my change I was already ripping into the pack.
On the way out the door, I smacked into my fellow traveler.
I don’t know why, but the disapproval in his expression instantly shamed me. I didn’t know this person, but I found myself giving him an apologetic smile as he held the door open for me.
Once I was out on the sidewalk and I had the flame of my lighter hissing at the end of my cigarette, I forgot about the man, the cough, and the whole disapproving world.
Oh, Christ Almighty, I thought with my first hit, and almost crumpled onto the sidewalk as the nicotine hit my system.
Tomorrow. I’ll quit for good tomorrow, I told myself.
“Maybe next time you feel like lighting up,” came the man’s deep voice vibrating close to my ear, “you should have someone bend you over their knee and spank you so hard you’ll never want to smoke again.”
Unlike the nicotine, I didn’t absorb his words so quickly. I half-turned, stupid smile on my face, and it was only as I saw the back of him walking away from me that the punch of what he’d said finally landed and knocked the wind out of me.
What the hell just happened? I wondered as his figure grew further away, and just as he was disappearing around the corner I took three steps in his wake, my mind commanding my body to chase after the stranger who had said such a thing to me, even though it hadn’t quite grasped what had been said to me.
And so instead I stood like a fool on the sidewalk, mouth hanging open and cigarette burning down to the filter between my fingers.
A stranger has told me I needed a spanking for smoking cigarettes.
This was my prevailing thought for the rest of the day. I smoked half the pack by lunch, running outside with my coat and my lighter every hour and sucking down two in a row, and I replayed that voice in my head.
You should have someone bend you over their knee and spank you.
Someone has actually said that to me. In public. A grown man had just told me, a grown woman, that I needed a spanking.
With this encounter warring with my work duties, I quickly found myself and my stress increased. I had three deadlines that day, all do-able had I been able to hold onto a thought for more than a minute.
With his salacious and uninvited quip, the man had robbed me of the calm the cigarettes were supposed to give me.
And so I smoked some more.
When I met my boss over the coffee pot in the kitchen, he sniffed.
“Give up on that e-cigarette, Daisy?”
“You mean my hundred-dollar stick of lies? The one that was supposed to be just like smoking? Yes, I did.”
“You should try this stuff from the health store my brother used …”
I instantly tuned him out, went back to my desk, and thought about that man who told me I needed a spanking.
I thought about it so much, my emotions bouncing from rage to shame to confusion, that I missed one of my deadlines and had to stay late to make up for it. I thought about it so much I skipped lunch and inhaled a hamburger and fries from the fast food place en route to the train station. I thought about it so much I forgot how badly I wanted a cigarette until I was just outside the train station.
And once I lit up, I felt a shiver go across my shoulders, like I was being watched. It felt so real that I glanced behind me, half expecting to see the man standing over me. I looked all around but there was no one but fellow smokers and vapers. There was no disapproving stranger peering at me through the window.
What would I do if I did run into him again? Hide? Why should I hide? He’s the one who made me uncomfortable. Confront him? No, I wouldn’t do that, either. I’d pretend it never happened, and if we ever spoke again I’d never bring it up, and if he brought it up I’d laugh it off and then be sure I didn’t share a car with him again.
I smoked another cigarette, then went for my train. If the man was on it, then we didn’t cross paths. Halfway through the journey I breathed out a sigh of relief.
And then I had a little chuckle.
A complete stranger told me I needed a good spanking!
I suddenly couldn’t wait to text my step-sister, Barbara. Hell, I couldn’t wait to put in on Facebook for everyone to read!
Just as funny was the realization that this fellow’s little quip had essentially taken over my life. My entire day had been spent obsessing over it, and once I arrived home and popped outside to start the grill I knew I could spend the evening laughing over it.
Having downed almost the entire bottle before, during, and after my supper, I slept like the dead and woke up feeling sick. Thankfully it was a work-from-home day and I technically didn’t need to get out of bed while I checked my work email on my phone, but I started to jones for coffee. As soon as the coffee was on, I had my first craving.
Reaching for my cigarettes brought back the events of the previous morning. I hadn’t texted Barb or splashed it on social media for my friends to see. With that first drag I was glad I hadn’t, because I was feeling rotten again. I’d smoked almost a whole pack, and would have to either run out for another or try and give the quitting another go.
“Maybe I do need a good spanking,” I muttered to myself as disappointment chased the nicotine in my system. I stubbed it out, half-smoked, then went back inside for my coffee.
Though far more productive than the day before, I nonetheless found my thoughts drifting to the man on the train.
Why did he say it? Our chit-chat hadn’t been flirty in the least, at least as far as I could tell. Was he trying to be funny? Ironic?
And why couldn’t I stop thinking about it?
I saw the man three days later.
I didn’t notice him at first as I waited on the train platform. I don’t know whether he was there before I was, or if he had arrived after me. The train was running a few minutes late and I checked my phone for the time, gave a little huff, and swung my gaze down the platform.
My heart slammed against my ribs at the sight of him. He stood about thirty feet away, oblivious to how he had thrown my world off its axis as he tap-tap-tapped at the phone in his right hand.
I had been expecting his presence sooner or later and had been mentally prepping myself for it, the cold shock of seeing him again was replaced with the volcanic rush of panic. I didn’t know what I should do with myself, whether I should speak to him or hide.
My thoughts fired in every which direction.
No, march up to him and tell him what you think of him! Take the next train, it will be easier! Don’t you dare – he ought to answer for what he said to you!
The train came and he got on. I waited until most other passengers had boarded before getting on myself. I deliberately looked for him and found him in the same seat where we had met. I could only see the top of his head, but that was good enough for me. I took a seat several rows down so I could watch him.
I wasn’t going to do anything.
But when the train started to move, I realized I wanted an answer as to why he had said such a thing to a woman he didn’t even know. I wanted an answer enough to step out of my comfort zone.
Brimming with that spurt confidence and indignation, I got up from my seat and strode to where the man sat, doing a crossword on his iPad, and dropped into the seat opposite his.
He merely glanced at me. He showed no recognition. I could have exploded with rage.
Then, he spoke. “I take it you’re here to give me a talking to about my inappropriate remark the other day.?”
Something like relief rushed through me at being acknowledged. I clutched my bag in my lap and opened my mouth, but my tongue went numb.
Another quick look, and the corner of his mouth quirked up into a smile.
I forced myself to speak. “Why would you say something like that?”
Infuriatingly, he lifted one shoulder. “Sometimes a little shame goes a long way.”
“Shame? I’m not the one who has something to be ashamed of. You told a complete stranger that she needs a spanking, in the middle of the –“
“Seems to be she does need a spanking, if she’s going to keep killing herself with those things.”
I actually saw red, but I was struck dumb as his half-smile turned into a grin as he gave me his full attention at last.
“I saw you outside the train station earlier, sucking on that disgusting thing before putting it out on your shoe and slipping it back into the pack. That’s revolting, and you should be ashamed of yourself. I can smell the butt from here.”
With such a scolding tone, I found it hard to stay focused on being indignant, and so I just gaped at him like a goldfish.
The man cocked his head. “Why did you take off the rubber band?”
“Because it wasn’t working,” I murmured stupidly. Now I was going to let him interrogate me? What was wrong with me?
“Because you didn’t like the pain that went along with it,” he went on. “Most people don’t do the rubber band thing right anyway. I suppose you read or were told that when you have a craving, you should snap it. That’s wrong. The pain should be inflicted after you’ve done something naughty, not in anticipation of doing something wrong.”
“Even then, the concept is a little silly, isn’t it? You’ve been smoking over half your life, and you think a little rubber band is going to undo all the conditioning your addiction has done?”
Silly me, I actually felt the need to defend my sad attempt at quitting. “It’s not supposed to make me quit. It’s supposed to help me …” Fuck, what did the website say? “Remind me of all the reasons I want to quit.”
God, that sounded pathetic, and the sardonic lift of his right brow confirmed it.
“That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he quipped. “It shouldn’t be too hard to remember all the reasons not to smoke. Death. Bad teeth. Wrinkles. Regardless, it makes more sense to use the rubber band to punish yourself after smoking. The pain would do you good.”
Which nicely brought us back around to why I had plopped down in front of him. I took a deep breath, revving myself up to give him hell, but he beat me to it by leaning forward.
“You might not have liked hearing it, but you know I’m right. You said yourself that you’ve tried everything, and do you know why none of it has worked? Because you don’t want to quit. You love smoking. I could tell by the way your eyes rolled up when you took the first puff the other day. You don’t care if it’s turning your lungs black or your teeth yellow, or that those beautiful full lips are going to shrivel one day or that it might, in fact, kill you at any moment. You want what you want and the consequences for abstaining mean nothing because they’re so far off into the future you figure one more won’t hurt.” With my silence, the man leaned back and adjusted the tablet on his lap. “That’s why you need a spanking: if you won’t quit, then maybe someone should make you.”
Mute and overloaded, I gaped at him as he resumed his crossword. He had spoken so evenly that I wasn’t sure this could be construed as a lecture. He was simply stating fact after fact, and I didn’t feel like punching him in the face. To tell the truth, I felt like having a little cry.
He went back to his crossword. Five minutes passed in silence, then ten, before the shame passed enough to let my frustrations have another go at him.
I narrowed my eyes. “That’s well and good, but you still haven’t explained what sort of person tells a stranger she needs a spanking.”
“One who could recognize a stranger who needs a spanking from a mile away,” he retorted without looking up. “Especially with an arse like yours.”
This time, my jaw literally dropped. “I beg your pardon?”
“At the risk of having you think I do this sort of thing all the time – which I don’t – I know a thing or two about spanking and its more extreme cousins. On a scale of one to ten in terms of needing a firm hand, I’d guess you’re at a five. Maybe higher, but I only know one of your vices.”
“You pervert!” I hissed.
“Don’t act like such a prude. If you were really that outraged, you would have gotten up and called for the porter – even though it was you who sat down here and started interrogating me. But since your butt is still parked in that seat I’d guess you’re having a little dilhemma as to whether you want to ask for a spanking or not.”
It suddenly felt like I was trying to breathe in a sauna. This man was insane. I was insane for not doing just what he said by going to get the porter.
I refused to admit that it was because he made any sense at all, that I was a slave to my vices, or at least one vice in particular. I wouldn’t give the time of day to the deranged notion that just because I had been unable to quit on my own that I needed someone to bend me over and spank me.
Yet, I didn’t move, did I? And when he gave me a quick but knowing look, I flushed.
I leaned back in the seat, half-hoping it would swallow me. “What do you mean, you have experience with … you know.”
“Just what I said. I know a thing or two about spanking.”
“Mostly lovers, but the occasional friend or stranger. Not all of them have some filthy habit or a behavior that needs correcting. I do it because it’s fun for both of us, but I have to admit it’s better when the punishment is the consequence of some very real actions.”
I couldn’t believe what I was about to say next. “And … does it work?”
We stared at one another. He remained cool and expressionless, yet triumph emanating from beneath it all. I was a statue, flushed by the heat of embarrassment and something else I didn’t want to acknowledge just yet.
“What’s your name?” he asked quietly, tone smooth as syrup.
I shook my head and looked away, but nonetheless I muttered as though compelled, “Daisy.”
“Aiden,” he replied, and put his iPad away. “Are you married?”
He leaned forward again. “Have you ever been spanked before?”
I had. During sex. It was up there with dirty talk when things were in the home stretch, but it was always a spur of the moment thing.
“Not like you’re talking about,” I told him.
“Not because you deserved it.” He grinned and scooted a little closer, until our knees almost touched. “What do you say, Daisy? Since you’re so careless with your personal welfare, how does getting off the train with a stranger and spending the night with him sound?”
It’s funny how until that moment, I hadn’t really given much thought to the sexual aspect. I don’t know why. It should have been an obvious connection, but until he actually uttered the words spending the night it didn’t click together.
“Exactly what does that entail?” I probed in a whisper.
“I figure we’d start off with a bit of show and tell – you do the showing and the telling – and then move onto a few corrective measures. After that, both our juices should be flowing, and we can take it from there.”
“I’m not into anything –” I was going to say kinky, but here I was essentially agreeing to let this man spank me like a naughty child. I still didn’t like the word, so I took a word he’d used. “I’m not into anything extreme.”
“I wasn’t planning on introducing anything extreme. I don’t plan to force you into anything. Anything that goes on has to have your stamp of approval.” He smiled, and this time it wasn’t a superior, cocky smirk. There was genuine friendliness and warmth there. “Well, Daisy, shall we?”
Oh Christ, this wasn’t happening. I wasn’t agreeing to going to this person’s house so he could spank me, was I? It wasn’t as though I had never engaged in sex with someone I’d just met, but the circumstances surrounding those hook-ups weren’t half as exceptional as this.
I nodded, and he placed his hand on my knee. The physical contact rattled me to the core.
“That’s a good girl,” he said, and squeezed.