Fiction — August 30, 2011 14:39 — 0 Comments

In The Morning – Gwen Mullins

“Sometimes a woman just needs a good spanking,” Abby said, her back turned to James as she continued chopping onions, her eyes streaming. The stillness stretched as the words died in the air. Abby pushed vegetables into rows with her knife so that they formed a flag in colors of a country somewhere far from her: coins of carrots, clumps of corn cut fresh from the cob, okra sticky with white ooze, the onions.

James snorted a half laugh. He snapped his book shut. “Why?” he asked. “Have you been naughty?”

She felt his eyes on her. She concentrated on the rhythmic movement of the knife as she rocked it back and forth over the onions. She felt the curve of her buttocks against her thin gray pants.

Abby pressed her palm gingerly against the blade as she ferried vegetables into the pot, where the water, like her blood, had kicked up to a low boil. Sliding okra along the edge of the steel with a finger, she whispered, “I could be.”

James surprised her by breathing into her ear, “Oh? Really?”

She had not heard him come up behind her until she felt his warm breath against her neck, his hands on her back where ribs met spine. She dropped the knife into the boiling water. As she stepped away from the splash, the heel of her foot came down on the arch of his, and her head jerked back and bumped into his cheek. Drops of hot broth scalded her bare arms, and James said, “Shit, Abby, be careful before you burn us both!”

She walked to the sink to run cool water over her arms and wash her hands. As she stood there, she watched their sixteen-year-old daughter Lu pace on the veranda rehearsing a part for Hamlet.

Before Lu was born, Abby used to plan her months around traveling with James. They had stayed in hotels paid for by his company, sharing meals so they could both eat on his per diem. Abby had wandered through streets older than her country while James met marketing managers. One night, somewhere in Italy, he kneeled before her as she undressed so he could kiss the freckles sprinkled across her stomach. They had made love with the windows open.

He still traveled to Europe; she only traveled to Akron.

Abby could see from the window the cat that had adopted them last summer rubbing its back against the railing on the veranda. Lu’s breasts bobbed as she flung her arms out in theatrics.

“I need to talk to her about that guy she’s been seeing,” said Abby. She could still smell the onion on her hands, tinted now with lemon overscent.

James joined her at the window, rested his chin on her shoulder. The cat began rubbing its back along Lu’s legs. “I think she’s in heat,” he said.

For a breath, Abby thought he meant Lu, and her eyes tightened as if she were about to be slapped, a flinching away from an adolescent daughter, a cat in heat, a healthy spanking, a too-warm kitchen that smelled of chicken soup rather than red wine and the damp stone of foreign streets.

She wondered if Lu were not there if they would crash into each other like they did when they were twenty, falling to the floor, reverberating with need. Maybe she could push down her pants, her ass round and white in the slanting afternoon light, and bend over the breakfast table, wait to see if he would slap her or screw her or turn her around and guide her back to their bedroom.

Tonight, when Lu was out as she always was, she could try it, just to see what would happen. But now she had supper to serve and Hamlet to discuss.

Over dinner, Lu informed them she was spending the night with her friend Rina, but Abby suspected Lu was actually camping with her boyfriend. Who was she to stop young love? Abby envied Lu’s frequent blushes and the blind mutual adoration Lu and the boy so clearly shared.

Later, Abby turned off all the lights and trudged up the steps to their bedroom. James would already be in bed, watching some cop show while pretending to read reports, his hair standing in tufts. She waited on the stairs in the dark and listened to the house. A train outside of town whistled long and low, and she realized she had never lived where she couldn’t hear that train’s whistle. The train passed and an owl hooted a single plaintive note from the woods beyond their backyard. Her world lay silent and dark around her. In Europe, she thought, I rode trains everywhere. At home, I just hear them passing through the night.

She breathed in the warm brown darkness of her home. When she opened the bedroom door, she was surprised the television was off, and James was standing at the foot of the bed.

“What’s going on?” she said.

She had scarcely gotten the words out when he grabbed her by her upper arm and yanked her toward him. Abby had forgotten how much stronger he was, how the first time she saw him he was splitting logs at a cabin by the lake, cleaving the wood in sure, single strokes. His fingers arrowed into her flesh when she tried to pull free.

“Isn’t this what you want?” he said.

“Yes,” she said.

He turned her around and pushed her forward at the waist. She struggled but his hand held her neck down like it was a weighted claw. The first slap seared right through her pants and took her breath away.  The second slap was softer, but by the third one James no longer had to hold her neck down because Abby had stretched her arms along the bed and offered no resistance.

Her need scared her, reminded her of late night shows on pay channels where women wore leather and used words like masochism, then her brain buzzed over with pleasure, and she stopped thinking at all.

After her spanking he pulled down her pants and fucked her the way they used to—with urgency, straining against each other, then he pulled away and left her there, pleasantly chastened, sated.

When Abby returned from the bathroom James was in bed. She slipped in next to him, her body pressed against his back. He reached around and patted her thigh as he always did, and Abby grinned in the dark.


Gwen Mullins earned her B.A. in English from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1996 and completed her M.F.A. through Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works with Hunger Mountain as an Assistant Editor and contributing blogger, but her primary interest has always been writing fiction. She won the Sequoyah Review fiction prize in 1995 and 1996, and has attended the Meacham Writers’ Workshops and the Conference on Southern Literature. She studied with Douglas Glover, Clint McCown, David Jauss, and Ellen Lesser, among others. Some of her essays have appeared online at Numéro Cinq. New fiction is forthcoming in Eclipse. Gwen works a day job as a claims manager at a disability insurance company where she has been for over thirteen years. She lives in Chattanooga with three dogs, two children, and a husband.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney