Antique Store

Paula knew to keep an eye on this crew the moment they walked into the shop. She’d been running the old antique store for well over three decades now and had developed a knack for sensing trouble before it started. “Welcome,” she said over the fading chime of the bell on the closing door.

A chorus of polite hellos was returned, and she smiled warmly back at them. Four of them, three girls and a boy, all friendly enough. Not bad kids— Paula thought anyone under the age of forty was a kid and wouldn’t hear otherwise— but the air around them was thick with mischief.

No one else was there that morning and likely it would stay that way until things picked up after lunch. Paula grabbed her rag and made herself busy, straightening new items and dusting the shelves. The group spoke in muted voices, clearly thinking they were much quieter than they were, unaware of how sound traveled in the echoey old shop.

For a time there was the usual pattern of chitchat followed by giggles, nothing out of the ordinary for a place filled with all manner of kitsch. From time to time they would move to a new section, and she would see the tops of their heads pop up behind a lower shelf or reflected in one of the many mirrors hanging around the place. Once she saw a hand reach up to pull something from a wall display, one of several pizza paddles that hung in wait for someone new to brick ovens. Then there was a loud pop, followed by a yelp and the biggest fit of giggles yet, then overlapping shushing sounds.

Paula raised an eyebrow, seen by no one but the porcelain elephant she had just given a good rub down. She set him gently back down on the shelf and tucked her rag into a pocket. Mischief, indeed. She was making her way back toward the register, some paperwork to complete having crossed her mind, when she saw one of the girls, a young woman with long dark hair, balanced precariously with her toes on the edge of an old three legged stool. The boy was behind her, a clear accomplice and supposed safety precaution, while the other two stood back watching as she pulled herself up onto another piece of rickety furniture and reached for something just out of sight.

“Get down!” Paula yelled, too late to stop what was already happening. The top shelf wobbled forward, pitching knickknacks and bobbles onto the floor, and the girl tumbled backwards into the boy’s arms as she fell. The other two caught the shelf before it could collapse completely, pushing it forward until it steadied. It was over in a matter of seconds, and then Paula was there, and four sets of wide eyes slowly turned to look back at her. She pointed to a sign that would have been impossible to miss. “Please ask for assistance for items on the top shelves,” she read, moving her hands to her hips. Her gaze settled on the climber, who had disentangled from the boy and now stood with her hands behind her back, panic written across her face. Paula held out a hand expectantly. “What was so urgent that you couldn’t find me for the ladder?”

“Nothing,” she said, taking a small step backward, bumping into a girl in a baseball cap and jumper.

“We’re sorry,” the girl said. “We’ll clean up and pay for whatever broke. And it was my idea.”

“Well that wasn’t a question,” Paula said sternly, though she took note of this young woman’s role in this mess before snapping her fingers impatiently.

With obvious reluctance but little in the way of options, the girl in front handed over a long-handled square paddle. Paula took it, smacking the flat end against her free palm, and said seriously, “What is this for? Spanking?”

“I think it’s for churning butter?” squeaked the girl in the back, her cheeks pink with embarrassment beneath her glasses as the dark haired girl covered her face and the boy grinned, clearly not amused but unable to do anything else.

“Well today it’s for spanking,” Paula said decisively, smacking her palm once more. She made eye contact with the young man, deciding it would be best to set the tone with him. “Come here.”

He glanced nervously at his friends, who offered only wide-eyed terror in return, then shuffled over. Paula didn’t wait to close the gap between them, stepping forward to take him by the arm. The hand that held the make-shift implement snaked out to grab the abandoned stool, and she maneuvered herself onto it and the young man across her knee with surprising ease.

She brought the paddle down across his bottom, several dozen hard raps in quick succession, and then pulled him back up to stand in front of her. She was pleased to see the nervous smile had disappeared from his face, replaced with downturned lips as he rubbed his bottom and said pitifully, “Sorry, ma’am.” 

Paula nodded her approval as she gently urged him to step behind her, an eyebrow already raised as she turned to face the climber. She hesitated only a second and then walked within reaching distance; Paula applied the paddle within equal vigor to her bottom and the girl squealed through the last few swats. “Sorry,” she said, sniffling, when she was released to join her accomplice. Paula nodded again before crooking a finger at the girl in the cap.

She wrung her hands and let out a low whine before managing to step forward. She, too, was soon in the middle of her dozens, apologies flowing from her for the entire duration of the spanking. Paula didn’t spare a second for sympathy, making sure she would be just as sore as her friends. Then there was only one miscreant left.

“Come here, young lady,” Paula said firmly, and in case it wasn’t clear, “And next time don’t just stand there while your friends get up to no good.”

“Yes ma’am,” the girl said quietly but clearly as she walked over to the shopkeeper. Paula tugged her over, delivering the fourth spanking as efficiently as the others before depositing her back on the floor to join her friends.

“Now, I want you to clean this up,” Paula said, not unkindly but very straightforward. “I’ll bring a can for anything broken, and a notebook so you can keep track. Meet me at the register after.”

Four subdued “yes ma’ams” were returned, interrupted by a chime of the door bell that made all of their heads turn in nervous unison. Paula wondered if they knew they should be glad no one else had been in the shop, but she didn’t say so aloud. The fresh blushes appearing on their cheeks show they already suspected it wouldn’t have changed much.

Instead she scooted them away with her hands, moving through the group as they parted to let her to the front of the store. She set the wooden implement down with a clatter and was soon immersed in the chore she’d been after before. She paused only to greet new customers and to grab her glasses from the desk drawer and slide them down her nose as she peered at a receipt from time to time. She slipped them off again when the kids returned, all looking up at her sheepishly. The boy handed her the notebook.

“Sorry,” he offered, echoed by the girls, but Paula put the notebook aside.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I have junk to spare. You can pay for that… butter churner, you said? That’s a paddle. I’m writing spanking paddle on the receipt.”

As she spoke, she did exactly that, scribbling spanking paddle on the top sheet of a generic booklet. The girl with the glasses paid with cash, and the girl with the long dark hair stepped forward, wordlessly laying a strap on the counter. Paula didn’t say anything, but she felt her eyebrow raising of its own accord in acknowledgment. The boy was next, purchasing a clothes brush that she felt sure would bruise for days. Last came the girl with the cap, bashfully putting forth a sturdy wooden ruler. “Happy spanking,” Paula said as she delivered the girl’s change, unable to resist a bit of teasing and knowing she was holding up the steadily forming line. Afternoon had brought more customers, just as she had predicted.

She was pleased to see the lot of them squirm a final time before they departed, piling into one of their cars. She had a feeling they would be comparing bottoms soon enough and was confident they’d have bruises to share. She almost regretted selling so many beautiful implements at once. But Paula was never short of sturdy hairbrushes or thick leather straps coming into the shop. Nor of grown brats and their thin-veiled curiosity. 

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