It was the pregnant chain-smoking teenage girl waiting for the northbound bus at Dufferin station who finalized it for Walter.
She stood there, smiling and smoking, her red hair piled high on her head in a hairsprayed slick she incorrectly thought was stylish, her huge belly swaddled in a ridiculous pink fleece zip-up sweater. Walter had tried to slip cautiously past her to get through the station doors—no simple feat given both his and her thickness—and when he inadvertently nudged her with an elbow she sucked at her teeth and spun viciously toward him, her massive midsection leading the turn.
She then decided she would spit squarely in the middle of the back of his grey tweed overcoat.
Walter wouldn’t have known she had spat on him if it wasn’t for the fact that her boyfriend (the paternal part of their impending family unit, caused by a tear in a convenience store cherry-flavoured ribbed condom) suddenly shouted, “Dude, you totally horked on him.”
Walter considered telling her off, speaking to her sternly about decency, morality, and the virtue of the morning-after pill, but quickly realized he’d be the asshole publicly yelling at a visibly pregnant teenager. Instead he stormed off, swinging his briefcase aggressively from his left hand, though he longed to go back and smack her overly made-up face with the back of his hand. This thought followed him down the subway stairs, past the daily installation of elderly Watchtower-toting ladies, as he flashed his Metropass at the three-hundred-pound unshaven T.T.C. worker in the horn-rimmed glasses and squeezed onto the 8:17 A.M. eastbound train headed toward Bay station. Her image, her grotesque expression, was firmly planted in Walter’s mind as the wad of spit still stained the back of his XXL coat.
Walter thought about that vile expectorating girl all the way to work. The subway clicked and bumped along and the passengers awkwardly pushed up against each other, averting gazes as they crammed tightly into each other’s armpits. Oblivious to the vague smell of wet dog and gym bag that came along with his morning commute, Walter thought only of that girl. He thought of her red hair freed from its lacquered perch on her head, falling loosely around her shoulders as she lay beneath him, her pale face twisting into expressions of violent pleasure. Walter imagined her over his knee, shrieking and squirming with each slap of his palm, hairbrush, or riding crop. He then imagined her curled tightly against him, spent, her head on his chest, her voice saying his name over and over, thanking him repeatedly for his brutality.
Walter was in the thick of his fantasy, in the imaginary throes of passion with a red-headed spitting bus stop girl he’d seen only minutes earlier, and when he opened his eyes the elderly Indian man across from him was watching in disgust.
Walter lifted his briefcase from the floor and put it on his lap.
Despite the embarrassment, he knew the teen had sealed it for him. He would have to find a beautiful, soft place to put his violence.
Walter was a miserable accountant who spent most of his life accounting for lost time. He had been spat on and stepped on. And then he met Veronica.
Walter worked in the basement of a building on Bay Street and Veronica worked on the twenty-seventh floor. He had never had occasion to travel higher than the lobby, to mingle with the people whom he supposed held the strings of power, but one day he was staring at the peeling wall of his toothpaste-coloured basement office and the phone that rarely rang rang. A frantic assistant on the verge of tears demanded that he come up to the corporate offices with printouts of the expense reports.
“I can E-mail them. I always E-mail them,” he said. Walter preferred the impersonality of a tersely worded E-mail rather than the irritating exchange he was having with the thoroughly incompetent, blubbering girl twenty-seven floors above him. He picked at a hangnail on his left index finger as the assistant, barely out of university, began to cry hysterically.
“She won’t have it. She’s going to fire me. Please, Wallace, Please.”
The girl could have had the decency to get his name right, but a crying girl was always someone Walter could forgive. He put his shoes back on. He usually took them off under his desk on account of the fact that he was always alone. He spat into his hand and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. Into the elevator and up the twenty-seven floors, down the cheerfully decorated death-row hallway to Veronica’s double-doored office with six pages of expense reports clutched firmly in a clammy fist.
Veronica’s office had two full walls of windows and was decorated in various shades of black, beige, and grey. She wore a slim pencil skirt, the waistband high, snug around her narrow rib cage, her hair pulled back tightly from her face. Walter felt the weight of his own lumpiness contrast with the column that was her upright spine. She was severe in speech and action in every order she relayed.
After the expense reports were discussed thoroughly, Veronica sat down rigidly in her high-backed leather office chair, indicating she was done with him. Walter watched, transfixed, as she kicked her stilettos from her feet. Then, to avoid embarrassing himself with his stare, he turned to flee, the salvation of Veronica’s incompetent assistant satisfaction enough for one workday. He would have a tuna melt and spend the rest of his clocked hours reviewing barely legal Webcam pornography from the comfort of his basement cell. He’d almost reached the door when she suddenly, uncharacteristically, asked, “What do you do for fun, Walter? ”
“Excuse me? ”
“Someone like you, I wonder, what is it you do for fun? ” Her was tone patronizing, but Walter was quite sure she was making a rare effort to be somewhat human.
“Yes, Walter. Fun. Do you enjoy films? Dancing? Fine food? ”
“I volunteer at an animal shelter. I like animals. And jazz. Records. I like listening to records.”
“Perhaps I should come over and listen to some of your records.”
So one Sunday Walter met Veronica at his apartment and Walter put records on.
They drank camomile tea together in the quiet of the afternoon, and the sunlight snuck in through the slits of his wooden blinds and warmed their arms while they snacked on digestives and exchanged pleasantries. A lime green melamine tea tray sat between them while Walter talked of his volunteer work feeding kittens and walking troubled dogs. Veronica spoke of the budgets she’d balanced that others thought couldn’t be balanced. And then she asked Walter to slap her. When she did so, he dropped his teaspoon suddenly and it clattered onto his saucer.
Veronica made Walter crumple, made him afraid to spoon the sugar into her tea cup for fear he would miscalculate. Her fingernails were all of the same exact length, each painted the same shade of blackberry, and tapping impatiently on Walter’s tea tray.
“Excuse me? ”
“Slap me, Walter.”
“But why? ”
“Because it’s what I do for fun.”
There was a silence that fell between them. They stared at each other, Walter the first to look away, toward his shoes.
“This is what you wanted, no? ”
He nodded slowly, unsure of how she had been able to guess his hidden proclivities during a brief conversation about expense reports and “fun.” But she seemed to understand immediately that someone confined to the basement yearned only to spend an afternoon humiliating those with a two-window view.
“Should we stand up? ”
“Walter, you’re not supposed to ask me what we should do.”
Walter stood up while Veronica remained seated, her expression anticipating his next move. Meekly he reached across the table for the collar of Veronica’s crisp white blouse. There was a false start, some gentle fumbling with the fabric at her neckline, and then, with sudden violence, he yanked her to her feet with so much force that she momentarily lost her footing and stumbled on her eight hundred dollar shoes. For a moment Veronica was held up only by Walter’s clenched fist, a split second of power and weakness that aroused both of them simultaneously.
The half-eaten biscuits and the steaming herbal tea underlined the absurdity of his actions, but Walter was determined.
“On your knees,” he said, his voice faltering slightly.
She obliged, plummeting to the floor in swift collapse. He held her by the back of her head, the soft, stubby fingers of his left hand embedded in the pale yellow of her tightly knotted French twist. He lifted his right hand suddenly and swung, the flat of his palm connecting with the pink of her left cheek with a satisfying crack.
The sting of it. His hand, palm flat, against her face, abrupt and determined. The sound of it stinging more than the actual sting. Veronica reeled in momentary horror, her face twisted into an expression of surprise and pain. Briefly Walter regretted slapping her, worried he was being tested and would be fired, but when he saw a smile spread across her mouth and a perfectly manicured eyebrow arc in satisfaction, he knew he was in for another swing. A car alarm blared from the street, and, buoyed by its relentless and futile shrieking, he swung at her repeatedly until she pleaded for him to relent.
Their relationship continued in much the same vein for two months. Each Tuesday, at noon, Veronica would arrive at Walter’s apartment, where he had prepared a platter of camomile tea and biscuits. After fifteen minutes of small talk, Walter would order Veronica to her knees and proceed to slap her in the face multiple times. For variety, he would occasionally take her over his knee, the curve of her rump beneath her starched skirt a pleasing change from the flush of her contorted face, but there was an awkwardness to the act given that Walter was a full three inches shorter than her. The majority of the time she preferred to be on her knees, an occasionally tearful yet thankful victim slapped violently but tenderly in the face.
As the weeks progressed Walter also managed to increase his repertoire of degrading names to call her, and what began as a simple “bitch” here, and “dirty girl” there, progressed to “whore,” “slut,” and his greatest achievement, “stupid fucking cunt.” Veronica was pleased with his progress, and while she made that clear in the context of their sessions with endless thank yous and the occasional grovelling at his feet, she never said a word about his abuse after the violence was completed.
Walter came to love the vulnerability of her gaze beneath him, the dramatic way she winced in the moment of reprieve between blows. His love was expressed in his caution not to leave telling marks, practising the force of his swing on his own bare thigh while watching late-night television on his couch. Despite her yelping pleas of “harder,” Walter was proud he came to learn the limits of her skin, to hide the violence of their indiscretions.
They were usually finished by twelve-forty-five, at which point Veronica would fix her hair and makeup in Walter’s tiny yet immaculately clean bathroom, then glide wordlessly out the front door. At precisely twelve-fifty-five Walter would clear the tea and cookies from the table and return to work, back to the safety of his spreadsheets and pornography. Never once did he see Veronica outside the context of his apartment, notwithstanding the occasional begging that came via phone from her army of frantic assistants.
The ninth Tuesday she offered him money.
“You see, Walter, I really appreciate the service you provide me, and I would like it to continue. Therefore, I offer you the incentive for it to continue.” She opened her purse and pulled out one hundred dollars—two fifties, crisp and loveless—and placed them on the tray between them.
Walter was wounded by the gesture.
“I wouldn’t stop. Why would I stop? ”
“I don’t care why you would stop. I just don’t want you to.”
“Well you could simply ask me not to.”
“You don’t ask people to do things. You pay them to do things.”
Veronica pushed the two bills at him across the tray with her perfectly painted fingernails, her cheeks still flushed with the sting of his palm. Walter looked at her, then at the money, and placed his hand on hers. He leaned across the table and kissed her for the first time, long and sweet.
“Let yourself out,” he said.
Walter stood up from the table, smoothed his hair back from his face, and retreated from Veronica and her money, walking out the front door of his apartment and into the street, toward the Dufferin subway station. At the door of the station, waiting at the bus stop, was the red-headed teenage girl—still smoking, hair still slicked back—but this time with a stroller and progeny in tow. He stopped and stared at her, contemplated his subway fantasy of her submission and humiliation and the one hundred dollars waiting for him at home. She turned to look at him, smoke dangling from her fresh girl lips while her baby gurgled and kicked in the stroller between them.
“What the fuck are you looking at? ” she asked.
Walter smiled and spat squarely in the centre of her pink fleece sweater.