Nothing Between Friends

The scene is Bangor, Maine, in April 1963. Trixie LaFleur and her best friend June Jenkins, two women in their late 20s, are reminiscing about Trixie’s senior prom night, which ended with her being caught having sex in the back of a boy’s car and taken home by the police. Well, almost. What it actually ended with was a sound spanking, meaning the next morning began with trouble sitting down.

The memory makes Trixie wistful:

TRIXIE: Well, gettin’ in trouble isn’t all bad.
JUNE (giggling): Yeah, as long as you don’t get caught!
TRIXIE (impish): Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes getting caught is half the fun.
JUNE: Sure, if your idea of havin’ fun is a well-seared rear end.

So begins Nothing Between Friends, an unproduced three-act stage play by the mixed-media artist, musician and poet Lee Todd Lacks, which was published in 2018 in an edition with his own charmingly naive illustrations.

The friends’ conversation turns gradually towards a pair of confessions by Trixie. First, she admits to June that, when they were growing up, she discovered that she enjoyed being spanked. June finds this hard to understand: the fear of spanking was what made her try to be good, but Trixie explains that for her, it meant the satisfying release of an overwhelming sense of guilt.

And why did she feel so guilty? Confession Number Two: her parents tried to raise her as a Catholic, but she herself is inclined towards paganism and nature-worship. June’s reaction is ‘half-joking’: ‘Trixie Ann LaFleur, I oughta put you over my knee for utterin’ such heresy.’ But if there is still guilt to be purged, maybe it can be more than just a joke…

The conversation turns again to their shared memories of June’s mother’s hairbrush (which, it is implied, was used on Trixie too – and indeed, it appears they were originally conceived as sisters rather than best friends). June recently found an antique hairbrush in an estate sale, formerly the property of a mother who raised seven girls single-handed: ‘that brush has seen a lot of sorry backsides’. And June has an idea: ‘if I’m gonna be a mama someday, I need to try my hand at spankin’ naughty girls.’ She presents Trixie with a straight choice: either take a spanking from her now, or the whole of Bangor will find out about her unconventional religious convictions. And when the gossip reached her parents, as it inevitably would,

‘I bet your Dad would put you over the front fence, with your rear end facing the street this time. … Then, he’d have a cookout on the front lawn, and invite all the neighbors, and when they asked, “Why is Trixie Ann draped over the fence with her skirts up in the air?” he’d tell them about your heathen practice and ask them to pray for you while he strapped your bare behind.’

Then June goes to fetch the brush, leaving Trixie alone and fretting silently onstage, and on her return orders her friend to hike up her dress. The stage directions document the ensuing preparations in loving detail:

Despairingly, Trixie reaches down to grab the hem of her swing dress, lifting it to reveal the seafoam green panties that she wore beneath her sheer-to-waist nylons. … Slipping her fingers inside the waistbands of her pantyhose and panties, Trixie tugs them down below her knees. She then hobbles over to the bed and lays prone across the mattress, so that her thighs rest upon June’s upper right leg. June then proceeds to thread her left leg between Trixie’s knees, just above the tangle of her underwear, effectively pinning her friend’s right leg. As June shifts to gain greater leverage, her skirt rides up past the point of discretion.

What follows is a debate about the competing claims of the Christian God and the Celtic nature-goddess Flidais, punctuated by ‘firm, deliberate strokes with the hairbrush’. But Trixie doesn’t waver in her pagan devotion, despite a very long spanking – or perhaps because of it, because it not only raises welts but also causes her to orgasm. ‘Very well, my friend,’ says June, ‘then you had better plan on spendin’ many more long afternoons over my lap.’ To be precise, every Saturday afternoon, after work.

In the second act, it is six months later. After another of their regular afternoon spankings, June goes to confession and admits to the incredulous priest, ‘I have been spanking my best friend every week, for the past six months.’ Once he realizes he has heard correctly, Father Allen is outraged, and it makes matters worse that June further admits that she has been ‘physically aroused’ by the sessions. He takes her to a room in the church undercroft, which she knows but hasn’t visited for many years, where the furnishings include a kneeler and ‘an assortment of paddles and canes’. He is going to correct her carnal pleasure in Trixie’s punishment by reminding her what it is like to be on the receiving end. She is told to prepare herself, and again the stage directions enjoy going into more detail than is strictly necessary:

June wipes away a tear as she approaches the kneeler. While bending at the waist, she raises her skirt and slip to reveal the voluminous pantygirdle that holds her nylon stockings in place. Having detached the garters of the girdle from her nylons, June shimmies her way out of the constrictive undergarment, much to the vexation of Father Allen. June straddles the knee rest while pushing her hips against the padded shelf, purposefully presenting her bottom for correction. Moments later, Father Allen turns to the left wall and removes one of the heaviest canes. He takes a few precursory swings before proceeding with June’s penance. … Moments later, June hears a dreadful thwack, as the cane sears her backside like a white hot tongue of flame.

Trixie arrives in church for the service and hears the penance going on beneath, without identifying the recipient. It is left up to June to admit what happened after they get home and settle down to a girly evening of wine and I Love Lucy. They are becoming ever closer friends, the more so by the third act, set in July 1964, eight months after June’s Marine Corps husband has been reported missing.

Trixie takes June to a beach party which is also a pagan initiation ceremony involving paddling. After happening upon the implement, June is determined to prove that she herself could take a paddling if it came to it, and Trixie agrees to give her a taste. June kneels down and ‘lifts her dress to reveal pale lavender panties underneath’.

But when told to pull them down, she demurs: ‘What if your friends show up?!’ Trixie mocks her with sarcastic understanding: ‘A lot of girls can’t complete the initiation because they’re too scared to show their rear ends.’ June is duly goaded, and the precision directions start up again:

June turns the skirt of her dress inside out while bending at the waist so that it hangs down over her head. The sharp downward slope of the shoreline props June’s bottom to such an extent that Mother Nature appears to be conspiring against her.

As Trixie is preparing to paddle, the pagan group of nearly two dozen women arrives, unseen by June, who tells Trixie to get on with it – if needs be, pretend she’s the school principal, Ms Lenehan, dealing with a naughty girl. What June doesn’t realize is that Ms Lenehan, now retired, is the leader of the pagan sisterhood and is present for the initiation. It is she, not Trixie, who proceeds to wield the paddle on June.

It emerges that the cult is opposed to the Catholic church primarily because it’s the priests who administer the corporal penances, but it’s not against spanking on principle; in fact, Ms Lenehan turns out to be one of the seven daughters of the mother whose hairbrush June bought, and her attitude to receiving a sore backside is a close echo of Trixie’s. And in another parallel with the first act, June finds herself blackmailed in much the same terms as she did Trixie: she must submit to a second paddling, if she doesn’t want her parents to learn that he has been taking sexual pleasure in spanking Trixie, or Father Allen to hear that she has been consorting with pagans. So with a ‘searing stroke’ of the paddle, June’s punishment begins – after which she is told that she has been successfully initiated into the cult. Ms Lenehan has a particular duty in mind for her: she is to be the group’s designated spanker. The play ends as June accepts the invitation and begins a new secret life. ‘Blessed be.’

I’m going to be brutally honest now. There are a number of reasons why this is an unproduced play, and is likely to remain so always. A major obstacle is one of basic practicality: it is explicitly called a ‘stage play’ on the back cover, but the author simply doesn’t understand how stage plays work, and writes with little sense of what is and isn’t achievable in the theater. For example, the second act starts inside the confessional with the curtain closed, after which June comes out and the scene continues with her and Father Allen walking through the nave of the church and downstairs into the undercroft, where she is caned; then it goes back to the nave, and Trixie and June walk home together through the street and ‘see June’s house at the end of the block’ before going inside for the last part of the act. That would be unproblematic in a film where the camera moves with the actors, but it is effectively impossible onstage with a static set. And when it comes to the punishments, the stage directions are far more engaged with the subjective emotional and sensory experiences of the participants than with what is objectively happening, the things that are actually to be shown to an audience: at these points it is novelistic rather than theatrical. Whatever this piece of writing actually is, it should never have been described using the phrase ‘stage play’.

Also with practical import is what the script asks of the actresses playing Trixie and especially June. Trixie is spanked onstage in the first act, and June gets fifteen strokes of the cane in the second act and two paddlings in the third, one of them amounting to 22 strokes. The script pointedly requires that all these punishments are administered on the women’s bare bottoms, and all leave extensive visible marks which cannot be easily (if at all) simulated with make-up. Some professional actresses will accept a role with nudity if it’s artistically justified. Some may even accept being spanked for real, though they are likely to be rarer nowadays than in times when mainstream spanking scenes were produced more often and frowned on less. But even if a director were able to find two sufficiently stoical or masochistic actresses, you simply can’t subject them to severe beatings that leave serious welts, unless the play’s individual performances are scheduled weeks apart so that the bottoms can heal in between. It doesn’t help that June ends the second act with fifteen cane stripes across her rear end, but then starts the third unmarked!

But we mustn’t lose sight of the question of artistic validity. The main reason why Nothing Between Friends is not coming soon to a community theater near you, let alone to Broadway, is simply that it is not a very good play. The dialog is often leaden and the story uninteresting, except as a pretext for the corporal punishment sequences, which are so heavy and so engaged in the unimaginative tropes of spanking porn that the play is bound to come across as rather off-putting to any audience that isn’t already deeply embedded in the BDSM subculture. The play gives the impression that it would like to be mainstream, but it has none of the necessary breadth of thought or lightness of touch, nor the ability to present kink in a way that might make sense to ‘normies’, nor any scintilla of the freshness or sense of humor that would make it enjoyable to watch on anything other than its own terms. The only context in which I can imagine it ever being produced is some kind of fetish convention, and probably nearer to California than Maine.

And yet there is one thing that can be said in its favor. The publisher’s blurb calls it ‘compelling’, which I can’t say was my experience of it, and then states that it ‘celebrates every woman’s prerogative to experience pleasure on her own terms’. You can’t quarrel with that, can you? Nothing Between Friends may be a poor play, ill-conceived and technically inept, but at least it is well-meaning and sincere.

Note: It’s only fair to add that you don’t have to take my word for it. The book is stocked by Amazon, and you can also get a copy direct from the publisher here.

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