Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Her First Day at the Workbench - A rough and Unfinished Volume 2 Draft Fragment

Here is an unfinished INSTITUTIONALISED volume 2 fragment - the middle part and end have been left out at present as more work is needed. Feel free to point out any grammatical / spelling errors, missed words and nonsensical things. i.e please help by proof reading if you have the time. Remember: I am dyslexic and need all the help I can get! Also, I am always open to storyline suggestions and ideas - even at this late stage. Don't worry about the formatting; blogger screws up the paragraph structure when I post. If you have a suitable illustration to go with this, then don't hesitate to post. Most of the book is now complete, but this is one of those stubborn parts that just won't come together somehow and I am far from happy with it in its present form. By the way; there is a little twist at the end of this section that I can't let you see - too much of a spoiler!
Her First Day at the Workbench
So this was it, her first day at the workbench. The idea laboured slowly through the cleaning sleep-deprived mire of confused thoughts, seemingly weighing down on her physically somehow, the resignation crushing her.
This was supposed to be an experiment in social psychology… she was supposed to be here of her own volition… she was supposed to be being paid for this … come to that; it was supposed to have lasted ninety days, neatly filling that yawning lonely gap between her father's funeral and her finally taking up her university placement. It was supposed to have been a lot of things it patiently wasn't.
Most of all it was supposed to be of benefit to her, psychologically. It certainly wasn't supposed to harm her in any way - and it was most definitely harming her, they could be no doubt, not even in her befuddled mind. Her stammer had progressed to the point where she was barely coherent; she stared down fixedly and continuously at her own feet, unable even momentarily to meet the gaze of the staff and nurses; she shook like a leaf, cringing like a beaten cur at the first harsh word. Worst of all, her agoraphobia had grown to the point at which she increasingly found herself glad of the enclosing walls, the safety of the barred windows and the reassurance of all those steel security grilles through which daily she would pass and that were nested around her babushka-like.
The chronic, near pathological, indecision that admittedly had begun to plague her well before her arrival at the unit - having first arisen during the time she had been living with Julia Soames, the woman she had come to call Aunt - had since developed apace. Not that there were particularly taxing demands made upon her in that way on a day-to-day basis here. It simply came down to conforming to rules, regulations and orders, behaviour greeted by warm comforting words, or rebellion and refusal and biting tongue-lashings, finger-stung cheeks or even a half-dozen slashing cuts of an expertly wielded cane delivered across bare buttocks, the back of the thighs or the palms of the hands.
As an exercise in social control it didn't disappoint. Those original ninety days had long ago elapsed – quite how long exceeded she had no way of knowing - yet she had signed up, not just for another three months but for another six. She would meekly return to her tiny cell but when ordered,; they had her standing for hours on end with her nose pressed into the corner and hands-on head; they had her contritely bending twice per day with bottom bared and grasping her ankles, waiting for that wickedly whippy cane to slash down - and all without the slightest hint of dissent or hesitation.
In close-up work table, itself, appeared far larger than it had from the other side of the bars, that floor-to-ceiling iron fence that separated the workroom from the rest of that section of the unit. A good two meters in width by very nearly four in length, its matt-white plastic top was perhaps three centimetres or more in-depth, its ungainly robustness relieved and disguised by the graceful down-curving of the edges and the gentle rounding of the corners. Any impression the girl might have first formed in her head suggesting some dredged-up memory of an innocent expanse of melamine kitchen work-surface, was quickly dispelled by the series of circular apertures punctuating the worktop at regular intervals - or more precisely, the sinister implication of what issued forth from each.
Along each side of the work table, where it formed an integral part of its structure, ran a narrow moulded plastic bench seat. A saddle-like undulation interrupted the yielding surface at regular intervals, whereupon to either side hung a white plastic stirrup and ankle cuff arrangement on a short length of stainless steel chain, suspended perhaps ten centimetres below the seat’s underside. This, then, identified a workstation, of which there were three such - arranged to each side of the workbench in a staggered format -and it was here that the eye was drawn to that sinister puncturing of the tabletop.
Directly in front of each workstation and perhaps half a meter in from the table edge the work-surface was pierced by two circular apertures, each of around three centimetres in diameter, spaced around a meter apart. From each of these issued a length of silver-link steel chain, light weight, unobtrusive and only a little less delicate in appearance than the type of neck-chain that some of these young woman would once have worn as jewellery, but effectively unbreakable nonetheless. These silvery lengths each terminated in a gracile circular-section stainless steel bangle of an appearance not unlike some fashionable wrist adornment, if not for the lockable catch; the latter presently lying open as if in guilty confession of its true nature. Ideally suited to encircle the finely tapered elegant wrists of an equally gracile young girl, yet easily resilient enough to meet the most determinedly-mounted, spirited, tantrum-driven struggle, their function was clear: these were manacles as much as bracelets.
Midway between the latter two apertures, a third of similar diameter was set further in. Perhaps three quarters of a meter from the table edge, it formed the apex of a triangle - the similarity of the glittering links lying sprawled about it evoking the notion that here was a triangle of restraint. A white, broad double-buckled collar, a pseudo-medical confection, all softly-padded leather-look plastic and humanely-concerned design, terminated the chain and lay cynically waiting to dress the neck of the detainee.
Sized to the grace the swan-necked feminine elegance of the young inmates - for such all now present certainly were, as even Susan Stringer’s sense of denial could no longer mask - superficially the collar’s appearance echoed those furnishing each girl's ‘bed’. In detail, though, it differed markedly to that fastened on her each night and that served to constrain her to her caged-bed - itself a cage within a cage, set, as it was, within the cramped little bar-fronted cage-room they rather optimistically termed her ‘cell’. There had been adaptive changes made, changes made apparent to the observant by the thin, white, plastic covered wires that threaded in an out of the silvered chain links and led down through the opening and away beneath the tabletop.
There were other clues suggesting a functional enhancement, not all immediately obvious, nor indeed necessarily visible. There was the curving horizontal bulge at the front of the collar for one thing; the throat microphone itself was hidden from view but the technically minded might well have inferred its presence… and guessed its function.
Then there were the two silvered conductive-plastic pads; positioned on the collar’s interior side wall where they were clearly intended to make contact with either side of the wearer’s neck. Easily the least obvious of the restraint collar’s appended features, as far as the eye was concerned, once fitted their function could be relied upon to make their presence conspicuous to the wearer - along with their self-adhesive siblings, soon to be placed either side of the girl’s nipples, crotch and anus.
It was a vexatious thing to the wearer, but it did ensure that a girl could concentrate fully on her work without fear of distraction - and in that way it benefited her, albeit indirectly by ensuring she did not distract others with her mindless prattle as she might otherwise have. After all, a girl’s concentration had to be absolute if she was to meet her work quota for the day… And avoid several loving kisses from the seamstress’s heavy leather strap across her bare buttocks or half dozen or so stinging cuts from matron's cane - either the pliable brine-soaked thin rattan rod she often carried, with its near pencil-thin tip, or her favourite whip-like plastic switch it mattered not… each could quite exquisitely - and quite literally - flay the tender skin from her taut buttocks and the tender back of her thighs, tattooing parallel flaming red lines of suffering with fine-art draughtsmanship.
In its way the collar was a godsend: it could save a girl from all this, save all the girls from this. It removed temptation, allowed a girl to concentrate, trained her to forget about gossip, conversation, those around her, focused her mind purely and simply on her work, internalised her whether she liked it or not - when temptation came knocking, as it surely would, the softest of whispers, the gentlest of utterances would be met instantaneously by a physiologically harmless, but psychologically chastising, electric jolt.
It was mild yet startling in its suddenness; it made a girl jump, perhaps gasp, rather than the out-and-out screaming agony that a cut of the mistress’s cane would be capable of. But the latter took time to arrange - it would entail a delay - whereas the former, quite literally a short sharp shock, could be delivered virtually contemporaneously with the action that had earned it.
Under such circumstances the mind quickly and easily associated the undesired behaviour with its repercussion and like Pavlov's dogs they learnt to curb it, whether they liked it or not. Even the brightest of them, well educated girls such as Susan herself - and there were several - were not immune. They might have considered themselves deterministic, beyond Pavlov's salivating dogs. They might, like Susan Stringer, have recognised the technique as so-called ‘fear conditioning’, might well have understood the way in which the repeated pairing of a neutral stimulus - here being the sound of the girl's own voice and the action of speaking - with an aversive stimulus - in this case the electrically-induced startle response - would eventually result in the extinguishing of that behaviour, or at least in some sort of crippling of it.
But comprehension can be a two-edged sword: to those so blessed there is given the added bitterness of futility. Her understanding of it would not protect her, would not lessen the efficacy one iota, any more than an appreciation of the minutiae of a poison’s mode of action might automatically make her proof against its toxicity - a spoonful of cyanide is no less toxic to the enlightened as it is to the naive. Could she deny the gut-wrenching urging she felt at the sound of the toilet bell, the gnawing hunger and drool that came with the clanging of the mealtime bell, or the sole-breathed yawn and heavy-headed drowsiness at the sleep bell’s ring? No? Then how could she expect this to be any less effective.
Of course to cry out under such correction, even to gasp, risked a repeat of the same chastisement. In time even the most vociferous and recalcitrant learned to silently purse her lips - even under the heavy-leather tongue-lashing of the seamstress’s tawse or with that woman's blister-forming leather paddle, multiply-pierced with one centimetre diameter holes for that purpose, kissing the tautly stretched skin of her bare buttocks.
The work-quota was inhuman, impossible to satisfy without the devotion of every single ounce of concentration to every single working moment. When a girl had sufficiently progressed in skill so that her quota was achieved easily, her target would be increased accordingly. Each and every one of them was thus kept pressed right to her limit, right up against her breaking point, day after relentless day. And Susan Stringer knew now that she would be no different; soon it would be her squirming backside bent across that table, she who would be wailing, then rearing up against the secure grip of those chains and manacles as shock begat cry begat shock.
And it would be often, all too often - and no matter how hard she tried. It had been explained to her in great and loving detail; if one, single, girl failed to meet her quota, then the whole workroom effectively had – it was a democracy of pain and punishment. Unjust as it was, exploitative as it undoubtedly was, this was her world now; the working day stretched ahead, long, tedious and arduous and would continue to do so for…How long?
It was all far too clear to her now; she was to be chained both to the bench and the seat both. She was to be used as slave labour in what was little more than a rag-trade sweatshop - one buried deep behind thick walls, iron gates and barred windows.
Despair shuddered through her at the thought, bone jarring, cold and clammy - what was to become of her? How did she ever end up here? What had she done to deserve this, what could she ever have done that was so wrong?
The answer to the first part was at this point open-ended - though of course she couldn't know it. It was at the whim, not of those around her, those immediately in charge of her, nor of the shadowy ‘researchers’ nor of the doctor that oversaw the entire project -that power resided elsewhere, outside of the unit, outside, even, of the privately-run hospital within which it resided.
The answer to the second part was; through the power of suggestion, the machinations and coercion of a most manipulative and domineering woman and the collusion of a psychotherapist, a woman that the girl had come to trust above all others.
To the third part, the question of her wrongdoing and her deservedness of punishment the answer was simple: nothing and none. She was entirely blameless, as were they all, and therein hung the most exquisite irony - she had been a blonde haired bubbling voluptuous perfection of flowering womanhood. Had she not been, then the slow dismantling of that perfection would not have held such piquancy for those that had manipulated her, those who were ultimately responsible for her incarceration and were more than happy to pay for continuance...
...She was passed a dress, a bridal gown: hand-finished in England with love, care and attention it said inside, the label itself picked out in gold thread and clearly hand embroidered. And so it would be - all that precious intricate detailing, the kind of eyesight-eroding handiwork that was guaranteed to draw gasps of awe, would have had care and attention aplenty lavished upon it come the bride's special day. The comments and compliments will undoubtedly come thick and fast; there will be admiring glances and incredulous voices struggling against a backdrop of jubilation and laughter.
“Can you just imagine the work that went into that?” someone will breathlessly enthuse. Another will excitedly gabble: “How could anyone sit working away for the number of hours that something like that must take to complete?”
Here sat six young ladies who could answer the latter question easily enough: it took discipline, strict discipline, workhouse discipline. It took the kind of discipline that could only thrive behind high walls and security fences - and then only when enforced by the threat of the cane, tawse, paddle or martinet.
It took the kind of exploitative discipline that many had believed had disappeared with the Victorian workhouse, eradicated by social reform, enlightened views and the more open social structure of the modern world. Yet it persisted here, under the guise of the enlightened application of the scientific method. Here work was carried out that was beyond economic mechanisation, work traditionally, if discreetly, confined to the sweatshops of the Third World. But how much more profitable where not only are labour costs practically zero but where certain workers actually attract income in their own right, through the sponsorship of their detention.
The seamstress's voice rang in Susan Stringer's ears. “Get that stupid head of yours down and get back to work!” Crestfallen she turned to her needlework, then froze: there in amongst the piles of shimmering nuptial exaltation - the snow-white satins and ivory silks - a label had flapped out from within a scalloped neck. A coat of arms, a swan collared in gold and chained by the neck, the very epitome of grace in bondage stood surmounted by a coronet picked out in gold thread.
This had once been the symbol of quality in bespoke matrimonial wear – and one day would again. But more poignantly, this was a symbol she knew only too well of old....

1 comment:

Polly-jo said...

Hi Garth, just read the first volume of your Institution book and thought it was just great. I loved the delicious detail and could just imagine what it would be like to be caught up in such a situation! Please keep going with the second volume. I can't wait to read more.