This story continues the ongoing obsession with being tied up that my sister Karen and I shared. I can't put a precise date on the events I have described, but it's safe to place them some time in the late 1950s, when I would have been eight or nine years old and my sister a year older.
As usual, the story is true, but after all this time, while the key elements of the story are vivid in my memory, I don't recall every last detail or the exact words that were spoken, so I have made these up where necessary.
My mother had a passion for ballroom dancing. She was rather good at it too and had won prizes in competitions in her teens and twenties. Her sister, my Aunt Lizzie, shared the enthusiasm, although not at quite such a competitive level. The two of them had also won over their husbands, my father and my Uncle Alf, to this pursuit and they went out as a foursome about once a fortnight to enjoy a meal out together and an evening of dancing, almost always on a Friday. Of course, that was back in the 1950s, when dance halls were a common feature of British towns and even quite modest hotels would have a dance floor and would engage a small orchestra on Friday and Saturday evenings.
When my sister and brother and I were very small, the usual arrangement for these 'Dance Fridays', as we called them, would be that Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Alf would bring their daughter Annie, my cousin, to our house and a babysitter would be hired to look after all four of us. Annie is about eight years older than me, so by the time I was about seven, she was old enough to be the babysitter for the rest of us.
The routine was that Annie would be dropped at our house by my aunt and uncle, who would then go off with my parents to their chosen dance venue (there were several that they frequented). Karen, Timothy and I all liked Annie and looked forward to these times. As soon as we were home from school, Karen and I would change out of our school uniform pinafore dresses and white blouses, substituting skirts and sweaters or cotton dresses, depending on the season. We would race through our homework as soon as we were changed, so that our time was entirely our own by the time Annie arrived.
Once the adults had left the house, Annie would organise a meal for the four of us. This involved minimal cooking skills as it would either be a question of heating something my mother had already prepared or it would be something as easy as baked beans on toast.
After we had eaten, it would be time for my little brother to have his bath and go to bed. It was Annie's responsibility to oversee this, but my sister Karen and I helped more and more as we got older. Timothy's bedtime must have become later as he grew older, but for some reason I remember it as always being directly after we had had tea with Annie on those Friday nights.
Once Timothy was in bed, there was just the three of us girls. Despite the age difference, Annie got on extremely well with Karen and me. Sometimes we watched television, but more often we played together. What we actually did went in cycles: for a few Fridays, we would play board games, then it might be jigsaws or redecorating our doll's house.
Inevitably as she grew older and as important exams loomed, Annie had more and more schoolwork to do. Whenever possible, she left Friday dance evenings clear and did whatever homework needed her attention during the weekend in the peace and quiet of her own bedtime. However, there were occasions when she needed to work on Friday evening as well. I suspect that Karen and I were rather unsympathetic about anything that deprived us of an evening with our cousin's undivided attention.
There was one occasion when Annie pleaded with us just to be left alone while she made progress on some important piece of work that had to be handed in the following Monday. She settled down in the dining room with her schoolwork while Karen and I were left to watch television in the lounge (Timothy was already in bed). I have to confess we took this exile with rather bad grace and disturbed Annie irritatingly often. First we wanted a glass of milk each, then we wanted to ask about something on television, then we wanted her to settle some dispute between us, then we wanted more milk, and so on.
Eventually, of course, Annie's temper frayed to breaking point. "Do I have to keep you two tied up to get some peace around here?" she demanded.
Karen and I naturally responded with the infuriating reply, "Yes, please."
Annie knew that Karen and I had a penchant for tying each other up and for being tied up by anyone else that we could persuade to do it, so she had no qualms about carrying out her threat. She also knew that we kept a stock of old scarves and socks for that express purpose, so we were sent upstairs to fetch the necessary supplies.
The standard tie-up that had been devised by Karen and me, made practical by our mother and refined by our Aunt Lizzie had become a matter of routine. We talked Annie through the correct way to apply it: wrists protected by mittens and bound behind our backs with worn-out black winter stockings, ankles tied with a long sock, legs tied with short scarves below and above our knees and long scarves wound around our upper arms and chests. Our gags were old muslin nappy (diaper) liners pulled between our teeth and knotted behind our heads.
Once she was satisfied that we were safely immobilised and not about to cause any more trouble, Annie left us sitting at opposite ends of the lounge sofa and went back to work. Alas, not having the benefit of the practice that our mother and Aunt Lizzie had gained, her tying was not all it could have been.
Our gags were quite secure and the knots were impervious to mitten-clad fingers and they were tight enough that we couldn't just pull them out of each other's mouths. However, as Karen and I were attempting to get each other's gags loose, I realised that my wrists were not tied quite as tightly as they would have been had my Mum or Aunt Lizzie tied them. The scarf around my arms and chest was very tight, just as I had instructed Annie when she was tying me up, so I had very little freedom to do the necessary pulling with one hand and pushing with the other to get free. I grunted through my gag to get Karen's attention and turned my back on her so she could see what I was trying to do. She quickly turned around and shuffled herself along the sofa so that we were back to back. I felt her hook her thumbs through my wrist binding and then we pulled in opposite directions while I wriggled my wrists to try to persuade them to slide through the knotted stocking. It was slow progress and was fairly rough on my hands, but, with perseverance, my hands were free within about five minutes.
Once I had use of my hands, naturally everything else followed quickly and it wasn't long before Karen and I were both completely untied. We went into the dining room to report our success to Annie. Our cousin's response was a strange mixture of emotions. She was annoyed at being disturbed just when she believed that she had the peace she had been desperate for but she was also astonished and curious to know how we had managed to escape. I think she was also genuinely impressed at our prowess and enterprise in getting loose.
"Right, you two, I need about another half hour, so I'm going to have to truss you up again," Annie told us, more exasperated than angry.
Karen and I were quite prepared to go another round with Annie, so we readily agreed to being tied up again and led the way back to the lounge.
Annie paused for a moment as she worked out how to forestall another escape. "You get a choice; I can tie you up a bit more than last time or you can both be blindfolded."
Part of the fun of being tied up together was that we could see each other's predicament and our struggles, so we elected to be tied up 'a bit more', whatever that turned out to be.
Annie started by restoring our gags, now cold, damp and rather unpleasant. She tied our wrists next, protected by our mittens, crossed behind our backs and secured with old black woollen stockings, exactly as before. My wrist binding was noticeably tighter than before and I assumed that the same would also be true for Karen. The long scarves were wound around our arms and chests once more and again Annie tied them much tighter than her first effort.
The only change from our 'standard' tie-up was that Annie omitted the long socks used to tie our ankles. She deployed the two short scarves that had previously been used on each of us to tie our legs above and below our knees differently; she used them to tie our legs together at the ankles and just below the knees, carefully cinching each binding. We were sitting perched on the edge of the sofa at this stage. Annie rearranged us so that we were at opposite ends of the sofa, facing each other with our legs stretched out on the cushions. She moved Karen's legs so that they were on top of mine then used one of the unused socks to attach Karen's ankle binding to my knee binding and the other to attach her knee binding to my ankle binding. It was a two-seat sofa, so it was quite a good length for two fairly small children to occupy it in this way, with the arms of the sofa providing back support.
Satisfied that her troublesome cousins weren't about to go anywhere, Annie left the room, favouring us, as she went, with a grin that quite clearly said, "Gotcha!"
On the face of it, Karen and I were completely stuck. With our legs tied together in this way, neither of us could do anything to free the other either with fingers or teeth and would possibly have been just as helpless even without our gags and the mittens covering our fingers. As a matter of principle, we both struggled anyway. Our wrists were tied far too tightly this time to have any chance of wriggling out of the stockings bound around them. Our gags were also too tight to work free of, no matter how much twisting of necks and pushing with tongues we employed. We tried to see if we could pull our legs free of their bindings, but sitting on a sofa with our hands tied behind our backs, we had nothing to hang onto and all that happened was that we slid towards each other as our legs bent.
Eventually, by mutual unspoken agreement, we gave up struggling and just sat looking at each other. It was fun to be tied up and know that we were completely helpless, but at the same time frustrating that Annie had defeated us. After ten minutes or so, I saw Karen's eyes widen and what might have been a grin, if she hadn't been gagged, spread across her face. She had clearly thought of something; I could almost see the lightbulb floating above her head.
Karen started shuffling herself towards the edge of the sofa. Of course, she wasn't able to get far as her legs were tied to mine. I still didn't know what her brainwave was, but it was obvious that she wanted us off the sofa, so I started shuffling in the same direction. I stopped when Karen made an urgent-sounding grunt through her gag. She was shaking her head; clearly I needed to follow her lead more carefully and not just guess what the next move should be.
I sat still and waited for the next prompt from Karen. She turned her body towards the back of the sofa, as if to roll over onto her side. I realised the reason for the initial move; it had been to minimise the risk of falling off the sofa while rolling over. I followed suit, getting into an uncomfortable position twisted sideways with my weight supported by one bound arm against the arm of the sofa. Karen kept on rolling and I followed until we were face-down on the sofa. While the sofa was a good length to sit as Annie had left us, it wasn't nearly long enough for us to lie flat along its length. Accordingly, Karen's feet and knees were on the seat cushions and mine were on top of hers, but our upper bodies were bent back, with our chests against the arms of the sofa. Hips don't bend backwards, not very far anyway, so the position was extremely uncomfortable.
I could still feel movement, so it was obvious that Karen still hadn't finished rearranging herself. I craned my head around to see what she was doing. Using her shoulder and elbow, Karen was 'walking' herself upright against the sofa's backrest. It was clearly hard work as the grunts emerging from under her gag testified. It was a slow process, but she eventually succeeded in getting herself completely upright and kneeling on the seat cushions. It was obvious that I had to do the same. It proved to be every bit as difficult as I had anticipated. With my arms tightly bound to my sides with a scarf, it was difficult to gain any purchase or to make more than a fraction of an inch progress at each step. My stability was also severely compromised by the fact that my weight wasn't on the seat cushions like Karen, but on her legs. The pressure of my knees on her heels and Achilles tendons must have been very unpleasant. Nevertheless after several long minutes of struggling, I was able to get myself upright.
Very carefully, Karen and I edged towards each other, trying not to overbalance precipitously, until our backs were in contact. It was now possible for us to reach each other's bound hands behind our backs. I'm not sure if we really could have freed each other because it was at that point that Annie came back into the lounge to tell us that she had finished her work and to untie us. She stopped dead as she entered the room and stared at us in open -mouthed disbelief, having fully (and not unreasonably) expected to find us in exactly the position she had left us in. Still shaking her head in astonishment, Annie set about freeing us.
"I don't think Houdini could have taught you two much," Annie commented as she untied knots and disentangled scarves and socks.
"Who's Houdini?" we asked and Annie had to tell us all she could remember about him.
"If you can get out of being done up like this, I think it will have to be ropes and chairs if I ever need to tie you up again," our cousin mused, extricating us from the last of our bonds.
"Yes, please!" Karen and I replied enthusiastically, somewhat to Annie's consternation. Unbeknown to Annie, Karen and I had been unsuccessfully lobbying our Mum for some time to allow us to tie each other up with rope. We had also experimented with tying each other to chairs, but with limited success using the usual bundle of scarves, socks and old stockings. Annie's words therefore sounded to us more like the promise of a treat than the light-hearted threat she had intended.
The next time a Dance Friday came around, probably either a week or a fortnight later, Annie arrived with a bulging schoolbag.
"I'm sorry," she told us, "but I have a mountain of work to do before Monday and I really have to put in an hour or two tonight."
The evening meal was a fairly hurried affair as Annie wanted to get Timothy off to bed as quickly as possible and to make a start on her evening's work. Karen and I helped by washing and drying the plates and cutlery while Annie saw to Timothy's bath and read him a bedtime story.
"Now, I need peace and quiet to think," Annie told us as she came back downstairs.
"Did you mean what you said last time?" I asked eagerly.
"You said you'd tie us to chairs with rope," Karen reminded her.
Annie looked at us quizzically. "If you two can manage to watch television quietly and keep out of my hair for an hour or so, I won't need to tie you up at all."
"We didn't manage it last time," I pointed out disingenuously.
"And," our cousin continued, "I only said that I might need to use rope if I couldn't keep you under control with your scarves and things."
"We've been practising being Houdinis," Karen confided.
"Well, just in case, I brought this," Annie said, reaching into the depths of her bag. She pulled out two bundles of thin brown rope and a handful of handkerchiefs.
Karen and I had already discussed this possibility and had worked out the practicalities.
"We'll get our desk chairs from upstairs," I told Annie. (In our bedroom we had a low writing desk which we shared and each had a small chair suitably sized for pre-teens to do their homework. We had already selected these as ideal chairs to be tied to.)
"And we'll put on mittens and really thick socks," my sister added. (We had worked out that rope would probably rougher on our wrists and ankles than scarves and stockings.)
A few minutes later, we were sitting side by side on our desk chairs in the lounge facing the television, which Annie had switched on. The chairs were miniature versions of Windsor chairs with arched wooden backs set into solid wooden seats. The legs were set into the underside of the seats and splayed out in the traditional style. A wooden brace linked the legs on each side of the chair and these braces were in turn linked by a single brace, so that the legs of each chair was linked and reinforced by a wooden letter H.
Annie started by tying Karen's wrists together behind the back of the chair. I was surprised at the enormous length of rope that she seemed to be using; there was a huge pile of it on the floor. Annie took the extreme end of the rope and wound it several times around my sister's wrists then between them to cinch those wraps. Finally, she formed a knot to secure the binding. I was intrigued at the way Annie managed to do all the manipulation using only the end of the rope and avoided having to thread the entire length through the knot to tie it. When she finished, there was a tail of about six inches sticking out of the knot.
Annie gathered the trailing mass of rope into a coil that she could hold in one hand. She brought the coil around Karen's waist and the chair twice, paying out rope as she went. Making sure these turns were pulled snug, Annie looped the rope over Karen's wrist binding, passing the coil to herself between Karen's arms to do so.
Once she was satisfied that wrists and waist were secure, Annie brought her coil of rope down to the junction of the left back leg of the chair with the brace linking it to the front leg. She wound it around the leg twice, once below and once above the brace, then brought the rope forward to Karen's left leg, which she lashed to the front leg of the chair with several turns of rope, again passing some below the brace between the chair legs and some above. (As I watched, I realised that this would eliminate any chance of escape by tipping the chair and working the rope down over the bottom of the chair leg.) Annie repeated the procedure with Karen's right leg then brought the much-diminished coil of rope to the back right leg of the chair where she wound it around the leg, above and below the brace as before, until she judged that she had the right amount left. She finished off by tying the end of the rope to the tail that she had left sticking out of the knot in Karen's wrist binding.
Once Karen was secure, Annie repeated the procedure on me. I was immediately impressed at how much more secure rope felt than the soft materials I had been tied up with hitherto. I was used to there being a slight give in bindings, no matter how firmly they were tied; with rope there was none. I was also pleased that we had chosen to wear heavy socks as well as mittens for this escapade; the rope on my ankles felt as if it would have been very uncomfortable indeed on my relatively thin woollen tights.
"Are you two OK like that?" Annie asked once she had finished.
Karen and I assured her we were.
"Nothing too tight? Nothing hurting?"
We shook our heads solemnly.
Annie completed our imprisonment by gagging us. She shook out and then balled up a handkerchief, which she stuffed into Karen's mouth, securing it with a second handkerchief folded into a band, pulled back between her teeth and knotted behind her head. I received the same treatment.
Content that we were successfully immobilised and silenced, Annie kissed each of us on the top of the head and left us to watch television.
Now we were alone, Karen and I explored the limits of our freedom. I was amazed at how constricted I felt. The way Annie had anchored our wrist bindings meant that I had surprisingly little movement in our upper bodies, despite only being tied to the chair-back at waist level; I could lean left or right a little , but had almost no freedom to lean forwards. I could also move my knees left and right to a small degree, but anything beyond that caused my ankle bindings to tighten dramatically. Other than that, I could move my head and wiggle my fingers inside my mittens, but that was about it.
It was obvious from the most cursory examination of our bonds, that escape was completely out of the question. After a brief struggle, largely to prove to ourselves that we really were helpless prisoners, Karen and I sat in companionable enforced silence watching television, occasionally glancing at each other and thoroughly enjoying our predicament.
After we had been tied up a little over an hour, Annie came back into the lounge. "I didn't think you'd get out of that," she commented as she started to untie us.
Although, it had been enormous fun being tied up, it felt good to be free again. While Karen and I stretched our cramped limbs, Annie made cups of cocoa for us all. After we had drunk it, my sister and I went to bed well satisfied with our evening's escapade.
The next time there was a Dance Friday, Karen and I were eager to repeat our adventure with Annie. Almost as soon as she was through the door, we asked if she would need to work that evening. She was very apologetic, but confirmed that, if at all possible, she really needed to spend an hour or so with her books. Karen and I were, of course, delighted and made sure that we were ready just as soon as Timothy had been put to bed.
Annie tied us up in exactly the same way that she had before, but somehow, although we still enjoyed the experience, it wasn't quite as much fun the second time around. Possibly the novelty of being authentically tied to chairs with rope, just like in books and films, was what had made the previous time such a thrill. By the time Annie untied us, I was getting just a little bit bored. Karen confirmed that she felt the same way when we compared notes afterwards.
When Annie arrived for the Dance Friday after that, she once again had her schoolbag with her and it was obviously well filled with books. Once Timothy was tucked up in bed, Annie told Karen and me that she had a favour to ask.
"I'm sorry girls, but I really need to work tonight," she told us apologetically. "Would it be all right if I tied you up again?"
Karen and I were not particularly enthusiastic, but if Annie really needed the peace and quiet and we could help her like that, we were willing to co-operate, so, just a little reluctantly, we agreed to her request. Privately, I was puzzled as I was sure that Annie had told us her exams were imminent the last time she had tied us up. I was sure they must already have happened.
With the experience of the previous evenings, it took only a few minutes for Annie to have us securely tied to our chairs in front of the television and gagged. Any attempt to escape was utterly futile and we knew it, so after squirming around to find the most comfortable position in our ropes, Karen and I settled down to wait out the hour or so that Annie had asked for.
Less than five minutes after Karen and I had been trussed up, Timothy came downstairs. I have no idea what the reason was; possibly he just wasn't sleepy and was looking for some company or attention. His eyes widened when he saw Karen and me tied up. I think he knew that Annie had tied us up previously, so he knew immediately what had happened. He went running off to find her and we could hear his demand quite clearly.
"Annie, tie me up too!"
Timothy had an ambivalent view of Karen's and my enjoyment of our tie-up games. Several times he had requested us to tie him up, but it was obvious that he hated it and he would demand to be set free as soon as we had finished tying him, or sometimes even before that. It was as if he wanted to be included in our games and could persuade himself that he would enjoy it, even though he never liked the end result. In this case, I think he just felt that he was being left out of a treat that Annie was giving his sisters but denying him.
We heard Annie trying to convince Timothy that he wouldn't like being tied up and that he ought to go back to bed, but the more she argued, the more determined he became to have his own way. Finally, she led him into the lounge and ordered him to sit on the sofa. She disappeared out of the room, returning a few minutes later with another coil of rope. I don't know why she had extra on hand; Karen and I were quite efficiently immobilised with the amount of rope she had already used on us. She also had a pair of socks, which she pulled over Timothy's hands, and a handkerchief, which was obviously intended as a gag.
Annie instructed Timothy to stand up and to put his hands behind his back. She tied his wrists in much the same way that she had Karen's and mine: wrapping rope around them and cinching between them, working with the extreme end of the rope. Annie gathered up the pile of rope on the floor into a coil and started wrapping it around Timothy's arms and chest. The rope spiralled around him up to shoulder level and down again. She hitched it around Timothy's wrist binding then helped him sit on the sofa again. Once again, Annie started winding the rope around our brother, this time spiralling in down his legs to lash them together. When she had about two feet of rope left, she used it to form a neat binding, securely wrapped around and cinched between Timothy's ankles. Annie folded the handkerchief into a band, pulled it between my brother's teeth and knotted it at the back of his head. Lastly, she lifted his feet off the floor, swivelled him around and laid him along the length of the sofa.
"Be careful what you ask for; you might get it," Annie counselled Timothy as she left the room.
I was expecting Timothy to start thrashing around and trying to break free as soon as Annie had left him, but I was surprised to see him settle down quite quickly after some squirming to convince himself that he really was securely bound hand and foot.
The remainder of the evening might well have passed uneventfully had the adults' arrangements not fallen through. It seems that my parents, Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Alf had gone to their chosen venue for the evening, only to discover that the dance had been cancelled. They had booked a table for a meal, so they ate together as planned, but rather than go somewhere else for a dance, they had a drink and decided to end their evening early.
Karen and I had been tied up for perhaps half an hour when we heard the front door being unlocked. My mother and Aunt Lizzie were first into the house, chatting and laughing together until they reached the lounge door. My Mum stopped dead, staring open-mouthed at the sight of her three children bound and gagged.
Aunt Lizzie took a look over her sister's shoulder then stormed off in search of her daughter. A few seconds later, she dragged Annie into the lounge.
My mother had, in the mean time shaken herself out of her shocked paralysis. She had removed Timothy's gag and was trying to work out where to start to untie him.
"Annabel Catherine Macdonald, get those children untied this instant," Aunt Lizzie yelled, her voice strident with rage.
Annie complied as quickly as she could, slightly hampered by her hands shaking with fear. My mother ungagged Karen and me but left the ropes to Annie. Aunt Lizzie's temper was terrifying, with the result that Timothy, Karen and I were all quickly in tears. We understood that Annie was is trouble but couldn't work out if we were too, and, if so with whom and how deeply.
My Dad and Uncle Alf had been talking outside and only came in when they heard Aunt Lizzie shouting. In the event, there was little they could do to quell the pandemonium that was going on so they sensibly stood by and watched.
As soon as all three children were free, Aunt Lizzie sent Annie to collect her things, then led my Mum out of the room. The next thing we heard was the front door slamming shut as Aunt Lizzie, Uncle Alf and Annie left the house. We could still hear Aunt Lizzie's voice outside until their car doors shut.
Things were much quieter with Annie's family out of the house. Karen, Timothy and I were just about under control and had stopped crying by the time our mother returned to the lounge. Very gently, she assured us that we weren't in any trouble ourselves, but that Annie was in a lot of trouble. She asked to hear our side of the story, so we explained about Annie and schoolwork and how we were helping her by leaving her alone and keeping quiet and how Timothy didn't want to be left out.
My mother listened to everything we had to say and then pointed out that Annie didn't actually have any work that evening, her exams already being over (confirming my suspicion). When Aunt Lizzie found Annie, she was at the dining room table where she usually worked, but, rather than schoolbooks, spread on the table were some magazines, a half-written letter to Annie's then-current boyfriend and an open packet of cigarettes. (Neither of Annie's parents smoked, but both of mine did, so any smell of smoke would go unnoticed in our house.)
My Dad took Timothy back up to bed while Mum made some cocoa for Karen and me. She continued to question us as she did so; I think she was trying to determine Karen's and my complicity in being tied up.
Karen and I went to bed after that, surprisingly untroubled after the upheaval of the evening.
The following day, there was of course no school as it was Saturday. After breakfast, Karen and I found that our Mum and Dad had stacked our desk chairs in the corner of the lounge and coiled Annie's rope supply into three neat bundles. The handkerchiefs had been roughly folded, but were obviously in need of being laundered.
"We'll take those back to Annie," Karen volunteered.
Our mother pointed out that Annie was probably still in trouble for what had happened the previous evening.
"It's still her stuff and we ought to give it back," I pointed out.
Mum suggested that the atmosphere at Aunt Lizzie's house might still be a bit tense for a pleasant visit but we persisted and, in the end, she relented.
We put all Annie's tying up supplies into a net shopping bag which, in turn, we put into the basket on the front of Karen's bicycle. It was a pleasant sunny morning and Karen and I enjoyed the quarter hour or so it took us to ride the mile and a half to Aunt Lizzie's house. (We were old enough to be allowed to ride on quiet roads and by choosing our route carefully, we could get to our aunt's house with only one major road to be crossed, for which we could use a pedestrian crossing.)
We propped our bikes up at the back of Aunt Lizzie's house and knocked on the back door, as we usually did. Our aunt was very surprised to see us. She asked us if we were all right after the ordeal we had suffered the previous evening. We assured her that we were, but were rather puzzled by the question; after all Karen and I had been tied up plenty of times before and several of those times, it had been Aunt Lizzie who had done the tying.
Karen held out the string bag that we had brought from home."We brought Annie's ropes back," she announced, bringing the conversation back to the purpose of our visit. (Karen and I were also anxious to know if Annie was all right, giving her back the rope was a way of finding out.)
"I could have done with that earlier," Aunt Lizzie commented mysteriously, taking the bag. "I had to use the clothes-line."
"Can we see Annie?" I asked.
"Well, she's in a lot of trouble, but I'll let you see her," our aunt replied. "Come with me, she's in the dining room."
If Annie was in trouble, I would have expected her to be sent to her bedroom, but maybe Aunt Lizzie did things differently. Slightly puzzled, we followed her.
Annie was indeed in the dining room and Aunt Lizzie had indeed used the clothes-line. Annie was sitting on one of Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Alf's ladder-backed wooden dining chairs and was securely tied to it. I don't think I had ever seen anyone so thoroughly tied up before, even in films and comics. Annie's torso was tied to the chair-back with rope around her waist and chest and over both shoulders. Her upper arms were lashed to the vertical side-members of the chair back. Her hands were behind the back of the chair, so I couldn't see how they were tied. Her ankles were tied back to the front legs of the chair and her knees were tied both back to the chair legs and down to the front corners of the seat. More rope across her lap held her down onto the chair seat.
I couldn't see much of Annie's face as she was gagged with a red and white spotted cotton headscarf between her teeth and blindfolded with a black winter scarf. She turned her head to face us as we came into the room.
"Why is Annie tied up?" I asked, even though I knew full well that it must have been a punishment for her behaviour the following evening.
"Well, she tied you and your sister and brother up just so that she could read magazines and smoke cigarettes. Don't you think she deserves a taste of her own medicine?" As she spoke, Aunt Lizzie untied Annie's blindfold and laid it on the table.
"How long will she be tied up for?" Karen asked, avoiding giving an opinion on the justice of the situation.
"Well you two were tied up for about four hours each, so I'm giving Annie eight hours to think about what it feels like to be tied up when you don't want to be. She's had about two hours so far, so there's six to go."
"But that's not fair!" I exclaimed vehemently. "Annie asked our permission before she tied us up."
"And then she asked us if we really wanted to go through with it," Karen added.
"Besides, we both like being tied up, so we enjoyed it," I pointed out, bending the truth ever so slightly in our cousin's favour.
From the expression on Aunt Lizzie's face, this wasn't quite how she had interpreted the situation.
"Well, I've tied both of you up in the past, so I know you like it," our aunt replied, "but that's different from Annie tying you up to keep you out of the way."
"It was our idea to be tied up," Karen asserted, bending the truth a little further.
"We thought we were helping Annie by keeping out of her way and staying quiet," I pointed out.
"And it was a fun way of doing it," Karen added.
There was a long pause before Aunt Lizzie spoke again. "But Annie lied to you about having work to do."
"She did," Karen conceded, "but we still agreed to being tied up."
"We were looking forward to it," I asserted, making a pretzel of the truth.
"What about Timothy?"
"Tim wanted to be tied up too;" Karen told our aunt, "he thought he was missing out on something."
"Annie didn't want to do it at first, but Tim insisted," I explained, getting back onto the strict truth at last.
"Is all this true Annie?" Aunt Lizzie asked, including her daughter in the conversation for the first time.
Annie briefly made eye contact with Karen and me, as if to reassure herself that we really were on her side, before nodding in reply to her mother.
"And it was their idea to be tied up?"
There was a brief hesitation before Annie nodded, but Aunt Lizzie didn't seem to notice.
"I think we'd better get that gag out of your mouth, so you can join in the conversation properly," Aunt Lizzie said, now sounding a little less sure of herself.
Annie tilted her head forward while her mother untied the knot securing her gag then tilted it back so that the balled up handkerchief (much bigger than the ones Annie had gagged us with) could be eased out of her mouth.
Aunt Lizzie picked up a cup of water and offered it to Annie. It was one of those plastic cups with a lid that babies and toddlers use. Annie slurped greedily at the water then nodded to indicate that she had drunk enough.
Avoiding her mother's eyes, as soon as she could speak, Annie addressed my sister and me: "Karen, Becca, I'm really sorry about lying to you last night. I was so tired after my exams that I just wanted an evening to myself without having to think about anybody else. When I thought about how you had been so pleased to let me tie you up while I was working, the temptation was just too much. I'm really sorry."
I wasn't sure what to say, but Karen spoke for both of us: "That's all right, Annie."
A long awkward silence followed, broken at last by Aunt Lizzie. "I'm sorry too. Karen and Becca's story confirms what you told me last night and this morning, Annie, only I didn't believe you then. You lied to your cousins, but you've said sorry for that and we'll talk about smoking another time. I don't think you deserve to be tied up a minute longer."
Aunt Lizzie had neatly side-stepped the question of whether Annie had deserved to be tied up at all, but none of us queried that. It took well over five minutes to get all the rope off Annie, even with Karen and me helping Aunt Lizzie.
Annie went upstairs to freshen up while Karen and I helped our aunt tidy up the remains of the clothesline. We were in the kitchen enjoying a glass of milk each when Annie reappeared. We were surprised to see that she was wearing thick black stockings and a woollen cardigan buttoned up to her throat on top of her dress, despite the warmth of the day.
"I want to stay covered up for now," Annie explained. She pushed one sleeve up to reveal an impressive series of rope-marks.
Privately, although I was shocked by Annie's ordeal and glad for her that it was over, I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to be tied up like that myself. However, I didn't think it was quite the right time to raise this as a possibility with Aunt Lizzie.