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His face and voice are very steady, very calm. And—why?—those words don't stop me in my tracks as maybe they should.

Don't you dare threaten your mother like that, says his father (who will reassure me later that I absolutely did not hit him). He is standing very still now. He is still and I am the one shouting.

If you keep on doing that.

His face is pale.

I said stop it, Mum. I am going to have to hit you if you don't stop.

Outside it is hot and light. The birds are singing. Somewhere in another world, people are arriving at the theatre, queuing for the cloakroom, ordering interval drinks.

I am going to have to—

I don't remember the next moment as a single moment, more a series of neat segments. One segment is that I am definitely somehow on the floor, a crackling-fizzing sound in my ear. Another segment may be shock. Another may be pain.

No one has ever struck me before. Never in my life, I've never been struck. My bottom smacked, yes, when I was four or five, quite hard as I remember it, even once with the back of a hairbrush. But never struck, not knocked to the ground. There is even a touch of exhilaration in the newness of it.

I don't know what I say but I hear my own voice coming from somewhere inside me. Muffled. I put my finger to my ear, half expecting to see blood, but there's nothing. Just a fizzing silence. The boy's father is picking me up. I look at the clock.

Great, I say, that's it. We've missed it now.

And my legs give way again.

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