Thursday, 24 February 2011

Badges - Fridayflash

His mum and dad were very loyal to their country. They unfailingly heeded the Tourist Board's entreaties to visit the delightful countryside and the history-laden towns up and down the nation, rather than jet off to foreign climes. They bunked down in boarding and guest houses. In people's spare rooms let out for the summer. On camp and caravan sites. And from each place they were sure to invest in a tiny metallic memory to remind them and mark their progress through the landscape. They bought an enamel badge with the name of the county etched on it, or the coat of arms of the town. And his father unerringly pinned it to the outside of his rucksack so that in time it took on the appearance of a swarm of multi-coloured bees at the honeycomb of his canvas.

His own birth didn't halt their wanderings up and down the kingdom. They purchased a papoose thus conferring on him a frontal view of his land, his heritage. If his father was in front, he had an untrammelled view of the badges on the rucksack in all their dazzling glory. He would stare entranced for all the hours on the hoof.

A tad older and someone bought him an enamelling kit. He could make his very own badges and assiduously he applied himself to the task, tongue poking out the corner of his mouth with concentration. Being young and stubby fingered, the enamelling was far from perfect, but in time he had a green metal frog, a pink iron butterfly, a cobalt blue fish and a steel black dog. As rightly proud as he was, he couldn't bring himself to wear them as badges. Somehow they seemed to have no context, no meaning personal to him other than the satisfaction of rendering them. But they just didn't, to his mind, symbolise anything. He put them back in their box and placed it in a drawer.

For one of his birthdays, he dressed up in a newly acquired cowboy outfit, together with cap gun. He was so elated by the ensemble. He refused to swap the outfit for everyday clothes day after day after day. Eventually a mixture of his growth and the wear and tear on the faux leather meant he had to shuck them eventually. But he rescued the tin Sheriff's badge and pinned it proudly to whatever attire he was wearing each day. God how he loved that badge and partly inhabited some of the authority it dared to suggest was due. But one day he neglected to unclip it from his sports sweatshirt and it ended up going through a wash cycle in the machine. Its five points were all curled up towards its heart like a crab. The tin battered and abraded so that the legend 'Sheriff' was no longer discernible. He was heartbroken.

He enlisted in the cub scouts and even though several of the activities did not come naturally to him, he strived his utmost to secure the proficiency badges. He earned every single one of the brightly coloured triangles and circles and sowed them on his jumper with immense pride. When he had completed the last one, he left the troop, though he kept his bedecked jumper in his drawer.

Then came his rebellious phase. He got into rock and roll. Drinking and necking and boozy fights. He collected badges from every band he saw and fastened them to his graffitied school knapsack. He even took an outsized safety pin and stuck it in his nose, in an echo of the very anatomy of the badge itself. Unfortunately the pin wasn't sterile and he infected his nasal tissue, so that was the end of that. When he left school, the knapsack went into the artifact drawer.

His first job was in a fast food restaurant. He sported a clunky, rectangular laminated badge with his name, photo and five places for gold stars to be appended for his customer service. After quickly securing the first, he resolved to have nothing further to do with the incentive system, as he had uncovered several things that were to his dislike. Firstly there was the issue of the meat he was being asked to serve. Some online research into the journey from living beast to slab of gristle oozing bloodied juice, quickly had him foaming at the mouth not in savour but in outrage. Then there was the terrible conditions for him and his work colleague. In no time at all he advanced himself as an agitator for better treatment of staff, while by night he engaged in a parallel but secret campaign against the inequitable treatment of the animals. He lost job after job with his trouble-making, but figured it best to work from inside the industry. In the end he secured a post with the Trade Union and went round visiting every fast-food establishment in the country. In each he had a special visitors pass made for him when he flashed his Union pin badge nestling in his lapel.

And came the time gathered behind the barbed wire and overseen by the guntowers. When his country had reached back into history and plumped for a radical solution to its economic woes. That same country so beloved of his parents, who by dint of their ethnicity now found themselves also in such a camp, though at the other end of the country, in a new town that they themselves had visited but now found unrecognisable. For his part, the son was adorned with three badges. A yellow star like his parents. A pink triangle. And a red one for his Trade Union activities. And the stripy pjyamas that he found himself wearing? They were undoubtedly fabricated at one of the child-labour sweat shops, where children wore badges with the cameo of five gold stars awaiting appendages that never came.

23 comments:

Lou Freshwater said...

This reminds me so much of the social mask, an outward manifestation. Trading one for the other, ugh. Well done, as always.

dijeratic said...

An important, strong piece - insanity how we have evolved a society that keeps us 'wriggling on the head of a pin' - as Eliot would have it - reduced to numbers, name plates, license plates, ids - badges. An obsession that leads in only one direction.

Linda said...

Badges indeed. You wrapped up a life very tidily, and eerily. Funny how history repeats itself. Strong stuff. Peace...

pegjet said...

Strong piece. The reader owns this for the rest of the day.

jimbronyaur said...

Very powerful stuff here... wow.

Badges... badges... badges...

Deanna Schrayer said...

One of those things we don't think about nearly so much as we should. Very well written Marc!

Harry said...

Thoughtfully well woven.
At, "Its five points were all curled up towards its heart like a crab" I missed own cowboy badge, wanted it once again pinned to my shirt. By the end I felt more like throwing in with the defiant Federales.

Bev said...

Wow. I didn't see that end coming. Sort-of knocked me on my keister, and makes me look at everyday objects in a new way.

John Wiswell said...

You wonder exactly in what way these parents are loyal to the country they roam around. I didn't think it would wind up rooting in a real timescape; felt so fantastic early on.

Sulci Collective said...

John to my mind they represented that cohort of Jews who identify with their 'host' country with great alacrity. The dread 'assimilation' that is a constant source of debate within diasporic communities.

Thanks for the comment

Steve Green said...

Quite an horrific ending, if I have read this right, the protagonist is a gay jewish union man, eventually another victim of the apocalypse.

Powerful story.

Mari said...

Makes me wonder about the need of poweer to most people. The badges made him feel powerful/superior to other people, probably to compensate for how he saw himself.

This story is so very human...

Icy Sedgwick said...

Wow, this was amazing...my mother instilled a love of collecting badges in me as proof of cultural allegiance (Watchmen, Street Fighter) or places we've been, but it's so easy to forget the sinister overtones that badges have too. Very powerful story.

ganymeder said...

What a poignant, memorable piece. I'm going to be thinking about this one for a long time to come.

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

Really missed your flash stories, Marc. But, as is readily apparent from this thought-provoking tale, your own fridayflash badge has not rusted, has not worn out, is not curled up a the edges. It has, in fact, been buffed and shined and is glorious, as it always was. Such a gorgeous story for so many reasons.

vandamir said...

Very powerful story. The badges could be used as a metaphor for any number of social affectations and/or costumes. I immediately paralleled your dystopian vision with the concentration/detention camps and the badges used to separate the residents.

Adam Byatt said...

The ending was knockout. We identify through our associations and labels; such a strong metaphor.
Fantastic.
Adam B @revhappiness

Virginia Moffatt said...

Absolutely brilliant. My favourite #fridayflash from you ever.

Carrie said...

This was awesome!

Laurita said...

You have such a knack for drawing these simple lines through complex lives. Subtlety, thy name is Marc.

Sulci Collective said...

Wow thanks Laurita! No one ever called me subtle before :-)

marc x

laradunning said...

I like how you've drawn out the MC life through badges and how their meanings changed as he grew into adulthood and ultiamtely the policitical ramifications of badges. Minor edit "When he eft school" I think you mean left instead of eft.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Lara, will amend