by Dave Weaver
The little pin was beautiful; a sliver of gold with a tiny metallic picture at its top which glittered on her mother's old cardigan as she bent over the blackened stove.
"Is that from before GD mummy?" Sarah asked.
"What's that honey? Sarah, stand back a little, you're making a draft."
"The badge on your chest?"
Her mother grabbed at the pin, took it off and put it in her apron pocket. "It's nothing darling, I shouldn't be wearing it," she said.
"Is it barterworth, mummy?"
"No dear, it's just... tin."
The woman got to her feet with a tired sigh, brushing back the grey-streaked hair from her eyes. She wore a drab brown smock over blue jeans, her face plain of make-up and strained. To her seven year old daughter she was beautiful.
Almost as beautiful as she was in the pictures with daddy when they were young, laughing in big white rooms with others in pretty dresses and funny dark clothes. They were lost now but Sarah still remembered how happy everyone had seemed.
The pin had reminded Sarah about her teacher's last words to them earlier that day.
"Mummy, Miss Davis wants us to bring things from before GD to school tomorrow for 'show and tell'. Can I take the badge? Please!" She tried the beseeching face that usually worked but this time her mother refused.
"No Sarah, it has nothing to do with the Greater Depression." Sara saw her grasp the pin in her pocket. "And don't tell anyone else about it, please. It's none of their business."
She looked flustered but managed to give the little girl a smile.
"We'll find something else for Miss Davis. You can help me look."
It was funny for mummy to get so serious over a silly old badge. She followed her upstairs to the room her mother used to share with daddy before the big illness and was just in time to see her put it away inside a small carved wooden box in the bedside table drawer. Sarah had never seen the box before; she wondered what other treasures it held.
Her mother tugged a bashed up old suitcase from the wardrobe onto the bed and opened it. She rustled through a bundle of folded up papers inside and pulled out a few. They had pictures of houses on them.
"Sarah, come here darling." She patted the bed next to her. "You can take this with you tomorrow. It's an old newspaper people used to sell their houses to each other before GD.
"Why would anyone want to sell their house?" Sarah looked puzzled.
"They just did. See, they're all kinds of shapes and cost different amounts of money depending on their size and where they were."
"But isn't money bad? Isn't that what the Moneymen used to make everyone poor and hungry?"
"Not in those days, honey." Her mother replied.
"Then it was good?" Sarah asked.
Her mother paused for a long moment before answering, as if her thoughts were far away. "No darling. In the end it wasn't very good."
The next day they rode the short distance to the village school on their bicycles as always. Apart from the wintry days that is, when it snowed heavily and Sarah had to stay in the cottage. Then mummy would teach her.
Sometimes she would tell her things that Miss Davis had never mentioned in her lessons, about far off exotic places with people who did things very differently than the village. But she always warned Sarah not to repeat such tales to others; it was their own private talk; just hers and mummy's.
As usual Sarah could hear the morning din long before they reached the school gates, the high-pitched voices carrying across the fields on the still country air. The girls' were the loudest, the words of their familiar skipping song becoming distinct from the shrill hubbub as Sarah and mummy drew nearer:
Fat and greedy Moneymen,
Burn their stocksanbons and then
Send them down to hell AMEN!"
Some of the girls, including Sarah, sang 'sticksanbones' when they were jumping. It made more sense, and nobody knew what 'stocksanbons' were anyway. They all shouted 'AMEN!' at the end though, even some of the boys watching.
And of course hell was where wicked people go -- everyone knew that.
An hour later Sarah was growing restless. She usually enjoyed assembly with its tuneful hymns, but all she think of that morning was 'show and tell' and Miss Davis' praises.
The pretty young teacher always had a friendly smile for her when she gave a correct answer. Sarah liked to think she was her favourite.
At last it was time, but as they filed into the classroom Sarah noticed two large men standing at the back. They had short-cropped hair, unlike the other men of the village, and wore the same dark clothes as the people in her mother's old pictures.
"Class!" Miss Davis addressed them as they took their seats. "These two gentlemen are Government Inquisitors Michael and Jeremiah. They're going to talk to us all about reporting any strangers we see in the village."
The two men smiled awkwardly.
"But first, homework; 'Show and Tell'. Who's first?"
A forest of eager hands shot up.
When it was Sarah's turn she handed her the yellowy old paper.
"It's a house paper, Miss. People actually sold their own houses!" One of the men laughed. "And this too." Sarah took out the gold pin with the little crest she'd secretly taken from her mother's carved wooden box and placed it on the desk. "It's got that word you told us about."
The pin gleamed brightly in the light as the young woman picked it up.
"Let me see that please, Mam." The man who'd laughed moved quickly to take the pin from her. He read the inscription on the crest out loud.
"'New Jersey Bankers' Association'." He smiled down at Sarah. "And what's your name?"
"Sarah Rogers." She saw the frightened look on her teacher's face.
"And your daddy, what's he called?"
"My daddy's dead."
The man shrugged at his partner. "Call it in anyway."
The other said a few words into a tiny silver box, waited while the class stared around at him then shook his head. He took some pictures from a thin black case and walked over to Sarah.
"Is your mother one of these ladies?"
They were all pretty young women in sparkly dresses. She said nothing as the man held them up but her eyes must have told him because he flipped her mother's one over and read out a strange woman's name.
He whistled. "Lehman's -- that's a month's credits, Micky."
His friend gave him a shushing gesture then turned back to Sarah.
He put a heavy hand on her shoulder.
"Would you like to take a ride home in a real car, little lady?"
The other children gasped in envy.
"Miss Davis...?" Tears welled up in Sarah's eyes as she turned to the teacher. She felt now that bringing the pin had been a mistake but couldn't see why. Mummy would be angry with her but she'd sort it all out.
She always did.
As Sarah sat in the back of the car she thought she heard the song again; just the last line faint and distant, swallowed up in the playtime noise as they drove away.
© 2010 Dave Weaver
Bio: Dave Weaver is a graphic designer living in St Albans. He is a member of the Verulam Writer's Circle. Dave's 'Finding Uncle' short story was published in Hert's University's 'Visions' anthology. His most recent Aphelion appearance was Blow-up, November 2009.
E-mail: Dave Weaver
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