Monday, 19 November 2012

The Q -- the V (ammended draft 01)

About this: I know I mentioned that I don't approve of explanation, so forgive the inconsistency in attitude that this brief introduction represents. Writing this represented something of a personal revelation to me, which is good because it's garnered precious little appreciation from anyone else during its, I think, two prior airings. I don't really care to illuminate those revelations at the moment so I'll just mention that this story didn't end the way I'd intended. Yes it's a deliberate allegory, that's obvious I hope but from the reaction it's garnered I suspect my intention is more obtuse than is readily apparent. I have to admit that In my conceit I was rather pleased with this story and somewhat naively expected to instill instant recognition of the subject I was addressing. Alas no such recognition has been forthcoming, which was a disappointing but illuminating lesson to learn.

My CSA arrives today, well it's due today but I live in a Q status housing block, postage to Q addresses has least urgent priority so it's not certain it will arrive today. Still I've been listening impatiently for the postman since I had breakfast this morning. The scrambled eggs rest uneasily as the creeping tension torments my restless belly I feel like a cat is baiting a canary in there. I wonder about the others, the ones also waiting for the postman, the ones waiting to learn what road the rest of their lives will take. Q or V, for me it's a foregone conclusion all the males in my family are Qs yet I'm still here waiting, fist clenched, a sparrow clutching to twig in a gale. How must it be for those less certain, the marginals with an even chance of either a Q or V assignment? I know I'm a Q, it's in my blood, I walk, speak and think like a Q. Still I can't help wondering how it would be if my CSA had a V stamped all over it, I briefly visualize myself gliding down a vstat motorway express lane in my air conditioned vstat car on the way to my preferentially assigned vstat job. My idle fantasy is broken by a hand alighting gently on my shoulder, it's mother, “Here I've made you some tea” she says quietly, “Don't fret too much about it Mac, it's not the end of the world.” Her unguarded fatalism smarts like a knife in my side but I hide the torment with a forced smile.

Everyone gets their CSA, Culpability Status Assignment, on the September after their 19th Birthday, it's supposed to be assigned after you attend a compulsory assessment tribunal. They're called tribunals but it's more of an exam, you see our education system primarily serves two purposes, asses your Culpability Status and inform students of the role of Culpability Status in our society. Indoctrination, that what my brother called the last part, he got his CSA three years ago today. It's not a day that my family remembers with any fondness and its legacy casts an uncomfortable shadow over today.

It's a day I remember well, David was reading as usual, some underground rag, not one on the forbidden list just one rated substantially incorrect and get a you a months mitigation credit cancelled if the authorities caught you in possession. His unconcerned demeanour had an unsettling effect on the family mood. Father hid his concern behind his weekend Truth Journal but he was already a third through his daily nicotine ration, the clicking of his inhaler the only sound to break the silence save the rustling of his and my brothers reading matter. The audible snap of the letter box did not stir David as his focus remained fixed on his rag. “David, I think its arrived,” Mother prompted gently.

David glanced at her with a feigned indifference but even my brother's reluctance couldn't stand up to my Mother's silent plea. He retrieved the manilla envelope from the doormat and walked unconcerned back into the room with it in his hand. Standing as he opened the letter, he read out a single syllable, “Q!” And that was end to it or so it seemed for a while, it wasn't till the afternoon when father's nicotine ration had expired and his withdrawal started to bite that the shouting started. I'd popped out to get some milk and stretch my legs, as I returned the I herd them rowing. “... I can look in the mirror dad, I know the colour of my eyes, how straight my teeth are, how many V’s do you see without a perfect smile? The Tribunal's a fraud, it's just dangling a carrot before a donkey.”

I saw father holding David's mitigation log “There are people who've done it, people who've applied them selves and followed best practice . You didn't even try, this, this is a disgrace” my father shook the log in David's face with his clenched fist.

“Best practice! What kind of aspiration is that? Here's a thought for you, ambition, initiative, hard work, how many have been assigned vstat on the back of those attributes? And how is it a disgrace to take their lies and spit the truth back at them, You're the disgrace, you know the truth, yet you eat up their lies as if it was bread and butter to you, you make me sick.”

“David” mother cried.

I could see the regret on my brothers face almost before he finished speaking but it was too late, the wound betrayed by my father's face could not be concealed, he placed David's log on the table and left the room when he returned with his coat and cap he spoke to mother, “I'm going out, I'm not sure what time I'll be back. Don't bother getting food for me, I'll get a sandwich in the pub.” Then he walked out of the front door which he closed behind him with incongruous care.

David broke the silence after father's departure “Mum I didn't mean it, I know he's putting our welfare before his pride”

“That's the kind of man he is,” mother replied.

“I know, it's just...” David slumped into a dinning char , his head tucked toward his chest “... it's just that sometimes a son, doesn't want to see his father that way, deferential, submissive. Sometimes a son would be willing to go hungry for a day or two just to see his father with some pride, not burning his flame in shaded lantern.” He sighed, then lifted his head sharply. staring beyond the walls of our flat he asked,“Why does he have to always wear that cap anyway, can't he just let the sunlight on his face for once?”

David, left home within a month, his work took him out of town. His official post was construction labourer but my brother had worked hard at a vocational out of hours school, that father had paid for. His engineering qualification saw that he'd never be swinging a pick but the blanks in his mitigation credit ensured that he'd be certain to be at the basic qstat employment rating. We see him when his work brings him to town or the occasional weekend. On his last visit the two of us went out for the evening, I don't leave the house much so my circle of friends is small but we visited one of David's old haunts where we met up with a few of his friends. There's no official segregation here and Qs and Vs do mix socially it's just that more often than not you find yourself socializing with your own kind, this place was like that. David and his friends where eager to catch up on each other's news so the conversation began with personal trivia, work, sex etcetera but after a while a more political tone arose. David's views it seemed were held in some esteem by his friends and although I admit my brother was articulate it was something of a revelation to witness them being treated seriously rather than the perfunctory dismissal they received at home. Before long there was a deeply earnest discussion taking place that I started to find rather tedious and repetitive, one of the crowd a man introduced as Jason seemed to be a particularly vociferous contributor. I was observing without any real interest when I notice the expression suddenly change on David's face, “You're a V!” he shouted at Jason,

Jason was taken aback at the ugly look of contempt and disgust on my brother's,face “I thought you knew.” The other members of the group fell silent for a moment, after eyeing Jason carefully it seemed obvious now that he was a V, his uniformly distressed attire the unblemished complexion should have made it obvious. Some of the group were trying to placate David, one of the girls seemed particularly perturbed by the turn of events.

Someone said, “Jason is a friend...” I didn't see who, maybe it was the girl. David stood abruptly and walked over to me.

“We're leaving,” he announced, then made his way toward the door without pausing. I followed like an obedient spaniel of course but not before looking back at the at group. They were all standing now, Jason the centre attention, except the girl who's eyes fixed upon David as he hurried towards the door. David left the following morning, he was gone before I got up, that was nine months ago.

I've retreated to my room, the sedate crawl of the hands of the clock has driven me from the living room, as I peer through the window at the lengthening September shadows in the street. I hear the rattle of the letter box. For the few seconds the gravity of the moment has me pinned, immobile I recall David's reluctance three years ago. I get up and move towards the door and open it with a creak, a sound which must echo like a flock of startled starling through our flat. I see my manilla envelope where it has fallen on the mat. As I retrieve it I'm overcome with the certainty that it's not mine and it's been delivered in error but as I check the address I can see that the postman rarely makes mistakes on this day, even to least urgent priority addresses. My parents are seated as I walk into the living room with my unopened envelope, I open it swiftly and read the contents to them.

No one laughs, no one cries, mother puts the kettle on and father gets up to put on his coat and cap. I go back to my room to look at the September shadows.


  1. That's cool. And I read it twice. I think it says quite a lot and says it quite well. I read a lot of short stories and many of them, even the ones you enjoy at the time of reading, can slip from the mind instantly after reading. This I think will stay in there because it "resonates" and that, I think, is the secret ingredient of a good short story. And the end is good because it leaves it reverberating

    1. Once again thanks for the feedback, I was really pleased you enjoyed it. This is probably my favourite of mine and I was forming the impression I was missing the target with kind of thing

  2. I’ve obviously no idea what your reading tastes are but for what it’s worth, in regard to short stories and what you can do with them, I’d recommend the collections of Jeremy Dyson and Robert Shearman. I think both of them deal with everyday oddness and surreal horror without resorting to experimental writing styles. They skirt around the horror and magic realism genres and create weird stories but with an everyday feel... that are just told very well. Imagine Alan Bennett with a flick knife. Or finding a sly rohypnol at the bottom of a milky cup of tea.

    1. Actually my fiction reading has really dropped off a lot, most of the stuff I've been reading lately is from on-line sources, from people outside the publishing world, which is a bit heterogeneous in terms of satisfaction, some stuff is brilliant but will never be accepted by publishers, some is terminally insular and has no appeal to anyone except the author. I think that's something I want to address because I'm not getting any good cues as to what to read from mainstream sources, I've been raiding history at bit going back examining -classics- I'm taking liberties with that word cos In my world, classsics, encompasses authors such as: Fleming, Spillane, Highsmith et al. So Thanks for the pointer, I'll check 'em out.

    2. Same here. I have to be trapped on holiday to read a novel anymore. And generally find the effort and time put in does not equal the amount of ideas/story within. Short stories are the way forward and if you get the right authors, such as those above, you get a novels worth of brain juice in a twenty page short. I'm very unsatified by modern mainstream novels and am drawn to 50's and 60's authors with their postwar view of the world (and smaller page counts) Have to leave it there for now but we'll continues this discussion in the future I feel.