Reading was boring. Writing was boring too, but at least you were doing something. Writing was like drawing, but in a secret code. Reading was just, well, dumb.
Finny was shocked out of her thoughts by a not too gentle smack on the back of the head. Then Joe’s hand appeared, his fingers snapping in front of her nose.
“Hand it over.”
Finny closed her eyes and groaned. In her boredom she had been playing with the locket which hung around her neck from a genuine pre-Fall bootlace. Ok, the bootlace had several knots in it where it had snapped and been tied back together, but Finny liked it because it was black and very old and made by somehow weaving all the strands of whatever it was made from into an intricate kind of mesh. Bootlaces these days were just any old bits of string, unless you were rich of course.
“It’s mine.” She said, but the defiant words were kind of redundant because she was already pulling the bootlace over her head. She put the locket into Joe’s outstretched hand. At the very moment her fingers broke contact with the locket she felt the first heart-tugging pang of loss and her throat tightened.
Joe held the locket up to the light and Finny could do nothing but watch as the boss’s thick, nicotine stained fingers handled her most precious thing in the world. She watched him appraise it like the pawn brokers did when people richer than her brought their belongings in to get some money, ‘just ‘till pay-day’. She watched him weigh it up and down in his hand, guessing the weight of the silver, weighing its worth. As if He would know what it was worth to her. Now the first tiny flame of red-haired Anger wrapped itself around her Loss and Finny’s fists clenched tightly in her lap.
Joe looked down at her, holding the locket between finger and thumb for her to see. He sighed for effect.
“You know the rules Finn.”
Finny knew the rules. Rule number 5 ‘No Metal Objects Allowed Outside Of The Coat Room.’ She knew the rule. She knew the reason for the rule. Metal leads to sparks. Sparks in an ammunition factory could lead to the sudden and violent deaths of everyone inside and anyone unlucky enough to be passing by on the street. The only bare metals allowed anywhere near the, often open, explosives in the factory were brass, lead and copper. Even the buckle on her felt belt was made of brass. She knew the rules, and now Anger and Loss abruptly took second place to another familiar emotion. Hello Fear.
There were very few rules in the factory that could lead to a whipping. Putting everyone’s life in danger of a horrible fiery death was certainly one of them. Finny’s eyes darted to the side of Joe’s desk where a thin cane, like the ones carried by the overseers, hung by a piece of dirty string from a small brass hook. Finny’s mouth was suddenly very dry and a scary light-headedness washed over her. Although it was rare, she had seen others caned often enough to have learned that it must hurt like hell. She dragged her eyes back up to where Joe was looking down at her. Finny swallowed and the next couple of seconds seemed to take up half of her eight year old life.
Joe looked hard at her and then he opened his mouth to pass sentence.
“Your little doo-dad here is made of sliver. Silver and gold are like brass and copper, they don’t make sparks. They just cost too bleedin' much to use in the factory.” Joe waved the locket to emphasise his words. “If this had been tin or anything like that you’d be getting your arse tanned.”
Relief flooded through Finny like a tide. Her Fear was washed away to some other time and some other foul-up yet to me made. But then her precious locket disappeared into Joe’s hand just as fast and just as magically as if done by a man in a top hat and cape in a wandering magic show.
“I’m confiscating this. Teach you a lesson. Consider yourself lucky young lady.”
Joe took the locket back to his desk where he reached down into a bottom drawer and pulled out what the kids called the ‘Ditty Box’. The box where all the confiscated items went to live after they stopped belonging to you.
Loss and Anger grew again in Finny’s chest. Stronger than before and then Finny helplessly watched the Ditty Box being locked again with her locket inside. Now Injustice joined with Fear and Anger and they began to whisper together.