Story for button 22Button 22


We keep our buttons in an old Quality Street tin that sits in the cupboard next to the fire. The lid sticks and you have to prise it open with a penny. With the buttons are some pennies from far-away countries, chipped marbles and a broach missing lots of its glass jewels. The empty parts of the brooch look like tiny acorn cups. Dad's medals live in the box as well. The ribbons are rotten and the metal is the colour of mud.

I think there are probably a hundred buttons. Maybe a thousand. I spread them on the table and feel their different shapes. My favourites are the mother-of-pearl with its moon face and silvery clouds, and the tortoiseshell, which is hard and green and shiny. I am sorry for the tortoise who gave its shell to make the button. I imagine the tortoise walking slowly along dusty roads. I like feeling sad.

There is one metal button. It comes from the uniform my Dad wore in the photos. He says if you hold it up in your fingers you can see a hollow where it was hit by a bullet. He says it probably saved his life. Then he says, maybe not, because the bullet bounced about a bit before it got to him. So it wasn't going so fast, like when you throw a ball at a wall hard and it comes back soft. I want to know where the button was, on his jacket.He says, here, and points to his chest just under the loose skin on his neck.

He is watching a programme about the war. On the television there are men with medals on their jackets. I ask why he doesn't wear his. He says they're not important. Everyone got one so they don't really mean anything.

I am getting fidgety. The music on the television is dark. It makes me think of the space under my bed. I don't want to go to bed yet. I ask how long the war went on. He says six years but some of it was phony. Phony means not real.

It doesn't look real. It looks like a bad dream. I am sure my Dad is wrong. Nothing really horrible goes on that long. Sometimes you can get sick for a week. Or a fortnight. Six years is too much, I know that. I am six years old.

I don't tell him he's wrong. On T.V. men are marching. Some are smiling and neat and others have funny dark eyes and dirty faces. There are houses falling down and old women pushing carts. Some dead people who don't look like people. Dad says it's time for bed.

I try not to think of the space under the bed or the dead people. I have the button in my hand. I think it might be my favourite button. I squeeze it. It is cold and hard. I pretend it's a bullet.

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