The Badger, by Jenn Ashworth, is the fifth release from Ration Books, a small press publishing pocket sized books designed to be read in one short sitting. It tells of a pivotal episode in the life of a woman who is trying to mine memories of what exactly happened many years ago.
“Now and again the adult will settle on a perspective: there’s no such thing as the past, only the stories we tell about it now”
There are horror elements to the tale but nightmares are not always what may be envisaged. The ‘what happened’ doesn’t bother the protagonist so much as the why.
The story opens with an early morning visit to a dentist when the woman was a six or seven year old child. Woken unexpectedly by her father, she goes along with him because children’s lives consist of doing whatever adults require.
“Children experience the world as a series of confusing and inexplicable incidents inflicted upon them by people who they have to assume know what they are doing”
This is not a visit to have teeth checked but rather the delivery of an unusual item. The child asks questions and, on realising the dentist is pleased with her interest, asks more. She enjoys the attention and is eager to impress. She also recognises how the dentist regards her father.
What her older self cannot quite pin down is the detail. She muses over how what went on that day may have impacted some of her major life choices. She admits that subsequent incidents could also have had an effect, that she may now be assigning this strange visit too much importance.
The author does a fine job of putting the reader inside the head of a child. She then pulls back to consider the literary structure of the developing narrative. Do the dentist and the father require inner lives to avoid them becoming ciphers or props?
“Basic storytelling technique demands that an adequately compassionate attention to the inner lives and motivations of secondary characters must be deployed.”
In reality, of course, life can only be viewed through the eyes of the self, and they are constantly rewriting what is happening. The child has grown up and been subjected to many further experiences that may feed into the memories now being recounted.
A story requires a conclusion and this is offered. It reflects how real life is never as tidy as some literature may suggest.
Despite the somewhat spine-chillingly detailed elements, this is an enjoyable take on the unreliability of memories from childhood. A skilfully constructed and rendered short story.
The Badger is published by Ration Books.