My Granda worked in the shipyards. Building ships, but I don’t know much more than that. He used to come home in his blue overalls, covered in bird-shite and smelling of singed skin and turps.
He used to do a lot of things, my Granda, but not so much now. Just look down from the mantelpiece.
I wish he was still here. I have a school project to build a boat, just like the ones he made. I don’t know where to start since Mrs McCloskey didn’t even give us a demonstration, but I’ve nicked some paper from the school printer. I saw something on TV about folding it.
Mum’s in the kitchen peeling carrots when I get home. Orange curls spill off the board and onto the floor. Kiera’s crying in the highchair and a pan’s boiling over.
“Ma! Ma!” She looks at me then looks at the clock on the wall.
“How do I make a boat?”
“You going somewhere? You’ll need a better plan than that.”
“Homework. I’m making it out of paper.”
Mum wipes her hands on the apron and takes the top sheet.
“That’s a bird! I need a boat!”
“Less chance of that sinking though.”
She turns off the stove and opens a yoghurt for Kiera who is still crying. I stuff the carrot-stained bird into my bag. Granda would have known how to do it.
Uncle Pete is watching the flatscreen in the living room. I nearly don’t ask him because he does nothing and knows even less but since Kiera can’t help, there’s nobody else in the house. I step in front of the TV.
“Can you make a boat out of paper? It’s my homework.”
“Fucking waste of time homework,” he says.
I told you he was useless.
It was the bottle that got my Granda in the end. I think I know what that means but I always hold on extra tight when I’m drinking from one, just in case I’m wrong and he died when a whiskey bottle slipped so far down his throat he couldn’t breathe. I think about how cold the glass would feel as it slid into your belly and remember seeing a python swallow a whole pig on the Internet. I swear you could see its curly tail pressing out from under the skin.
By the time mum calls me for dinner I’ve decided how I would kill a snake should it try to eat me (brick to the head) and folded five sheets of paper into proper flying birds that cruise from my bedroom window and into the alleyway behind the oil tank.
We hand in our projects the next day. I hide at the back and hope the bell rings before my name’s called, but Mrs McCloskey pulls me to the front and makes me go first. My boat looks like an upside down bird. It sinks instantly to the bottom of the fish tank where it lies like a dead seagull. She tuts and I look out the window.
But no one’s does any better and we get extra homework and then, as if it were my fault, she makes me fish out all the soggy shipwrecks.
On Friday, we go on a bus trip to the shipyards. But there are no ships. And no people either, which means it is a rather boring field trip, looking at empty concrete wasteland and rusted iron gates. I nick some sugar sachets from the Pumphouse canteen and chuck them into the water. They float for longer than any of our boats, but Mrs McCloskey catches me. She tells me I’ll sink faster than the Titanic if I do it again.
We move round to Samson and Goliath and everyone pushes to get the best view, but I’ve lived under them all my life and never once seen them move or do anything big at all. I crane my neck up to the sky. Some starlings are turning circles and they remind me of the patterns my computer makes when it goes into sleep mode. I watch them rise and fall as the bus moves on, but Sam Kirkstone is sitting beside me and he won’t shut up about the Titanic and how he can’t see why it is so famous since it sank on its first trip.
I press my cheek harder against the cold wet glass of the window. Anyone mentioned the Titanic to my Granda and he would puff out his chest and say loudly it was all right when it left here.
The bus pulls up at the school gates and I can’t really see the point in the whole project since Mrs McCloskey never did explain how to build a boat out of paper. Seems to me nobody round here knows how to build boats out of anything any more.
But I keep the stash of printer paper under my bed and when I’m bored or Uncle Pete is watching crap on telly I take it out and fold some more birds. There is something I like about them. I can see them soaring into the sky above everyone and everything that looks down on me: Uncle Pete, the mantelpiece, Mrs McCloskey, the shipyard cranes. I begin to paint them, too. I imagine them breaking through their grey prison sky, reds and yellows and purples rebelling against the clouds, like starlings crashing into Mrs McCloskey’s classroom and squawking and shitting all over the place. I launch them from my window and see how far they fly. One even makes it as far as Number 32’s blue bin and it lies there for days until the rain comes and it fades too much for me to make it out from all the other litter. I do keep one, though. The carrot-stained one my mum made. Suppose it reminds me of wanting to build a boat.
Some times at night, I lie in bed as flat as a sheet and think about folding my body a million times over. Straight down the middle then double back to each side. Limbs up, then down, then up to a third point ruled at a tight angle. I keep folding, folding, folding until finally I can see small triangle wings sprouting from my shoulder blades. But no one can bend that much without breaking.
Downstairs they’re watching telly. It must be one of her programmes because the floorboards aren’t vibrating.
“I wish I was still at school. It’s all day trips and art projects.”
“Fucking paper birds.”
“It was a boat I think.”
“Bird. Boat. All the same shit. Not going to get him a job is it?”
“Not unless it’s in origami.”
Uncle Pete laughs. The TV changes channel. Something explodes.
I haven’t heard of Origami before. I’m going to look it up on the map tomorrow. Could be better than here. Wouldn’t be hard.
I turn off my light, pull up the duvet and make it past the blue bin at Number 32.