The Fire Starters by Jan Carson

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson

Author:Jan Carson
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781473558014
Publisher: Transworld
Published: 2019-04-03T16:00:00+00:00

The Girl Who Is Occasionally a Boat

In a backyard on the edge of Castlereagh, Lucy Anderson is becoming a boat for the third time this week. She stands ankle deep in her sister’s paddling pool and waits. Her father’s let the hedge grow high so the neighbours can’t see. Lucy prefers to be a boat on the river. She likes to glide with the loop-necked swans at Victoria Park. But sometimes the need to change comes on her quickly and there isn’t time for anything but the backyard and the paddling pool, with its lurid pattern of tropical fish. Privacy’s essential. Hence the hedge and the curtains drawn throughout the house. It wouldn’t do for some passing stranger – a postman or politician canvassing – to peer through the front window and see her pale face straining from a boat bow, her arms and legs stretched to planks.

Lucy waits in the tepid water. She waits patiently while the heaviness falls off her, like damp dripping from wet washing on a line. Her bones begin to ache in the familiar fashion. It isn’t exactly painful. The stretching. The twisting. The coming together of separate parts. It isn’t normal either. Lucy can’t really say what her body’s doing right now. Transforming. Turning. Taking the piss. She’s come to call it ‘changing’ and afterwards feels like she’s been crucified. She won’t be able to bend for a week. In the moment it’s glory, though. Her bones are made of air, her flesh feathers, and the breath in her lungs is not breath but some lighter substance, helium, perhaps, or pure white cloud. Then Lucy is not the dumpy girl she sees in the mirror. She is not hefty, big-boned or thick of thigh. She sits lightly on the water. She floats. She glides, which is how you’d describe an elegant girl’s movements: a ballerina, for example, or a catwalk model.

Lucy’s become a boat 149 times already. She can’t remember her very first change. She was only two at the time, her small body discovering some new ability almost every day. Who’s to say she hadn’t taken it all in her stride, adding boats to walking, talking and all the other tricks she’d lately learnt to do? Her parents tell her she howled for hours afterwards. ‘It was only a puddle,’ they say, and tell her the noise she made was something shocking, like matchsticks splintering and rubber stretched to breaking point. Her father’s never got over the shock. Lucy’s body’s grown used to becoming a boat now. She’s almost sixteen and so accustomed to the bone-creaking, skin-yearning sensation of changing she’s stopped keeping track of how many times she’s done it. It’s a curse she carries. It’s a kind of blessing. She wouldn’t know herself without it. She wouldn’t know where to start. What’s the point in being a boat? Lucy’s not decided yet. She thinks it’s something to do with the act of carrying: people, problems, large unwieldy things. She refuses to call herself unfortunate.


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