Clive sits on the mat leafing through his favourite book, the one he hides behind the atlas in the Book Corner. He finds his favourite picture of the happy old-lady pirate. He stares at the picture: his classmates giggle-twitch-squeak, whispering a mean word Clive tries to ignore, while the teacher stands at the front of the room talking.
The old-lady pirate's cutlass hangs off a belt looped around her fat middle. Her fatness is light and bouncy, as if she were made from blown-up balloons. She pegs big orange trousers onto a washing line strung between tall crooked buildings.She doesn't have to sit on a mat in a stupid classroom, Clive thinks. Not that it is a mat, there is no mat, it's the same carpet across the whole floor, not very carpetty either, hard and stringy and smelling of socks. He bends closer to the book on his lap, gazing at the old-lady pirate who looks so thrilled to be alive she might burst apart, white hair whooshing off, her cutlass spinning down to the ground for Clive to pick up.
The floor trembles. Clive looks out the window as another class troops past, two-by-two, yapping and shush-shushing on their way to Fitness. It reminds him of playtimes and lunchtimes — everyone clustering together, swinging off the climbing frame or dashing from tree to tree shouting tig-tug-tig while he sits alone. Even the sparrows around the rubbish bin cluster together, but he sits alone. He doesn't know why, or why it hurts so much in a spot halfway down his front between his neck and his belly-button.
‘Eyes this way,’ the teacher says.
Lucy reaches across, pinching Clive's arm hard. He blinks fast, tracing a finger around the old-lady pirate pegging orange trousers to the washing line. The tall crooked buildings are wrapped in mist, the way his father wraps suitcases in cling film until they become a gigantic glassy chrysalis.
Clive wonders what he'd find at the bottom of the tall buildings… narrow footpaths, bony trees poking up out of holes in the concrete, branches filled with nests made from spider webs. Cheeping birds swoop low to the ground chasing lolly-wrappers, like the sparrows at lunchtime fighting over chip bags. He sees a gingery cat creep toward the birds, ears flat, eyes gleaming…
‘Clive! Shut that book and pay attention.’
Lucy slyly turns to him, mouthing Tard!
One day, thinks Clive, he'll stab out her eyes with a cutlass.
‘Pirates’ was inspired by ‘The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate’ by Margaret Mahy, pictures by Margaret Chamberlain.
Pirates by Leanne Radojkovich on Youtube.