Sail Away – Chapter One – Kerpow!

Chapter One – Kerpow!

I’m Greg Wright, I’m 15 years old and I have no parents, not any more. But unlike Bruce Wayne, the World’s Greatest Detective, the Batman, you won’t hear me crying about it.

You won’t see pictures of me knelt in a dark alley, framed in the street light, weeping into my hands. To be fair, his parents were shot right in front of him. Mine smashed to Earth in a malfunctioning helicopter while I sat in double Maths, dreaming about Lindsay Mancini’s red lips and tight sweater.

My father was killed instantly, so he probably didn’t feel much pain apart from when his arm came off. He and the pilot died when the helicopter crashed into the golf course, just off the 18th green. The police didn’t tell me about his arm, but I found reports of the crash on the internet. Batman’s not the only one who can investigate. Not now there’s Google.

My mother is still sort of alive. She’s in a coma, which is pretty much a cross between being asleep and being dead. I went to see her in the hospital but she didn’t wake up, not even when the nurse left and I kicked the cupboard next to her bed. I sat and watched her, but she didn’t do anything. I took the box of chocolates back with me. She wouldn’t miss them. She didn’t even miss me. I left the flowers.

I had to go and sit in a lot of offices and speak to a lot of grey men and women in black while they decided what to do with me. My parents had not specified a guardian for me, and I had no god parents. I didn’t even have a god; my parents, a zoo keeper and a biologist, worshipped at the altar of Charles Darwin.

Eventually, after three days, they managed to get hold of my great uncle. I’d never met him. I’d never heard of him. Our family was a trio; Mum and Dad and me. We didn’t need anybody else. I went to school, they went to work, did the washing, cooked the meals and took me out on trips, to the park, to the beach and, sometimes, to see Dad’s friends at the zoo.

Dad was friends with a lion called Leonard, three baboons, Bob the ring-tailed lemur, a family of meerkats and Babar, who was not an elephant but another keeper with a big ginger moustache and a bald head. He laughed a lot and wore little round glasses, sort of like a less evil version of Dr Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog.

I wouldn’t have minded living with Babar. He had a nice house with a big garden and a chocolate Labrador called Simon just outside Bristol, where he and his wife threw barbecues in the summer. I always had at least three burgers and two hot dogs with extra onions. I wouldn’t have minded at all. But, instead, I was sent away from the city to live with my great uncle, Archie, who I had never even had a Christmas card from, in Polpollo, a little sleepy Cornish town by the sea.

The main man from the offices, from Social Service, fat Tony, drove me down to uncle Archie’s place. I’d never been to Cornwall before. My parents always wanted to “get away”, out of the country when we went on holiday. Most years we went to Majorca or Cyprus or Tenerife or some other little sun drenched rock in the middle of the ocean, to sit on the beach for two weeks and watch men play keyboards and sing to pink tourists on a white washed terrace in the evenings.

I’d pretty much been to Bristol, London twice, Bath several times shopping with Mum and on one ill-fated trip to Butlins Somerwest World in Minehead one lean year. I was seven, Dad had a beard and Mum had just been fired by the University. She told the Dean “where he could stick it” and walked out. I knew something was wrong when she met me at the school gate instead of letting me walk home with Bradley Wilkinson and his mum like usual.

We couldn’t afford to go abroad that summer, so we packed up the car and drove for what seemed like forever until we arrived at a weird cross between a rubbish theme park and a hotel, sort of like an own-brand Disneyworld, by an angry sea with a pebble beach. It was raining. It rained the whole week. Mum and Dad argued, for what seemed like the first time to me, every single day. We went in the pool, but we had to get out when the lifeguard blew his whistle and said that someone had pooed in the water. It was miserable.

I was miserable as we crossed the Tamar Bridge. I would have usually enjoyed the adventure, the height of the bridge high above the water on that sunny afternoon, watching the boats sailing beneath. Fat Tony had the radio on; he kept trying to cheer me up. “Listen to this! I love this song!” he’d say, and then sing along to the choruses in a flat voice with the wrong words. He loved every song they played that day, even the Vengaboys, until Simon and Garfunkel came on, “Bridge over Troubled Water.” He sort of spluttered and turned the radio off. We drove on in silence the rest of the way. I buried my head in a comic and didn’t look out the window again after that.

When we got to Polpollo, fat stupid Tony announced it with a big grin. “You’re home now Greg.” I knew we had arrived. He’d turned the engine off. He’d started to smell like cheese Doritos, the whole car reeked, so I quickly pushed the door open and stumbled out, clutching my comic collection and backpack to my chest. My favourite Batman, Hush, fell out of my grasp and landed, open, in a brown puddle. I slammed the door shut and fished it out. Tony fussed around behind me, trying to help, but just got in the way.

A door opened in the tumble-down cottage and a tall, white bearded man stepped out. He looked like an older version of Dad, sort of lanky with a big, wide nose and a little beer belly, but crossed with Gandalf or Dumbledore. He had a strange glint in his eye. He walked over to us and held out his hand.

“Hello Greg, nice to meet you. I’m your great uncle, Archibald Wright, Uncle Archie. I’m your Nana Elsie’s twin brother.”

I looked him up and down. His face was craggier than the cliffs behind the cottage. He smiled with yellow teeth, and his fingers were stained yellow at the ends. He wore a red and black lumberjack shirt, tatty jeans and his boots were muddy. I put my bag down to shake his hand; he had a tight grip and his hand felt like Timmy the tortoise’s shell, craggy and hard. Dad had loved that tortoise. I loved that tortoise.

“Hello, Uncle Archie.”

I didn’t know what else to say. Fat Tony said hello, and as they got to talking, I picked up my bag and pushed past them, into the cottage. Tony could bring the rest of the bags. I dumped my stuff just inside the door, found a small bathroom just off the hall and locked the door.

The house smelt musty, like a damp museum. The windows were tiny, and it was dark in there. I pulled the cord and a bare light bulb flickered on, revealing cobwebs and daddy long legs scuttling around the ceiling. Mum would never stand for that; she’d be up a stepladder with a feather duster in no time. I sat on the toilet seat, buried my head in my hands and closed my eyes. Maybe this, my wizard of an Uncle, fat cheesy Tony, the miserable house, was all just a dream.

The knock at the door told me it wasn’t. I heard an engine fading into the distance.

“Greg lad, tea’s up. We’re having mackerel.”

I’ve always hated fish.

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