Mum told me I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be. All I needed to do was try. So I decided I’d be a mountaineer. Sissy said: You can’t do that. I told her mum said I could. I practised on a cliff when we went to the beach one time, but I fell off it and broke my arm.
After that I didn’t like mountaineering.
My friends at school wanted to be teachers or hairdressers, or marry someone rich so’s they didn’t have to do anything, just sit around in a big house and eat chocolate all day. But since I broke my arm, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up.
One day my teacher told me my paintings were different, so I thought I’d like to be an artist. Famous paintings are always different. That’s what makes them famous. And artists don’t have to do any writing. I’m not very good at writing.
My mum gave me acrylic paints for my birthday, so’s I could practice and get really good at painting. She even got me proper canvases stretched over frames, and an easel. I put it up in the bedroom, near the window, to do a picture of the junk shop across the road.
Sissy came into the room. She looked at the picture. You’ll never be an artist, she said. She grabbed it off of the easel. I think I’ll chuck it in the bin, she said. While I was trying to get it off her, I knocked my palette, and it landed on the floor, upside down. She got on my bed, then climbed onto my chest of drawers, and stood there holding my painting away from her, between her finger and thumb, like it smelled bad. Then she sort of whizzed it away from her, across the room, saying: Catch!
It landed near the window and the paint stuck to the carpet.
You did that on purpose, I said.
Suddenly dad was in the room, yelling at us to shut up, filling my nose with his dirty smell of cheap cider and cigarettes. He was angry about the mess.
An artist! You’ll never amount to anything, he said.
He took my paints away. For a long time after that I didn’t think about what I would be when I grew up.
My dad may not have thought much of me, but the boys at school did. I reckoned I should make the most of it, before they noticed I wasn’t worth the bother.
I’m in the assembly hall, bent over my biology GCSE paper, and I don’t understand most of the questions, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m grown up now, and I know what I’m going to do.
As I put my pen down, and stand up to file out of the room, I feel the first tiny flutterings inside my swollen womb.
© Jane Paterson Basil