Liam and Iris have one son: Billy, a bright ‘toddler puddling about [. . .] leaving surrealist art installations all over the house— a tiny cow in a teapot in a hat on the doorstep, of course! A stuffed crocodile in a silk camisole perched beside a woollen chick in a beanie on the bread-bin, why not!’Just as they are despairing about being able to conceive another child, Jason comes into their family. He arrives under fraught circumstances, but might just make a perfect sibling for Billy. Jason is a ‘ lovely, poor, sad, unfortunate, ordinary, annoying, delightful nuisance of a ratbag of a hoot of a kid ‘ and the boys grow close over the ensuing years. But after a terrible accident, Billy turns into a bird. He utterly believes it: and as his behaviour becomes increasingly worrying, Liam and Iris must find a way to stop their family flying apart.
‘What do you think Billy’s up to?’
‘Learning birdanese, I guess.’ Liam used the tone of a man on a diet of pickled onions and tripe. ‘Leave him to it.’
‘Okay.’ Iris actually managed ‘okay’ for half a minute. Then she said, ‘I better go and check.’
Liam watched her tuck her shirt back into her skirt waistband as she stood up.
‘Iris’, he said.
‘Come here.’ He moved over to sit on the couch. She stayed where she was.
‘You’re a good mother.’
They locked stares. She gave a small shake of the head.
‘Please. Sit down.’ She did. He put a hand to her forehead: ran his thumb over the skin between her eyebrows, the way it bunched into a small knot. Her worry-cep, as he called it: big from carrying the weight of the world.
‘Look. You’re the one going to check on him, right? When he’s perfectly safe, in his very own bedroom, doting over what’s probably going to be his new obsession. I’m the one trying to get you to come and sit back here,’ he patted the gap between them on the couch again, ‘shuffle your pretty rump up close, drink another wine, and let me play-act seventeen again. Get in some heavy petting while no one’s watching.’
His eyes did seem rather swilly. ‘How many drinks have you had?’
He shrugged. ‘A couple. Look, I’d let him stay in there and eat birdseed for a day if it meant you’d relax.’ (p.187
Title: Billy BirdPublisher: Vintage (Penguin Random House New Zealand), 2016
Source: Personal library, purchased from Fishpond $25.90