She loved the way the paper felt against her fingertips. She slid her thumb across the crisp edge, creating yet another fold — the blueprint for what was to take shape.
Today was a record: Beatrix made 990 before dinnertime. Only 10 away before the job was done. Her hands were cramped and papercuts lined the webs of her fingers. The burbling of her stomach was a testament for the strenuous task.
This obsession was an attempt at reconciliation, first set off when she stumbled upon a how-to book at the local church sale. It was a 25-cent manual entitled “The Complete Book of Origami.” It sat with a broken binding and water-damaged pages. Much of the book was unreadable — the aged mildew cemented the paper together and faded the script. Luckily for Bea, the diagram instructions and history of the crane remained perfectly intact.
Its rustic charm was in part why she liked the book. There was also the fact that it was to be her attempt at salvation. A guidebook for the lost.
Despite the manual’s unruly condition, it had a sense of safeness about it. A sense that Bea had lacked for the past six years.
December 5, 2015. The day her world ended, the day they walked out of her life. Not even a paper note was left for a final goodbye. Such lack of closure opened a new chapter in Bea’s life, a chapter that detailed her endless pursuit of paper.
At first, she used receipts and old National Geographic magazines to craft her cranes — the only materials she could find on street corners or in recycling bins. The printed images and ink on the page made it difficult to make a solid, intentional crease, yet the vibrancy of the pictures made up for the medium’s poor composition.
They were colorful creatures each with their own pictorial personality. The beaks pointed confidently upward; the wings slightly misshapen.
An obsession. Something that consumed her day-to-day activities and spare moments. An endless pursuit of paper.
Such obsession traveled with her everywhere she went. When Bea would go out to eat, she would unroll the napkin folder and create the first fold — all before the waitress could even greet her table.
When Bea would get home from school, she would immediately take out her graded tests and marked notebook paper to begin the craft — all paper birds, a not so helpful study tool.
1,000 of their faceless and nameless bodies joined her paper family each day.
Though she had a multitude of nameless, identical birds, Bea had her favorites — namely the ones made from newspaper. She lingered around the newsstand each Sunday as a young boy refilled the box, catching its lid before the compartment clicked shut. The smell of the fresh press combined with the lightness of the paper made for a lively crane, one plastered with a variety of words and news about climate change or abuse scandals, all of which she couldn’t begin to understand.
Each had its own story, yet all possessed the same intent. Her paper family, now more like a paper army, were her remedy. The magic elixir to the world’s unavoidable afflictions. The cure to nature’s unknowable plan.
She began to fold each morning until all 1,000 were made each night, the waterlogged manual as her origami Bible.
“According to Japanese tradition, the crane lives for 1,000 years. Those who create these detailed folds and create 1,000 shall therefore be granted one special wish.”
The short description located at the heart of the book was her guiding phrase, a statement that was to change the course of her life. An endless pursuit of wishes; wishes made of paper.
Her one wish was never to come true. Despite her efforts, she was one paper crane too little too late. Her work was never to be finished. The wish to bring them back. This was why she saw Dr. Lee each Thursday, completing her cranes before every appointment to make up for lost time.
“How are you feeling today Beatrix?” he would ask.
“I am feeling hopeful today.”
Dr. Lee then proceeded to justify her grief, eventually asking, “Why don’t you tell me about your paper cranes?”
Bea dodged the question each time, pantomiming the folds out of stress. The real reason was too painful to explain even to a trained professional. She creates cranes each day to forget her pain, to wishfully attempt to undo it. Not to bring it up to a stranger who she believed had no potential to ease her hurt. He was not made of paper.
Dr. Lee diagnosed her with OCD and depression, remedied with prescription medication — a slip of paper signed with a messy signature that quickly turned into a paper bird.
All 1,000 pointed faces and tails represented a chance at health and healing; a chance of continued beauty and grace. A chance that she fell short of taking; a chance she wouldn’t let slip through her fingers again.
Each night when she went home, she would line them on her bedroom floor, creating a fleet. Although Bea was possessive over her paper creations, sometimes she would make a few extra to leave behind on park benches or headstones. She often felt selfish for hoarding so many wishes, therefore it was only right to potentially help the next girl from taking on an unbearable load of grief. Maybe, just maybe, .001% of a wish would mean a difference for someone who experienced death and loneliness. A tangible sign from heaven that Bea was the deliverer of. Her role was like that of a spiritual intermediary, a role she wished someone would fill for her.
On a day like this where she had made so many in so little time, she would write a note to them on the scrap page before folding it into shape. It was a painful process, yet a therapeutic one. Bea wrote in pencil, for her mistakes and loss for words were plentiful. Her eraser was worn to a mere nub. The tiny, rolled shavings brushed off the table formed a disorderly pile beneath her feet.
To you. Erase. To the one I miss the most. Erase.
Your birthday is this week, as you know. I have been preparing and collecting extra scraps to celebrate you. I left one in our spot yesterday, one made of newspaper. I hope you don’t mind. As an update, I have made 2,187,000 wishes to bring you back to me. Three more sets of wishes until the big day. I hope you are proud of me.
With love. Erase. Please come home. Erase. I miss you, Bea.
She crumpled up the page. A crime. A death in the family. A waste of material and energy.
She never could quite put into words what she wanted to say. She was so angry and confused at them for leaving, something out of her control that she is now so desperately trying to understand.
They would never come back. If they wanted to, they would. 2,187,000 are surely enough wishes. Yet they are never enough.
It took her six years and countless therapy sessions to realize this. Beatrix is a crumpled piece of paper with irremovable damage. No amount of flattening, pressing and pleading can undo a crisp crease. No amount of folding, wishing and creating cranes can bring them back. Too far gone, dead.
She hated the way the paper felt against her fingertips. She slid her thumb across the crisp edge, undoing the folds — the blueprint for what was never meant to take shape.
She destroyed every single one.
Statement Associate Editor Julia Verklan Maloney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.