Valenstein

February 14th.  The giggliest day of the year.  I hid in the girls cloakroom, sat on a bench with my knees pulled up to my chest and my coat draped over me.  Just because I was ten years old and a girl didn’t mean I liked being around other ten year old girls.  Especially not on this day.  From my hiding place I could hear a gaggle of them cooing over various boys and the unmistakable tones of Penny Harbright announcing that she had won the affections of Ramekin Hummus.

Ramekin was the new boy at school and in the run up to Valentine’s Day there had been much speculation about which girl would be lucky enough to be chosen by him.  They were all keen to uncover the secrets of his Eastern mystery and find out if he really was a Prince as he had claimed.  I, for one, was dubious about this.  “Have you not heard of the Hummus Empire?” he asked, “or the great House Of Hummus?”  Unfortunately the House Of Hummus was all the way in East Didsbury, too far for any of us to go and see.

So, Penny Harbright had won the battle for his love and you could be sure that she would not shut up about it.  She had looked to be the favourite since Monday morning when she had come to school and we had noticed the miraculous overnight transformation that had occurred on her chest.  It seemed it had not gone unnoticed by Ramekin either.

Still, squealing girls was only half the reason I had hidden myself away that lunchtime.  No, I was hiding from another monster.  It was harsh and unfair to call him a monster but that didn’t mean I could understand why he had chosen me to become infatuated with.  I had just been minding my own business, trying to avoid the abject horror of this day, I hadn’t asked to catch the eye of creepy Frank Einstein.

Yet for the past week I had noticed little smiles, eye contact, sly winks whilst he tried to give me help I didn’t want or need with my Maths work.  I had been taught that sticking your tongue out at someone was rude so I tried that but I think he took it as flirting.  After that I tried my best to ignore him.  I don’t know what it was about me, little me, all chubby cheeks and pigtails, that had attracted him but I wished it would stop.

Frank Einstein was the cleverest boy in the school, he knew the particulars of particles, a ton about atoms and all his relatives were top level government scientists.  He knew endless facts but I didn’t think the things he knew would keep me interested over dinner when we were in our thirties and they were not enough to make up for his oddness.  He was quiet, walked in an odd way and since the age of eight had sported a thick moustache with bristles like a toothbrush that just would not go away.

The bell rang for the end of lunchtime.  I let the other girls go and then I emerged from my hiding place and made my way to the classroom.  I kept my head down all afternoon, quietly working away, trying to focus on learning Geography and History.  When the bell rang for home time I packed away quickly and was up like a shot, ready to get out and make the short walk home as quickly as possible.

But I wasn’t fast enough.  For when I got into the playground there was Frank, clutching a plastic bag.  My heart sank, there was no way I could escape him now.  I walked slowly towards him and as I did he held out to me the bag, my Valentines present.  I took it without touching his fingers and, remembering my manners, thanked him.  He blushed and for a moment my heart melted a tiny bit.

Then I looked in the bag.

I thought I was going to be sick.

I ran home clutching the bag, trying to stop anything sloshing out of it.  It was quite heavy, I had never really thought about it before.  All that flesh and blood and things I hadn’t yet learned about in Science lessons.  I could hear it thumping up and down in the bag, just like my heart as I ran faster and faster away from school, away from Frank and his smarmy grin.

My Mum opened the door to me, surprised to see me home so early.  Then her expression changed to one of concern as she saw the look on my drained face.  I opened the bag to show her.  It was strange looking at it with another person, as though until then it had not been real, just a little girl’s mind game.  But I saw the colour fall from my Mum’s face and a look of horror and disgust contort her features in a way I had never seen.  “Where… where did you get this?” she asked, between gulps.  I think she was gulping to keep back the vomit.

I explained about Frank and looked in the bag again.  It was a mess of red and brown mess, there was no other word for it.  I couldn’t tell what it was anymore.  “Is it human?” I asked.  My Mum didn’t know and went to phone my Dad, she said he should get home as fast as possible.  While we waited I couldn’t help but look in the bag with a kind of horrified fascination, it was so utterly disgusting that I could not help it.  My mind boggled and there was one question I just could not keep down:

Just who’s heart had Frank given me?

But that was just the calm before the storm and when the storm came I was sent to my room.  Apparently there was no need for me to go through any more than I had done already so I was made to stay in my room and read a book to take my mind off it all.  It was only afterwards that I heard about all the excitement that had been going on.  Of my Dad taking the heart to the Police and of the raids on Frank’s home that had uncovered a laboratory in the cellar.  They found all kinds of human remains, arms and legs and heads and all the inside bits.  I couldn’t help picturing them all as mush in plastic bags but I imagine it was a little different to that.

My Dad told me that Frank had been quite innocent and explained that it was all a misunderstood romantic gesture.  Any boy whose parents kept body parts in the basement could have thought of it.  It was quite sweet really.  I wasn’t so sure.  I wondered what they had been building in there.

I was told that I didn’t have to go to school the next day but I thought I should go and get it over with.  February 15th was a riot of revelation and disillusion.  It turned out that Frank was not a real boy, he had been built by his parents in the cellar and now they had been arrested on charges of “creepiness” and “not learning anything from the works of Mary Shelley.”  It did explain an awful lot.  On top of that revelation was the news that the breasts which Penny Harbright had used to woo Ramekin were nothing more real than a couple of pairs of socks and Ramekin himself was soon exposed as a fraud.  He was tripped up by the PTFA newsletter which wrote of a new family at the school and included a money off voucher for the House Of Hummus, which turned out to be nothing more than a Greek restaurant.  And the worst thing?  I was the new school celebrity.

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