"First Love" by SJI Holliday
He clutches the heart in one small hand. Imagines it beating, throbbing against his palm. It reminds him of holding a small animal: a hamster, a guinea pig, a mouse; squeezing it just a little too tight, pulse quickening in his grip.
“It’s a pig’s heart,” the butcher says. “Fifty pee to you, son.”
“Who buys these? Who’d want them?” the boy asks.
“They eat them,” the butcher says. “Dogs. And snakes. Some people too. Chopped up and mixed with kidneys and spices and lungs and blood. Do you like black pudding, son? Haggis? Scotch pies?”
The boy feels sick. He drops the plastic bag with the heart inside into the bottom of his school bag and tries to forget that it’s there. Tries to forget what he needs it for.
Everyone has been talking about it for days. Michael Michelson. United’s top goal scorer of the last ten years. Married to the sharp-faced skinny blonde lady that’s always in his mum’s magazines.
When he gets to the hospital, the news crews are already there setting up cameras and microphones. A small crowd has gathered at the gates. Some kids have gone home and changed into their blue and white striped kits. He’s still in his uniform. He went straight to the butchers' after the bell.
A shiny black car with darkened windows is parked close to the main entrance.
Is he in there already? Sitting by her bed? Stroking her hair?
“Hey kid…” a bald man in a washed out t-shirt comes over to him. He holds out a mic, offers it to him like a lolly.
“What do you think then, eh? This big celebrity coming to your little town! Bet you’re excited? Do you know the sick girl? Are you friends? Is she your girlfriend?” He smirks, and the boy wants to punch him. “How about you tell me your story for the news? You might be on the telly!”
The boy says nothing.
Slides his hand into his school bag, squeezes the heart.
She doesn’t need all you lot… he thinks. She doesn’t need some stupid footballer, giving her his money and his fake smile. She needs a new heart, that’s all… and I’ve got one for her. Right here. At the bottom of my bag.
“No,” the boy says. He shrugs. “I don’t even know her.” He turns away before the cameraman can see his pink cheeks.
He squeezes the heart in his small hand.
Clutches it tight and wills it to beat.
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