In the hallway the boys gather about in smelly heaps like old laundry, laughing and pointing and dancing in their ridiculously large sneakers. Hair sticking out in every direction, body odor of newly minted puberty encircling them in a miasma, they crow like four-month roosters, stomping their feet on the small pieces of paper scattered on the ground.
Each square has a blotch of red on it, some writing, a signature.
One boy picks up a larger piece and theatrically tears it into small then smaller then tiny pieces, throws it into the air like confetti. The other boys bat at it, sending the shreds flying around through the hallway.
The boys’ voices crack as they hoot and cat-call, which makes them shout louder. The teachers are nowhere to be found.
To the side a small girl stands, dressed in a slightly off-fashion red bodysuit and plaid skort, uncertain shoes, long hair massing about her head in a ‘my mother won’t let me cut it’ study of split ends and tangles. Head down, she tries to slip by, unseen, escape down the hallway to the exit, but she can’t avoid the tangle of boys, the shouts, the destruction.
The boys spot her, and the pointing and yelling sharpens, knife-like. Like a murder of crows, they caw in her face, pull at her hair, scoop up the shreds of paper off the floor and throw them at her. Winter gravel is mixed with the paper which stings as it hits her. The papers don’t fly well, and this makes the boys finally give up in frustration and turn away. They slam the doors open, shoving each other, grinning back at her.
One boy is quieter than the rest. He knows the girl, they were friends of a sort, of whatever sort boys and girls could be friends in grade eight, clouded in hormones and poor judgement. He shouts through the noise to the boys, “Let’s go, she’s not worth it.”
She looks over at him, her face dead. She’s frozen, mortally wounded, unable to edge one cell forward out of there. Minutes after the boys finally tumble out of the door and outside, away, she thaws enough to move.
Bending forward, she gathers up the shreds of her valentines, silent. Alone.