Miss Turner was not very happy. In fact she was quite miserable. Her infant class was not respecting her, and it wasn’t just because she was covering for a popular teacher on maternity leave. She was having difficulty engaging with the majority of her charges largely because a few unruly pupils took up most of her attention. And, not helping at all, inexplicable things were happening to her, things like falling into a stack of storage boxes, or frantically scratching herself vigorously as though a packet of itching powder had been poured down the back of her blouse, or squirming uncomfortably in her seat for minutes on end when she was reading a story to the class.
And now it was happening again. That new boy, Darren – who looked like trouble the moment she set eyes on him – was not facing the front as he should be in assembly but distracting that girl behind him. Of course it had to be Minnie, the bane of her life, constantly the centre of the class’s attention but always looking so smugly innocent and smiley. Except now she was looking rather frightened. Click! Miss Turner snapped her fingers and gave the customary sharp shush! It had the required effect: Darren turned to the front, Minnie crumpled and the assembly continued as if nothing had happened.
But Miss Turner felt defeated; it was as if a great weight was pushing her shoulders down, squashing her frame. She struggled through assembly in a daze, hardly aware of shepherding her charges back to the classroom, or of learning assistants supervising the distrubution of reading books. What she was suddenly aware of, through a mist of tears, was a small figure in the corridor hugging her legs, gently rubbing the back of her thigh and going shhh, there-there as if to a baby. She was extremely surprised to see the figure below her was Minnie and — behind her – a curious but wary Darren, watching and alert and wide-eyed.
From then on things somehow improved. It was little things: pupils paying rapt attention to her instructions and leaping up to help hand things out without being asked, eager hands shooting up when there were questions to be answered and young voices joining in eagerly with songs and prayers. And she no longer felt anxious when Minnie or Darren watched her intently; she put it down to her increasing confidence that she no longer tripped over her feet or spilled the tray of learning materials in arithmetic. She began to feel good about herself; maybe she would apply for that permanent post once the maternity cover was up.
* * * * *
Minnie was slightly distraught when her new friend Darren moved to the parallel class in the new school year, but at least she got to see him at break and lunchtimes and when they went to play at each other’s houses at weekends and during holidays. There was nothing they liked better than dressing up as caped and masked superheroes and going out into the garden or to the park; here they zapped and postured and gestured to their hearts’ content but, luckily, with little discomfort to other people. Being children they naturally got their own back on bullies when the occasion demanded but ever since Miss Turner they’d developed a sense of justice and fair play. They worked on ever more inventive but subtle ways to right wrongs, wordlessly sharing sleights-of-hand and enjoying each other’s inventiveness.
Minnie’s parents were keen ComicCon fans, a passion Minnie shared, especially the dressing up. Darren too was often taken along to conventions, their favourite get-ups being characters from The Beano. Dennis the Menace* and Minnie the Minx had similar outfits – striped red and black sweaters or long-sleeved T-shirts with short black trousers – so the pair went dressed as the terrible twosome (Minnie of course with ginger plaits under the trademark beret). Here they caused as much mayhem as the characters they played but, past masters that they were, nobody ever suspected them of mishaps. For example, when passers-by unwittingly knocked over piles of paperbacks at book-signings, not once but several times, the two were just innocent bystanders; or when Darth Vader kept stumbling into the paths of oncoming fans (while simultaneously trying to maintain his dignity and awesomeness) Darren and Minnie were always several steps behind.
Naturally Minnie came to be known as ‘Minx’ by family and friends, though Darren ‘the Menace’ – rather quieter and less garrulous than Minnie – managed to keep his alter ego separate.
In their last years at primary school Minnie and Darren started making up their own comics. Darren was the main artist while Minnie authored and lettered the speech bubbles that emerged from characters’ mouths. This joint obsession began to nudge out practising their superpowers, though never entirely: their joint comic project — The Adventures of Psychic Man and Ghoul Girl (secret identities ‘Si Kick’ and ‘Grace Yard’) — was deeply informed by their own experiences.
Then came the bombshell: Darren’s family was upping sticks to move back to the Northeast of England. To her utter dismay Minnie suddenly found she had a bottomless hole inside her, am emotional whirlpool which sucked down the best of everything – friendliness, enthusiasm and happiness – and turned her remaining world into a mush of grey. Like porridge without any interesting bits.