[Parts 1 and 2 here]
: 3 :
After he had performed he coin-trick several times; and after assuring them over and again that he couldn't eat the food they offered, Leo's Mum and Dad took Leo to the hospital. This did not go well. For one thing they had to wait for several hours in a crowded, nasty smelling waiting room. When they finally saw a doctor, she was very obviously exhausted. Leo’s father explained the situation, and the doctor looked at him intently, as if about to topple forward into sleep. ‘He cannot eat food,’ Leo’s Dad said. ‘He can eat money.’ The doctor blinked. ‘Very interesting,’ she said. ‘What I shall do is refer you to a child psychiatrist.’
‘No, no,’ Leo’s Mum said. ‘This is not a psychiatric problem! This is a real business. Show the doctor, Leo—’
‘I’ll demonstrate both sides of my dilemma,’ said Leo, to the doctor. ‘Here is a Mars bar.’ He pulled open the wrapper and showed its wrinkly chocolate spine to her, poking him finger into it to show that it was really a Mars bar. She raised one eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. ‘You have to look closely at it when I put it in my mouth,’ he told her . ‘To see that I’m not shamming.’ In went the chocolate bar, and he bit down hard. As hard as he could. When he pulled it out, he showed it to her again. ‘You see? I bit as hard as I could, but no toothmarks at all!’
The doctor peered at the Mars bar, and then shook her head. ‘I don’t see—’
‘Wait! Here’s part 2!’ He took out a fifty pence coin from his pocket, showed it to her (so she could see it was real) and then put it between his teeth. He bit through it as easily as if it had been cheese, and swallowed half.
At this the doctor looked surprised. ‘Yes,’ she said. Then she turned to Leo’s parents. ‘It is an interesting case. The child psychiatrist will be able to ...’
‘It’s not in my head!’ Leo objected. ‘It’s a real thing!’
‘Leo,’ said the doctor, ‘people get poorly in lots of different ways, in their minds as well as their bodies. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you shouldn’t be worried.’
‘You saw me eat the coin!’
‘People with mental, eh, difficulties sometimes do eat inappropriate things. I wouldn’t eat any more coins, though, if I were you. It won’t do your tummy any good.’
‘I bit it right in half!’
‘Yes, you clearly have very strong teeth, which is excellent! Now,’ she turned to Leo’s Mum and Dad, ‘strange food cravings may indicate a deficiency of trace elements in his diet. I’ll give you a link to some possible food supplements, and arrange an appointment with the child psychiatrist I mentioned. Until then, please try to stop him eating anything that might injure his stomach.’
With that she hurried off. Leo couldn’t believe it! Worse was to follow: in the car, driving home again, his parents decided to agree with the doctor!
‘Of course it must be psychological,’ his Mum said. ‘What other explanation could there be?’
‘I’m glad,’ said his Dad. ‘Proper treatment will soon sort him out. I don’t know what I was thinking before! Eating money? It’s absurd.’
‘Mum! Dad! It’s not psychological! It’s real!’
‘Of course you would say that,’ his Mum, replied, turning in her seat to face him. ‘That’s how psychological illness works!’
‘I know it seems real to you now, son,’ said his Dad. ‘But we’ll have the head-doctor sort out your crazy brain, and you’ll see how daft it all is.’
Back home, Mum made him a cheese toastie, but despite being ravenously hungry he couldn’t eat it—of course. But though the begged for some banknotes or coins, his parents had got it in to their heads that the doctor was right,. ‘Fill yourself up with coins? Crazy,’ said his Dad. ‘You’ll rattle like a piggy bank.’
‘Of the metal edges will cut you up inside and that could be very dangerous.’
So he had to go to bed without supper, his stomach growling with hungry as loud as an angry dog. He was much too hungry to sleep. So he crept down the stairs and sat on te bottom step, listened to his parents discussing him in the sitting room. ‘I feel terrible sending him off to bed on an empty stomach,’ he heard his father say. ‘The doctor knows what she’s talking about,’ said his mother. ‘When he gets hungry enough, he’ll eat what he is offered.’
They clearly didn’t understand. Leo went back to his bedroom.
There was nothing for it. He was going to have to eat his piggy bank.
His was an old-style piggy bank—no lid, or easy-opening doorway; the only way to get at the money inside was to smash it. So Leo wrapped it in his duvet to muffle the sound, and hit it hard with his fattest hardback book, edge on. It cracked solidly, and unrolled the duvet to see a mouth-watering pile of coins, and even a few banknotes.
At exactly that moment there was a knock on his door. His mother’s voice: ‘Leo?’
Hurriedly, Leo pulled the duvet over the smashed pieces of pig and the clinking pile of money. ‘Come in!’
Mum came through and leant over Leo. She smelt of food—beef paprika and red wine. ‘Good night kiss!’ she said, touching Leo’s forehead with her lips. ‘Good night, my dear. We’ll sort you out first thing tomorrow—don’t you worry.’
Leo craned his neck and kissed his mother on her cheek. ‘Goodnight Mum,’ he said, eager to get her out of his room. ‘Very tired, need to sleep.’
‘Night-night then!’ She went out, turning off the main light as she passed. As soon as he was alone, Leo pulled his torch out of his bedside cabinet, went under the duvet and started eating the contents of his piggy bank.
To begin with he gobbled down coins greedily—because he was so hungry. But pretty soon he became interested in the different flavours of the different kinds of money, and so he slowed down to savour the experience. Copper coins, the pennies and tuppences, tasted like bread, or bran; not dry exactly, but not especially flavoursome either. After he'd eaten fifteen or twenty of these coins, though, he felt the edge go off from his hunger. Ten pence pieces (he had a lot of those), tasted slightly better; slightly saltier, with a tang; and twenty and fifty pences had an appealing mild vinegar and cheese flavour, that after the blandness of the coppers was very nice. Pound coins tasted sweet, vaguely honey-like, and he gobbled the dozen he had saved over the years in quick order. The piggy bank had also contained one five pound and one ten pound note. The fiver tasted delicious: not in the least papery, but more like a flavoursome, juice sliver of fruit -- blueberry-ish. The tenner was better still: a sweet, succulent, jammy flavour. This made sense to Leo: the more expensive the currency, the nicer tasting it was likely to be.
Soon enough, all the money had been eaten. At least he wasn't hungry any more; and then, having put all the broken pieces of piggybank in the bin under his desk, and replacing his torch in his bedside cabinet, Leo stretched himself out under his duvet and was asleep in moments.
[Part 4 next Sunday]