Why unDuck-like looking Ducks might feel inferior
The Rat was born into the family a couple of years back when Younger Daughter, then 16, kept saying how much she wanted a pet rat. We demurred. We hedged. We hesitated. We ummed. We ahhd. We turned the radio off if anyone mentioned rodents. We refused to say any words which rhymed with 'rat' (which meant no one could mention my weight for a while - it was fab.) We hid in the garden when she came in from school. We leapt out of our chairs if a door squeaked and yelled: 'Ye Gods! How can anyone bear such a noise?'
Somehow she got the idea we weren't keen.
Then, a friend asked YD if she'd feed their hamster for a week while they were away. And, knowing about her rodent yearnings, as a thank you present, they bought her a toy rat.
At least The Rat looked like a rat, being grey, with beady eyes and whiskers, and rat-like, unlike Wilf the UnDucklike-looking-Duck (whose life story you can read here, you lucky, lucky people).
I don't know who first had the idea to hide The Rat inside someone else's coat pocket, so that it dropped out in the street at the bus stop, or in their lunch bag, scrunched in beside the baguette, or in their pillowcase, so that at 3 in the morning they realised why they couldn't sleep, or crammed inside the cereal box, where it would pop up like a frenzied Rat-in-the-Box with its whiskers all bent and a Coco Pop stuck to its nose.
But someone did. And, after that, the rot set in. Rot? Rat? The rat set in? We got in a rut? Rut? Rot? Rat? What? Who's reading this tripe anyway?
For about a year, Hiding the Rat became a challenge. YD put it in her dad's coat sleeve. Dad put it in her ironing pile. YD took it out, put it underneath my school books so that it emerged in a lesson on dystopian fiction. (DON'T SAY I NEVER DO INTERESTING THEMATIC LINKS.) I took it home again, put it in YD's gloves. Etceterat. Etcetarat. Etceterat.
Then ... on the very day YD was leaving us for university, there was a tragedy. Cue violins.
We'd just moved to our new house, and YD had moved with us, but only for a couple of months before leaving. On the walls of the new house were (past tense: we had to move twice in the end) light fittings, those uplighter kinds which look like fanned-out cones on the walls. YD did not know these were light fittings as we only ever used lamps and she'd never seen them on. I don't know what she thought they were, but our kids have never liked our taste in household furnishings, so she probably wasn't surprised that we'd gone for walls with weird decorative fixtures.
So, the night before, she'd dropped The Rat into one of them.
The next morning, for some reason, the Husband decided to put the wall lights on. (Note that the Husband only gets a little 't' on his 'the' whereas The Rat gets upper case? Yeah, well, we have our hierarchies pretty worked out in this family.)
the husband smelt burning. he smelt some more burning. he smelt burning some more. And then he found The Rat, a hole scorched in its tummy the size of a golf ball.
The Rat bore the pain well. The expression on its ratty face hadn't changed one bit. I think it must have been to some of those Buddhist walk-on-hot-coals fun activity weeks in the mountains.
Later that morning, we stood in the living room, YD's cases in the corner, solemnly inspecting The Rat's injury. (Keep those violins going, Signor.) I kept saying, 'I can't believe this has happened the day you're leaving. It's so SYMBOLIC.' YD said something like, 'Is there any time of the day or night you DON'T talk like an English teacher?' I suggested that The Rat would have to go to whereever scorched TheRats went when their time was up. YD blanched, for one moment matching the colour of The Rat itself. I had to retract. And in the end, she made me agree to perform surgery and sew up the hole. I promised.
That was a year ago. He still has the hole.
For six months or so, after YD had gone to university, The Rat sat on a shelf (no, not a mat, that's a cat that does that). Sitting that way, no one knew about the hole, although they may have wondered why a middle-aged couple had a toy rat on a shelf in the first place. Having said that, in this house, perhaps no one wondered. Still, neither Husband, nor I, had the emotional energy to stuff him up a sleeve or cram him into a cookie jar. It looked like the Hiding The Rat game was over.
And then ...
Christmas happened. All the family came to stay. And The Rat disappeared off the shelf, taken and hidden somewhere by Older Daughter. Only Son got involved. Then Only Son's new wife pitched in, hiding The Rat with glee in one of the kitchen cupboards. I think we found him in a ceramic pot when they'd all gone home. We put him back on the shelf.
And then ...
YD came home for a weekend, bringing a friend, apparently having told her all about The Rat. The whole two days, we played Hide/Find/Hide/Find/Hide/Find The Rat. And the friend went home, saying how the best thing about our house had been The Rat. I haven't seen her Facebook page, but I can guess what the answer is to her question, 'What do I like most about my friend's parents' house?'
So, having been usurped by a stuffed, scorched rodent, who refuses to lie down quietly on the shelf and become an Ornament, albeit a strange one, we are now fully immersed, once more, lack of offspring-in-the-house notwithstanding, in The Rat Wars.
I found it in my bra drawer yesterday, nestled in among the lingerie with its whiskers twitching, like an old Peeping Tom. Later, I'm going to stuff it into the toe of one of Husband's shoes, so that he thinks his feet have grown in the night.
Suddenly, the Empty Nest has an occupant again.
Someone call the men in white coats.