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I DIDN’T want to be a rat.
“You’re a dirty rat!” Alan Corbridge has wrinkles on his skin and when he opens his mouth it stretches across his whole face. He puts one foot in the girls’ playground then runs away. His big brother has been chosen for something called the pide piper and will be at the front.
Daddy came back from work late again, we need a new bed in the front bedroom. I put lipstick on the mirror. Daddy doesn’t like the cake mummy made. Mummy complains we will not be able to get a rat’s costume. In the end Mrs. Sexton arranges it. Mrs Sexton thinks she is the boss even though Mr Sexton is the vicar. Then none of the costumes arrive. It’s not long now, mummy says to Mrs. Fellowes, (she is my best friend’s Carol’s mum) I don’t know how they think we’re supposed to conjure these things up like magic. I don’t think we’ll be sending Jane as a rat.
The day before the Rose Queen festival I see the costume, dark brown and soft. I have long whiskers and sticky-up ears, and a zip at the back. I put it on in the morning — Daddy takes a photograph of me crouching like a rat in front of the shed, the nasty shed with peeling green paint that smells of cat pee. The holes are too small, I can’t see out. Mummy and daddy say I do have to wear it.
Do I have to walk to church in it? I have to change into it in the school hall. What if the boys see me undressing? I don’t say this; mummy says nothing and strokes her big bump. Daddy stays in the garage and works his lathe. I have to go on my own.
No one can see what a good rat I am in my costume because I have my head on. I am hot all over. When we get near to the church again I take off my rat head; with my own head I can see lots of people in dresses and shirts are clapping and smiling in the sun, watching me in my brown rat costume. The Church of England is best — the Catholics and White Lane School, they don’t have it. We get the chance to walk in a procession round the streets of Orley Park and Weston Vale.
Last year I dressed up as a rosebud. Gran made me a white dress with a scalloped edge. She pinned a pink rose made out of material on to my chest. She put a headband of pink roses on my hair. Lots of rosebuds rode high on a lorry.
Why are we rats? We have to walk, there is no lorry. Now it is dinnertime but we are not there yet.