A Rat for Dana

By Denny Dart
Art by Erin Mauterer

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INTRO

At Dana’s yard sale, Tim chose a baseball from the toys spread on the card table. “How much is this?” he asked. He tossed the ball from hand to hand.

“Everything’s a quarter,” Dana said, “except Nezumi.” She held up a stuffed toy rat. It was gray and limp. Cotton poked out from the hole where an ear had been torn off. “Nezumi is extra special, so he’s ten dollars. He needs a safe new home.”

“I don’t have ten dollars,” Tim said.

“That’s all right,” said Dana. “Nezumi is free for you because you’re my friend.”

“What happened to his ear?” Tim asked.

“Ruffles chewed it,” she said. “Nezumi is terrified of dogs. That’s why he wants to go to your house.”

“He’s sort of old,” said Tim. “Old toys are the best kind,” Dana said.

The next day at school, Dana put her green lunch bag in her locker while Tim waited for her.

“I hope that you tucked Nezumi under your covers,” she said. Tim couldn’t remember where he’d left the stuffed rat. “Nezumi gets cold easily,” Dana said.

Tim nodded.

“My mom and dad are giving me a real rat for my birthday,” Dana said.

“A live rat?” Tim asked. “Can I see it?”

“Of course. You’re coming to my party tomorrow,” Dana said. She looked at Tim and smiled. “I wonder what you’re giving me.”

Tim hadn’t thought of a present yet. “I can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s a surprise.”

At home, Tim’s mother showed him the gift she had bought for Dana. It was a knitting spool shaped like a mushroom, made of wood, and painted red. There were brass nails on top, and it came with colored yarn.

“She can knit a scarf for her doll,” Mom said.

“Dana’s not a knitting kind of person,” Tim said.

Mom sighed. “What kind of person is she?”

“Dana’s a rat kind of person.”

“Rat?”

“Live rat!” said Tim.

Tim and his mom drove to the pet store. Tim sat in the backseat and wound colored yarn around the brass nails of the mushroom.

“I didn’t know you were a knitting kind of person,” Mom said. “

I’m not,” said Tim. “I’m making something important.”

At the store, a teenage boy showed them toys for rats. He opened the door of a clear plastic ball. “You put the rat inside, and it can run around on the floor, safe from cats and dogs.”

Tim thought of Nezumi’s ear that Ruffles had chewed. Dana’s rat would need this ball.

The next day, Dana brought frosted cupcakes to class. As she handed a cupcake to Tim, she asked, “Did you bring Nezumi? He likes to ride in backpacks.”

Tim thought for a minute. The yard-sale baseball was in his backpack. Nezumi was at home on Tim’s bed.

“My mom and dad are giving me a new bike for my birthday,” Dana said.

“A bike?” Tim said. “I thought you were getting a rat.”

“No rats,” Dana said. “Dad says that rats are rodents.”

Uh-oh, thought Tim. What will Dana do with a rat ball if she has no rat?

Dana smiled. “I wonder what you’re giving me,” she said.

Tim wondered, too. “I can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s a surprise.”

At home that afternoon, Tim lifted the plastic rat ball out of its glittery blue gift bag. “Dana isn’t getting a live rat,” he told his mother.

“You mean we bought her something she doesn’t need?”

“She needs it,” Tim said. He opened the little door on the ball.

“You could still give her the knitting mushroom,” Mom said.

Tim shook his head. He lifted Nezumi and wrapped him in the little blue scarf that he had knitted with the mushroom. “Nezumi gets cold easily,” Tim said. He squeezed Nezumi into the ball. “Nezumi is afraid of dogs.”

“You’re giving Dana an old stuffed rat with one ear?” Mom asked.

“Dana thinks old toys are the best kind,” Tim said.

When Dana opened Tim’s present, she laughed and hugged the ball.

“Dana,” said Tim. “You’re a Nezumi kind of person.”