Authors: Hilary McKay
Lulu and the Hamster in the Night
Albert Whitman & Company
Ratty the Hamster
Lulu was seven years old, and she was famous for animals. She was so famous for animals that people buying new pets for their children had begun to say,
Well, if things go wrong we can always ask Lulu to take it.
Lulu did not know they said this, and neither did her mom and dad. They might have minded, or they might not. Lulu's parents were quite famous themselves, for letting Lulu have so many pets. They said,
The more the merrier! As long as Lulu cleans up after them.
Lulu did not just clean up after them. She looked after them as if they were the most important things in the world.
And to her, they were.
At Lulu's school there was a big girl called Emma Pond. Emma Pond had a hamster. Emma Pond's hamster had a hamster wheel. The hamster ran desperately on the hamster wheel, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. It ran as if it was trying to escape. Whenever it got off the wheel it would look around as if to say “Am I still in the same place?” When it saw that it was, it tried again.
The hamster wheel made a squeaky noise that Emma Pond did not like. She used to reach through the bars with a pencil and poke the hamster off the wheel.
One day, when Emma Pond's hamster had the chance, it bit Emma Pond. This happened on a day when Emma had not been able to find a pencil and had used her finger to poke him instead. It was not a little bite; it was a big one. As big as the hamster could manage.
The next day Emma Pond came up to Lulu at school and said, “I'm getting rid of my hamster.”
“Why?” asked Lulu.
“How?” asked Mellie, who was seven years old like Lulu and her best friend as well as her cousin.
Emma Pond answered them each in turn. She unpeeled a sticky bandage from her finger and showed Lulu two red holes. “That's why,” she said. She told Mellie, “I'll just let it go if Lulu doesn't want it.”
“Let it go where?” asked Lulu.
“Perhaps at my uncle's. He's got a big field. We let our rabbits go there.”
“What happened to your rabbits?”
Emma Pond shrugged to show she didn't care. “Anyway,” she said to Lulu, “my house is on the way to yours. You could stop on your way home.”
“Today?” asked Lulu.
“Today, after school,” said Emma Pond. “Wait at my gate. If you're not there, I'll know you don't want it.”
“I want it! I want it!” said Lulu.
Right after school that day Lulu and Mellie rushed to Emma Pond's house.
“Wait!” commanded Emma when they reached the gate. Then she went in and came back carrying a small plastic cage.
Inside the cage was a heap of newspaper and hamster bedding and a hamster wheel. The rubbish heap twitched a little.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” asked Lulu.
“We never reallyâ¦” began Emma Pond, and then she stopped. “It's a boy,” she said. “Or if it's not, it's a girl. Obviously.”
“What's its name?” asked Mellie.
Emma Pond paused. It was almost as if she didn't want to tell them. Then she said, “Ratty!”
“Ratty?” repeated Mellie.
“Ratty?” echoed Lulu. “But you said it was a hamster!”
“Are you taking him or not?” demanded Emma Pond.
“We're taking him,” said Lulu.
Lulu and Mellie walked home, carrying the cage between them. With her free hand Mellie held her nose.
“I don't think Emma Pond has cleaned this cage for weeks and weeks and weeks,” she said.
At Lulu's house they put the cage down on the doorstep and stretched their arms.
“We still haven't seen a hamster,” said Mellie, but even as she spoke, the heap of newspaper in the cage began to move. A pink nose came out. A ginger head with bulging eyes. It yawned, showing curving orange teeth. Next Lulu and Mellie saw a ginger body with a bare patch of skin in the middle and last of all, a short hairless tail.
Then Lulu and Mellie and the ginger-colored animal all had a good stare at one another. While they were doing this, Lulu's mother came out.
?” she asked.
“It's a hamster,” Lulu replied, and she explained about Emma Pond and Emma Pond's bitten finger and the field and the rabbits and the way Emma Pond had shrugged when Lulu had asked what happened to them.
“Well,” said Lulu's mother at the end of all this, “I don't see what else you could do but bring the poor little animal home! What's its name?”
“Ratty!” said Mellie.
“Oh,” said Lulu's mother. “Oh!” And then she had another look in the cage and said, “Oh. I wonder what Nan will say.”
Nan was the grandmother that Lulu and Mellie shared. She was the best nan in the world. She lived on the other side of town from Lulu and Mellie, but she came to see them often. She was little and pretty and clever and she never complained. Not when Mellie visited and her artwork overflowed from her bedroom, down the stairs, through the kitchen, and across the hall in a trail of glitter and painty splashes and chopped-up paper. Nor when Lulu visited and left wet animals on the sofa and jam jars of wandering caterpillars on the bathroom windowsill.
But Nan didn't like hamsters much. She didn't like the way they moved so quickly. She didn't like the small sharp nails on their starfish paws. She didn't like their raindrop eyes or their twitchy noses or their strange pink tails with the skin showing through the fur.
Hamsters made Nan shiver.
“Perhaps we shouldn't tell Nan about Ratty,” Lulu said to her mom. “Not at first.”
“First,” said Lulu's mother, “before he meets anyone, he needs a clean cage.”
Ratty seemed to agree. He grabbed the bars of his cage door with his long orange teeth and rattled them furiously.
“I'll do it now,” said Lulu, and she did, while Mellie watched from a safe distance and did not help. Mellie liked animals, but not enough to scrub out their cages. That was why she didn't have any pets. She didn't mind playing with them, though. She built Ratty a cardboard-box maze to explore while Lulu scrubbed. It had cardboard-tunnel tubes, and boxes to climb in and out of, and peanut treasure to be discovered, and Ratty seemed to enjoy it very much.