Authors: Mary Amato
Thanks to Max and Justine for their comments on the draft. Thanks also to Paul Sherman, Professor of Animal Behavior at Cornell University, for information and insights about naked mole-rats. Any mistakes about the nearly hairless wonders are mine, not his.
Artwork on page 44 by Chris Russo.
Artwork on pages 72, 105, and 229 by Heather Saunders.
Copyright Â© 2005 by Mary Amato
All Rights Reserved
HOLIDAY HOUSE is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
ISBN 978-0-8234-2449-8 (ebook)w
ISBN 978-0-8234-2680-5 (ebook)r
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The naked mole-rat letters / Mary Amato.â 1st ed.
Summary: When her father begins a long-distance romance with a
Washington, D.C., zookeeper, twelve-year-old Frankie sends fabricated
email letters to the zookeeper in an attempt to end the relationship.
[1.Â Â HonestyâFiction.Â 2.Â Fathers and daughtersâFiction.
3. EmailâFiction. 4. DiariesâFiction.]Â Â I. Title.
[Fic]âdc22Â Â Â Â Â Â 2004052317
ISBN 978-0-8234-1927-2 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-0-8234-2098-8 (paperback)
In memory of
my mom and Eunice
Just a line to say thank you for the wonderful dinner last night. I enjoyed the food, the conversation, andâespeciallyâthe kiss. Will our paths cross again?
P.S. You left a small bag of conference brochures by the feeding station. I'll mail it to you.
I'm practically fainting. Here's the shocking and horrible news: Dad met somebody named Ayanna and kissed her.
At least I didn't see the kiss. I read about it in an e-mail and called Beth right away.
“Oh Frankie, maybe your dad will fall in love with her and ask her to marry him,” she said, as if that would be a good thing.
“Beth!” I yelled into the phone. “This is my life we're talking about here. Not some stupid, romantic TV show. I don't want a stepmother.”
“Why not? Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what it would mean for some stranger to walk in and take over your whole life?” I listened to the silence on the other end of the line and realized that Beth didn't have a clue.
“But Frankie, if you got to know her, then she wouldn't be a stranger andâ”
“Forget it, Beth,” I said, and hung up. I've never hung up on Beth before, which just goes to show you how upset all this is making me.
I don't know who Ayanna is or why anybody would have the e-mail name “ratlady.” Dad must have met her on the sorted (sordid?) streets of Washington, D.C. (He went there three days ago for that music conference and is getting back any minute.) I'm sure it's all a
big mistake. This woman just needs to know that their paths will never cross again.
I'm feeling two things at once. I'm horrified to have found this e-mail, and yet I'm glad that I found it before he did. How can a person be horrified and glad at the same time? It's like drinking something that's as foul as poison and as fizzy as soda. Well, I'm horrified that Dad would have this little romantic fling, and I'm glad because I can do something to stop it from going any further. Now I know what Ms. Young meant when she said information is power. Reading this secret information both scares me and makes me feel like I could lift a truck with my bare hands. I must act. Without delay.
I don't know who you are. But this is just a note to say please don't bother e-mailing again.
My father, Robert Wallop, is extremely busy taking care of us children. Perhaps he did not mention the little fact that he has children. He does. Three. There's me. I'm in seventh grade, and I don't require any care, actually. But I have two younger brothers who require constant care on account of their severe, deliberating illnesses. Skip is nine, and Nutter is five. Our real names are Francine, Samuel, and George, but everybody calls us by our nicknames.
Also you should know that my father has several diseases, so kissing him is not a good idea.
My name is Ayanna Bayo. Please call me Ayanna. Your father and I met here in Washington, D.C. He
did talk about you and your brothers, although he failed to mention the debilitating condition of your brothers. I'm sure you're a big help to the whole family. Has your father arrived home yet?
My father probably didn't mention the condition of my brothers because he is ashamed of them. On account of their many problems, they have very ugly faces, and yet we have to look at them all the time because they require constant care. They drool and have diarrhea every minute of every day. You should be happy you live so far away.
P.S. My father arrived home, read your e-mail, and
mentioned that he simply didn't have time to reply. Ever. So this is good-bye.
My cup fizzeth over with joy. I took care of the situation with “speed and a plum,” as Ms. Young used to say. (A plumb? Aplomb?) I erased all the evidence. I'm surprisingly good at all this for someone who is normally so honest. No need to worry anymore about Ratlady.
Dad came home from the airport at five o'clock. I didn't have time to look at him too closely because he had to take Mrs. Whitehead home. Even though I'm twelve, he doesn't trust me to baby-sit Skip and Nutter for overnights. Mrs. Whitehead is the new minister's wife, and she's about as fun as burned toast. Anyway, when Dad came home and took off his coat, I noticed something suspicious. Usually he looks exactly the same every day of his life. He either wears baggy khaki pants with a Heartstrings T-shirt
(which is black) or a Red Beet Ramblers T-shirt (which is maroon). That's it. He's big. But he's not fat. With his curly hair and his bushy beardâreddish, like my hairâhe looks like a bear wearing hand-me-downs. Today his beard was trimmed. He was wearing blue jeans and a very hip, new, tie-dyed shirt that said,
BE WILD AT THE NATIONAL ZOO
“Hey, you look cool, Dad,” Nutter said.
“I am cool,” Dad said, and scooped him up in a hug.
It is highly unusual for Dad to actually look cool.
Next we had a very normal dinner. Frozen ravioli. Here's how it went.Â .Â .Â .
Skip kicked Nutter under the table. Nutter kicked Skip.
“Would you guys knock it off?” Dad asked in his usual highly effective way.
“He started it!” Skip yelled.
“I did not!” Nutter cried.
The menacing cloud that is Skip's personality settled over his face; and when Dad went into the kitchen for napkins, Skip gave one last kick.
But Nutter, the human squirrel, is way too fast for Skip. Nutter scooted off his chair, which meant that Skip ended up kicking the table's leg instead of Nutter's.
This caused a brief tabletop earthquake, and Nutter's milk tipped over into my lap. Nutter, of course, laughed. The cloud lifted off Skip's face, and he laughed so hard he fell off his chair. Then Dad came in, and he grinned at Skip and Nutter like they were stand-up comedians. “I guess I don't need to visit a zoo,” Dad said. “I live in one.”
Nutter hopped back up on his chair, scratched under his arms, and said, “Ooo, ooo, ooo,” in his loudest monkey voice.
They all cracked up, and I sat there, dripping with milk, unable to believe my ears. If I had kicked the table leg and spilled the milk, Dad would have had a screaming fit and grounded me for three months. That's the injustice of my life.
“Speaking of zoos,” Dad said, “the National Zoo was right down the block from my hotel, so I got you each a souvenir.”
Miracle of miracles. Dad picked out very cool stuff. A stage paint kit for meâa set of special face paints (
babyish) with a guide for creating characters and special effects. Night-vision binoculars for Skip (to go with his spy recorder and digital spy camera). And the cutest little furry backpack in the shape of a koala for Nutter. Right away Nutter put it on and started running around the house making jungle noises. I swear he looks like a little koala carrying around a baby koala on his back. When he is not being annoying, he is beyond cute.
Well it's bedtime now. When Dad is asleep, I'm going to sneak down to the dining room (that's where we keep the computer) and make sure Ms. Ratlady has indeed ceased her rootless (frootless? fruitless?) communication. Luckily Dad is not an e-mail person.