Updated: Nov 10, 2020
"Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go. She followed her to school one day, but not one person did we find, we'll sit upon this cold stone step and pretend not to mind."
Cobwebs had grown over the blue chipped paint flaking off the disused school door.
“Morning Mary,” called Tall Paul the postman, “still not open?”
“No, not today, but tomorrow, it will be open tomorrow!”
I pushed my fingers deep into Dot’s woven wool; her warmth was comforting. Tall Paul smiled as he shook his head gently.
“Tomorrow then,” he replied, “see you and that little lamb the same time tomorrow Mary.”
They do that, adults. Shake their heads and smile, say one thing, and mean another. He doesn’t think it will be open, none of them do. Dot rubbed her head against my arm in a gesture that could be mistaken by a stranger for affection, maybe even reassurance, but I knew it was simply hopeful persuasion for the remains of the digestive biscuit crumbling in my pocket. It has been eight weeks since the school door welcomed us in. Holidays have come and gone with hardly a notice as the bell sits redundant behind the windowpane.
“Pick it up, pick it up,” I urge, imagining the soft hand of my teacher, Mrs Bowers, her long fingers wrapped around the wooden handle, holding the heavy bell above her head and shaking the sound out of it.
I wandered home the long way around. There was nothing to hurry home for; it had all become so very familiar.
“Come on Dot,” I said, though she needed no persuasion.
With a run and a sideways skip, she happily followed. The village was quiet. Mrs. Evans stood, arms folded across her floral apron, gossiping with Mrs. Eagan, pausing just long enough to give us a long stare. Mum was in the dining room setting up for another day of ‘home-school’. Home-school! No teacher, no bell, no playground, no assembly, no whiteboard, no book trays… no friends.
“You’d better not have been out the front door. And take that lamb back into the yard Mary!” she instructed, without so much as a turn of the head.
“No buts. Outside!” interrupted mum.
“I’ll be out soon,” I assured Dot, shoving her reluctant body through the gate into the chickens’ yard, the unimpressed residents clucking their disgust at their uninvited lodger.
Dot was a surprise. She arrived soon after ‘the germ’ had arrived. Our front door had been shut and we were to stay behind it. ‘The germ’ is out there, somewhere, invisible but deadly. Apparently. There had been a knock at the door; a grubby farmer stood holding the lamb, all legs and loud, intrusive baas. The farmer garbled on about powdered milk and warm water and the tail dropping off soon so we mustn’t be alarmed!
“That’ll take your mind off things!” announced mum. “You can keep the lamb for twelve weeks until she’s weened, and then she will go back to the farmer. Her mum rejected her, so she needs you to feed her and care for her, ok?”
Well I’m not surprised she rejected her if she made that racket!
I sat on the dining room chair, balanced on a random collection of cushions.
“You need to stop walking up to school Mary,” mum said, her forehead wrinkled bringing her eyebrows strangely close together. “People will be talking. When the germ is gone the school will be open. But not before!”
The invisible germ! Adults are not supposed to believe in things you can’t see. That’s our job. Children believe in fairies. Adults don’t. Every morning I look out the window to check for ‘the germ’. Every morning the village green is all but deserted. Pink blossoms hang like overweight fairies in extravagant prom dresses; glossy blackbirds sing their songs of hope and happiness before tending to the demands of their over-sized greedy chicks; bees buzz from one overgrown verge to another, feasting on bountiful dandelion nectar, and weighted down by hefty sacks of pollen, as nature continues to obey the rules of the seasons. A lone person walks across the green. Curtains twitch, everyone notices. ‘The germ’ is nowhere to be seen.
Dot’s escaped. She’s eating the wildflowers in mum’s nature garden. Yesterday she hurled herself next door, made her way through the alley between our houses and knocked on his front door with her head! He used his foot to move her away. I think he was scared. Of Dot! Maybe he thinks she’s got, ‘the germ’.
“If I had ten apples, gave three to Susan and kept two for myself, how many apples would I have left to sell at the market?” mum droned on.
Who takes five apples to the market?
Dot’s trying to skip, but there’s not enough room. She wants to chase the wind, to jump and climb as high as the king of the castle. But our garden’s too small. We’ll sneak out later, into the field where we can walk around the back of all the gardens and hear my friends’ voices as they play on their trampolines, pretending their brothers and sisters are their best friends. I’ll pretend their voices are calling me. Dot and I will be the cops and they will be the robbers hiding out behind their tall wooden fences. Dot will hear lambs baaing in the other fields. She’ll stop mid chew, prick up her woolly ears and gurgle a reply. We’ll pretend the mummy sheep are calling back to her, telling her she can come back soon to play with their lambs. Then we’ll go to bed, and in the morning Dot and I will walk up to school so Mrs. Bowers and all my friends can meet her. Tomorrow, the adults will stop seeing ‘the germ’, and I will go to school.