Rat sits down beside her, chastened. Youre going to get burnt on your shoulders.
She rubs the suntan lotion across her mothers back, all the way down to the butterfly tattoo nestled at the base of her spine, just above the two dimples on her buttocks.
She braids her mothers hair, which is henna-red, but she has nothing to tie it with, and little coils and tendrils keep escaping. She tries to fasten it with a strand of seaweed, but the seaweed breaks.
Yuck, says Vanessa. Horrible kid. Vile brat, but her tone is affectionate now, and she rolls over and rubs her nose against Rats in an Eskimo kiss.
Do you love your little Vanilla-do? Tell me you love me.
Yes, I love you, Mama.
I love you too, my little Ratkin. Dont you forget that, I love you, love you, love you.
Rats mother is exquisite. She has a tiny heart-shaped freckled face with a pointed chin, and huge eyes like a cats. Beside her, Rat feels raw-boned, gawky. She lies down beside her mother, so that she can peek into Vanessas eyes which are deep-river dappled. Her cats eyes change color, from green-brown-gray to brown to green again, depending on her mood.
Rat knows the language of those eyes. Brown when Vanessas sad (worried about a friend whos sick, or a boyfriend she s broken up with). Gray when she s angry (a fight with Mémé Catherine, Rats French granny, or with the landlord who wont fix the drain). Green when her favorite song comes on the radio, or when shes dancing around the house, parading some crushed-velvet scarf or feather boa she s found for nothing in the market.
Youre so beautiful; you should have been an actress, Rat says. Youd have been a superstar.
Yeah, says her mother drily. Story of my life, one long string of should-have-beens.
And Rat feels doubly bad, because she knows if it werent for her, Vanessa could have been any one of those things she dreamed ofartist, actress, singer, fashion designer.
Because Vanessas missed so many chances on Rats account, she feels extra guilty for giving her mother a hard time. When Rat grows up, she s going to buy the two of them a big house with a walk-in closet, and a bathroom with a full-size bathtub and mirror walls and vanity lights with a dimmer. She s going to take Vanessa to Venice and Africa and the Greek Islands, all the places she loves to read about, and she s going to bring her breakfast in bed every morning.
Rat isnt easy. Thats what Vanessa tells her friends, she isnt easy. Other times, she says, Youre the love of my life.
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