Goodness knows how I happened to become an expert in rat-buying. First of all, I've never been particularly fond of rats: I've had imaginary kittens as pets before, yes, but the closest I've gotten to the rodent world is my entirely fictitious hamster, Lisbeth, who gets namechecked at the top of my journal, but who is never mentioned in its pages. Second of all, I never had such a pressing need for a rat that I had to go buy one--in fact, I conjured up the kittens as a sort of spiritual safeguard against them. But the other night I was drinking Scotch and eating plantains at that hip new plantain restaurant, Plantain, with my onetime editor and second ex-husband, Douglas Conifer Vinciennes, and after he commented that the banana was going extinct, he said:
"Nonnie, you still willing to stoop to work on the women's books?" (Women's Books, in Douglas's world, are not romance novels or Virginia Woolf novels or She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, but rather fabulous, glossy women's magazines that are devoted to a little bit more than fashion.)
"I guess," I said. "I'm pretty busy with, you know, the anthropology, and also I've been contributing to these erotic-science-fiction anthologies, but, you know, I have a place in my heart for the women's books."
"Great! Listen, old lady, one of my old mistresses is the EIC at the new Hearst title, Cannibal Blonde, and she needs somebody to do a feature on rats."
"Tats?" I queried. "Like, tattoos? That's so funny, because I was just reading Sylvia Plath's "The Fifteen Dollar Eagle" and I was thinking about doing some kind of freelance thing about the tattoo-artist-as-shaman, maybe interviewing people about their relationship with their tattooist, and you know, there could totally be a humorous compare-and-contrast chart about tatooists versus hairdressers . . ."
My former lord and master cut me off. "Nope," he said, "Not tats. Rats. Apparently rats are the hot new fashion accessory for the urban thirtysomething set."
"Oh," I said. "Did you sleep with that lady when you were married to me?"
He looked at me with warm, misted eyes. "I wasn't married to you long enough to sleep with anybody else, my kitten."
And so I wrote this feature.
The baby came over today, accompanied by its mother. It is still very small, but less red than it used to be, and the IR is back to her waifish self, except for additional puffiness around her face (but her face has always been a little puffy, from drugs and general somnolence). Stephen came over and tried to feed the baby pieces of grass. He cackled his leprachaun laugh when he was discovered. Not like the IR cares, although I guess she's feeding him all right. Naturally she's thrilled to breastfeed at every public opportunity: of course she doesn't bother putting the baby in her shirt or something, but just yanks her puffyish white breast out of her tank top and lights one of those lettuce cigarettes that Lillian smokes. Lillian did not recommend that the IR smoke the lettuce cigarettes around the baby--I think she specifically asked the IR if she was going to, in her most governessy possible voice--but the IR thinks it's fine if she and the baby are both outside in the fresh air. She likes to feed the baby on the benches facing the river, where people are always going running.
Today we got in trouble in the park because we were reading the baby some book about a cat who loses eight of its nine lives. This man in pleated khakis seriously walked up to us and tapped the IR on the shoulder and was like, "I don't think that's appropriate reading material for babies." The IR said, "It's a fucking baby, it doesn't understand shit. You know what I read to this baby to get it to sleep? Fucking Penthouse Confessions, man. And the frigging Story of O. And you know what? The baby doesn't fucking care." And it's true! The man looked chastened, but he might have also been indignant.
I like having the baby around. The IR dresses him like he's her little mascot, always in one color with maybe a little animal-hat. Today he was a tiny baby rooster, which doesn't make sense, really, because roosters aren't baby animals. But the baby makes a splendid, Carnevalesque, dwarfish human-rooster.