When my older sister and I were kids, we had an intense fixation on things being “fair.”
When Jenny got to have three pet lizards, I demanded an equal number of hamsters. When I got to stay on the computer six minutes longer than my allotted hour, Jenny barricaded herself to the desk until she also got six additional minutes. I once bullied Mom into holding Jenny down while I hit her as revenge for a time when she hit me.
Eventually, as an attempt to make their lives slightly less hellish, my parents instated the “even/odd day” rule.
This meant that Jenny got to have her way on odd-numbered days (the 1st of the month, the 3rd of the month, etc.), and I got to have my way on even-numbered days.
On even-numbered days, I lived like a fucking queen. I rode in the front seat of the mini van. I chose the TV channel. I forced the cat to sleep on my bed.
On odd-numbered days, I lived like the lowliest peasant. I had to take out the trash. I had to load the dishwasher. I couldn’t watch six straight hours of Saved by the Bell.
(Don’t get me started on months that ended on the 31st, only to be followed by the 1st. This will be a sore subject until the day I die.)
One night, Dad took us out to our favorite Chinese restaurant. The one where you had to walk through hanging strands of beads to get to the bathroom.
As Dad paid at the counter afterwards, Jenny and I gazed into the display case filled with Chinese figurines available for purchase: dragons, Buddhas, a man on a raft with a fishing pole. One small, white rat.
“Since you’ve been so good at not fighting lately,” Dad said, walking over to us. “I’ll let you each pick out one thing.”
“I want the little white rat,” Jenny said.
I glared at her. “I want the little white rat.”
“You can’t have it!” she said. “I said I wanted it first!”
“BUT I THOUGHT IT FIRST IN MY MIND.”
In hindsight, there’s no way this rat wasn’t the dumbest thing in the display case. It looked like this:
Dad sighed. “Isn’t there anything else either of you want? How about the golden Buddha? Or the man with the fishing rod? That’s a pretty cool fire-breathing dragon.”
“No,” Jenny said. “I want the rat.”
I squinted my eyes at both of them. “If I don’t get the rat, I’ll scream.”
Dad asked the lady at the counter if she had any additional rats in the back room. She shook her head.
“Jenny will keep the rat in her room on odd days,” Dad said as he opened the car door for us, clutching the small paper bag with the one white rat. “And Julie will keep it on even days.”
“But how will we make the daily trade?” Jenny asked. “We aren’t allowed in each other’s rooms.”
“Whichever girl had the rat the day before will hand-deliver it first thing in the morning to the other girl. The exchange will happen in the hallway, which is neutral territory.”
“But what about when the month ends on the 31st and starts on the 1st?!” I asked, dramatically clutching my chest.
“I guess you’ll just have to survive an extra rat-less day,” he said, indifferent to my plight. “It will be tough, but somehow you’ll pull through.” Jenny stuck out her tongue and grinned.
And so it went for years and years.
Long after its tail chipped off, long after its eyes faded away, long after either of us could really remember why we’d wanted a small white rat so badly in the first place.