Wednesday, April 3, 2013

dead bunnies It is seven o'clock. Saturday morning. Elizabeth is beside the bed. Shaking me. “Daddy, there’s another one!” I open my eyes. Stretch. “Another what?” I ask. “Another bunny!” I sit up. Look at her. She is upset. But not in tears like the other two times. “Okay, honey. I’ll take care of it.” She climbs into bed. Snuggles up next to me. “Why does he keep doing it?” she asks. “That’s what cats do, honey. They hunt.” ☼ I am slightly confused as to how it’s come to this. My daughter and I living this new life. Miles away from the city. Drafty old house. Ramshackle church. Renovating. Rebuilding. Adjusting. While Maggie, my wife, rests in a hospital bed. Fed by bagged fluids. Relived by tubes. Healing in medicated sleep. So that some day soon we can all be together and finish this dream. A big two-story house on ten acres to raise a garden and a family. A small country church turned into an art studio and a library. But for now, we are stuck in the middle. Biding our time. Elizabeth is struggling, but doing well. And this is a surprise to me. Not because she has been uprooted from home, school, and her friends, but because she was the one that found her. My wife. Her mother. On the day of the move. Naked in the bathroom. Curled up between the toilet and tub. Blood running from a crack in the back of her skull. I arrived in the midst of the mess. Shower still running hot. Paramedics and police scrambling around in steam. Elizabeth sitting on the edge of the tub. Clutching Chester, our wily tom cat, to her chest. Crying, as Maggie was carried away. ☼ Elizabeth puts her blond shock of curls against my chest, then looks up at me. “But why does he kill the babies, Daddy?” There are answers, but they don’t come. I touch her hair. Kiss her forehead. “Some things are a mystery,” I say. And we sleep. I wake an hour later to find that Elizabeth has moved on to other things. She is on the back deck. Sitting on the steps. Surrounded by paper and crayons. She is looking out over the pond. Drinking apple juice from her favorite cup. It is blue, shaped like the Cookie Monster and so big that she has to hold it with both hands. “Chester!” she calls between drinks, “Chester!” Unlike Elizabeth and I, Chester has adjusted to the change quite nicely. The very first day we pulled into the driveway and Elizabeth opened the car door, Chester sprang out into the yard and started his run. We’ve been here a month and he hasn’t stopped yet. We put out dishes of food and water, but he rarely touches them. These days, we only catch glimpses of him. A flash of gray darting through the grass. A shadow sneaking through the bushes. A tail twitching in the trees. Besides these fleeting moments, the only real signs we have that Chester is still around are the trophies he leaves behind. At first it was feathers found under the deck. Then a field mouse left on the doorstep. But now, we have a body count that’s rising. A robin, a dove. A ground squirrel, a mole. And now, it seems, Chester has found the bunny hole. ☼ I drink a full cup of coffee while I stand there watching Elizabeth, and I survey the list in my head. Refinish the deck. Mow the lawn. Plant the garden. Repaint the church. Shingle the steeple. But today might be the day that Maggie wakes from her sleep. So Elizabeth and I will make the drive. To the hospital. We will sit in the room. Turn on the TV. And we will visit Maggie. For one hour. Until lunch, when Elizabeth and I will walk to Jepetto’s. She will order fried shrimp and mashed potatoes. I will pick at a salad. Force a burger down. And when the check comes, Elizabeth will insist that the waitress box up the leftovers for Mom. We will take the leftovers to the hospital. Nurse Brooke and I will exchange kind smiles. She will take the leftovers from Elizabeth and promise to put them in the refrigerator for safe-keeping. Our visit will last well into the afternoon. There will be more TV. More talking. And finally, I will read a book out loud. To Elizabeth on my lap. And my wife asleep next to me. And for a short while, everything will feel right. The way it’s supposed to be. But all of this is yet to come. For now, I have a bunny to bury. ☼ I take the last shoe box from the closet. Put on my gloves and head for the door. I expect to see something gruesome. Like the other two. One found in the driveway, its head nearly torn from its body. The other on the back deck, missing its front legs and patches of fur. But when I open the door, the bunny isn’t on the step as Elizabeth has said. Instead, Chester has decided to be creative and he has left it next to the steps, under the rosebush. And unlike the others, this one looks all right. No blood. No missing limbs or missing fur. I hear Elizabeth padding around the corner of the house, so I scoop up the bunny and plop him into the box. His body makes a gurgling sound. “Is it time for the funeral?” Elizabeth asks, as she runs up alongside me. I snap on the lid and walk toward the church. “Yes, it’s time.” ☼ Elizabeth has only been to one real funeral. For her grandmother she barely knew. So she believes that every time something dies, we must have a funeral. We have only been in the country a short while, but already we’ve done this several times. Once for each of the bodies that Chester has left behind. And once for a dead deer we saw on the side of the road. All of the small animals are buried on the hill behind the pond. The deer, of course, was left to rot. We don’t have a big enough box for that, Elizabeth said. We’ll just have to say some extra prayers. Our ramshackle church still has all the goods. The congregation split when the pastor married a woman downstate. The members moved on. Formed another church. And everything was left behind. Pews. Bibles. Candles. Robes. And hanging on the wall, against a velvety green curtain, is a big wooden cross. It is under this cross, on the altar, that Elizabeth and I place the shoe box. Elizabeth kneels. Does the Sign of the Cross. I pick up the Bible we’ve used for funerals past. And then we make our way to the front pew. We sit side by side. “What should we say this time?” I ask. “I don’t know,” she says. We sit for a moment in the warm light that slants through the tall stained glass windows. And we say nothing. Flies buzz near the ceiling. And I can hear something in the rafters. Mice, probably. And I wonder if I should leave the church door open for the night, so that Chester can do some more hunting. Elizabeth takes the Bible and begins thumbing through the pages. She will find a passage. One that probably isn’t even related to the task at hand. She will ask me to read it aloud, and that will be our prayer. “Here, Daddy,” Elizabeth says, as she hands me the book. “Read this one.” Her little finger points to one single line. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed... I read it. We let it sink in. Then I close the book, and I sit and stare at the cross. Imagine myself the head of this tiny congregation. Setting souls to rest. Bringing peace to tiny lives. And I think of how strange it is that we come to these places. Marriage. Children. Pews and hospital beds. Homes away from home. Our days in the city. The country. Together or alone. And of how all of us in some way or another will find a dead bunny on our doorstep one day, and there is nothing we can do but pray, bury it, and move on. “Some things are a mystery,” Elizabeth says, as she reaches to hold my hand. And from atop the altar, inside the shoe box, comes the most delicate scratching sound. (Copyright © 2007 by K.J. Stevens) **If you like this story, please consider buying the book. When you get your copy, message me. We’ll have a drink. Talk a while. And I’ll sign it if you like.**

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