We found the rabbit rotting in the garden by the porch’s northeastern corner. Flies buzzed all over its little brown body, and there were a few bees inexplicably crawling on its soft fur, and one black butterfly resting itself on the rabbit’s open eye. The rabbit was in the un-weeded garden bed, which was slowly growing purple flowers up the porch railing and feathering vines out into the lawn. The smell was immense for such a small body.
“God,” Kerry said, pulling a red plaid arm over his freckled nose and mouth. “I knew I smelled something dying!”
“What should we do with it?” I asked, as the summer air picked up the scent of death and wafted it towards us. I knew this rabbit. I’d seen it playing in our yard at night, nibbling at grass, cleaning its fur in the blue evening light. Had I mentioned it to Kerry ever? Had I said, “There’s a rabbit in the yard?” I must have. But then again, I might have kept it to myself. A little moment just for me. There’s a rabbit in the yard just for me.
“Burn it? Throw it in the trash?” Kerry gagged.
The flies rubbed their hands. The butterfly fluttered itself, lifted its spindly legs, and took off.
Burn it? Throw it in the trash?
“We should bury it,” I said.
“It’s a rabbit, not a fucking person,” Kerry snapped.
My eyes got wet. I was going to cry. I always cried. Kerry’s cheeks reddened. His shaved, blonde head caught the setting sunlight and seemed to glow with irritation. My tears pissed him off. It was a running joke in my family that I cried easily and often. Kerry had laughed at first, but now, after so much time and so many tears, it seemed to enrage him. It was no longer funny. Just irritating.
“A house divided cannot stand!” Kerry said, half-joking, but the irritation that rippled through his body gave his words a sharp, slicing edge.
I turned from the porch railing and went inside. Shadows cut across the wood ceiling and walls in such a way that it seemed like the house was leaning inwards, like it was caving in. But it wasn’t just the shadows that made the house seem smaller. The house was already devastatingly small. When we first moved in two years ago, it had been the largest house we’d ever lived in. But then, month by month, the rooms grew smaller; the walls inching their way inwards; the ceiling dropping to brush my hair. Kerry didn’t notice it like I did, and thought it stupid when I brought it up to him. When I mentioned it to my mother, she said it was because we should start a family. That your house feels small when you’ve outgrown it. That we need more space for babies.
Once she said that to me, it felt like I had outgrown the house. It wasn’t our home anymore, just a rental with creaking wood floors and walls that collected spider webs and dust. But Kerry said children were out of the question for now. And he liked the street we were on, an overgrown neighborhood full of shaggy, green trees and beautiful, ancient houses broken up into thin-walled apartments. In fact, Kerry said, we were lucky to have a single-family home. We were lucky to be in the spot we were.
We were lucky; I agreed. But it still seemed to me like the rooms were shrinking, like the ceiling really was buckling. The floor felt unstable. Each footstep felt like it might be the last. I sometimes envisioned the floor collapsing and me dropping through the hole like Alice, waving as the darkness closed in over my head.
But Kerry’s irritation pushed me swiftly through the house that day, bravely moving through the collapsing rooms with so much speed that my hair breezed back. I went straight to our kitchen, which hung off the back of the house like a clinging mollusk. It was the furthest I could be from the porch while remaining inside and one of the few places that felt like it wasn’t caving in, mainly because the walls were full of windows, which were big enough to crawl through reasonably if I had to escape.
“I knew it! I just knew something was dying!” Kerry exclaimed out on the porch. His voice, on the back of the smell of rotting rabbit, snaked its way to me.
We had plants in the bay window, and I decided that now was a good a time as any to water them. Watering the plants was something we both did at random points in time. Like sometimes we would go days and days without feeding the little things, and then suddenly we’d realize that they were browning in dry soil and would pour exorbitant amounts of water in for their poor, guzzling mouths.
I had just started with the spider plant and its long, crawling tendrils that fingered their way along the bay window and down to the floor, when Kerry came in to get the shovel. He looked at me with the can and snorted.
“Oh, now you water them. Just making yourself busy so you don’t have to deal with the rabbit. Making me deal with it.” He opened a closet door and took out our only shovel from within its shadowy depths. I lost his arm in the closet's darkness; I half expected him to either fall entirely within it or to pull back a bloody stump. But Kerry took out the shovel without incident, and he wielded its threatening shape between his two hands. The shovel rusted. We had never used it before. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another!” he said. And he stomped out to deal with the rotting rabbit.
I moved from the spider plant to the cactuses, dripping water thoughtlessly on the floor. I toed the water with my bare foot, spreading the puddle this way and that. I am a clumsy person. I always have been. My mother said it’s because I have ADD and should get it checked. Kerry said it’s because I don’t even try to focus on what I’m doing. That’s why I annoyed him so much in the house. Spilling things. Burning food. Forgetting laundry. Bumping into doors. “Jesus, pay attention!” Kerry would snarl.
Kerry passed the bay window outside. The rabbit scooped up on the shovel, which he held out from him in disgust. He glared at me through the window, first at my face and then at the watering can in my hand. “Help me find a spot for this,” he said, his voice muffled by the windows. I realized suddenly they needed to be cleaned.
I moved through the kitchen, thinking hard about where the rabbit should go, and went out the backdoor, setting the watering can down by the back steps. It was warm out. The sky was a soft purple, gathered all over by dark, gauzy clouds, and a band of bright orange stretched itself across the horizon. I pointed my finger to the corner of the yard, where the privacy fences our neighbors had constructed against us came to meet. He grunted affirmation, walked to the corner, and dropped the rabbit from his shovel. It landed with barely a sound, head over legs, a sad, little pile of fur.
Kerry then used the shovel to dig a hole, exerting himself spectacularly, as if it were really difficult to dig into the gentle soil, as if he really had to show me he was doing hard work. I ignored his exertions and looked instead at the rabbit. It had its back legs eaten off almost entirely. The feet were gone, and all that remained were little white bones looped together like the head of a needle with pink and red muscle clinging variously around the edges like clusters of mussels. For all the smell, the remaining half of the rabbit seemed nearly alive, like its black eye might blink at any moment. The fur was still soft, moving minutely in the breathy evening breeze. I fought the urge to bend down and pick the body up, to hold it close and nuzzle my face into it.
The shovel entered my line of vision, inserting itself roughly under the rabbit’s body, and lifted the rabbit away. The shovel hovered high and then dropped the rabbit without ceremony into the hole, where it crumpled against itself once again. I protested, but for what? It was deader than dead. Still, it made me sad to see it handled so cruelly. Kerry filled in the hole. Pile after pile of soft, brown soil landed on the soft, brown rabbit. Crumbs of dirt slowly covered the black eye. It was still shining.
Once we buried the rabbit, we stood for a moment ankle-deep in the grass. A line of changing hydrangeas blew sadly in the wind like women flapping their handkerchiefs. The sun was finally gone; the purple of the sky deepened and deepened. A little wind picked up, winding itself through the neighborhood like it was searching for something. The houses on all sides of us stretched up into the night. Their windows lit up here and there until all were bright and yellow and shut tightly, locked.
Kerry turned abruptly and went inside, but I stayed out in the grass, looking at the little dirt tombstone. It seemed like I could feel the buried rabbit at the tip of my toes through the soil. My feet felt like they were vibrating. The neighbor’s trees, which rose like sentries, moved overhead, and the moon came out, and then Kerry banged on the window to signal it was time for bed.
“A house divided cannot stand!” he had said, meaning the way we were to deal with the rabbit, and I knew this to be true as the walls leaned in through the darkness to touch my face. He slept beside me in our moon-dark room, breathing dreamlessly, and rats outside dug up the rabbit and ate at it until it was all gone.
Jordan Hagedon reads and writes in a house surrounded by trees. You can find her most recent work out or upcoming in Dirt Newsletter, Fresh.Ink, and Gigantic Sequins. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/jeimask and on Medium https://jordanhagedon.medium.com/.