’Something’s wrong with Bunny–she’s gone all stiff!”
Molly’s voice comes down the stairs, and a moment later her tear-blotched face appears in our bedroom doorway. “Mummy, Daddy, please come quickly!”
Upstairs, it is a pitiful Bunny indeed lying in the cage in Molly’s room: stretched out, one leg weirdly askew, her little rabbity teeth bared. She is still warm. Carrots are strewn all over the place, and Phoebe is poking her with one.
“Eat it, Bunny,” says Phoebe.
“Oh, what’s wrong with her?” Molly wails, “Why won’t she get up?”
Gently, we tell her why. We explain that young bunnies are fragile, and that sometimes the excitement of family life is too much for them and they just peg out.
We do not dwell on what we suspect are the real causes of Bunny’s departure. One was undoubtedly the spring-loaded doors on the children’s rooms, relics of the previous owner, which punctuate every entry and exit with a loud BLAM! We’ve lived in this house for six months and I still practically jump out of my skin when one of these bombs goes off. Then there was yesterday’s extravaganza of Bunny Love. It commenced with an outing to a park, where tiny, harnessed Bunny crouched trembling like a Chechen civilian in a cellar as indifferent predators barked and chased sticks. Afterwards came deafening sirens, as fire trucks roared to a false alarm two doors down. Concluding Bunny’s day was a warm bath, shampoo, and gentle toweling by all four children. Really, the wonder is that she survived a week.
Violet strolls into Molly’s room and gazes around.
“Well,” she says, with heartless practicality, “We’re going to have to deal with that bunny.”
My husband and I exchange looks.
“Although,” she frowns, “We shouldn’t throw the bunny in the water.”
“No!” Molly yelps.
My husband bites his lip, and looks duly sober.
With heartless practicality of my own, I insist on school as usual. We leave Bunny on her deathbed, and climb into our hearse. Only Violet is untroubled by the morning’s loss, which is hardly surprising, given that she’s three-and-a-half. When her great grandmother died last May, she observed: “Great Gran is dead.”
“Yes, she’s dead,” my husband responded in hushed tones.
“She’s dead,” Violet marched on, “but not squished.”
Now, as the nine week bunny lies cooling in her cage, Violet sings softly as we drive: “We ate it and it hopped…the chocolate bunny was real.. O little rainbow mice…O bunny…and a shaped chocolate camel….”
Back at home, I leave Phoebe to footle about on her own while I try to get through a mountain of home maintenance: Collecting laundry, putting it on to wash, checking e-mail, running back upstairs, tidying beds, making hopeless Gallic gestures at the heaps of toys, putting laundry into the dryer, cursing furiously as a piece of Lego spikes the sole of my foot–
It’s from the kitchen. Phoebe is naked (who now can be surprised to hear it?) apart from Ziploc bags on her hands, which she wears like mittens, and a pair of my husband’s socks pulled up to her thighs like a Toulouse Lautrec dancer. The crash is from the recyclables: Phoebe is playing spin the bottle with herself.
“Argh, Phoebs,” I sigh, but it serves me right for letting her run wild in the house. I confiscate the Ziplocs, leave the socks, and together we pitch the empty cans and wine bottles back where they’re supposed to be. I hand her some graham crackers and I’m just pouring her milk, when the phone rings.
You know how it is, don’t you? If you’re at home with a small child, or a number of them, and they’re happily occupied, it’s very easy to step away, just for a minute, to hack undisturbed at that domestic mountain. I hang up on the telemarketer, put another load of laundry on, fold what’s in the dryer, check my e-mail, change a dud light bulb, make a couple of calls, and before you know it it’s time to fetch Violet at nursery school, and where is Phoebe anyway?
Tender little noises are coming from the top floor. I mount the stairs with a growing sense of apprehension.
Once when I lost track of her she upended a bottle of liquid soap and sat in it. Another time she left frescoes on the wall. Perhaps, I say lightly and laughingly to myself, she is merely talking to a doll. My steps quicken.
I come upon Phoebe halfway up the stairs to the children’s floor. Light streams from a window at the top of the stairs, making a radiant halo of her platinum hair. She seems to be trailing something, is it sawdust? And under one arm she carries….the bunny. I am sorry to say that Bunny lost control of her bowels somewhere around the time she expired, so what Phoebe has tucked under her arm is not only ghoulishly rigid but also rather sticky.
“Bunny pleeping,” she says.
“Oh, yuck, Phoebs, let me take–No, darling, bunny isn’t pleeping,” I recover, “Bunny is really, really, really not pleeping. Bunny,” I say, “Is dead.”
“Oh,” she remarks, relinquishing the corpse.
I close Bunny back in her cage, this time securing the clip, and we race off to Violet’s nursery school, late as usual.
Violet jumps into the car glowing with the joy of playmates. Her hair is here and there painted blue. “Guess what,” she announces, “We didn’t do any art projects today.”
Since starting school two weeks ago, Violet’s battery power has been dramatically extended. It used to be that by noon she’d be sunk in an opiate haze, her face pressed against the lamb fleece she’s had since infancy. Her drawings were scrawls. Now she’s Turbo-Child. Today she brings home a sheaf of pictures: princesses, the lot of them, with crowns, hair, faces, and, get this, arms that come out of the body, not the head. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“So, how was school today?” I ask when we’re home.
“I hate school.”
“You do not, you love school.”
“I don’t. The teacher shouts.”
“Yes. And they never give me a snack. Also they never let me go outside.”
Later I ring Allison, whose son is in Violet’s class.
“Violet says they never give her a snack.”
“Just a minute,” Allison replies, and I hear her call, “Robert, did they give you a snack today?”
“Apple juice and crackers,” comes a faint voice in the background.
“And apparently they never get to play outside,” I continue.
“Okay, let me check. Robert? Did you play outside today?”
The little voice gets louder, “Of COURSE we played in the playground TWO TIMES!”
Bunny now rests in a shoebox in the freezer. She is wrapped ecclesiastically in a white cloth, and a crucifix rests on her hard, frozen tummy. Unlike my beloved grandmother, who not long ago was in Bunny’s position, and who before her death insisted on being recycled on the dissection table, Bunny has come to the end of her useful life. I am not sure what we’re supposed to do now.
–Meghan Cox Gurdon is an NRO columnist. Gurdon lives in Washington, D.C. and writes as much as her young family will permit.