It is dusk, and Paris is giving our new bunny a test-drive.
“I’m letting him look at your computer,” he says at my elbow, holding up a magnificent gray-and-white expanse of fluff. The fluff kicks two massive hind legs in a warning sort of way.
”I think he wants to walk around,” Paris says.
“I think you’re right,” I agree, and blow a bit of fluff out from beneath my nose.
“My Christmas, my rainbow, my cheese,” Phoebe tells no one in particular.
Paris deposits the rabbit on the carpet and a delicate cloud of fine fur floats into the air. My shoulder where the fluff brushed against me is iced with a faint tracery of the stuff. Paris looks like he has a hair doily pinned to his sweater. A memory flits past of a girl I knew in adolescence whose dog’s hair was so luxuriant that she had it carded and spun and dyed and knitted it into a sweater that she actually wore to school.
“Bless you,” someone says. The rabbit slips beneath a low-slung Chinese cabinet in the middle of the room, and Paris drops on to his stomach to watch it. Phoebe straddles him.
“My pony!” she cries, bouncing.
“Hey–” Paris laughs, his voice bumping in rhythm with his sister, “I’m–a bunny–sitter– for Molly. Get it? Of–Bunnysitter?”
While this is going on, Molly has been tidying and freshening Twitchy’s spacious cage after his first night in our utility room. Another, smaller rabbit lived with us briefly in September, and I am uncomfortably aware that Swamp readers may flinch at the prospect of another of God’s tiny creatures taking up residence here. But we’ve changed–honest, officer. Bunny was an infant and a dwarf, who came to us straight from the litter via an unnerving interval in a pet store. Twitchy, by contrast, has been manhandled for years by a vigorous girl whose family is moving overseas. He is perky, muscular, and battle-tested, and he hops faster than Phoebe, which is saying a lot.
“Ka-choo!” Now I’m sneezing. The rabbit lopes out from beneath the cabinet and surveys us all with a bright, intelligent, and possibly malevolent eye.
Violet saunters in, wrapped in a mohair shawl.
“I am a cross queen” she announces, frowning impressively.
“You’re not a queen,” Paris says automatically.
“Pfoo–” I twitch my nose and blow, trying to rid myself of more tickly, rabbity filaments. The air must be full of them. “Pfft, pshaw, pfoo–” I’ve heard that people eventually come to resemble their pets. Is this how it starts? Oh dear, and not only does Twitchy’s nose twitch, but he’s already gone gray–
“Now, Mrs. Person,” says the queen, turning to Phoebe with rich condescension, “Do you want to live with me?”
Molly comes into the room, pale and blotched with weeping. She looks reproachfully at the other children, and makes a wordless appeal to me.
“Why, darling, what’s the matter?”
Her words pour out in a tide of woe: “Yesterday Violet said to me that he wasn’t my bunny, he was everybody’s bunny and now Paris is holding him all the time!”
Indeed, Paris has snared the rabbit again. “I’m just holding him,” he says, all innocence.
“Mollikins,” I say in what I hope are reassuring but also realistic tones, “He is your bunny, but he’s a bit like a book, too: You own him, but he’s available to anyone in the family who wants, you know, to read him. Now, Paris, let her–”
“You can’t read a rabbit, Mummy,” observes the queen.
“But he won’t–”
“Listen,” I say firmly, “You two work this out by yourselves, or, frankly, the bunny will go away.”
It is amazing how a foreign threat produces a sense of national unity. Three seconds later, having completed some invisible transaction, Molly and Paris are in total accord. All tears vanish and Molly dusts her hands off with an air of practicality.
“Now this rabbit–” she begins.
Paris drops the creature obediently and squares his shoulders. “What do you need me to do?” he asks the boss. The rabbit darts back under the cabinet.
“I am personally going to pay you to help me with this bunny,” Molly tells him, circling the cabinet and making little ineffectual grabs which produce more wisps of fluff.
“With real money?”
“I don’t think I could afford real money, I’d be bankrupt. I only have five dollars left, but–” She looks at him solemnly and nods.
He nods back at her, slowly, and turns to me: “Okay, Mummy, we’ve settled it.”
Do you know, neither of them will tell me what they’ve agreed, but for the next two days there is love and bliss and fellowship in extraordinary supply. Perhaps this is what it’s like on the U.N. Security Council when the permanent members manage to pass an unanimous resolution. It feels so good to be allies.
The next day, at school pickup, I see amidst the throng the father of the girl who used to own Twitchy. From a distance we greet one another in a knowing parental way.
“Still alive,” I call, over the bustling heads of children.
“Still twitching,” he smiles, morbidly.
As I herd my children out to the car, it strikes me that when he and his wife arrived two days ago with all Twitchy’s foodstuffs and belongings, and smoothly swept their weeping daughter back into the car, they seemed awfully pleased to be rid of the rabbit.
I wonder why?