Department of First Stories

A Question of Rabbits

by J. L. Orchard


There’s movement to save the rabbits, you say, and am I in favor? you ask. Will I petition my “connections” to declare the wee things free, with the dignity and decency deserved by all respectable rabbits?

In my day, Angelica, grandfathers were only asked to buy chocolate bars in support of school fund-raisers.

That said, my first course of action, naturally, will be to investigate the matter further. I’ll invest in one of those devices you kids follow the news on these days so I can follow the second-by-second eyewitness reports from the picket-wielding activists already on the scene. And then I shall intercede as the pacifist mediator between the pro- and anti-rabbit parties before hutches everywhere are axed open and lawsuits descend.

Let’s be serious, Angelica. It’s all a little ridiculous to me.

But, since your father is probably reading this letter over your shoulder, and he’s advised me you’re into such things—saving little animals—I know I’m not allowed to judge. So let me rephrase:

Thank you for considering me as a candidate to join your mission. I think it is noble, dear Angelica. It is good to have a cause for which you are passionate. Don’t let a cynic like your grandfather tell you otherwise. Even I was guilty of chasing a cause once. Though I was thrust into mine by my “connections,” as you call them, because of my marksman abilities.

I didn’t object, naturally. In those days, we were all driven by noble hearts toward that cause, proven good and virtuous by my mission’s “joyous success”—as all the journalists headlined it. Though they never knew more than what we wanted them to know about the mission’s events.

My mission took place long before your father was born. Before I moved into politics. And retired from politics. All politics, even mammalian matters. Mammalian being an extension of mammal, a word often used to describe small furry critters like rabbits.

Never mind, I’m sure you learned that in school.

Going back to what I was saying, because of my abilities as a marksman in the military I’d been recruited into a special unit ordered to—

There was this popular conviction back then that for the vitality of society we must protect women and children. It was an undeniable plumb line in the psyche of soldiers, politicians, laymen, and pacifists. Farmers to fishermen, lawyers to engineers were unified on the idea.

These days, women carry weapons alongside the men. And you kids—well, need I extrapolate? Society’s needs have changed.

Clearly, because we’re debating rabbits.

But that conviction weighed on people then. It was everyone’s common cause to find pride and purpose in, and the motivator of the riskiest mission I would ever see. It began . . . ha, well, I cannot tell you exactly, Angelica. A requirement of my job was to “forget.”

Sorry, I’m smirking. I shouldn’t take pleasure in the fact that with all the free wisdom at your fingertips, all the second-by-second news feeds and instant communications you kids possess these days, there are still some truths I know which you are denied.

My apologies. Your father has warned me not to be patronizing toward you. I understand you take sensitively to such comments.

To be honest, I wish I met some of my job’s requirements better.

My one-man plane crashed in a forest, east of . . .

I suppose, even after all this time, there are some details I should still keep classified.

I had been ordered to eliminate a certain radical we’ll refer to only as The Man. An enemy, The Man had befuddled countless military operations and was guilty of the torture and murder of twenty of our own. Because of him, too many of our women were widows. Too many of our children were fatherless.

I mean it, if your father is reading over your shoulder, tuck this letter away until later. I don’t like it when he rants at me and he will rant if I tell you a war story.

A secret between you and me: Your father has never had a cause of any sort, or enough passion to understand the causes of people like us. We’re a rarity. Lots of people talk about saving the world, but there’re only a few of us with the gumption to go for it.

Gumption means having the spirit or urge.

Enough was enough. The order to deal with The Man was clean and quiet.

My plane crashed and I remember wandering through a foot of snow in a state of delirium. That is all I remember. Until Girl woke me . . .

*   *   *

People will tell you hearing is the first thing to return when you surface from unconsciousness. For me it is smells.

I surfaced to the butter scent of taffy—or so I thought until my eyes fluttered open and I saw hay heaped to the ceiling above me, a makeshift straw bed beneath me.

Then sound returned. The crackle of barn boards resisting the wind. The squeak of a branch tickling the foggy windowpane across from me in the barn loft. And a voice humming—a sound like the whisper of butterfly wings fluttering past your ear.

Next my sense of touch jumped alive when a cloth, out of nowhere, looped over my forehead.

I jolted, and was tisk’d by a tiny voice.

I touched the cloth—gauze. A hand caused it to encircle my head, around and around—though I would later learn my head needed the least treatment. The fingers that worked the mission to bandage my head were a child’s. How does one know a child’s fingers when the fingers are barely felt? You just know. When you have your own kids, you’ll know.

What I didn’t know was whether the pin they fought to secure the bandage with was meant to hook the fabric, my scalp, or their fingers. But I remember the winces were loudest when it pricked me. And they weren’t my winces.

Then she hopped into view and glided onto her knees in front of me.

. . . I don’t recall how I landed in that barn, or the exact moments before or after my plane crashed. It was a long time ago, Angelica. My mind is not a reservoir for knowledge like yours anymore.

A reservoir is a place where abundance is held.

One detail I remember is being aware that this was enemy territory and I owed my present safety to this little girl.

Angelica, she was the sort of girl whose hand even you would hold in the play yard.

“What is your name?” I asked her, but I never found out if any of her chatter held the answer to my question.

So Girl, it was.

She skipped back to her feet and danced about me with scissors and gauze rolls. She poked a thermometer under my tongue and chattered on and on. Chattered like one of those chirpy fluff-tailed squirrels you and I once fed in the park. I think she must have believed I understood every word.

I understood nothing but that she was giving me a one hundred percent guaranteed prescription for recovery. Her very certain, very wise wide-eyes and solid nod told me.

. . . A squirrel doesn’t make a good simile for Girl.

She plucked the thermometer from my mouth, patted the top of my head, and gave me a grin—like the toothy pucker of . . .

*   *   *

I’m sorry . . . We were talking about rabbits.

Yes, I believe it is good to have a cause in life. Purpose is important, no matter your age. Girl had purpose in me.

When she focused her hardest on her nurse duties toward me, her eyebrows would pinch, her cheeks would puff, and the tips of her two front teeth would poke over her bottom lip . . . like a rabbit.

I’ve never had a better nurse. She fed me. Gave me clean water so I could bathe . . .

If you could see my face as I write this, Angelica, you’d see I’m smiling. Thoughts of Girl, as long as I don’t think too hard, always make me smile.

I remember Girl trundling up the steps to the loft with a pot of warm water, cursing in whispers every time water sloshed over its rim, biting the tip of her tongue with her two front teeth, cheeks puffed, whenever she caught the bad words.

There’s something about curses. They never need an interpreter to translate.

What was I saying before? Oh yes, rabbits.

A cause is good, Angelica. If helping rabbits is where you find purpose, how can your grandfather criticize you? But let me caution you, and I know you don’t want to hear it, but I have more years over you, so you’d be wise to listen. I know you think I’m a poky old man that doesn’t understand the world anymore, but I know how these things turn out.

Remember to be young. One day you’ll wake up and wonder how you got into an old creaky body like mine and wish you could jump back into the body you have now. Romp with your friends, Angelica. Be careless and carefree. Causes are fine, but one must be practical with one’s expectations. Don’t try to save all the rabbits, that’s too big of a mission for one little girl.

You may find saving rabbits isn’t the right purpose for you at all.

I’m just saying this to caution you. I want you to be able to accept reality when it hits. Reality is always hardest to face after you’ve convinced yourself you’re going to change the world.

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month's issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2019. A Question of Rabbits by J. L. Orchard

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