“God finds you naked
And he leaves you dying
What happens in-between
Is up to you”
-The Luminous Rose, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians
XII – PASSAGE
I eventually get past the gate, but take a winding, circuitous path towards my destination. My Logical Mind is speaking loudly with the bluster of a politician caught doing Unmentionable And Sordid Acts with a congressional page. Harumphing loudly that I’m doing this in order to “see the old neighborhood.”
My Logical Mind knows it’s a liar, but it keeps saying this over and over, trying to make itself heard over the grinding throb of “200 Years” on the headphones, and my Realistic Mind scoffing in disbelief at the shit my Logical Mind is trying to pull. The samples Skinny Puppy lifted from the Twilight Zone TV show thread in and out of the heartbeat pound of the drum machine… “Maybe we’re being made to see and hear what we hope to find, the sights and sounds of home!”… and I’m thinking that perhaps this album was not the best of choices to make out of the hundreds available.
I walk the handful of blocks from the gate, and turn down the alley, finding humor… with the perspective of distance and having traveled to many other locations… in its very existence. A dirt path, wide enough for one track to barely drive down. In cities or even larger towns, this would either be paved over as an access road… one allowing trash collectors and power company servicemen to take care of their scheduled tasks of maintenance out of the sight of Good Tax Paying Citizens… or it would be obliterated. Each property owner arguing about how much of the precious real estate was theirs as the back yards expanded and became fenced in and walled off. Fortified. Eliminating any vulnerable entry point for potential thieves and the criminally-minded. But it’s still here, like hundreds of others across the Lewis-Clark Valley. Overgrown dirt and gravel runways. Shortcuts, and hiding places, and escape routes for kids on foot or on bikes.
There’s the cluster of bushes. It’s still there after all of these years. A scrubby grouping of prickly growth that seems scratchy and painful and uninviting. The truth is that there’s a hollow chamber in the middle of them, with a tunnel entrance at the back near the fence. It was likely created by strays… cats, dogs, other wandering critters, looking for some kind of shelter, safety and escape. We called it “the brier patch”. It became a handy place to hide and drink whatever cheap bad beer we’d managed to score, or smoke weed from crooked, amateurish joints. We’d hide there, get buzzed, call each other Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear in the worst approximation possible of a southern accent. We’d forget what our lives were for a moment in the middle of the lattice of twigs and stickers and dried, poking branches.
Down the dirt alley. Ruts worn by cars and bikes and water sluicing down, carving away during rainfall. Patches of puncture weed are scattered here and there, lying in wait to flatten bike tires and bloody the bare feet of children foolish enough to no heed parental warnings to not run down the alley without the protection of shoes. Rabbit hutches stand on the other side of the fence, empty. The years having taken their toll, the wood is weathered and rotting. The warping of the wood beginning to force the rusted nails out of their hammered positions. The ghosts of screaming rabbits still clinging to the decaying plywood. Even in this elliptical, oblique path of re-entry… this attempt to shield myself from the heat and burning damage of coming in… unseen cosmic rays leak in, penetrating the protective shell. The Geiger Counter chattering in response to the rising level of danger.
Tick tick tick tick
The first rabbit had been given to me by a neighbor who was moving. “No place for rabbits in the big city” he’d said gruffly, as he passed the quivering ball of bunny to my waiting arms. The “big city” being Spokane. I’d always wanted a rabbit. I thought that they were adorable… second only to Sea Otters in terms of the Official Animal Cuteness Scale… with noses that never stopped moving, and the loping motion they made as they hopped across the grass. My father was gone on one of his “salesman runs”, and my mother… having grown up on a farm… loved the idea, so she helped me assemble a rough hewn hutch out of scrap wood and wire mesh that we had in my father’s shop. We did this quickly, as we both knew… although it was a fact that remained unspoken… that if the rabbit’s presence was not firmly established by the time my father returned, that it would be easier for him to insist that we get rid of it.
“Boo-Boo” was a Silver Marten, a type of rabbit that, completely by happenstance, was a rare… “luxury”… breed. An offshoot of the chinchilla rabbit breed. Noted for having a silky black coat, tipped with silver. I fell in love with her immediately. I had no idea how to take care of a rabbit, but I did my 10-year-old best. I fed her alfalfa pellets, and snuck her stubby, twisted carrots from my Mom’s garden, as well as leaves from the rhubarb plants that grew there. My father, in a completely predictable manner, went ballistic upon arriving home from his “business trip”. He spent over an hour in the backyard, screaming as he paced in circles, throwing rocks, branches, and whatever random pieces of detritus he could find in the yard at the hutch, sending the terrified bunny scurrying in frightened circles within the small confines of the hutch. “A FUCKING RABBIT?!? What the FUCK?!? Do you think I’m made of money?!? You take MY scrapwood and build some shitty shack for that fucking THING… A fucking BEAST that should be served for DINNER?!? All rabbits do is eat and SHIT! Who’s going to PAY for its food?!? It sure as fuck isn’t going to be ME!”
Welcome to the family Boo-Boo.
When that spring rolled around, one of my Mom’s friends suggested we enter Boo-Boo in the Asotin County Fair. I had no interest in the idea until I discovered that… for the top prize winners… there was money involved. I knew it was unlikely that Boo-Boo would win anything, but the very possibility of money was tempting enough that I agreed to register her. The fair came around, and on judging day, the whole family went to the fair… dutifully trudging through dusty barns, heavy with the scent of straw and livestock and manure, slowly making our way to the “small animal” area, where chickens and rabbits were displayed. As we rounded the corner, my eyes widened with shock. There was Boo-Boo, lazily munching on a leaf of lettuce within her cage. A cage that sported a giant, purple, best-in-class ribbon. My father, Mom and I all stood there in frozen, stunned silence… finally approaching the cage and examining the tag that stated… yes, “Boo-Boo: Owner Jacob Saren”, was indeed the winner of the small animal Best-in-Class. That meant she had not only beaten out all of the other rabbits, but the chickens and other ‘small breed livestock” as well. The award came with a $150 prize.
We entered her in the fair the following year, and again she won Best-in-Class. Again the year after that. This streak lasted for five years. It likely would have lasted longer had my father not gotten one of his Sure Fire ideas.
He had decided that… Boo-Boo was a “champion”… all the fair personnel and attendees knew it. They saw her win, year after year. So, what do you do with a champion? You breed them. Make a bunch of Future Little Champions. Make a lot of money from rabbits doing what rabbits do best. Both Mom and I thought this was a bad idea… Boo-Boo was at least five years old. That was how long she had been with us… and we knew the neighbor had her for at least a year or two prior to that. Both of us thought it might not be safe. My father wouldn’t hear of it, screaming us into silence… telling us he had “talked to people” and that he “knew what he was doing!” I don’t know where he found the male Silver Marten, but within weeks my father had expanded the dimension of the crude hutch, dipping into his reservoir of precious scrap wood, and Boo-Boo had a “mate”. Even though I wasn’t yet thinking of everything in sexual terms… still teetering precariously on the line of demarcation between “kid” and “teenage horndog”, the two rabbit immediately struck me as the most unlikely sexual pairing imaginable. The new rabbit, dubbed “Hoo-Hoo”… my father’s idea at being clever… was small. So small in fact, that I actually risked triggering my father’s wrath by asking “Ummm… he’s so small… how’s he going to… you know… get on top of her?” My father looked at me with a scowl before laughing “Awww, Boo-Boo will prob’ly get on top of him and ride him like a pony!” He slapped my back hard enough that it knocked me off balance, then turned to go back into the house… leaving his puzzled son in the back yard. Staring at the two rabbits in the hutch, so disparate in size, trying to imagine how the larger female would “ride” the smaller male “like a pony.”
Four weeks later, I awoke before sunrise to screams in the backyard.
I looked out my bedroom window, which faced the backyard and saw fast, shadowy movement back by the rabbit hutch. The screams… terrifying and unlike anything I’d ever heard… increased their intensity. I went blind momentarily as either Mom or my father flipped on the back patio light, flooding the darkness with light. Eyes needing time to adjust to the abrupt change in illumination. I stumbled out of bed, making my way through the darkened house to the back door. The screams were bone chilling, but I wasn’t afraid for myself… we lived close enough to the “wilds” for coyotes and foxes and badgers and skunks to come wandering in to our neighborhood from time to time, and I was certain the rabbits were being attacked. The back door stood wide open, letting the night in. My mom was a flurry of white in her nightgown as she raced to the hutches. My father was already at the hutch, shaking it, moaning and swearing loudly. The screaming changed… as if it has lost amplification or an aspect of its sound. I ran, bare feet cold and wet and slippery from the heavy dew on the grass. Teeth chattering in the chill of the early fall morning. The first thought I had, approaching the hutch, was “paint? Why is there paint?” It was a fleeting thought, one barely formed in my mind before it was replaced by a colder, harder one.
“Blood… there’s blood.”
A series of rapid-fire images were frozen in my mind, as if captured with a strobe light, before I turned and ran… stumbling and falling… spattered my drops of dew and tears… back to the house.
Hoo-Hoo torn apart, entrails and blood and fur in an explosion, his dead milky eye staring… seeing nothing. A half dozen grey, hairless, bloody rats… mutant creatures malformed and twisted. Boo-Boo screaming… the piercing howl decaying into a guttural, bubbling sound with pink and red foam pouring from her mouth… lips pulled back impossibly wide over her teeth. My father on his knees before the open cage, blood coating his hands and arms to the elbow… his eyes full of terror and fear, mouth hanging open in speechless shock. Helpless and afraid.
Not knowing how I got there, I wrapped myself in the blankets on my bed. Cocooning myself. Bundling. Trying to block out the rabbit’s screams that were slowly dying away. The noise fading as Boo-Boo’s life went with it. I didn’t return to sleep, but lay there… shivering in the middle of that ball of blankets and cloth. Chilled to the core by something greater than a drop in temperature. Morning finally arrived, and my father left for work. Mom insisted that I go to school, saying we’d “talk about it” when I got home that afternoon. I was never the chatty troublemaker at school… never the one teacher’s had to admonish to keep quiet during class… but that day… for the duration of the day… I’d be surprised to learn that I uttered even one solitary syllable the entire time.
Home from school, I went straight to my bedroom. Sat on the edge of the bed. Emotions raw and my ability to respond pressed flat. Dried flowers between the weight of books. Once vibrant and colorful, now abstracted. Minutes passed, and my Mom came in. Sat beside me. Silent for a while, before putting her arm around me. Slowly, quietly, she tells me that she knows I’m hurting. That she’s so sorry that I had to see that. That there was nothing that could have been done. I listen. I don’t react. No tears. No frown. No shaking of the head. I listen. I file it away. Facts organized and put in their drawers. Boo-Boo was too old for her first litter of kits. The vet came by after I left for school. Examined the two adult rabbits. The stillborn kits. He told my Mom that the pain from the birth had driven Boo-Boo mad. That she had reacted by attacking Hoo-Hoo. Gutting the smaller male with her teeth and claws before the first kit came. He had told my mom that the birth had caused Boo-Boo some kind of membrane rupture and that she suffered massive internal bleeding. The vet concluded that, even if the birth had not been fatal to the mother, that the kits… all five of them… were not “viable”. Some had been born without any limbs. All of them were malformed, incomplete. The vet mentioned that Boo-Boo had been much too old to attempt breeding, even if it wasn’t her first litter. The vet said that he was sorry, but that even if he would have been there at the moment the rabbit started labor, there would not have been anything he could have done. I listen as my Mom tells me these things. I file each fact away. One by one, each in its proper place. I do not cry. I do not react. My Mom finishes talking, and after a while she gives me a hug, and tells me again that she’s sorry. Tells me that it’s ok to be sad and upset. She tells me that if I want to talk about it later, to just let her know.
I nod to let her know that I hear her words.
I do not cry.
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