“Rabbit County”

Jeremy said that one of Marsha’s rabbits got away again.  He told me last night while we were sitting in Dino’s waiting for our pizza.  The specialty in this part of the county is rabbit, and Marsha breeds them and sends them into town to be skinned and cleaned up for cooking.  One of the waitresses brings our pizza over, the tough meat looking like jerky.

I don’t like to think of the way the muscle looks.  Years ago, when I was a kid, my sister and I were riding our bikes in the neighborhood before dinner.  We meant to go down the road one way and then weave our bikes through the side streets and eventually wind up back at our house.  My sister and I knew we wouldn’t have time for another lap through the neighborhood so we were pedaling a bit slowly on the last stretch of road before our house came up.

I think it must have been a wild one, but I can’t be sure if it was one of Marsha’s.  It was in the grass on the opposite side of the street from our house.  Half of its body was torn off with exposed thigh muscle and a pen sticking out of the hole from where some Samaritan had moved the poor thing off the road.  Even now if I think about it too much I get sick and can’t hold anything down for a while.  But I like the taste—it’s a flavor I was raised on—so I just try to think about something else when I chew and swallow.

The thing is, there is no thinking about it without thinking about it too much.  Like right now, for example, I’m thinking about watching a video in school a couple of years ago.  We were learning about The Depression.  During The Depression it just so happens that the land in the belly of our country lost its fertility too.  Farmers ploughed too much and eventually even the ground wouldn’t stay grounded.  Of course, all the natural plants started blowing away or shriveling up or whatever plants do when they die so all that was left were the little crops the farmers were still clinging on to.  Then, in a series of great waves the rabbits stampeded through the stomach of the bread-basket, taking whatever they could.

In the video the farmers had set up huge fences to trap the rabbits and when they hit the fences the farmers worked to circle the rabbits in, building even more fencing around the rabbits, ensnaring them.  Then, once the rabbits were trapped well enough, a farmer would wade his way into the pond of frantic fur.  In order to save their crops—to save themselves—the farmers beat the rabbits to death.  They’d pick one up by the ears and slam it down or hit it in the neck with a wooden club, breaking its neck and then would toss the body to the side and continue working through the herd.  Most of the time the farmers were able to knock a rabbit out with one fell swoop, but there were times when a farmer’s grip would fail and it would take a few more slams until the rabbit actually died.

I had imagined that the rabbits should have been eaten, but many of them never were—not by humans at least. There were so many rabbits, and not enough people to eat them all, so they were used as feed for other animals—what kinds I’m not sure. I heard somewhere that the fur was sold cheap. But it’s odd to think that there weren’t enough people to eat the piles left behind. I don’t know what their other options were, so I still wonder about those people and all those piles of dead rabbits.

I learned about this before Jeremy and I started dating.  We had known each other since grade school, because everyone knows everyone else in this town for the most part.  I figured out long before that class that he was squeamish—couldn’t even gut a fish without getting pale or drive past road kill without getting queasy.  We sat next to each other in that class and when he realized what was happening in the clip his hand lurched to my desk and took my hand in his, his eyes tearing so I could see the rabbits reflecting in the dark of his eyes.  With each rabbit’s scream and chirp he squeezed my hand even tighter.  But he never turned away.  When the video was over and the light flipped back on I pretended not to notice how red his eyes were.

Like I said, back then he wasn’t so good with things like that, but he’s gotten a bit better now.  We still don’t really talk about how the rabbits are killed, especially around Randy—Jeremy’s brother—who took up a job with the butcher skinning the things.  But I’m pretty sure we don’t talk about it mostly because Jeremy and I don’t actually know how to talk about it.  We don’t talk about it around Jeremy and Randy’s mother Elise either, who still makes rabbit stew for church suppers at least once every month.  Even though the rabbit barely looks like real meat after it’s been stewed we avoid it because somewhere in there the taste is the same and the texture never goes away completely. Jeremy busies himself eating a little bit of everything else so he doesn’t have to get any.  He’s gotten really good at forgetting to bring Elise’s leftovers home too.

But while we were at Dino’s I started thinking about it all again even though I knew I shouldn’t have started thinking about it at all.  And I knew Jeremy could tell.  I was just sitting and staring at the taxidermy jack rabbit that sits over the door, next to the glowing EXIT sign.  There used to be a lot more of these specimens hanging around the place, but the owners had to take them down because they freaked out the kids and there were rumors of the fur getting into the cheese.  But I was thinking about the rabbits from the dust bowl and stopped talking for a while and was just staring at the taxidermy, thinking about that dead rabbit on the side of the road from when I was a kid and then looking back up into the eyes of the jack rabbit because they looked so different from how I remembered them all the other times I’d seen this jack rabbit at Dino’s—I was trying to figure out what he was thinking when he died and I couldn’t think of anything, like it was some great secret that I wasn’t allowed to know and that bothered me. It made me feel like the rabbit was lying about something, or joking—and I couldn’t understand the joke.

So finally, I got up and went to the ladies’ room to vomit and when I got back Jeremy didn’t say anything, just handed me a stick of gum and we left a big tip with the half-eaten pizza.  Then when we got home I watched Jeremy as he tried to fill out one of the crossword puzzles and read the daily comics.  I didn’t know at first, but after a while I realized I was obsessing on Jeremy’s eyes.  I was trying to find something in them that I couldn’t find in the rabbit, and I don’t know what it was.  I’ve never actually been to see Marsha’s herd even though Randy’s offered to drive me up a couple of times, a failure which now I’m making myself believe is a blessing.  She probably has so many rabbits around I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing all of them at once, knowing what’s coming to them even if their brains don’t get it yet.

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About autumn smith

A recent graduate of The College of Wooster, I have been spending the last couple of months since graduating going to places I've never been before. "Rabbit County" is my first publication.