rabbittersweet

[NOTE: The CPS editorial staff regrets to inform its readers that some characters in the ensuing narrative have seen fit to use profane and derogatory language, making that narrative potentially unsuitable for small children and the infirm.]

“Eep!”

Was the first sound Mr. Neegan heard when he returned to his room.

Out of habit, since he had grown used to not hearing well, he ignored it. Without turing his head, he reached discretely to adjust his hearing aid. The next sound he heard was

“Help!”

He hadn’t gone to the Easter service, preferring instead to write by hand, and then type laboriously into the email his son had created for him, a letter to his daughter, Rosalyn, thanking her for the basket she sent him. The dark chocolate eggs were delicious, he told her, and the chocolate rabbit was quite magnificent—so much so, in fact, that he had set it atop the dresser to admire it for a while before deciding how to eat it.

“Please! We’re choking!”

Mr. Neegan was at a loss. The room seemed empty.

“Let me out!”

It could be the noise of his stomach. There it was again. Dinner had been better than usual—usual wasn’t bad, of course, and Mr. Neegan wasn’t fussy like some—lamb, mint jelly to go with it naturally, roasted potatoes, very nice coleslaw made locally, and some kind of apple cinnamon cake that crumbled.

“Over here!”

There were the daffodils, but obviously they couldn’t talk, and anyways they seemed quite cheerful. Smiling. The sun would be on them in a little while. The Cancer Society people brought them. Mr. Neegan supposed he should feel more strongly about cancer than he did. After all, hadn’t it killed his law partner, Hanley, and Mrs. Jackimowicz from down the street? With a child still in college too—that was hard.

He knew he should hate cancer, but the daffodils were so pretty. A flaw in their tactics. Hard to exhort people to action by giving them beautiful flowers. Make people angry instead. But Mr. Neegan didn’t want to be angry, and probably for that reason he didn’t get worked up about cancer, for there was really very little he could do.

Was that rabbit waving at him?

“Let us out! Help!”

It was actually more a tableau of rabbits. Peter Rabbit, to be precise, with Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail gathered around him. Rosalyn had adored Beatrix Potter as a child, and Mr. Neegan had adored reading to her. “A little something from long ago,” her card had read.

She had her own children now, boy and girl, Benjamin and Gloria. They had both liked Beatrix Potter too, though Benjamin was by now much more interested in dinosaurs, which he and Mr. Neegan had discussed—and imitated—at length during their last visit.

Clearly the rabbits were talking to him. This really did seem impossible.

Perhaps he was having a seizure? A stroke of some sort? Sudden onset of acute dementia? Something like that. He thought to call for the nurse, but he didn’t really feel ill and anyway didn’t care for the bosomy redheaded giantess who worked Sundays. She had chided him all through lunch not to spill food on his sweater. He didn’t like the sweater—a gift from his sister—valentine’s day—hearts—and figured the longer it spent at the cleaners the less he’d have to look at it.

It wasn’t that they were actually waving when he looked at them, but out of the corner of his eye they seemed to flail wildly and pound against the plastic window in the box.

Perhaps the screaming was just electrical interference of some sort. Radio broadcasts that got into his hearing aid somehow. Lord knows there was enough of the radio these days that sounded like that. Mr. Cocoletis two doors down claimed something like that happened to him, though he used the N-word in his account of it. Mr. Neegan disliked the sissification of the language as much as the next man, but he’d never really had a taste for the N-word.

Mr. Cocoletis was a piece of work, Mr. Neegan liked to say. A bankrupt Greek real estate magnate or a vanquished small-time Mafioso depending how much you knew, which in Mr. Neegan’s case was a fair amount. Several of Mr. Cocoletis’s shell companies came up in the Hartford courts at one time or another, and Mr. Neegan almost sued one for a client—would have done had the fish truck not been mysteriously towed in the night, but that was another story.

“I can’t breeeathe!”

Mr. Neegan clutched his hear. He turned his hearing aid down but even so he now heard continuous sobbing. He walked to the dresser.

“Who said that?” he demanded.

“In here! Pleeeease!” And although he saw nothing move, Mr. Neegan heard a rapping against the plastic—the same sound you’d expect if you flicked it gently with your thumb and forefinger.

“In the box?” he said. He knew it was; he just couldn’t believe it.

“Of course in the bloody box where do you—” But Mr. Neegan had already opened his pen-knife. He slit the seal on the box and open it.

“FUCK!” said one of the rabbits.

“You can talk!” exclaimed Mr. Neegan. He felt bewildered. He should probably tell someone, but tell them what?

“’Course we can fucking talk,” said the largest one, “’least when we’re not SUFFOCATING.”

“Blow me Petey I don’ know how we survived in there,” said one of the smaller rabbits. “Two fucking days!”

“If I EVER get my mitts on that FUCKING BITCH I swear I will not be responsible for my actions,” said another.

“But…how could you suffocate in there?” asked Mr. Neegan. “I thought all chocolate rabbits came in boxes?” It sounded stupid as soon as he said it, but he didn’t know what else to say.

“Hermetically sealed coffin you mean,” said the rabbit on the left.

“The cunt who bought us,” said the big rabbit, “opened the box and slid us out. An’ I thought we was for it then, but once she saw what she wanted, she slid us back again an’ TAPED THE FUCKING LID SHUT.”

“My daughter,” said Mr. Neegan.

“Beautiful girl don’ get me wrong,” said the big rabbit. “Bigger breasts than even you’ve got but I mean—for fuck’s sake!”

“It’s bad enough that you gotta be eaten wiv’out worrying about smothering to death on the way,” said the third rabbit in a high voice.

“Oh shut up, Cotty. Nobobody’s asking you,” said the middle rabbit.

“But…you’re all chocolate!” said Mr. Neegan.

“Oh and you’re marzi-fucking-pan I expect,” said the big rabbit, who Mr. Neegan realized must be Peter.

“One doesn’t feel like chocolate when one’s head is bitten off,” said the lefthand rabbit, who was probably Flopsy, judging from the box.

“But if you’re made of chocolate how can you be alive in the first place?” Mr. Neegan asked.

“Oh that’s rich,” said Mopsy, the middle rabbit. “Four hundred fucking years old an’ this geezer’s asking us how we can be alive.”

“Good one, Mops!” said Cottontail.

“I said shut up, Cotty!” said Mopsy.

“But you’re just poured into a mold!” said Mr. Neegan. “I don’t see how that gives you life!”

“You were squirted into your mum’s cunt,” said Peter. “I could say the same thing about you. Now fuck off!”

“Well, okay, fine,” said Mr. Neegan, starting to feel angry. “But like it or not, you’re still chocolate, which means, which…means…well…”

“Which means what?” said Peter. “Which means you can snap our heads off and suck on them?”

“I know what he can suck,” said Cottontail.

“Shut up Cotty,” said Mopsy.

“Oh must we go through all this again?” said Flopsy. “It’s so tiresome.”

“Go through what?” asked Mr. Neegan.

“My good man,” said Flopsy. “Don’t you realize all life is precious?”

“But you’re chocolate!” said Mr. Neegan. “You’re food!”

“Yes but sentient, my good man—sentient. Would you wring the neck of a chicken that talked to you? Would you harpoon a dolphin that knew how to count?”

“But—”

“Why even your own animal rights-campaigners cite the mere possibility of sentience in whales as a reason to prohibit their slaughter!”

“Right, but—“

“So how can you, who fancy yourself a humane, caring man, possibly entertain the thought of consuming so rare and precious an example of non-human sentient life? I put it to you that your idea contravenes not only your own principles but also the wisest and best intentions of your species!”

“Well said, Flops,” said Peter.

“Here here,” said Cottontail.

“You don’t know I’m a humane man!” said Mr. Neegan. “You don’t know anything about me! And anyway, you’re man-made. Sentient or not we can still eat you if we want to!”

“Au contraire,” said Flopsy. “We know quite a bit about you. We know, for instance, that during the early years of her life, you used to terrorize your daughter every Easter by mimicking the voice of her chocolate rabbit crying out to her, beseeching her not to eat it. We know that you are a kind man, charitably-disposed, but that your impressions of sentience affected your daughter very deeply, and have now, by a function of fate unimportant to either of us, reversed themselves to penetrate your conscience. In fact, you now face the choice of quite literally eating your own words.”

Mr. Neegan thought for a minute. Of course he remembered teasing Rosalyn with her chocolate rabbit. But could he believe that his fake rabbit voices had made these rabbits take on lives of their own?

“Anyway, babies is man-made and you don’ eat them!” said Cottontail.

They were silent for a minute.

“So you mean to tell me,” said Mr. Neegan, “that all those times I pretended to be the voice of Rosalyn’s chocolate rabbit…that somehow it’s all added up and made you come alive?”

“Look mate, I don’t understand it any better than you do,” said Peter. “But that’s not important. The point is—“

“Who are you talking to, James?” asked the giant nurse from the doorway. Mr. Neegan dropped his cane and turned quickly.

“I…what?” he stammered, reaching to adjust his hearing aid.

“I heard you talking loudly and I just wondered if you were all right,” said the nurse.

“Oh, yes, fine—just a, er…phone call.”

“On the dresser? But your phone is over here—“

“Just, er, talking to myself, thank you,” said Mr. Neegan, regaining his composure. “Sorry to disturb you.”

“Oh you’re not disturbing me, dear!” said the nurse. “I was just worried. Are you having trouble with your hearing aid, dear? I see you fiddling with it quite a bit.”

“No—no, just…it’s fine—really it’s fine. Thank you.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to come out in the social room and watch the race dear? Constantin’s out there.” Constantin was Mr. Cocoletis’s first name. That was another thing Mr. Neegan disliked about this nurse. She called everyone by first names like they were children.

“No, I—maybe in a little while—I’m just…looking for something.”

“Can I help you find it, dear?”

“No, no thanks—not lost, just misplaced it. Card from my daughter.”

“This one here by the bunnies?”

“No, no, different one. I’ll find it, thanks. I’ll be out in a little while.”

“All right dear, suit yourself. Just don’t go talking so loud or people might think you’re losing your mind!” She patted his shoulder gently and left. Mr. Neegan took a breath and turned back to the rabbits.

“Now look what you’ve done,” he said in a loud whisper. “She thinks I’ve gone crazy!”

“Sucks to be you, mate,” said Mopsy.

“She thinks? What kind of crackpot goes around pretending to talk like a rabbit?” said Cottontail.

“Cotty, I warned you.”

“Listen, my good man we have no quarrel with you,” said Flopsy. “If you’ll simply do what we ask we’ll give you no more trouble.”

“You haven’t even told me what you want!” said Mr. Neegan.

“Listen, mate, we don’t want any trouble,” said Peter. “Just take us somewhere nice and let us go.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Mr. Neegan.

“Just let us go,” said Peter. “I don’t care—put us in a field with those squishy little birds or whatever. We’ll work it out.”

“Squishy little birds?” said Mr. Neegan.

“Please don’t be obtuse, my good man,” said Flopsy. “Why they’re virtually ubiquitous! Save for this hell-hole, apparently.”

“Little birds? You mean chicks? Marshmallow chicks? Like this one here?” Mr. Neegan held up a marshmallow peep from his daughter’s basket. “Oh my god you have no clue! You’re out of your minds!”

“And you’re out of your diapers!” said Cottontail. “Hoo-ey is it starting to reek in here or what?”

“You’ve never been out of a store!” Mr. Neegan cried. “Never been off a shelf! There aren’t any marshmallow chicks in the real world!”

“Take us back to the store then,” said Peter.

“I can’t! And anyway, you’ll just be eaten there too.”

“NEEGAN! RACE IS ON! QUIT BREAKING WIND AND COME WATCH IT!” It was Mr. Cocoletis. Mr. Neegan gulped.

“I, uh…Sorry, Con, I’ll be there in a minute.”

“WELL BE QUICK ABOUT IT. I DON’T LIKE IT WHEN I CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU LAWYERS ARE UP TO!”

“I’ll be right there.” He looked at the floor and took a deep breath.

“All right, this has to stop,” he said. “I’m sorry but I don’t have a choice. They’ll have me committed.”

“Fucking blighter’s going to scarf us after all!” screamed Mopsy.

“Look mate, I told you, it’s perfectly simple,” yelled Peter. But Mr. Neegan had picked up the rabbit tableau in both hands and prepared to break it in half.

“My good man think of the loss!” cried Flopsy. “Think of the murder! Think of the innocence! Think of your little girl!”

“PLEEEASE DON’T EAT ME!” shrieked Cottontail.

Mr. Neegan couldn’t do it.

He put the rabbits down and took a step backward toward the bed. His ears were ringing.

He sat down. Out by the nurses’ station he heard the red-headed nurse saying “I think it may be Alzheimers. I’m going to have to call his kids if he keeps up like this.”

He took a deep breath. There was no way to eat them now. The voices, the memories were haunting him—not that he knew why, not that they should. They would consume him if he tried to kill the rabbits. He looked back at the dresser. The square of light from the window was creeping along the wall. The daffodils would be in sunlight soon.

The rabbits were quiet. Lying on the dresser, they couldn’t see him—or he couldn’t see them, perhaps—and consequently they didn’t talk.

Mr. Neegan rubbed his temples. He closed his eyes. Never in forty years of practicing law had he felt so confused, so helpless. He was scared for himself. He was scared of what might come next. He tried to take a breath. He felt a gentle warmth from the window behind him.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said softly as he picked the rabbits up.

“Oh nice! Is that what they said at the concentration camps when they—“

“Shhhhh,” said Mr. Neegan, covering their faces with his hand.

He leaned them against the daffodil vase, facing the window. Softly, he walked to his bathroom and relieved himself. This took longer than it used to, and it was particularly slow now.

He stepped quietly to the dresser, not wanting them to see him. The sun was just touching the corner.

“YOU THINK THESE HORSES ARE GOING TO WAIT FOR YOU OR SOMETHING?”

“Coming,” he called. He shut the door behind him as softly as he could.

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2 Responses to “rabbittersweet”


  1. 2 Joseph Shoer April 18, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Excellent work expounding on the limitations of the human condition in postmodern metaphorical style. Ahem.


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