Mama never did like the humping. She said it was dirty. So I moved the rabbits from the far part of the lawn to the kitchen, where there wasn’t any dirt. Somehow that was worse, though I don’t know how. Mama said I never had more sense than a saltlick, which I guess is true ‘cause I don’t get how a saltlick could have any sense to begin with. I used to think it was ‘cause I would touch my tongue tip to the lick on dares from the boys. The salt and the dare and the boys all staring started to mix like sugar powder in my mouth. But the rabbits aren’t the beginning of the story. Mama said a story has to begin at the beginning or it don’t really count like a story. And the rabbits sure are the end, or really, the end is the end of the rabbits.
The story begins with the lady with the blue vinyl handbag. I saw a lady walking down the sidewalk, but like it wasn’t a concrete sidewalk, but like a brick gold sidewalk. The lady had a blue vinyl handbag but I wasn’t really interested in it that much. It was her fur stole that I was real interested in. It was slung ‘round her shoulders going down her waist like the animal just had to love on her and couldn’t be left in the yard, like it needed her warmth more than she needed its. Mama always said animals could love like people never could. I wanted to carry that kind of love. Love like the lady with blue vinyl handbag wore everyday, for everyone to see.
Well, Mama said if I wanted a fur stole I’d have to earn the money to buy one on my own. I came up with a foolproof plan. I got real good in school on Valentines at cutting up those doilies. Not like the flower circle ones but like the little people who hold hands in a line, like a line of love. The teacher said I was the best at making little people she’d ever saw. But of course I had a lot of practice ‘cause she never stops asking the kids to make them little people every holiday. Maybe she’s partial to me, could never give up her little pet she said, so she keeps me in her class every year and I just keep getting better and better at making them little people. She likes ‘em so much she’s holding me from the big school with the people sized like me and not so much smaller. I didn’t really want her to hold me so much but I guess Mama agrees ‘cause she says I’m already too fresh as it is and don’t need no title like that. Well, I thought if I made plenty of those I could sell ‘em and make enough money in no time flat.
It started out right enough. I spent all my hours on Saturdays cutting at stark white tissue paper, the kind that’s so soft when you rub it between your fingers it sends a feeling like dirty fingernails scratching down your spine. I cut at my fingers a few times too, on accident. The little white tissue people were painted with my finger blood. I figured those ones wouldn’t sell, so I just strung them up around my room. I got to liking how they looked, all those lines of love, that I strung them all up. Gave ‘em names too, make each line a family. The Papa hung in the middle so he could touch the Mama on one side and all the little girls on the other. I didn’t make any of them brothers ‘cause I don’t have one and I didn’t want paper people getting one before me. I tacked my favorite family on the part of the ceiling over my bed. They were real happy living there. They could watch me fall asleep and cover up the big brown spot that leaked rainwater. I liked them for that reason since I thought something might come out of that spot and get me while I was in my bed. And cause they didn’t have too much blood on ‘em like the other families. At least not all of ‘em. There was a drop of blood where I pegged the Papa’s heart would be and his tissue paper body soaked it so good that the heart was spreading into his head and down there by his private place. The rest were fine but a few red sprinkles on the girl’s hands who the Papa was touching. Soon enough though, I didn’t have any to sell. And I figured I didn’t have enough finger blood to make anymore. I gave up on that plan real quick.
I was out for all that tissue paper now but Mama said I could take some of the small jelly jars in the back of the cellar so I knew I could break more than even. It was about that time of year when it gets dark a lot sooner and stays dusk for what seems like an unnaturally long time. I had the great idea, all patented to myself, to make lightning bug lanterns. I would catch a lot of lightning bugs and keep ‘em in the jars and sell ‘em to the kids around the neighborhood. I got all my jars bought and lined up on the card table Mama let me move to the backyard. I picked the fourth of July as my grand opening for the bug business; I figured I could make a fortune. And in no time I could walk down the street like it was a lot of gold bricks in my own fur stole. I knew I’d have plenty of time on the fourth since Daddy wasn’t here to light up a bunch of firecrackers. Mama never liked that he crossed the state line to buy crates of ‘em. So with Daddy went those bright, hot explosions. I punched holes in the lids with forks to give the lightening bugs some air and had them all ready and everything. I got grass stains on my white leather sandals as I ran ‘round the yard catching the lighting bugs but I didn’t mind so much. I had a real good-sized jar worth, but as I was about to spin the lid on tight the bugs starting buzzing ‘round inside the jar right where my hand was holding it. It looked like they were trying to outline my hand, like I did at school to make a Thanksgiving turkey. I wiggled my fingers back and forth on the glass, it was getting slick from the sweat on my palms. I looked at the glowing bugs and thought about the Henry twins. They liked to squeeze off the butts and rub the green stuff on their faces and clothes so they glowed till their Mama wore their hides out. I didn’t realize my other hand was covering up the holes in the lid and I watched as the bugs slowly started to float to the bottom of the jar. I thought about my mason jar of silver coins and it’s getting’ lighter and lighter. I opened the lid and let my fifty cents fly away.
We had a neighbor lady who did it night and day. But still Mama wasn’t too excited about my next plan even though I had an expert next door. I bet it wasn’t ‘cause she thought I couldn’t do it but just ‘cause she’d have to finance it. And before I knew it I had three rabbits, two girls, a boy and a wire cage the following week. I knew a girl from Camp Pinnacle, a summer camp I went to once in another state, who told me she raised money for a tandem bike by skinning rabbits for their meat. She said it was really easy, just like when you pull the skin off a chicken breast at dinner. I felt just as lucky as Daddy said I was ‘cause now I could kill two rabbits with one stone. I could sell the meat to pay back Mama who needed the money for the dances each Saturday and I could have all that rabbit fur as my stole, all to myself, to love on me. Mama didn’t like that idea as much, said I should sell the soiled fur and get a store-bought one. She changed her mind though soon enough, said I was just as soiled as them rabbit skins and we’d be a perfect fit. And we were, me and them rabbits were gonna be the perfect family.
The neighbor lady had what Mama said was an ungodly amount of rabbits, wire cages and feed. She offered to sell me what she called a beginning set up. One Sunday evening she brought over some wire hutches and a small starting family of rabbits. I told her I wanted more than three and she said that’s why she brought three. I thought it through and I had always loved peeling the skin off my chicken breast on Sundays so I knew this was the plan for me.
Like I told you when I began the story, that wasn’t really the beginning keep in mind, Mama never did like those rabbits humpin’ all dirty like, but I figured that was something I couldn’t really help no matter how clean I kept them rabbits. I tried real hard but them cages needed cleaning nearly twice a day. I may have forgotten to feed them a few times but that didn’t stop ‘em. Soon enough them rabbits was turning into more rabbits. They was a growing bunny family and I was like a really, really, grand-mama bunny to them, even though I wasn’t really a bunny like them. The neighbor lady told me not to name ‘em, that that was the first wrong turn I could make. I swear them bunnies just must of named themselves ‘cause by the end of the second week there was Willy T., Bogart, Jimmy, Mr. D. Ledbetter, Clem, Owen, and J.W. to start with. Mama yelled not to look through her things when I told her the rabbit’s names, said they was the same names as the ones on the little white cards she kept in her gold looking cigarette case. I’ve never been prided on my memory but I swear them rabbits must of found them cards themselves ‘cause I sure don’t remember looking through ‘em. Soon enough there was more rabbits than names. That’s when I started to put together the amount of humping compared to the amount of rabbits.
When I was younger one time I came in from playing next door early, they only had an outhouse on Julie Ann’s property, and I could hear a noise like a saw coming from my bedroom. The door was cracked open and I could see that the saw noise was the mattress rubbing real hard and fast against the brass bed frame. There was a man on top of my bed with his boots still on, covering my quilt with red dirt. I was going to run or open the door or scream but then I saw that my Mama was under him so I just didn’t, and I just watched. I sat down in the doorway, looking in through the crack, and wondered if my Daddy was much like this man. He seemed tall and a leather belt hung around his knees with the biggest buckle I had ever seen. I bet he could have cracked my head open with that thing if he wanted to. He also had a gold chain around his neck and the hair from one side of his head was brushed over so far I bet it tickled his ear. It didn’t look soft at all like the rabbit’s, but stiff and greasy. He didn’t seem anything like how I remember my Daddy, except for the belt which I remember getting a lick from a few times, still even got a scar on my wrist from it, so I don’t know why Mama liked him. It did look like it he petted real soft like Daddy used to do sometimes. But they just looked like they were bouncing and rolling around on my bed and I couldn’t understand why, until now that I got these rabbits, that what they were doing wasn’t much different from what the rabbits do, except when the rabbits do it it’s in their own cage. When it looked like they were done I ran back out the front door and waited under the porch till he left. His truck sent dust so high that it didn’t settle for days. Based on the growing number of rabbits and how many times the Belt Buckle visited, I’m surprised there aren’t twenty more of me running around.
One day after school I was kicking a rock down the road, covering my feet all the way up to my knees in a layer of red dust. I was looking forward to playing with them rabbits something awful. I didn’t mind the cleaning as much since I learned to hold my nose closed with one of Mama’s clothespins while I changed out the newspaper. I was kicking that rock in order to slow my walk down, to do like Mama said except she called it delayed pleasure. Christmas mornings she told me to stay in bed as long as I could in order to delay the pleasure of opening presents. She said it would make what I was looking forward to even better. It didn’t work that afternoon though. I walked into the side yard to see my least favorite Henry twin, the one with all the dark freckles, clipping my first Daddy rabbit under the neck with a rusted golf club, flipping him high onto his back. I sobbed all the way to the vet, soaking the Daddy bunny’s belly hair as I smoothed the wet tangles with my hand. Mama said it was a waste since he’d be skinned in a couple of weeks anyway, wasn’t worth the cost of the vet, but I wouldn’t stop the wailing so we went, all three of us, piled up in Grand Daddy’s truck, which only had one and half seats. The vet had to put the Daddy bunny down ‘cause his back was broken so there was more room on the drive back out of town. Mama said I was touched but I swear the rabbits acted differently from then on. They took a few more nips at my fingers when I put the feed in their bowl. Little drops of red-brown blood were sprinkled over the little pellets of food and I wondered whether I should let ‘em eat it or not. I closed the wire door of the hutch and sat down in the long grass that they would sometimes nibble through the cage holes. I sat there and watched ‘em eat every blood soaked pellet. I think it made them grow extra big and strong. I think they loved me again after that.
Sometimes I could hardly notice when there were more of ‘em than the day before. I still remember the last bunch of ‘em to come. I’d been having a nightmare that a fire came and burned up all the tissue families on my walls. I was trapped in my bed by the flames and I had to watch my favorite family on the ceiling drop hands one by one as they burned up together and I was forced to watch. I thought real fast over the things I’d done to see if there was anything real bad ‘cause Mama said the flames would come and get me if I did anything sinful anymore. And when I couldn’t think of anything I woke up to the front door slamming real hard and an engine getting started and tires trying to reverse too fast in the sand. The house was only lit by that early kind of sunlight, which made everything look water colored in lilac. I made it to the front of the house in enough time to see dust sitting high in the air all the way down the road. I felt like I couldn’t get back to sleep before that dust settled so I went back to check on the rabbits since one of the doe’s was about to burst and I was hoping for at least eight kits. I stood against the hutch, wrapping my fingers around the stiff wire, my legs getting damp from the dewy grass, and watched one of the rabbits whose name I had forgotten even then, cover her naked, blind babies in the loose bed of fur she had ready. They looked so warm and safe I wanted to climb right in myself if Mama wouldn’t have beaten me for it. That bunny Mama wouldn’t have liked it much either I suppose.
Maybe that finger blood made ‘em grow too big or too fast ‘cause sooner than I thought Mama was saying they was enough of ‘em and they was big enough to get skinned. When I told her I needed just a little more time with ‘em she picked up the rusted gold club that took out the Daddy bunny and started jamming it through some loose holes in the wire walls of the hutch. Mama said they was ready for me to finish them off now. She started swinging the club at the littlest baby girl, she clipped her a few good times in the head until the sound of real loud tires turning spinning fast on the dirt road came like tremors into the backyard. Mama rammed the club into the cage and ran around the side yard to the front. I pulled the baby girl bunny out of the cage and rubbed her belly as I cradled her in my palm. She was hardly bigger than one of my paper people and only looked up at the sky all bleary eyed for a little while till I put her to bed with the first Daddy Bunny under the house. I buried ‘em both right under where I pegged my bed would be so they wouldn’t feel so alone and could share my nighttime dreams.
I thought about Mama inside with Belt Buckle and wondered if she ever got clipped with it. Despite what my Mama did I couldn’t try to backtalk her, she was right in some lights ‘cause the neighbor lady told me if them rabbits get too big and old the meat isn’t as good. And I wanted people to love the rabbits just like I did all through and through to their inside parts. The sooner they was loving their meat the sooner their fur could be loving on me.
On a Sunday so hot that the devil himself must have spit heat in the air, Mama got a special knife she’d sharpened, Grand Daddy’s hammer out of the shed and said she would leave me to it. The heat was driving beads of sweat down my face and arms. I knew if someone licked me then I would have tasted like the saltlick. That’s what I remember most about my Daddy, when it was real hot out he would sit me on his lap and take little licks of legs moving up to my arms, saying I tasted just like a saltlick. Not long after that he left. But before he did he took me to town one last time that was the time I saw the lady with the blue vinyl handbag. There he told me if you love something you have to want it to have purpose and if I loved him I’d let him go and find his purpose. I must of loved my Daddy too much and for too long though; he’s still out there purposing.
I went to the shed and drove two nails about seven inches apart into a piece of scrap wood nobody wanted. I laid it with my hammer and knife on the church picnic table that today was my workstation and started for the hutches. I stood there staring at them rabbits for so long I thought I’d reached out for a handful of heat and rubbed it all over my body. I saw their pink and black noses working around on their faces, and a few of them looked up at me when I shook the wall of one of the cage. I looked at their fur and thought about how soft it was and how pretty it looked on that lady. One of ‘em started thumping his front paw at me and staring me down with his red eyes as he came closer, I decided he would be first. He was a Daddy bunny, I thought this would be a good way to start so the others would know how to follow suit.
The neighbor lady said catching ‘em was the hardest part but I’m not sure if I agree. I snagged that Daddy bunny by his neck and held him by his ears so that his face hung right in front of mine. I stuck out my tongue and licked the tip of his salty nose then gave him one quick heavy blow of the hammer on his head. I swung him over to grab the hind legs and pushed in the nails real hard. I used the tendons to hang ‘em up and with the nails to split the body enough for workspace as the neighbor lady called it. I got him hanging and cut real quick at his throat dragging my knife down his belly all the way towards his private place, his red-red blood coloring him all the way down. You have to cut real fast to get the blood out before it makes the body go bad. I stripped out all the innards, especially the spleen it can be like a poison to meat, my hand searching around for it like the biggest piece of candy in a goody-bag. I drew rings around his legs and neck and I was amazed at how his skin tore off his body like cloth, it was like I just taking off the rabbit’s jacket. The rabbits undressed so easy in front of me like I’d seen Mama and Daddy do so many times. I used a little ax to cut off the head and feet so now he was just pure naked meat. After that first one I ran to the bathroom not sure if I would cry or throw up but everything stopped when I caught myself in the mirror. My hands were blood red and looked like they were draining themselves all the way up to my elbows. There were little red freckles covering my face. There was one big one resting right on the edge of my lip. I thought about all the bunnies still waiting in the yard and licked the freckle off with my tongue tip. My teeth were a shade pinker that day.
I let all those bunnies loose of their love. I took it all and covered myself. I felt just like I imagined that lady with the blue vinyl handbag must of felt. I didn’t think anybody could ever love me the way the rabbits did now. Later Mama sold all the meat at seventy-five cents a rabbit and offered to drive me into town for a store-bought fur stole but now I think I have more love than any lady ever could have. This was true love in my rabbits red fur and it wasn’t something I could ever find in town.
I love them bunnies. I love those bunnies with my insides, deep and dark. They’re lying all clean like, cleaner than ever that humpin’ was, cleaner than the doilies. I laid ‘em all out, stretched out like paper dolls on the side yard. They’re hold hands like a line a’ love. The love on the inside kind o’ love. Like the Mama and the Daddy J.W. and Clem are holding hands with Owen and Bogart and Jolene. They can’t keep it all in to themselves now. I can lay down on them and feel all their love on my skin. Now, them bunnies love me. How them bunnies love me you couldn’t know. But they could see. The people could see. They could see my love, it was mine, I had all those rabbits love all over my skin, deep and dark. Mama, Grand Daddy, the Henry twins, and Daddy if he ever came back could all see all the love I had now. I gave them rabbits the greatest purpose of loving me and now no one else can.
I was wearing my white Sunday dress that day, though Mama told me not to. I held the bunnies up high as I drove the nails in and I was showered by their love, like rainwater through the ceiling. I wore their red freckles on my Sunday dress, like love warming my body all over as I walked down the dirt road for everyone to see. I didn’t even need it to be gold.