Cute & Cuddly (1992)
Kneeling, Emma presses her face against the cool earth. The air, still and April warm, seems to hang silently a bit around her right cheek, but on the left she feels only cool earth.
“Emma! Come on, Emma, you dork.”
“Yeah Lizzie, wait a minute. I think I can hear cars.”
“In the dirt? You’re just stupid.”
Emma sits up on her haunches and brushes the dirt off her left cheek. She saw a thing on The Discovery Channel that Indians could hear buffalo through the ground, but all she can hear is cars.
“What did you like best, Emma? I liked the monkeys best, the ‘rangtans, especially the spitting one, ‘cause he looked a little like Mick.” Emma and Lizzie have been in the front yard for a few minutes. Their bookbags sit at the top of the step, mostly empty because today the class took a field trip to the zoo, and they didn’t need to bring books, just a sack lunch. “Or maybe I liked the prairie dogs best, ‘cause they were so fuzzy. I just love animals.”
“I think I liked the big iguana best.”
“I like my dog ‘cause he’s so furry and fuzzy. He’s a real keeshond, y’know, so he’s real pretty, like a big toy maybe.”
They sit in silence some time on the porch and watch teenagers ride by on their bikes.
“I hope I get a new bike. My other one’s a bad color, and it’s kind of a little kid bike. You know? I really want a mountain bike like Laurie’s, kind of yellow like hers, ‘cause yellow’s such a cool color.”
“Or I think I liked the lemurs. They were all right.”
Lizzie’s real keeshond starts barking loudly.
“Spiro! Spiro! Shut up Spiro! You fuckinmutt! Shuddup!” “Fuckinmutt” is a word Lizzie hears her dad call Spiro sometimes, but not often because he’s well-behaved dog, with an obedience school diploma. “Wait here, Emma.”
Lizzie runs around the house, and almost simultaneously shouts from the backyard.
Lizzie shouts quite a bit like this at Emma, so Emma doesn’t see that now is any exception. She doesn’t get up, but Lizzie comes running back to the porch quickly. She’s out of breath and crying, sobbing and with tears running down her face.
“Emm, emm, emmarab, arabb, rabb, rabbit, rabbinthefence, rabbanallbloodanem, emm, emm...”
“Shut up Lizzie, you don’t make any sense.”
“No, c’mon, c’mon, rabinthfence–allbloody.”
“Yeah, whatever. No, hang on!” Emma says “hang on” because Liz is pulling at her arm even though she’s trying to use it to brush the dust off her backside.
Lizzie pulls Emma into the backyard where Spiro is leashed. He’s still barking, yanking as hard as he can on his leash. His beautiful white fur is smeared with splotches of brown and red, especially on the face. He’s pulling very hard on the leash, trying to get to a small rabbit which had jammed itself between the links of the fence.
Emma is a bit repulsed by the rabbit, but climbs over the fence so she can look at its face. Its eyes are unnaturally large, they follow Emma over the fence and down to where she kneels beside. It’s trembling all over, shaking jiggly like jello, its front legs all caught up in the fence and trying to swim away. The animal is very little, almost a baby, which is how it could get its front legs through the fence along with most of its head.
Spiro is still barking.
But only the front half of the rabbit is definable, because the entire rear end has been bitten away. The fuzzy white cotton tail is gone, and so is most of the haunch of the right rear leg, which is left hanging by an exposed bone. The left legs juts away from the smashed hip at a grotesque angle into the air, where it traces a slow circle, as if it had forgotten to stop running. And the rabbit is crying. It sounds like a little baby, only much more quiet; hoarse and inhuman.
“Emma, Emma I can’t...I can’t get it out!” Lizzie is prodding gently at its rear end, but she won’t touch the exposed muscle or bone, so she isn’t doing much good.
Spiro is still barking.
“I didn’t know rabbits had voices.”
“Emma, Emma, save it, make it, make...makeitbetter, be bet-, better...” Lizzie is crying again.
“Lizzie, shut up. Go in the house and call the pound.”
Lizzie won’t get up, she just sits there crying and shaking.
“Shut up. Go in the house and call the pound.”
Lizzie bobs up off the lawn in a jerky motion and runs in through the kitchen door.
“Little rabbit. Just a baby, huh...little rabbit.” Emma starts to cry softly and strokes the rabbit with both hands around its head. It trembles and tries to recoil but can’t. It only trembles but stops crying a little.
“Hold...hold still, dammit.” Emma pulls her hands away with a twitch. She brushes her damp cheek and sighs and takes a deep breath. She reaches out again and feels behind the animal’s ears to its neck. Then she sniffs and breaks its neck. The rabbit stops crying and the leg in the air almost abruptly stops turning in tight circles.
Spiro is still barking, but this time at Lizzie who’s running out the door.
“They said...said call the Animal Rescue Something, but I don’t know how to find the number.”
“Liz, it’s dead.”
Spiro has stopped barking. Lizzie just stands and looks at the small corpse caught in the fence and starts sobbing again.
“It can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t die, its too, too cute and cuddly and...” She cannot speak past her sobbing.
“Stupid Spiro, stupid dog...” Lizzie hits the dog on the nose and he cowers back on the ground, lowering his eyes.
“Don’t hit Spiro. He doesn’t know.”
“Yes he does. He’s evil. Dogs are evil. They just bark and eat bunnies..even if they’re cute...it’s not fair, not fair, stupid dog.”
“Stop, Lizzie. He’s just a dog.”
“It’s not fair! Animals don’t die like this...they get old and die like old people, not when they’re fuzzy babies...animals don’t...they don’t eat each other, ‘cause that’s evil...”
“Lizzie, they’re just animals.”
Lizzie seems to have stopped sobbing, so Emma takes up the task. She isn’t as noisy as Lizzie, but cries in huge wet drops which just fall right off her cheek and onto her shirt. She squeaks when she tries to breathe past the lump in the top of her throat.
“What do we...do with it?”
“Bury it, I guess...”
“I don’t know...”
There’s a long pause. They are both sitting, looking at the fence and past it to the house behind, and past that too. Emma absently strokes Spiro on his beefy neck behind his ears, right where she broke the little rabbit’s neck.
She wonders curiously but not self-critically why she killed the rabbit.
“Can we have a funeral?”
“I guess. I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“I’ll make something up. We could both put on black...I have a dress that’d be good for a funeral, and you could go home and put on...or I could give you a black shirt or something...and I could read from the Bible or maybe Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret or something...and we could invite Laurie or Micky...”
“No, let’s just dig a hole and bury it.”
Lizzie hesitates. “Well, okay.” Then, after a few seconds, Lizzie gets a shovel and gives it to Emma, who starts digging. She gives herself a bucket and a trowel and starts digging too.
“Emma, is it deep enough?”
“No, a little deeper.”
Some time passes while they dig and sweat.
“Just a little deeper.”
They sweat some more; Spiro watches with detached interest.
“There, that’s good enough...go get the rabbit.”
“Em, would...could you? It’s so messy.”
Wordlessly Emma takes a few minutes to extract the rabbit, and lays it in the hole.
“I’m gonna go get a flower or something, huh?”
Emma just crouches looking at the dead rabbit’s eyes, while Lizzie picks dandelions and some white clover, then scatters them over the body.
“Let’s fill it in.”
They kneel down and push at the dirt with their hands and the bucket, until it fills the hole, and pat it flat and packed, and then Emma packs it down some more.
She reaches up, to brush her cheek with her left hand. It’s cool and damp with dirt. She is surprised to find that she’s still crying, but her dirty hand feels good against her hot face, pressing against her left cheek.