“Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source—beaver, moose, fish—will develop diarrhoea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat, they feel unsatisfied.” —Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Arctic Explorer
Bunny was young. He had never even eaten this kind of cracker before. He snapped it to bits with his strong front teeth, grinning at his noisy cereal violence; his whiskers glowed as they moved, with the effort of his jaw and cheeks, into the stream of morning light. I thought of my bed, dragged somehow by him into being ethereal. He’d smoothed the duvet. In the sunlight, it was dazzling. “I have to take a math test today,” he said.
In June, two weeks before her sixtieth birthday, my mother hoses down a lawn Van Gogh, a steel reproduction of Cypresses. The water makes celestial rippling tones against the tensile surface of the yard art. Bits of mud and swabs of grass swirl in watery jets over the painted whorls of painted cypresses, then slide back onto the lawn. She leans the wet and shining steel canvas, a white elephant gift, against the side of the house; the art drips into a basement window well lined (for drainage) with small white rocks.
“Will you write me a Post-it of encouragement?” Bunny asked me.
He watched me draw a heart and put my name next to it. He admired my thumbs. I could hear him breathing, steady and quick, as if to match his congenitally elevated heart rate. “I’ll treasure it,” he said, nudging the curling slip closer to his plate, now scattered with the pits and cores of the last of my supplies. I would have take a trip to the mainland, and soon. I was thirty and should have been better prepared. “This was good,” he said, pinching a jicama splinter between his fingers.
My parents and four of their friends fly to Paris. This is their first trip to France. Those who were staying behind feted them the night before they left, a bon voyage with a baked brie. They will spend just four days in Paris and two weeks in a rented chateau in Provence. This capitol-provincial ratio was a topic of heated debate among the travelers, who are uncertain if they will ever return to France, but now the long flight has begun, they are arcing over the North Pole
“So check it, I’m in love with my bio prof,” Bunny began.
and pouring ice water from tall carafes, clouding pastis; they’re calling out to one another from the tops of towers.
I was sitting on my hands to keep from petting him.
The view, the view, my mom laments. She wept to fly home, wept to leave those cypresses anchoring the rolling earth, wept to ascend into the air above an invisible Arctic. Then all is well, I inform her. When you travel, you should return famished and distended, ravenous from feasting. I boss her around, start telling exactly how to feel about art, the Arctic, etc., and don’t stop, even though I am getting a text.
“A scary math test?”
I was sitting on my hands to keep from petting him, but when he looked at me with his teeth sticking out I leaned to one side to free my hand and reached to stroke his gray-brown head: “You’re fluffy,” I told him. He shook me off, saying, “I’m a man!”
So when he left I pictured him sweaty in tube socks, playing Halo with a bowl of baby carrots nestled in his lap; someone threw his phone out the window, which was why he didn’t text me back. “Too bad for you,” I said. “I had nice gin, but I drank it all up.” With tonic and without limes; there was some sort of revolt in Florida during the whole period of our acquaintance. Pieces of the world went missing. I read old letters and my gums itched.
Vincent Van Gogh writes to Theo from Saint-Rémy, France, in June of 1889: “We have had some glorious days and I have set even more canvases going, so that there are twelve size 30 canvases in prospect. Two studies of cypresses of that difficult bottle-green hue; I have worked their foregrounds with thick layers of white lead, which gives firmness to the ground … I have a wheat field, very yellow and light, perhaps the lightest canvas I have done.”
Bunny pursued not even the pinkest of the clovers, but took up a yellow stalk of wheat, long as his torso, with his lips. The ball bearings spun in his rotator jaws as he reeled the grains into his mouth.
He ate with the occupational intensity he sometimes applied to me, legs hurtling after lips. Bunny drew his body over mine the way he drew his body up onto a delectable lawn.
I watched him eat, admiring the quality of attention revealed by his inward-folding lips. Like a moth to bulb, Bunny’s inner essence revolved in spasmodic mortality around the yellow, cereal stimulus; his eye, not seeing me, made a circle flat and perfect as a silver mountain lake captured in a black-and-white postcard.
It rained all day, pausing at dusk. The metal painting, leaning up against the side of the house, glowed, wet and shining, for twenty minutes; then it grew dark.
I squatted down to watch Bunny’s palms meet the linoleum squares. His rump wobbled as he approached the screen door to peer out at the woman on the sidewalk, carrying a white sack full of bouncing apples. Her husband bobbed along beside her atop his skinny legs, wearing a hot-pink polo. If I were to cough, I thought, Bunny would spring up and melt into the screen with startlement, and I might then become the one who hunched and watched the couple passing.
Raining and raining in Wisconsin.
In St. Rémy: “The cypresses are always occupying my thoughts.”
Bunny came in through the surprise door with one ear jammed up like a smashed origami rose. His clumsy attempt at concealing a rougey, inward part of himself was ultimately more revealing than his very pinkness. I didn’t mention this. I said something else instead. He put his hands in his pockets and sucked his teeth. He scrunched up his nose and kicked over the empty box of Trix I’d stacked next to my recycling. Does he think I eat too much sugar? “Elspeth saw you at the Green Bottle last night,” I said, eyeing a shimmer that moved across his whiskers, a shimmer that indicated that my statement had impacted him in some way; the shifting light suggested an inexplicable movement of chin or neck or nose or jaw, a tiny movement that might have been meaningful. “Avada kedavra,” I said, to witness another whiskery impenetrable glimmering.
Still raining in Wisconsin. Van Gogh says the cypress “is one of the most interesting black notes.” Do you want me to write something else? I ask my mom, over the phone. I turn its face to mine to see if I’ve gotten any new texts. Sometimes she thinks I should write children’s books. I say, “YOU should write children’s books.” I don’t say what I am thinking. I want to avoid making her sad. Yet I continue to question the distinction between suffering and art; profoundly useless, famished fools consume them both to hunger.
“I don’t believe in free will,” Bunny said, pawing at the crocheted edge of my tablecloth so my “Sunflowers” pitcher trembled and the celery-colored carnations jumped within. “Everything that is happening is a ricochet from the first subatomic collision. If you knew the math, you could predict everything. And it would start to feel like it really is, like everything that is going to happen has already happened in a math we can imagine.”
My mother goes into the yard to retrieve Cypresses, intending to plant it in her friend’s yard as a birthday prank; they spent May together in Provence, three couples, all turning sixty the way I turn people I love into rabbits.
“I once dreamed I discovered sex,” I told Bunny, heaping spaghetti onto his plate with a pair of silicone-tipped tongs. “Sex was riffling through a rack of used leather coats, the scrape and flash of hooks and rack and clasp and flesh and coat. ‘They’re useful, they’ll turn a stern face to the wind,’ someone said; then suddenly I was there, in the round heart of the rack, half-naked, painting my legs with iodine, preparing them—”
She hoisted the metal painting in her arms; its shadow clung for a moment to the side of the house, so at first she did not see, in the darkened window well, lying quietly among the small white rocks, a baby bunny.
Bunny peeked up over the edge of the screen, his eyes gone dark and flat at the sight of me.
Theo, in Paris, writes to his mother one day in August: “Vincent said, ‘I would like to go like this,’ and half an hour later he had his wish. Life weighed so heavily upon him, but as happens so often everyone is now full of praise, also for his talent.”
“I lost my phone.”
“I had a very sad birthday,” my mom told me. She prodded the baby bunny with a wooden spoon. He didn’t move. She concluded he’d been orphaned by the big, fat Mama Rabbit who’d recently fallen victim to the neighbor’s near-silent push mower.
“Why is it important to be good?” Bunny asked me. “Why is goodness good?” I was sitting on my hands to keep from petting him.
This birthday bunny, fallen in a well, with no mother, no mother to come sniffing the painting, to patter the steel with her paws, to brush it with her whiskers, to tear up the paint with her claws and make the metal scream and sing, to cause the humans—my family—to come out wondering into the night—
Bunny perched on the edge of my tub, smelling my shampoo while I yelled.
The baby bunny aligns his flat round eye with the basement window as the rain soaks his fur and shakes the steel painting above him. If his outsize teeth chatter, my mom doesn’t hear; she’s continuing her French lessons underground, earbuds jammed in her ears, elliptical machine laboring beneath her. If she looks out the basement window she sees a heap of brown dead leaves on the white rocks, nothing starving to death.
“Only I have no news to tell you, for the days are all the same; I have no ideas, except to think that a field of wheat or a cypress is well worth looking at close up.”
A small rabbit led me with its white tail the ten blocks from the Greyhound station to my apartment last winter; I swear, it did, and the next day, its footprints—paler than the snow.