April 28, 2014 9:42:39 AM
The bunny numbers had grown to four, though not in the usual way. The first bunny, small and untamed, was Toby. He began his life at the Bardwells in a birdcage that opened into a small bathroom. Toby was like an imaginary bunny; although I would describe Toby's antics in great detail, sitting cross-legged on the floor watching Toby crawl in my lap, pull at my shirt or nibble the edge of my book, Sam never saw Toby.
Every night after supper Toby and I played until we heard the sounds of Sam clicking the TV remote, the lamp, then his first step onto the stairway. Toby remained at my side wide-eyed until Sam slowly turned the bathroom doorknob, then Toby vanished.
"Did he run again?"
"Yes. He stayed 'til the last minute, then gone." Sam shut the door while I sang goodnight to Toby.
Since Toby had been with us, I had acquired three more bunnies. Romeo was a breeder bunny that turned out not to be quite the Romeo the farmer had hoped. The farmer had given Romeo a good three years, but the litters he produced were small and now he needed to be replaced. The tender-hearted farmer could not bear to make Romeo into a rabbit stew, so Romeo came home with me.
Sam quickly modified what we had on hand into bunny hutches. The hutch village looked like something you might find in a back alley of Tijuana. I thought its style fit us. I quickly decorated the bunny village with some broken glass stepping stones, a blue bottle tree and some brightly colored nesting boxes. All we needed were pinatas and twinkly lights.
The next two rabbits were siblings, thought to be males. They were four months old and found in a neighbor's barn. The family once had free-range rabbits that had nested in the barn. The family was anxious to pass their pride and joys on to me.
The outside rabbits settled in nicely. I picked dandelions and pinned them to the hutches and watched the rabbits nibble the dandelions away. I foraged natural vegetation supplemented by rabbit food and grocery store romaine. I petted them and learned their individual likes and watched their antics. They were happy.
Finally, Toby's hutch was ready, and I started the transition from bathroom to hutch. We played our games; he sat in my lap. I was sad because he would no longer be able to sit in my lap and lick my fingers. When he crawled into his shoe box, I carried him to the hutch with all his familiar accoutrements. I sat with him often that day. I sang to him as always. Toby cowered.
The next morning I opened the hutch and, like lightening, Toby bolted and was gone. My heart was broken. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of something brown streaking by down near the woods. I imagine it's Toby.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.