Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Rabbit Story (part one)

She liked the lyrics but couldn’t stand the song. 

He played the record at least once a day. It was a record record,  a circular black vinyl pressed into a circle, played using a needle, on a machine the size of a microwave oven and twice as heavy. She could tell because of the dust crackles, the wavering voice, the warm scratch sound after the song was over and the needle was lifted up. The sound was watery thin, tinny and tentative. It had lots of horns and trumpets, and she hated trumpets. He always played it in the afternoon, never too late or too early, so she had no legal right to complain.

She knew the new tenant was a guy because he peed standing up. Her bed was next to the water pipes in the wall, she heard all the water moving through the old house. An old mansion in reality, four stories of luxury from the turn before the turn of the last century, since then divided into apartments in the middle of the last century. Some of the water pipes were original, leaded most likely and encrusted to the size of a pea inside. Much of the movement of water was in her dreams.

It was summer and it was hot, the mornings were unbearable when the sun hit the windows, until late afternoon when the big maple trees shielded the house and the breeze from the lake kicked in. She had dark purple drapes of heavy velvet covering the windows that had been bleached pink on one side from the sun. They were still thick enough to keep the sun out. She tolerated the pinkish light until she could afford something better. 

There was a round black river stone the size of a grapefruit propping her apartment door open. She collected black rocks; they were in stacks in the odd corners of her large one room. It may have been a nursery or mother in law room in its original design, but walls had been moved and removed, her small kitchenette shoved in an odd angled corner with the black and white linoleum leading to the oddly long and narrow bathroom with the claw foot tub. The apartment had high ceilings and a view to the overgrown backyard two stories below, which she liked a lot. The bottom floor was all one huge apartment occupied by a quiet older man who showered every morning at 5 am.

Looking up from her metal kitchen table she noticed a white rabbit in the doorway. He hopped over the stone doorstop into her room. Martin was Ginni’s house rabbit; they lived in the apartment down the hall. The third apartment on this floor was empty, and had been the whole year that she lived there. Ginni had moved in three months ago and was too friendly for her liking, but she liked Martin. He was huge, the size of a big tom cat, and all white, with great big pink ears and reddish eyes. Rabbits didn’t like to be picked up Ginni had told her when they first met. It was because they were prey animals, it was too frightening to them to be grabbed off the ground. 

Martin the rabbit went on his back legs and looked around her room.  He didn’t like carrots, she learned, but he did like paper. He hopped over to her coffee table and rubbed his chin on the corner, then the edge,  then he grabbed the postcard sitting on the top of the table, and ran out of the room. 

Moments later Ginni appeared. She was a small thin woman with short cropped purplish brown hair and vintage horn rimmed tortoise shell glasses. 

“I’m so sorry” she said, knocking tentatively on the already opened door.

“Come on in Ginni.” she replied, not looking up.

“Martin’s nibbled a bit off the corner” Ginni said, handing her the postcard. 

“No worries, I don’t mind” she told her,  accepting the postcard, “I like that he comes in here to take things” she smiled and looked up to let Ginni know it was true. 

When the woman left she wondered if Ginni had read the postcard. How can you not read a postcard? She didn’t care really. This one had a picture of a tropical beach, white sand and the token palm tree. It was from her sister, on some vacation with her rich husband again, saying what a fabulous time they were having. She tossed it into the recycling bin.

The song started up again upstairs. She starred at the old blue Smith and Corona typewriter in front of her that she had painted black with nail polish. Some of the polish had chipped so flecks of baby blue insisted on showing through in places. The ribbon was almost completely worn out from use. It still worked though, but anything typed came out faint gray with an occasional darker letter or number, like a random symbol generator. She did have an actual modern laptop, but something about the wire lath in the plaster walls of the old house made getting any sort of free wifi impossible. Plus, there was something real about the effort it took to hit the keys on the typewriter that gave it weight, kind of like the difference between a piano and a synthesizer.

She liked old things, odd things and dark things.  Like a crow she collected rusted metal pieces, hand cranked kitchen utensils, old glass marbles and vintage bell jars, along with all the black rocks. Many gathered dust on the non-working fireplace next to her black wrought iron bed. She hung her clothes on old farm implements nailed to the wall, and had  made a mobile out of rusted garden tools and hung it in the bath.

A loud scratching noise followed by silence came from above, then the creak of floorboards, and silence again. Relieved, she began typing again, the soft chewing clack of the keys hitting the paper was both visceral and satisfying. She was lost in the stories in her head, the weight of the words on the paper, only some time later to look up and see the page completely filled.

For some reason the afternoon breeze off the lake never kicked in, and it got hotter still. The iced green tea by her elbow had turned tepid and undrinkable as pond water. There was only one ice cube in the tray from the freezer, so she added it to her glass, and filled the ice tray.  The cold tap water was warm as well. She heard Ginni leave, talking loudly down the hallway on her cell phone about some restaurant she was meeting her friends at.  The footsteps faded on the carpeted wood stairs and the front screen door banged. The main front door must have been propped open with a cinder block by the downstairs tenant to get air in the house, because there was no familiar slam of wood in the old door frame.

Restless,  she moved the worn window curtain aside to try and encourage the movement of air into the room. She glimpsed the next door neighbor woman hanging blue and white sheets in the yard below, and could hear a small dog barking another yard over, hidden by scrawny lilac bushes. Their apartment shared yard was empty, except for a few plastic white lawn chairs becoming lost in the high green grass, fading to yellow in the dry summer sun. 

She plugged in the fabric corded stainless steel antique fan. It worked, but wasn’t very powerful, and only served to move the warm air around the small room like a convection oven. At least Big Band Boy upstairs was quiet. The whole house was quiet in fact, it was heavenly. 

The heat was like another presence in the room, an angry, bitchy and tiring one. She sat and stared at a fresh white piece of paper she just rolled into her typewriter, her head in her hands, thinking, but distracted. Her tea was tepid again, and she frowned. Giving up, she kicked the blanket off her bed and lay on the sheets, closing her eyes and listening to the rhythmic drone of the fan, and the sound of a sprinkler running in the front lawn three doors down. 

It was getting dark when she woke up. Someone had just shut off the shower upstairs with a metallic grind, and the washing machine was again running in the basement. It was just as hot as it was hours ago, and the air was still, heavy and oppressive. The sheets were damp and her gray tee shirt stuck to her back. Frustrated, she peeled off the shirt, then dug a black tee out of the laundry basket on the floor, clean but needing to be put away, and put it on. 

She washed her face in the kitchen sink, and heard a kitchenette faucet running upstairs. The cold water ran cold finally; enough water had gone through the ancient pipes of the house that this water was fresh from the cool pipes beneath the house.  She heard Martin the rabbit thumping on the floor, and wondered how he was doing in this heat. A bus went rumbling by on the street, or maybe it was distant thunder.

She was still groggy from her nap and the heat and did not feel like writing, so she closed her apartment door, and went down the stairs and into the back yard. There were no lights there except that which shone from the windows above, and the back door light of the neighbor’s house, whose dry sheets hung limp in the still air. She took a big breath, and exhaled slowly through her teeth, smelling cut grass, barbeque smoke and some flower she couldn’t place. 

Then she saw the fireflies. She blinked, thinking she imagined it, and saw two more. Fireflies in the city backyard she thought, it seemed magical. It was magical. She watched for more, and felt a small thrill each time one would light up. On and off they blinked, some drifted up high above the neighbors’ wood fences, on above the laundry lines and back towards her house. High up, she could see her window, and something white gleaming against the dark brick house.

She squinted. There was an old metal fire escape off Ginni’s window, going up the building like an articulated iron spider to the upper floors, and ending one story above. She tensed and looked harder. Ginni’s windows and her own were dark, and above them a man was leaning out his window looking down, blocking the light coming from his room. She stepped back into the tall grass.

“Hey!” he waved down at her. “Is that your rabbit?”

Her stomach dropped. Martin was on the fire escape, just below Ginni’s window. He must have pushed out the screen . He wasn’t moving much except his ears, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. She could see that one of the rabbit’s back legs appeared to have fallen through the metal grates of the fire escape. She was terrified and her hand went involuntarily over her mouth. Oh no. Oh no, oh no.

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