Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

Sharif Shakhshir


"lagomorph"


 

            Listen to the creaking of my floorboards. For those who understand them, they have stories of creatures who find their way between my walls: six-legged refugees, field mice risking it all to live human-fat, a lovelorn bat with a broken wing that became a skeleton inside a box of photo albums. However, considering you and the real estate agent are so casually using the slur “fixer-upper” while quantifying in dollars my remaining value, I think you need something to prove that I am someplace where something out of the ordinary happened. A clumsy miracle. The performer of this miracle was a female rabbit with a black spot on her back, born at 3:08 PM on May 13th: the year of the fire rabbit when Mars and Lepus were in their apex and the afternoon before a full moon. The heavens conspired her creation.

            Yet, she was ignored by the humans when she rested her body against my sliding glass door to feel the heat from inside. She would hear their arguments. The man and woman bickered about nothing. The man’s job meant nothing. The man did nothing around the house. They did nothing together. There was nothing she liked to do. The hopes and joy they shared together were slowly sinking into their unsteady foundations, leaving behind nothing. Instead of children, they had nothing, the woman’s fault if fault could be given. Nothing seemed to loiter through the rooms, and it grew apparent that nothing was the basis of their marriage.

            The rabbit was familiar with the humans. Cliff was the man inside. He was an ectomorph, body like a prey animal. He would sometimes say “Hi, bunny,” which the rabbit took as condescending but not threatening. The woman was known as Ellen. She mowed the lawn and tended her vegetable garden. She was a mesomorph with a body like a predator, muscular and attractive by human standards. From my rooftop, one could see the north-east neighbor’s teenage son watch her garden with his binoculars, even though she was more than twice his age. The eastern neighbor, Thomas, flirted with her through the fence. She would ask him if he knew how to get rid of the pests that kept raiding her garden. “Pests” referred to the rabbits that lived in burrows under the western fence’s ivy and in the adjacent empty lot. Our rabbit had a black spot on her back. Although the other bunnies raided the garden out of hunger, our black spotted rabbit seemed to do it because the woman hated it. She would wait with a carrot in her mouth, staring down the human as she came through the sliding glass door. Our rabbit would wait until the last possible moment before bolting for the safety of the ivy. This rabbit, of course, was a lagomorph.

 

            The woman, Ellen, spoke with her sister. Her words sent more than just electricity through my telephone wires. As she talked, she carried the phone in the left hand and the receiver in the right as she paced through the living room.

            It was a simple thing, one of those Trojan horses of emotion. The long phone cord became caught under a leg of the cheap, Swedish coffee table. All that followed might have been avoided if she had just walked around, but she didn’t. She tugged and tugged, but the cable couldn’t be worked free. “Shit,” she said. From the release of that one syllable, everything else had come tipping out.

            She couldn’t pretend to give another fuck about Ikea purchases, or the newest movie release, or her husband being able to get whatever carrot his employers waved over his head to make him a more engaged tool of someone else’s success.

            “What happened?” her sister asked.

            “This isn’t what life is like in romantic comedies,” she said, “Nobody told me that married life would become endless tedium with someone until I died. If it was this, then why would anyone want it? Marriage can’t be this, or am I crazy? Do I need therapy to become okay with it?”

            “Are you okay?” her sister asked.

            “No, I’m bored,” Ellen said, “and I think I want to leave Cliff.”

            “Chill out. If a woman getting bored was grounds for divorce, no marriage would survive the wedding night.”

            “Well, I met someone.” Ellen pulled the phone cord free from the coffee table leg. “He’s getting a divorce though, so it’s just that, you know, it’s not like I don’t have options.”

 

            Ellen told her husband she was taking things to “The Goodwill,” but Cliff never stopped to say, “But this is your new dress!” or “But you love these!” or “This was a wedding present!” At the end of the month she left a Post-It Note and divorce papers on the kitchen counter with her key to my front door. She idled her Miata in front for 95 minutes, and then she went.

            Something was missing that kept Cliff steady. He would leave the air conditioner on and go outside with a beer, gazing out into the growing grass. I used to wonder whether he would see the backyard’s decline into chaos or the wabi-sabi freedom from micromanagement.

            What he was and what he saw depended on the day. The waning quarter moon of May, he grew an erection from the squeals of college girls playing in the swimming pool next door. The nymphs were the neighbor’s daughter and her friends. Cliff tipped a beer in the direction of the north-east neighbor’s perverted son watching them with binoculars, and the kid gave a head nod. Respect between single perverts.

            On the evening of the new moon there were two rabbits fucking in the open, like every evening. But this time he tomahawk-chucked an unfinished Bud Light in their direction. He wet himself with the glistening beer spirals that slipped out. “Get your fucks out of here!” he shouted. I assume he tried to say “Get your ass out of here” and “Get the fuck out of here” at the same time, but he might have meant to say exactly what he said.

            The night of the waxing quarter moon, there was a message on the machine. Ellen was leaving instructions for how to take care of the yard. Cliff walked outside, adjusted his glasses, pulled out a flaccid penis, pissed on the vegetables, and went inside.

            By the time the moon was full, the sun was setting late. There were no bottles to tip or throw. The splashy squeaks from the pool party antics of coeds were interrupted by the turbulent growl of a lawnmower. The bunnies scattered for safety, and the grass was shortened. As he wheeled the mower back to the garage, the neighbor Thomas peeked over the eastern wall, “I was saying to myself, ‘Self,’ I said, ‘that must be Ellen because Cliff wouldn’t mow his own lawn.’” He was the type of person who thought speaking like this made being an asshole endearing. He continued, “Cliff’s the computer man and never worked a day in his life.”

            Cliff stood there. He didn’t remember Thomas’ name. Ellen was the one who talked to people. When they went out to dinner with friends she gave a crash-course in who people were while putting on her earrings.

            Cliff said, “Wait until you can afford a computer, then you’ll see how much work they can be.”

            “I’m yanking your chain,” said the neighbor.

            Cliff squeezed the mower handle, forcing what might have been a chuckle.

            “Doing housework for the wife?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Happy wife, happy life, you know. Oh, speaking of which, I know your wife’s been talking about getting rid of your rabbit problem.” Cliff wheeled the mower on the cobble stone pathway along my eastern side, the push mower jerking and jumping over the uneven stones. Thomas followed.

            Cliff said, “I like the rabbits.”

            Thomas talked through the spaces between fence posts, “But your wife—”

            In milliseconds Cliff bit his lip, as if tired of biting his tongue, and made a labial dental fricative. “Fuck her.” Two words he had needed to say for a long time. He smiled, an expression that made him look uncool, untough, and less dramatic, but it showed that he finally knew how he felt and showed too that he wondered how he got there. How he became what he was: a push-over in his own marriage. Somewhere along the way he went from being a selfish child to suppressing his every desire in order to gain acceptance from a woman who was supposed to love him. Yet, she was willing to create a huge power struggle over whether he kept an old t-shirt or had wanted to relax with his feet on the table, or wanted to continue to drink coffee out of a Garfield mug which said “I hate Mondays.” Was it the first date? Was it her eyes and soft black dress? Was it the knowledge that she only saw him as a favor to a mutual friend? Why was this woman ever worth it? Why did she think she was? At that point she was his wife and nothing more, and she didn’t even want to be that. Midlife crisis and he was expendable. Why? Because Ellen grew up in a broken home: fighting, cursing, objects violently becoming pieces of themselves. “I loved you, but hurt you because you didn’t love me the way I needed you to,” yeah, that’s what Cliff thought would sum up Ellen’s view of marriage. Well, fuck her and her flaws. Fuck her note on the counter saying that she needed more excitement. He was her husband, a person. He wasn’t a hired clown for her amusement. Yet, somehow, Ellen found a way to be persecuted by Clifford’s passiveness. He never told her to stop being who she was, except that one time, the last time, the only time, he told her to stop being a bitch. He liked the rabbits. If the bored woman needed a project she could have built a cage for her garden, but she would rather destroy than ruin the aesthetics of where she lived. Fuck horticulture, and fuck her. This all was exactly what his smile said.

            Maybe this is all a bit much to read into one small facial gesture, but I am their house. Houses build up an empathic connection to all those that reside within it. We know what you think, and even if we couldn’t, I’ve known him since Clifford carried Ellen across my threshold. I was there when Cliff’s father told him that I was a wedding present for him, and if they get a divorce then Cliff had better not let Ellen get me, not the driveway, not the backyard, not the front door, not any piece of me. I’ve seen them when they think they’re alone. I’ve watched all the TV they’ve watched. I’ve heard their phone conversations. I know that Cliff whisper-grunts “put it in my cunt” when he masturbates in the shower. So trust me; I knew these people.

            “What?!” Thomas said.

            Clifford let go of the mower for a second, “Fuck you too. And when you tell your wife this little anecdote, tell her that I said she can get fucked too.” He didn’t know for certain that Thomas was married or widowed, but Cliff’s objective was to get Thomas to never speak to him again, so it really didn’t matter. “You two should fuck each other. It’s why you got married, right? Exclusive breeding rights?”

            When Cliff closed the garage door, he heard the phone ringing. The machine answered. It was Ellen again, “…I’m moving into this guy’s place. I think I’ll be happy here. I just need to pick up the rest of my things and go through the stuff in the attic. It should be time to harvest the carrots. Oh, and I’ve called an exterminator to take care of the rabbits. He’ll be there next week, and he’ll leave an invoice when he’s done. So call me. The number here is—”

            Cliff answered and hung up the phone, probably to let her know that he was hurt and to kick her voice out of his house.

 

            Pulling the sliding glass door closed behind him, Clifford stepped into the garden bed. On all fours he pulled the carrots, asparagus, and various other vegetables out into a pile. He chucked them into the ivy. A last meal of sorts. But the rabbit, our rabbit, the one with the spot on her back stood on all fours near the man. “What?” Clifford said as the bunny stared at him. “The food is over there. What more do you fucking want?” He reached down and grabbed the creature by the neck. He looked surprised to have actually succeeded. “Do you get it you little fucker?! You’re dead! Your friends are dead! You should eat and fuck!” A progressive statement, since most humans seem to think that all rabbits do anyway is eat, fuck, and die.

            The spotted rabbit squeaked, “Don’t hurt me, and I’ll grant you a wish.” Most creatures would rather die than talk to a human, but creatures as blessed as she was were allowed certain privileges. A taboo, but morally justified for a demi-divine creature. The rabbits peeked through the ivy to watch. Even the birds stopped to perch and gawk. For the rabbits, it was like watching a murder committed by God, but if somehow God was vulnerable and weak. If the warren of rabbits were aware of Christianity, they might have felt like they were watching the crucifixion, filled with the same wonder of why such a powerful deity would design such a terrible fate for itself. Why did she volunteer a wish so easily? Did she want to destroy the man with his own desires or did she pity him or what?

            The man dropped her, stupefied.

            “Ow, that’s not exactly not hurting me!” She was free, to run, to void their contract on a technicality, “But I will still honor our accord.”

            Cliff was quick, “I wish for a woman to love me unconditionally.” The spotted rabbit must have known that he would wish for a woman, but didn’t expect the specific wording of his wish to be so dangerous.

            Her ears flopped back as she looked with terror-eyes towards her kind, but they merely offered her stares of judgment, then sympathy. A small rabbit spoke in their secret rabbit code, “She’s not ours anymore. We loved her, and she gave us up.”

            Another bunny voice shouted in the lagomorphic language, “What did we do wrong?” but their demi-deity wasn’t listening.

            There was no glowing light to hide the horror show like on TV. There was no glitter. Just shedding. There was blood. The fur mixed with the red, sticking to the ground like road kill. Bones cracking, dislocating, and reshaping. She fell over multiple times as her legs became something unworthy of bearing weight. Her skin was ripping, bleeding, and mending as she grew ten times her size. Cliff was like a man watching a woman give birth, not knowing whether to try and help somehow or whether it was best to just stay out of the way, but definitely not wanting to do the wrong thing as he felt responsible for the whole situation. He went to help, but she shouted, “Don’t!” perhaps unaware of the volume that came with her new size and lungs. I don’t know if it hurt, but she didn’t scream. Real miracles aren’t pretty, and magic is shitty at conserving mass.

            She was an ectomorph, about 20 years old, and had a buzz cut. Magic is also shitty at socially-determined sex characteristics. Her precise ethnicity was impossible to determine. She had the body of a Kenyan track star, a Latin complexion, the face of a Taiwanese college student who used to rent one of my rooms, the eyes of a Lebanese movie star, and blonde hair. Magic is very cosmopolitan.

            “Do you love me?” she asked.

            “Do you have a name?” Cliff asked.

            “Animalia Chordata Mammalia Lagomorpha Leporidae Sylvilagus Sylvilagus audubonii.” Rabbits are excellent at taxonomy.

            “Okay,” Clifford said, “I’m going to call you Jessica.”

 

            It wasn’t until after their sex session that he began to think about the situation. Lying awake as she cuddled next to him in bed he asked, “How old are you exactly?”

            “Your wife would always say that she wished she was 20, so I became 20.” There was a click as the air conditioner turned back on.

            “I mean—”

            “How old are you?” she asked.

            “I’m going to be 40.”

            “I’m older than you in rabbit years.”

            “How old are you, um, objectively?”

            Jessica sat up, her silhouette interrupting the moonlight like Venetian blinds. “Well, take me to the moon and leave me there why don’t you?”

            “Is that like a rabbit expression?”

            “Yes, it means that you’re being an inconsiderate jerk. ‘Objectively?’ You humans are so ethnocentric. You think you’re alone in the world just because nobody wants to talk to you.”

            “I didn’t mean anything like that,” Cliff didn’t even know what she was saying, “I just want to know when you were born.”

            “I was born Wednesday, May 13th at 3:08 PM on the year of the rabbit. My element is fire. And I was born the moment Mars and Lepus transited and the day of a full moon.”

            “You know all that shit but not what year you were born?”

            “All that shit is what makes me special, and I said I was born the year of the rabbit. I just don’t know your arbitrary number calendar. We live a transient existence; our cyclical calendar works for us. We don’t have wars to remember. We live in the present.” The air conditioner clicked off. Jessica brushed her hand through her buzz-cut short hair; when she got to the spot where her rabbit ears would have been, she shivered. “If humans knew ‘all that shit’ you might have some perspective about your place in the universe.”

            “Are you mad?” Cliff asked.

            “I don’t know yet if your wish lets me be mad, but I’m scared. I want to run, but I can’t.”

            “What are you scared of?”

            “That this is our future.” She did nothing as Cliff put his arms around her, “Worrying about the future scares me.”

 

            Clifford may have felt pathetic about leaving the papers unsigned, but he called out to Jessica, “You know, I think the best way to sign a divorce document is after sleeping with someone else.” He hunched over in his stool and scribbled his signature on the paper that sat on the marble island that separates my living room from my kitchen.

            A woman’s bare feet hopped and staggered over my hallway carpeting. She walked in from the bedroom, the first time there was enough light to notice the giant beauty mark that ran down her back and the white spot at the base of her spine where her tail would be. Standing upright she shat herself and kept walking. “God damn it, Jessica!” Cliff yelled like he was reprimanding a dog, but how else is someone supposed to talk when there’s shit on the carpet? He went to get paper towels, but when he came back she was on all fours holding it in her hands about to eat it. “What the fuck are you doing?” he said after a dry-heave, squinting his eyes as if somehow that might suppress the bile.

            “Coprophagia?”

            “Is that a rabbit thing?”

            “Is it not a human thing?”

 

            Through the sliding glass doors, Jessica walked toward her family, who scampered into the ivy. She parted the leaves, but no bunnies were there. Standing up, she saw them disperse into the empty lot next door. Did the blessings of the Moon Rabbit, of the Lepus constellation, lose its meaning if she was no longer a rabbit? She felt naked suddenly. Stripped, she began to cry, and then she cried harder because she didn’t understand what was happening to her face. Clifford followed her with a trench coat and explained about the boy with the binoculars.

            “I’m in exile,” she told him, pulling her arm through a sleeve of the coat, “I’m banished. I’m a hawk, a creature to run away from like your wife.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “You didn’t hurt me,” she explained, “but I’m hurt because of you.”

 

            A day later, Jessica developed enough control of her new form to not be a danger to herself or carpet. She was a quick study of what things in the house did and why humans used them. It was all so bizarre and magical, yet horribly mundane: television, telephones, most things found in a kitchen…but she was open-minded, though critical. After an hour of watching TV she said, “All your possessions tell the sad story of what I think is the human condition. Television tells us stories at night because there’s no one else to. A home has walls so even when we’re all together we can all run away from each other. Your telephone lets you keep people while keeping them away.”

            “What about the sofa?” Cliff argued, cuddling her close, left arm around her shoulder, right arm under her breasts. A position respectful of certain boundaries Jessica wouldn’t have known were there in the first place. “The sofa brings us together,” Cliff said.

            An ad for Nutrisystem had a woman with a perm promising one’s ideal weight by Thanksgiving with just one simple phone call.

            “The sofa faces the TV,” she said with judgment in her voice. She must have realized how she sounded because she added, “And, I’m not judging; I get it. When you stare at me, I get filled with doubt. I don’t think, ‘Clifford loves me.’ I think ‘What’s wrong with me? My hair is short. I don’t act right. He wishes I was someone else. He’d be happier with someone who was cis-human.’ And I never thought like this when I was me. It’s like I need you to always be near me, but I need to be left alone or I begin to feel angry at you or at myself. The TV is to make us look away from each other.”

            “Are you talking about privacy?” Cliff asked.

            “There’s a word for this?” she asked.

            Cliff laughed, “How do you know all these college words like ‘ethnocentric’ but you don’t know the word ‘privacy’?”

            “Well, how the hell would a rabbit know about privacy?”

            “How does a rabbit know about ethnocentrism?”

            “Are you kidding? Coyotes? Hawks? Dogs? They’re all racist assholes. I hate them. They just eat whomever they want because they think they’re more important than everyone else.”

            On the TV a black and white woman and a baby at the beach were selling Calvin Klein’s fragrance “Eternity.”

            “Can you understand other animals?”

            “Not anymore. It all just sounds like throat gargles. Maybe they’re just not talking to me.” Jessica cuddled closer to Cliff, lifting her feet on the sofa. “Can a human even be happy?”

            Clifford scratched Jessica’s nearly bald head, “Humans have tackled the happiness question for centuries.”

            “So then the answer must be no.”

            “Some say that the key to human happiness is to not want anything. I think I’ve spent the past several years not wanting anything, just not caring about anything. That didn’t make me happy though. It just made me oblivious to how unhappy I really was. Maybe secretly I still wanted something from my marriage or from life that I didn’t know about.”

            Another commercial criticized the flat bristles of the conventional toothbrush for neglecting gaps, but offered a better fit with Crest Complete.

            “What did you want?” Jessica asked.

            “I don’t know,” Cliff said, “It’s like a secret I keep from myself.”

            “How can you know something you don’t know?”

            Cliff shrugged, “There’s a conscious mind and an unconscious mind and the subconscious mind and, like, the id and…there’s just a bunch of brains thinking different things.”

            Jessica felt her head, moving her hands from one spot to another, trying to feel where the different brains might be. “That’s terrifying.”

            The TV played a commercial for the film The Bodyguard.

            Jessica asked, “So in one brain you could love me and another brain you could hate me?”

            “I could never hate you.”

            “Why did your wife leave you? No, better question: Why did you marry her?”

            A plug for a news story about uncontrollable sex among the nation’s youth.

            He thought about it. “If I’m honest, I was lonely, and she was willing to be with me.”

            Jessica smiled, “Finally, something that makes sense to a rabbit!” She pat his arm, “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

            “She said she’d love me forever. Then she didn’t.”

            The words, “Some people stand in the darkness, afraid to step into the light. Some people need to help somebody when the edge of surrender’s in sight…” were sung by the television. They heralded images of half-naked attractive men and women running across a beach and into water: the opening sequence for the show Baywatch. Jessica rubbed her thighs together.

            “Do you want to have sex?” she asked.

 

            Two days later an SUV parked on my drive way, a GMC Jimmy with logos of a broom swatting a cartoon rat out of a house painted on its sides. A man in a gray jumpsuit stepped out the driver’s side. He rang my doorbell.

            “I’m here to take care of the rabbits,” the man in the jumpsuit said.

            “Oh, that’s wonderful,” Jessica said, dressed in a large shirt and tennis shorts. She let him through me and out the sliding glass door. She smiled and watched as he put little pieces of wood and metal covered in kibble for them. “You know, while humans use plates, rabbits don’t really need them.”

            Puzzled, he said, “These are snap traps,” and triggered one as a demonstration.

            “We don’t want the care you want to give us.” Jessica started picking up traps and handing them back to the exterminator.

            “I was told to get rid of the rabbit problem.”

            “Now I’m telling you to-to get rid of yuh-yourself and leave. O-or I will kill you.” I could tell the fight response was new to her. While the rabbits in the ivy on the western fence would often express self-righteous condemnation of another creature, none of them ever felt the true dizzying desire to end the life of another. It was a new way to be unhappy. She staggered with her fists clenched and hair bristled. Breathing heavily and staring the man in the jumpsuit in the eye, she said, “I will eat you.”

            “I’m leaving an invoice for the visit. Notice there’s no charge for this discussion we’re having here because I don’t get paid to argue.”

 

            Something lingered that Clifford tried to ignore. He knew that Jessica was intelligent and understood aspects of culture and linguistics at the college level. He knew she was no stranger to every stage of sexual reproduction. She’d had more kids than she could remember. She didn’t even remember which ones were hers. She swore this was a coping mechanism for animals that are regularly considered food. Despite Cliff’s preference not to hear about Jessica’s past sexual encounters, she explained how she might have been impregnated by one of her sons. But on this day, sitting in his computer chair, dressed in nothing but his boxers, he was having trouble ignoring the nagging feeling that what he was doing might be wrong. The idea that this guilt came from his disloyalty to his wife passed through his head, but anger and the reality that Ellen had renounced all the marital vows she had made to him, and he, in return, signed away the ones he had made to her. This was a strong counter-argument. He was freed from that contract of exclusive breeding, even though the divorce papers were still in a drawer in his study. Cliff didn’t know whether they required any additional legal attention and secretly hoped that Ellen would come by to pick up the forms for whatever administration they still required.

            The cognitive dissonance of what Cliff had just done coated him like the sweat he was covered in. Clifford had given Jessica a sexual reward for learning her ABC’s. He flicked a switch on the surge protector. There was a loud boop and the grumbles of a 3.5” floppy drive searching for a disk. Clifford leaned over to his bookshelf and pulled out the “R” encyclopedia: “Rabbit: See Lagomorph.” He switched to the “L” encyclopedia. The computer made the trumpeting Windows 3.0 start up sound. Thumbing through the pictures he discovered that Jessica was a desert cottontail. “Life expectancy: nine years.”
            “But she’s a magic rabbit,” he told himself, “the kind they pull out of hats.” He pulled out the “C” encyclopedia. “Chinese Zodiac: See Astrology.” Encyclopedia “A” told him that each year had an element to it and an animal. The last year of the fire rabbit was 1987. Before that it was in 1927. Ellen had a farmer’s almanac on the bookshelf. There was a full moon on May 13th 1987, but not 1927. Jessica was five years old.

            What did that mean? In rabbit years, Jessica was maybe 55. That might be too old for Clifford technically. Or maybe five meant five, and she should be treated like a kindergartner. She did  just learn the alphabet. Jessica said she turned into a 20 year old. So she must be 20 then, right? Clifford felt relieved by his argument that he wasn’t a pedophile since he wasn’t attracted to the physique of a child. Jessica was sexually mature. That’s what mattered, right?

            He popped a black floppy disk in the machine and tried to focus on coding telnet software for the library, the sweat on his back being sucked into the fabric of the computer chair. But 18, being the age of consent for American humans, was several years after sexual maturity. Maybe someone just needs to be an adult, plain and simple. Jessica was an adult in most ways. Maybe Clifford wanted someone like his mother. Maybe he wanted someone to take care of him and all the other things around him. Jessica was too dependent to be sexy. She was like a child. Was this how Ellen saw him? Was this why she left?

 

            “Why are you being such a moral absolutist about this?” Jessica asked, spread eagle on the bed.

            Cliff sat at the edge of the bed, looking away from her, “You’re a child.”

            “Come here, and fuck me, or let me fuck you.” Clifford didn’t respond. Jessica closed her legs, “You don’t find me attractive.”

            “No, like I said, it’s just that you’re five.”

            “So? You’re like a gillion in rabbit years,” Jessica crawled on all fours to him. She draped her arms over his shoulders and felt his chest. He didn’t fight her, but looked away, as if the white wall required his attention. She kissed his neck. “I’m being a relativist about this, and it’s not because your wish is making me. So can we please?”

            “No, it’s statutory rape and…Well, statutory rape.”

            Jessica tried to push Cliff off the bed, but only managed to push herself backwards. “You were going to say bestiality! I milk your dick like 90 times, and you find out that being middle-aged for my species isn’t the same as it is for your species and suddenly bestiality is a problem for you? Bullshit. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve suddenly found a moral code that all this violates, but I don’t believe you. You’re afraid that loving me means your wife can’t come back.” Clifford didn’t respond. “I’m getting a drink,” she said. She crawled her way to the edge.

            In the kitchen, Jessica poured Wild Turkey into a Garfield shot glass. Clifford moved to the side of the room that was considered the living room.

            “What are you doing?” Jessica asked.

            “Closing the blinds so the neighbors don’t see,” Cliff said, “You can’t honestly drink that.”

            She took her shot with a suppressed wince, “You know in my culture we don’t normally wear clothes. I don’t care what the peeping neighbor sees.”

            “You should.”

            “‘You should.’ I’m tired of the word ‘should.’ Has that word ever made anyone happy in human history? Here’s a ‘should’ for you. You should appreciate how much I’ve assimilated for you, but it’s never good enough. I have to wear clothes and use forks, and I have to use soaps that make me smell faintly like flowers mixed with a hint of skunk. It’s gross!” She panted.

            He averted his gaze.

            Jessica said, “I’ve learned something. Even though your wish makes me love you, I can still resent you. You’re the one who wished for me to be like this.”

            “I never wished for a rabbit to turn into a woman.”

            “You wished for a woman. Did you expect me to magically poof some woman into existence for you? Life can only beget other life. I can’t bring something out of nothing. I’m a magic bunny, not some sort of… alchemist bunny. Let me just whip out my apothecary out of my pelt and make you a morally acceptable fuck buddy.”

            “I didn’t know.”

            “The only thing you need to know is that I’m good enough for you.” I don’t think Jessica realized exactly how the guilt-tripping techniques she had learned from the warren elders would impact Clifford or she wouldn’t have tried it. The warren elder had always said that Jessica’s ability to give impromptu speeches would come back and harm her. The warren elders would always remind Jessica that rabbits are not supposed to be loquacious.

            Last April, after Ellen’s lawnmower motor sputtered down, our spotted rabbit gave a speech, “I know some of you have been having moral issues about theft. You have been calling us ‘raiders.’ And I’ll say this now: this is the last I want to hear that term. We are ‘liberators.’ They are the haves; they garden for fun and self-worth. We liberate for the sake of our own survival, which is a much nobler cause. It is not just our survival, but the survival of our kin, an even greater cause than self-congratulations. So if you feel your skewed sense of morality is above our survival, then you can turn back, but we are moving out, and our stomachs will be full.”

 

            They slept. As usual, Clifford was the small spoon. He kept waking up because of the heartburn that comes with worry. He was responsible for Jessica. She couldn’t leave him, no matter how unhappy he made her. It was his wish that she fulfilled. He didn’t deserve to have reservations. He made a thoughtless mistake and should go forward with it to its logical conclusion. “Jessica?”

            “Hmmm?”

            “Would you be willing to start a family with me?”

            Jessica didn’t sound awake, “You can’t get a new family without changing your genus and species. It’s harder than it looks. Look at me. I threw myself out of order for you.”

 

            During the fall, a woman in a sundress threw vegetables into the ivy. They disappeared, but the woman didn’t get to see a paw nor whisker. The evenings were getting shorter. The woman lost track of the phases of the moon. She had trouble seeing the picture of the rabbit on the moon anymore, but could see how someone might think there’s the face of a man on there.

            One night, Cliff caught her standing in the backyard staring up. “I used to stare at the moon when I was an angst-filled teenager,” he said. “Are the bunnies still hiding from you?”

            “Even the rabbit on the moon is hiding from me,” Jessica said.

            Cliff asked, “There’s a rabbit on the moon?”

            “Once upon a time,” she said, “Or maybe never. The point is: not right now.”

            “How’d she get there?”

            “Story says there was a man who was pathetic and lost in the woods. He built a fire, but he was going to starve. The rabbit pitied the man, but all she could do was gather grass. Nothing a man could eat. So she threw her body onto the fire for the man to consume her flesh. Moved by the sacrifice, the Jade Emperor rewarded her with eternal life on the moon.”

            “Why would the rabbit do that?” Cliff asked.

            “The story doesn’t say. It’s just nobility. Some creatures have it,” Jessica said with a sideways glance.

            “I don’t buy it. Why would the rabbit think the human’s life is so much more important than her own? Also being on the moon forever sounds more like a punishment than a reward.”

            “Well, there’s another story,” Jessica admitted. “Humanity angered the heavens and, like always, all the animals were forced to suffer as well. The Jade Emperor’s ten sons turned into ten suns…as in stars. They burned the Earth and everyone suffered. Then a human archer came and shot nine of them down, leaving one to be the sun. But how could a mortal kill the immortal? The archer realized that heaven must have lost the recipe for the elixir of life. Overhearing the archer explain this idea to his wife, a rabbit came up with a plan. When the man parted ways from his wife to quest for the recipe, the rabbit transformed into his wife and joined him on his journey. When they found the recipe, the rabbit stole it from the archer. She ran away, made the elixir, and drank it all for herself. Heaven saw this and punished the rabbit by banishing her to the moon to make the elixir of life for the gods for all eternity. Of course that’s just a fairy tale.”

            Cliff noticed Jessica’s hair had finally grown into a respectable pixie cut. “I like the first one better,” Cliff said, “The rabbit’s a bit of a bitch in the second one.”

            “But she’s human in the second one.”

 

            With her rabbit family ignoring her and Clifford going to work for several hours a day, Jessica’s only company was the TV and the bologna sandwiches that Cliff left for her to eat (a food that didn’t require unsupervised use of the kitchen). While flipping through channels, Jessica came across a man who talked about death; she discovered the news. It triggered something primal and familiar inside of her: fear. She became addicted to this feeling. She consumed every terrorist attack, every military action, every child abduction, and every murder like it was a beef bologna sandwich.

            After a while, Jessica no longer slept through the night feeling that a human house was an impenetrable fortress. There were break-ins. There were murderers who could just come in and get her. I would tell her to calm down and go to sleep, but each creak I made frightened her. She would leave her love in bed and go watch more TV in the living room.

 

            Jessica discovered cooking shows and decided that she would cook. She rewound a show she had taped earlier. She walked to the VCR and pushed play when the winding was done.

            “You forgot the beef?” she said.

            “No, I didn’t. I put it in the back,” Clifford said, opening the fridge and shuffling things around.

            She chopped carrots on a cutting board, “You know it’s funny. On my fifth birthday, I was thinking how I was going to die in four years. It was making me crazy. I was making regrettable decisions and dumb risks. You know, mortality and such. But today there was this Republican pundit guest on CNN who was saying how bad things would be if Bill Clinton wins in November. He said Bill Clinton would make the deficit grow until the United States couldn’t afford to fight for power in the new world order. He would let the United Nations undermine the United States’ supremacy in the world, thus reviving the threat of nuclear annihilation from the communists. So even with a longer lifespan, I’ll probably die in the same time frame. Unless the president wins that is.”

            “You know the U.S.S.R. collapsed, right?” Cliff asked, putting a pound of ground beef on the counter.

            “Thank you, sweetie. And no, the U.S.S.R. didn’t collapse. It just got tired and went to sleep.”

            “You’re getting this from the news?” Cliff asked.

            “You can’t just take the liberal media at face value. You have to see through the bigger picture.” She put down her knife, kissing Clifford. “Honey, can you rewind the tape about ten minutes?” As he walked away she said, “I love you.”

            She unwrapped the meat and screamed.

            “What’s wrong?” Cliff asked.

            She showed him her hand covered in blood. “Something died in the beef.” There was no blood on the cooking show, and she had never seen animal meat like this. Cliff didn’t have to explain very much before she realized she had unwittingly committed the ultimate transgression as a prey animal. Hysterical vomit and tears closely followed.

            “But I’ve never cooked you rabbit meat.”

 

            The phone rang. Clifford was getting out of the shower. Jessica loved talking to people, but didn’t like talking to humans. The machine picked up. Ellen was on the line, “Cliff, I’ve had enough of this childishness. It’s been months. We need to talk, and I need to get the rest of my stuff. So next Saturday—”

            Cliff entered the living room, dripping wet and wearing nothing but his boxers. Jessica picked up the phone, “There’s nothing left for you here, you fucking twat! Stop calling here!” There was an echo from the machine.

            “How dare you?! Who is this?!” Ellen demanded.

            “Your replacement.” Jessica hung up, cackling on the couch like a hyena. She ejected the cassette tape from the machine, “I’m going to listen to this on the Walkman!”

            “Hey, that was cruel,” Clifford said.

            Jessica got up and punched him as hard as she could in the arm, “Where was your empathy when you fed meat to an herbivore?” She hopped down the hallway gripping the tape with delight.

            Clifford sat on the couch, and I know what he was thinking. He wondered what he had done to her. He remembered her words that night when she said that all he needed to know was that she was good enough for him. Clifford saw himself in her that night. She was a braver version of him. Maybe she was a faster version of him. Someone who could learn she was angry before the opportunity for rage was gone. She was better when she was less human.

            Jessica came bounding through the hall, past the living room and into the kitchen. She opened the fridge. “I need batteries,” she explained between chuckles. She pulled out two AAs, lining up electrodes like a pro and tossing the old batteries in the trash like she was born with those arms. She ran away with more chuckles.

            “Damn,” he said to himself. I know he was thinking about Ellen at that moment.

 

            It was late that November night. Clifford was woken up by Jessica’s wailing from down the hall. In the living room Jessica was sobbing on the couch watching the news coverage of the election. “Bill Clinton won. Everything is gone. We’re all going to die. Sadaam Hussein will invade Israel, and Bill Clinton will be too weak to stop him. Sadaam will take over the entire Middle East and control the world’s oil supply. Without oil there will be no way to power our tanks. He will become the world’s only superpower. That’s if the United Nations doesn’t crush us first. They have united nations; we only have united states. This is the day American democracy ended the world.”

            “You’re talking crazy,” Cliff said.

            “How would you know? You never watch the news, but I’m an informed citizen.”

            “You’re not a citizen.”

            “Yes. I am. I was born in the backyard,” Jessica said.

            “You don’t have a birth certificate or a social security number or anything. And to be honest I don’t think you understand what you’re talking about. You sound like a wild homeless person.”

            “I sacrificed my body for your wish. The least you can do is respect me.” He sat down next to her, wrapped his arm around her and changed the channel to a Pepe Le Pew cartoon. She rested her head on his chest, “The worst part about your wish is that I have to love you, and you won’t love me back. I gave up so much for nothing.”

 

            Saturday came and the doorbell rang. Jessica hid in the hallway as Clifford answered. It was Ellen. She had a poorly concealed black eye. “What happened to—”

            “Not what you think,” she said.

            Jessica heard her voice and came to the entryway.

            “It wasn’t your fault,” Ellen said, “I’m sorry I made it seem that way. I thought it was at the time. I was just feeling like I made so many bad choices in life, and I wanted to blame you for them. I just wish I was 20 again so I could do things differently. Can I come in so we can talk?”

            “Yeah,” Clifford said, “Come in.”

            “No, she can’t,” Jessica said, “Not after how many times she closed the glass door on my nose or moved me aside with her shoe.”

            “Who is this woman?” Ellen asked.

            Clifford didn’t know how to respond.

            “Your replacement,” Jessica reminded her.

            “Maybe I should go…” Ellen said, turning to leave.

            Clifford grabbed her arm, “No, it’s fine.”

            “Why do you want her here? I’m better,” Jessica said.

            “Jessica,” Cliff said.

            The young woman cocked her head to the side. “I ruined your garden.”

            “Jessica,” Cliff said more sternly.

            “And I fucked your husband.”

            “Jessica!”

            “He smelled like my sex when he signed your divorce papers.” Clifford tried to grab her, but she playfully hopped out of the way, “Also I’m fertile, and you’re not.”

            “Goodbye, Cliff,” Ellen said.

            Clifford slapped Jessica in the face.

            “You hurt me,” she said, “You broke our accord…”

            “I’m so sorry,” Clifford said pulling her in, kissing her face.

            Jessica’s eyes rolled back, and she collapsed to the floor. Cliff checked her pulse. She had none. He looked at Ellen, “She needs CPR.”

            Ellen’s shoulders drooped, “Oh, you’re fucking kidding me.” Ellen stepped toward the body of her husband’s lover. She checked if the airways were clear, then started compressions over the young woman’s heart. When she went to deliver rescue breaths, she felt whiskers tickle her tongue. Ellen screamed and jumped back. A rabbit’s head was sticking out the mouth of Jessica’s body.

            Wincing, the black spotted rabbit pulled her front paws out of the human mouth. The rabbit put one paw on the lower teeth and the other on the upper teeth then applied pressure until the human jaw came unhinged. The slobbery rabbit hopped onto the tile of the entry way, smacking her face against the marble. The bunny clumsily stumbled to the sliding glass door in the living room. Ellen went to resume chest compressions, but Cliff told her that there wasn’t a point.

            Cliff picked the rabbit up like he had before, “Grant me another wish, or I’ll barbecue you.” But this time she remained quiet, avoiding eye contact with her large eyes. He set the rabbit down then unlocked the door and opened it. The rabbit with the black spot on her back waited a few minutes.

            The rabbit turned around and said, “She left you once, and she can leave you again. But your wish demanded that there be no condition where I can stop loving you. Even with our contract voided, it seems I can’t stop. But that doesn’t matter. I’ll be dead in a few years anyway.” The rabbit looked to Ellen who stood in the living room trying to slow her breathing to a sensible pace. “Please don’t have us killed.” The rabbit bounded off into the backyard. Clifford closed the door behind her.

            The warren of rabbits came to meet Jessica. One of them demanded that she should be banished for her transgressions. Another said that a demi-deity, of all rabbits, deserves forgiveness. The spotted rabbit struggled not to confess the full extent of her crimes to the other cottontails, her only plea was, “I was special, but I used that power to take advantage of a vulnerable man. I saw a life where I would live for 70 more years, but now, even if Bill Clinton does a decent job as president, I will only live for four, if I’m lucky and not eaten. I can’t even enjoy the second half of my life since I’ve learned to see a rabbit’s existence as devoid of meaning outside of eating, fucking, and dying. My heart will forever want something I resented when I had it, something I can never have again. Trust me when I say that I wanted to be someone else, and so the worst punishment I could have right now is to be in the prison of being myself.”

            The warren didn’t understand what a prison, a president, or a Bill Clinton was, but they were convinced to let her come home.

            Clifford told Ellen the whole story. They fought. They made up. They moved Jessica’s human remains to the bath tub and sawed it into smaller pieces that would fit in shoe boxes. Ellen and Clifford made it look like they were gardening for the boy with the binoculars as they laid the shoe boxes into the earth. They had thought about burying her in the empty lot next door, but they grew too worried about how they would explain themselves to passersby.

            Soon after, I was abandoned. They couldn’t sell or rent me out in fear of the body being found. So I fell into disarray. Now, after all this time they’re selling me, and you and the real estate agent are walking through my rooms, ignoring these creaks from my floorboards. But if you only understand one thing I’ve told you, learn this: that which is damaged and broken is a miracle, even if it is granted to shitty people.


 


Sharif Shakhshir lives in Southern California where he works for a start up games company as the lead writer and creative director when not moonlighting as a script doctor. He studied creative writing at UC, Irvine and USC. His work has appeared in The Anthology of Writing that Risks, Specs Journal, and Synesthesia. He was born year of the rabbit.