Friday, April 29, 2011

. . . Give and Take . . .

"What do you mean you don't know where the kids are?"
            Mom didn't look up from her crossword puzzle when I came in from lunch.
            "They said something about whiffleball," she said.  "Then a little later, they mentioned a white rabbit."
            I stood on the deck and squinted out at the spring drizzle.  I cupped my hands around my mouth. 
            "Over here!"  Their voices came from the woods.  I followed the sound of whoops and hollers. 
            "Come here, baby!"
            "Missed it.  Missed it by a mile!"
            "Don't be afraid.  We're real nice." 
            Thing one, two, and three darted here and there, trying to get close to the pale, zigzagging puffball.
            "Mom! It's headed your way!  Get it!"
            Espresso, white wine, and mineral water sloshed in my belly as I joined the chase.  Over logs, under cars, and into burrows the white rabbit went.  More than once I nearly fell as my feet slid on my fancy sandals and wet leaves.  Finally, I held an empty trash can on its side, and the kids chased the bunny into it. 
            "Are you okay, Mommy?" my son said.
            I sat in the wet grass, wheezing and cradling my abdomen.  "Yeah.  Why?"
            "Your face is a weird color."
            My stomach seemed to debate whether or not to give up my thirty dollar French lunch.  Oldest Child approached, the trembling rabbit clutched to her chest. 
            "Can we keep it?"
            "Ask Daddy."

A week later Middle Child came tearing up to the third floor. "Mom!  Honey’s a girl!"
            I looked over at the clock--6:30 a.m..  
            I squinted up at her. "Honey’s a girl?"
            "Honey Bunny's a mom!  She had seven babies and they're gross! All pink and wiggly, like worms."
           A few minutes later I knelt on the cool, concrete floor in the basement.  I peered into the crate.       Middle Child leaned against my back. 
          "I bet a rat snuck into the basement and mated her."
           I chuckled and tapped my son on the shoulder.  "Go get me a tablespoon." 
            He returned quickly.  I shivered when he put the spoon on my thigh.  I warmed it with my breath.  I opened the cage and carefully scooped up one lone baby bunny and deposited it on top of its siblings.  They were all snuggled in a heap, on a nest of silky soft, white fur.
            I turned to Oldest Child.  "Go upstairs and Google 'raising baby rabbits,'" I said.  "See if it's okay to touch 'em."
            Honey Bunny hunkered in the back of the crate.  I frowned.
            "She's not keeping them warm.  Not nursing 'em or anything.  She isn't very good at this mommy thing."
            "Maybe it's her first time," Middle Child said.
            My oldest daughter came back.  "A couple of websites say it's okay to touch them if the mother's tame."
            I counted days on my fingers.  "We've had her eight days and she's never bit anyone.  That means she's tame, right?"
            I reached in and stroked the baby on top of the pile.  I cooed.  It was soft and warm, like the back of a child's neck.
            The kids huddled around me. 
            "That one's gonna have black spots," Middle Child said.  "And I bet that one'll be all white."
            "Let's name 'em," my son said.  "The biggest one should be Goliath."
            "And we'll call that tiny guy, Gideon," I said.
            "The one that keeps leaving the pack," Oldest Child said, "He's an adventurer.  Let's call him Indiana Jones.  Indy for short."
            "We should call the one with black spots Domino," Middle Child said.
            It took us longer to name the others.  One became Pogo a few weeks later when it leapt into the air, over and over. 
            "Name something that's all white," I said.
            "Alaska," Oldest Child said as her eyes followed my gaze.  "And Juno's the capital of Alaska.  Let's call her Juno."
            "But what about the smallest white one?"  Middle Child said.  "How do you say white in French, Mommy?"
            "Je ne sais pas," I said.  "Bianca maybe?  Or is it Alba?"
            "Bianca Alba," Middle Child said.  "She's my favorite.  She's little like me."

I went to the Exotic Jungle on account of Bianca Alba.
            "Failure to thrive?" I said to the pre-vet salesgirl.  "Does that mean she'll die?"
            "Not necessarily," she said.  "Follow me."
            She stopped in front of a display.  "I've raised tons of baby rabbits by hand," she said.  "You need kitten milk.  And one of these eye droppers.  And some of this stuff." 
            She handed me a package of three small metal tubes.  "In the wild, they'd eat their mom's scat to get the healthy organisms for their gut, but since she's not bonded with them, give them each a little squirt of this once a week."
            We headed up to the cash register.  "She's not taking to them 'cause you held them.  You shouldn't touch them while they're pink.  Gotta wait until they get their peach fuzz."
            I whimpered.  "Aw, man!  The web--"
            She reached across the counter and patted my shoulder.  "Don't worry," she said.  "They'll be okay. I do this all the time."

One night I woke with the answer.  To why Bianca Alba wasn’t thriving.  I snuck down to the basement and peeked into the crate.  No nursing. 
            I pointed and hissed at Honey in the dark.  "Bad mommy!"
            "The website says they usually only nurse between the hours of midnight and five a.m.," I told my husband the next morning.  "Sometimes only once in a 24 hour period.  Man!  Rabbits must have super mama milk.  Still, I haven't seen 'em--" 
            My husband's eyes narrowed.
            I tilted my head.  "What?"
            "What are you up to?" he said.
            I shrugged.  "Nothing."  That you need to know about

After school I called for the kids.  They followed me to the basement.
            I pointed at them one by one.  "You, get a clean bath towel.  You, get Honey.  You, hold this strawberry basket while I get them and their fluff nest inside."
            "What are we doing, Mom?" Oldest Child said as we headed back upstairs.
            "We're gonna give Honey lactation training."
            I sat with my back against the dining room wall, the towel draped over my lap.
            "Hand me Honey."
            I stroked her and whispered into her long, warm ears.  "It'll feel like a Shop Vac on your nipples at first, but don't worry.  You'll get used to it."
            I flopped her on her back.  Nodded at my son. 
            "Hand me two babies."
            Each of the bunnies quickly located a teat.  They squirmed as they nursed, their back sides scooching left and right, like windshield wipers.  After ten minutes, the wriggling bodies relaxed.
            "They remind me of piranhas," my son said.  "Like the ones on the Discovery Channel.  Are they hurting her?"
            "Naw!" I said.  "She's fine.  Nudge Bianca.  She's asleep on the breast.  She needs it most of all."
            And that's how it went.  Twice a day, for weeks.  We bribed Honey with apples, carrots, and plantain leaves from the yard.  She gobbled our offerings non-stop while the babies nursed.  She was after all, eating for eight.

One day I squatted in front of the bunny crate.  Per usual, Bianca Alba was not with the others. 
            I used a broom handle to scoot her to them. "You have to stay with your brothers and sisters," I said.  “They'll keep you warm."
            I gave her extra nursings.  Encouragement too.  "Thrive, Baby Bianca.  Thrive."
            I fed her kitten milk in between feedings, putting the tiny dropper into her mouth and squeezing the rubber part.  I sighed as most of it ran down her chin and chest.
            "Let's stay up with her tonight, Mommy," Middle Child said one afternoon.  "To keep her warm.  And to feed her."
            I nodded.  And to pray for herI had this bad feeling.
            Middle Child lay on the love seat under her purple, fuzzy blanket.  I sprawled on the sofa with a zebra-striped throw.  We took turns feeding Bianca and holding her on our chests.
            "I'm giving you another name," I told Bianca at midnight.  "You're going to be Bianca Alba Lazarus 'cause Jesus is going to bring you back from the death cave."
            I wiped my eyes and sniffed.  'Cause I think that's where you're headed.
            She was so wee.  She'd fit in a quarter cup measure.  Her fur wasn't sleek like the others.'  It was streaked with milk and sickliness.
            "Another name," I whispered to her at three in the morning as she lay like a comma between my breasts.  "You need another name.  Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle.  That's your new name.  Please live, tiny angel bunny.  Please?"
            And then my prayer became my grief, and my grief woke Middle Child.
            She sat up suddenly, her eyes huge.  "Is she--?  Did she--?  Why are you--?" 
            Middle Child's breath sounded wheezy.  She held the sides of her face.
            "Oh, no!  But I prayed!  Why didn't God--"     
            I stroked Bianca with my pinky.  "See how peaceful she looks?" I said.  "She's all better.  Not here.  But better."
            I slept until daybreak with Bianca on my chest and Middle Child between my legs.  She'd cried herself to sleep there.
            I got up from the couch and covered her.  I took Bianca into the basement and wrapped her in some Honey Bunny fluff and a scrap of fuchsia silk.  She looked like a Valentine, for a dead person.  I tucked her into a jelly jar and screwed the lid on. 
            "Rest in peace, my peewee darling." 
            I set the container on the washer and fished in the laundry pile for one of my husband's t-shirts.  I covered my face with it, blew my nose, and sobbed.
            After lunch we all wrote goodbye love notes to Bianca and slid them in the jar. 
            That evening, my husband and son laid Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle to rest beneath the chestnut tree, beside the creek, with all our other beloved pets.
            "What did you say when you buried her?" I asked my husband when he came home.
            He wrapped me in his arms and spoke into my hair. 
            "I said, 'The Lord gave us eight bunnies, and the Lord took one away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."
            I nodded and spoke with a stuffed up nose.  "That's good.  That's real good."


ArtMuse Dog and Carol said...

Check my community on the post ~ How often do you blog? There is a compliment for you and I think it comes from a highly reputable media place ~ So you see you can do once a week and do quality ^_^

writingdianet said...

Carol!!! Thanks, friend! For letting me know about Dan's cool comment. Don't know that I would've ever found it if you didn't clue me in:)


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