THE RABBIT COOP
by G. David Schwartz © 2005
So, it is just like they say: Even the most horrible disaster will get worse. Apparently, I have reached the stage in life where the fact of whether I put the toilet seat down, or take the trash out in a sufficiently quick manner, is a major factor in decisions made in Washington, London, Bonn and Paris. I can't explain life any better than that!
I don't have a reason for doing what I did. I don't even have a hint of a reason. What I do have is the flavor of a suggestion of a reason.
A friend of mine told me a joke. He said, "You know, my wife is so stupid that I told her it was chilly outside and she went for a bowl and spoon." Isn't that the way wives are? You marry them intelligent and one of you turn stupid.
Maria? She's like poetry in motion - which is fine if you like moving poetry! The truth is, Maria beats eggs and rips lettuce. She cuts chickens into parts and dices onions. She tears bread and lights candles. She is a violent woman. Anyone in their right mind would simply keep their distance and not bother her. Me? Well, let's just say Maria is every bit as intelligent as she was the day I married her.
A wife should say, "I'm sorry I was so rushed I didn't have time to cook ahead." Well, I would have answered, "That's all right, dear. I wouldn't eat a head." But women never think about your feelings. Never. They only think about what's best for the family.
Well, the family...
Sure. But what seems best for the family typically turns out to be when we begin one conversation in a generally family manner and end by her being angry with me. In fact, I should be use to the idea, by now, that any conversation which begins anywhere with Maria involved will wind up with me as an object of scorn and derision. I should be use to it by now. The only problem seems to be this nagging craving I have to speak and be heard. Maria said, "Tell Petrov to go to bed."
"Go to bed, Petrov," I say.
"I don't wanna."
Maria said, "Tell Petrov to go to bed now."
"I just told him," I say, "Don't you ever listen to me?"
Which, by the end of her answer, I am in the wrong! Not considerate! Every time she wants to clean out the coal bin, or paint the attic, or shovel the snow, or clean the bathroom, I stay out of her way, don't I? Of course I do!
So at the end of the fight - Petrov has been in bed for hours by then - she gives me a long milky look. I gave her a crust of bread smile. She says, "Is that the way it is?" And I'll tell you the truth. I am so habituated by now that if I think I know something is the way I think it is, then it ain't. So I say, "No." She said, "What?" But I mean, she said it like she already knew what, and I was the one who didn't know what's what. So I say, "What?" like I genuinely want to know the answer, and she says, "You can spend the night in the barn for all I care, that's what." So I said, "Fine," and stamp my feet heavily against the floor as I leave our humble home and slam the door as hard as I possibly can. Then I remember. We don't have a barn! What I end up spending the night in is the dead of winter.
Luckily, part of my face was warmer than the rest of me. I couldn't tell you which part because it, too, was frozen. I'm just kidding. It was my upper lip. My moustache kept me warmer on my upper lip. Certainly warmer than it kept me on my knees. You see, you think, and remember, thoughts of delirium when you spend the night outdoors. Odd thoughts just freeze in your skull. My sister Katrina claims that is why people who live in or around Norilsk are so thick-headed. But my upper lip must have been in the employee of Maria because it collected ice and dripped onto my chin, which only made my chin colder than it would have been if I didn't have the damn moustache. So I resolved to shave the moustache. And if I was going to shave the moustache, I should shave the beard as well so I do not look foolish.
In the morning, I tried to sneak back in the house.
Actually, I didn't try to sneak, but my back was bent because it had frosted and froze in a strange position, which made me look like I was sneaking when all I was really doing was trying to get warm. Maria met me at the door with an ominous spatula in her hand.
"Where do you think you're going?" she asked.
"I think," I said, "I am going to sit under the 100 watt bulb in the lamp in the living room. But you know me. I could be wrong."
Maria tapped her foot, but all she said was, "You look foolish."
Imagine. And I still had both the beard and moustache. So I resolve to keep them both. Actually, this turn of events pleased me. The only reason I have the moustache is sentimental. When I was a child, my grandfather owned one of the larger grape farms in Georgia. His was the first farm to become mechanized. I always admired my grandfather and always wanted to grow things, but I was too young. So once -- it was very cold that day -- I put a caterpillar on my upper lip and called it a moustache. My grandfather was delighted. He told me when I was old enough, I should be sure to grow a moustache so I would be able to remember my childhood. I do not know how this moustache was supposed to have helped me remember, but I grew one. This one! And I kept it.
So I'm feeling warm and tingly thinking about my grandfather on his farm while I am in the kitchen and Maria says, "Don't you have something to say to me?
My friends, I am no fool. I know when I've said enough already. So I tell Maria, "I have nothing to say; no."
How she did it, I don't know. The spatula hit my head at the same time as both her legs kicked me in both shins, and her arms pushed me out the door. Boom, I go. So I think to myself: You have the moustache. Remember something warm from your childhood.
So I remember one time I ran up to my grandfather while he was busy standing around doing nothing, which is to say watching the workers, and I say, "Grandpa. Grandpa. Tell me a story." So he tells me a story. It's the story of once upon a time. Well, once upon a time it seems that both men and women were one entity. I say, "What's an entity?" and Grandpa says, "A being. So once upon a time..."
"What's a being?" I say.
"A living thing. So once..."
"You mean, any living thing?"
"Leo," he tells me; he always called me Leo, "Listen to the story. It will answer all your questions. So once upon a time both men and women were one entity, one being, one person. So one day the original person sneezed really, really hard, and they were separated. End of story."
A good story? A fair story. But I was thinking about my grandfather's story when the events, which led to this very story, began to ravel themselves around me.
I am standing in the freezing cold when who should come marching up the street but my wife's cousin Vlasic and his wife Natasha, and what should they be pulling but a rope, and what is attached to the end of that rope but a wagon, and what is on the wagon but every single possession they own in this world. And what do I say but "Hello, Vlasic!"
"Hello, Leon," he says in return.
While Vlasic and I are engaged in this intellectual discussion, Natasha walks into the very door I was recently thrown from by the fierce, furious, fuming Maria and what does she get? Hugs! Welcomes! Invitations in! Coffee! Breakfast! And what did I not get that morning? You guessed it.
So Vlasic and I are standing in the yard and he is watching me shift from one leg to another. I am freezing. But his behavior seems only natural to me because he is a shiftless person. And stupid! You would swear he was from Norilsk. You know the old saying, 'Pull out one gray hair and two more grow back?' Vlasic's hair is salt and pepper on one side of his head while wholly white on the other. He thought the saying was 'more grow black'!
I'll give you another example. The last time Vlasic visited was the summer four years ago. We were not living at this house, but one in Nikolayev , which had wonderful trees, planted all over our district. I remember looking into one of the trees and I remarked, "There must be something in these trees, whatever kind they are, which attracts wasps before they bloom."
"Wasps bloom?" he said.
"I mean the sap in there."
"Are you saying there is sap in me?"
"No. I was looking at you, but the sap was in my sentence only."
"Doesn't that make your sentence awful sticky?"
So you know the kind.
"Nu? So what's new?"
"Nu-thing," I told him.
"This your new place."
"Sure. New. A few months."
"And how's business."
"Business is business."
"What else?" he says, like he, who never worked a day in his life, knew what business was.
"And what?" I say.
"And what else?"
"Else? Nothing else."
So, to cut short the rest of our conversation from which I know you're getting bored of as well, Vlasic and I end up in the back yard where he sees the rabbit coop and then, in his words, " tender and cutsie" rabbits. I can see he's never cleaned rabbit shit before. He has never cleaned anything before.
"What do you mean?" he responds to my first remark, the second being only in my head.
"I mean, these rabbits are a major chore in life. They shit three times their weight every day. And they never stop eating."
"So why do you keep them?"
"They're Petrov's pets."
"So Petrov takes care of them? Why should you worry?"
"Yeah! Petrov takes care of them?" Like Natasha married a millionaire brain surgeon.
He must have noted the sarcasm in my voice. "Oh? Problems?"
"Like I said. They eat too much. They shit themselves silly. They don't take care of themselves. And they're difficult to take care of." I have to stop and think. It sounds like I am talking about Vlasic.
Suddenly, and out of nowhere, Vlasic says, "We're pregnant?"
"Natasha and I are pregnant."
"Vlasic! That's wonderful news!" How in the hell are you going to feed and take care of a child?
"That's why we're here?"
"We're on our way to Sovetskaya. My father's brother's daughter's husband works on a dock. He has promised me a job."
"No, I'm serious. I am going to turn my life around. I am going to be a family man."
"I am going to work hard, make something of myself, and make my son or my daughter proud of me."
"Vlasic! That's great to hear."
"And I want to start now. I want to take this rabbit coop off your hands. You obvious don't like it. They give you fits. You're annoyed. I'll take it off your hands and keep it until my child is of age to take care of the rabbits, and clean the cages, and enjoy the rabbits. I'll do it, not only for you, who are so kind and deserve something as thanks for your kindness for all these years, but for my children. My children, do you hear."
Did I hear? I was delighted to give him the rabbits, and the cages, and the shit, and the foul smell, and the burden, and the hassles. They were his. With my blessings! Take them! Take them!
So we shook. I was convinced the handshake would stand up in a court of law as an agreement, which could not be broken. How would I explain the missing rabbits to Petrov? He would never notice. But I would tell him the rabbits had passed on to a far, far better place. Sovetskaya!
I ran ahead of Vlasic to the house. Maria met me at the door. Her smile was a duplicate of my own. We were both jumping up and down with excitement. Then suddenly I thought: Why is she so happy?
"Maria," I said, "Do you have something to tell me?"
"Oh, yes," she said, "The most wonderful news!"
"I have wonderful news, too," I screamed at her.
"I have excellent news. You know how I've been complaining about the rabbits, and how hard they are to take care of, and how they shit themselves into a spell each and every day, and how if we did not cart the shit out of town we would have nowhere ourselves to live?"
Maria showed a glimmer of following my discussion.
"Well, the good news is that I have given them to your cousin Vlasic and his wife Natasha. They are going to take them away with them. They are going to rid our home of them. They are going to... What?"
"Natasha just told me Vlasic's job fell through and they're broke, and hungry, and have nowhere to live, so I invited them to stay with us until they get back on their feet again."
So my deal to be rid of the rabbits only gained me another leech that I have to clean up after. So you see why I agree that things only get worse. And it gets worse day by day. No sooner has Maria trained me to put the toilet seat down than Vlasic is living with us and leaving it up. And who do you think gets the blame?
You guessed it.
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