Rabbitproof fence

"Oh," said M.

It was some time ago, early morning, as gray as one normally feels on a workday, and M said "oh" as she looked out the window. Actually, what she said was "ohhh...", trailing and sad. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Something got our bunny," she replied.

We don't own a bunny. We don't even own the four cats who live in our house; rather, we are fairly owned by them. We do feel a kind of attachment to the wildlife that makes regular appearances in our backyard, though, and so have come to think of Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, the squirrels Spike and Frosty, the feral cats Jack and Missy Calico and Nameless Black Kitty and the like as "ours." We thought of the gray rabbit in the same way, having watched it grow from a tiny thing the size of your fist to a gangly vegetable-stealing teenager of a bunny.

I joined M at the side window and saw what she was talking about: A mangled heap of gray fur and red flesh, not in our yard but that of our neighbors to the east, just on the other side of the fence.

"Oh," I echoed. No more vegetables for Thumper.

"Do you think it was a cat?" asked M. "Or maybe one of the hawks?"

I shook my head, having no idea. The neighboorhood cats certainly wouldn't mind some impromptu hassenpfeffer if they could get it, but I had trouble imagining one of them taking down a rabbit that size. It was a lot easier to envision a hawk being responsible. We'd had a series of visits by one or another red-tailed (we think) hawk over the previous weeks; the first visit was the most startling. I had entered the kitchen, glanced idly through the window and found myself meeting the fierce, intent gaze of the bird as it sat atop a pole the yard of our west side neighbor. We didn't think of the hawks as "ours." God only knew what they thought of us.

But would hawks just abandon prey? I would have thought that they would soar aloft with newly-acquired food for private dining in some treetop. Serves me right for not subscribing to Animal Planet.

M and I had scant time to wonder about the rabbit's demise; we were running late for gainful employment and made our mad dash out of the house.

"I don't think they know about the rabbit," M said as we pulled away. She was referring to our neighbors, Lisa (upstairs) and the Bryants (downstairs), and she was almost certainly right. The animal's carcass would not be easily spotted by anyone leaving the back door of their building, and that side of the yard was infrequently visited by anyone living there, so they - unlike us - would remain blissfully ignorant.

At day's end, we returned home. The dead rabbit lay just where we had last seen it on the other side of the fence.

"I guess we'll have to tell them," said M. "Though I'm not sure if we should tell Lisa."

I was sure that we should definitely not tell Lisa, a sweet woman and a young one whose father owned the duplex in which she lived. I had once entered her apartment at her behest in order to dispose of a dead mouse. This rabbit business would be well beyond her.

"Maybe Jim instead," I suggested.

Jim was the older guy living with his elderly mother in the downstairs apartment next door. Not likely to finch at unpleasant cleanup duties, but the problem was pinning him down for a quick chat. Jim was always coming and going at irregular hours.

This presented a bit of a social dilemma. It seemed somehow awkward and odd to ring Jim's doorbell and say, "You got a dead critter out back." Phoning would have seemed even more strange - if we had his phone number, which we did not. It seemed a simpler matter to just enter their yard and do the business myself. I'd worked in their yard several times, clearing brush ala George Bush, weeds and shrubs that disrespected boundaries; this was just more of the same, really.

Except that I couldn't do it.

I don't think of myself as being much more squeamish than the next person, most of the time. And I'd had a fair amount of experience picking up the bodies of losers in Nature's struggle. Mice, snakes, countless birds. The odd possum, even. I was extremely reluctant to handle this dead rabbit, however. Maybe it was because it had been, in my mind, one of "our" critters. Most likely, though, my reticence had to do with the...mangledness of the poor thing. Not a pretty picture, this rabbit.

So I left matters as they lay, and waited. I waited a day. Nothing much changed.

I waited another day. Nothing new to report. Thank God it was fairly cold.

Day four of the dead rabbit brought new developments, early. Something had gnawed at the carcass; there was a definite and discernable loss of, well, tissue. One bone stuck up out of the mass, newly cleaned.

At the end of that day, I saw that the corpus had been not only further worried, but had been dragged away from its previous location. It was now a distance away from the fence and quite near the back porch of the building next door.

"Ah," I said.

The next morning, I came downstairs, fed the cats, brewed a pot of coffee, poured myself a cup. I drew near the side window and peered outside.

The rabbit was gone. Nothing left, not even fur.

My assumption was and is that Jim spotted the critter's body in its new and more visible position and disposed of it. It's always possible (though unlikely) that Lisa took care of it, however.

All well and good, then, except that I was left with a sense of having failed some small test, the kind of situation that life tosses you now and again just to show you to yourself. You never like to think that feeble responses are part of your toolbox, but they seem to be included in mine.

Note to self: Better tools, please.

I'd put off committing this story to the weblog, telling myself that I'd get around to it one of these days and quite possibly lying to myself about that. But I saw something outside the window this morning that prompted to write this.

A young rabbit, hopping about the snow-covered expanse of our backyard, searching for food.


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