Rabbit

I started hanging clothes when the dryer broke. I don’t know what went wrong, but after an hour and a half of tumbling, our bed sheets still weren’t dry. We have two big trees in the yard that are perfect for a clothesline. I sank a nail into each and wound a strong piece of twine from one to the other. The taut line came up to my eyebrows, a tiny hay colored line that defined our green horizon. I draped the sheets and towels and our shirts over it and watched them wave like flags on the wind. I don’t know why I didn’t tell my husband.

He never goes out back anyway. He makes it as far as the garage, stumbling around in the dark like an anguished ghost that haunts the gardening tools. I never took apart the workbench or the board with nails and hooks that hold up his tools. The tools are still hung in an irregular grid, each empty hole between the nails a socket without an eye. My husband worries I will sell his tools now that he cannot use them. I have seen men with four fingers build cabinets with secret drawers and dovetail joints. A blind man can fix a deck chair.

The tools in the garage are rusty. If we need something fixed, my husband has me drive him to the hardware store. I walk him to the counter and watch him take over. He holds the broken object out in both hands, talking to the guy about what went wrong and how he suspects it happened. I watch the guy nod, then slowly catch on and begin to say “yes” and “ok” instead. It took me a long time to get used to that. It was like being on the radio when you were used to being on TV.

So that is how we fix things now. The tools in the garage are just there for him to visit, to put his hands on and sigh, like he used to, but deeper.

He trapped rabbits as a child in the English countryside. He had a terrier and knew the intricate knots of a snare that could pop a rabbit’s foot off. He says he will never forget the sight of the animals thrashing in the wire, caught in the invisible leghold over the entrance to the hole. We have a picture of that little boy with a rabbit slung on his shoulder. The boy’s eyes are sullen to the rabbit’s lifeless black beads, two dark pits that trap light down inside. But the memories, my husband assures me, are pleasant. I wonder if all memories change when you lose something so integral to your being, if I would remember restless legs with fondness if I were cut off at the knees.

We adjusted to the practical chores. I took over most of the hard ones. Driving, slicing bread, doing anything that requires a relatively straight line. My husband does the other things: fluff the throw pillows, feed the dog. Mostly he walks around bumping his knees on furniture. I sometimes forget to move chairs back after I vacuum. The bruises on his shins and knees stir up the guilt inside me, as if I was the one responsible for his loss, in some tertiary way. He refuses to get a stick even though our insurance will cover one. He says it would make him feel like an invalid, like something that was canceled midway through production.

“It would help you move around. Become an independent,” I say.

“I’m already independent. I can do everything like before.”

I catch myself watching him like one watches a baby learning to crawl, ready to leap forward and knock aside anything that stands in his way. But he is careful, walking with his hands facing forward, re-remembering the walls. I wait until he is seated by the radio before I bring the clothes inside from the new drying line.

It’s the little things that are hard for him. It bothers him if I change the hand soap in the bathroom from coconut to lemon, or if I let the batteries die in the kitchen clock. He never complains, but I catch him sniffing the pump with a disapproving frown, or standing in the kitchen holding his breath, anticipating the next tick like an absent heartbeat. He steps on things. Maybe not more than he did before, but now his tactile instinct is heightened and sharp. Last week he brought me a button that fell off his shirt two years ago and asked me to sew it back on. I don’t know how he knew which button he had found, but as he peeled it off the bottom of his foot, his exact words were, “Janey, will you sew this white button back on my grey shirt?” He can tell by the sound the cheap bulbs make in the lamp when they will burn out, as if the darkness he lives in lures our home through its unbroken tunnel one watt at a time.

I thought it wouldn’t matter now if I cut my hair. When I came home from the parlor he could smell the styling gel, the fancy shampoo. He felt my hair with his fingers and frowned. “I don’t like it,” he said. I reached for his face next, traced the crevasse on his temple the color of new skin. “Too bad,” I said.

I let it all grow back.

My eyes pop open in the middle of the night, surrounded in darkness at the center of the rabbit’s moonless eye. I slide my hand through the indents on his chest in search of a heartbeat. It bumps against my hand. I put my head back on the pillow. It smells like cool, fresh air, or wind coming off a frozen lake. After two years, I’m still the only one with nightmares.

I try the dryer again but it still doesn’t work. Summer is almost over. It will be pleasant to air dry for the remaining weeks. As I gather the wet clothes in my arms to take to the clothesline, a sputter catches outside the backyard window. I look to see my husband leaning against the mower. He toes the edge of the grass with his shoe and pushes off in a steady line, confident now behind his favorite tool.

The mower roars over my shout.

The wide lines of shorn grass are irregular, but it doesn’t matter to him. I watch him push forward like a hare headed for a trap, about to catch, but happy at the moment to be flying.

 

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