Mrs. Dolores S. Milton sat at her kitchen table, sipping her decaffeinated tea and staring absentmindedly out the window of the small burrow she and her family called home. Mrs. Dolores S. Milton was a rabbit. Well, she preferred the term “bunny.”
“My mother was a rabbit, dear,” she would say with a gracious chuckle to anyone who made the mistake.
As the steam rolled lazily off her tea, Dolores thought about her mother. A fine rabbit, Dolores thought, if perhaps a bit old fashioned. She had been a wonderful mother to her six litters before she was carried off by a hawk. That was a day that had haunted Dolores for most of her adult life.
She had been with her mother in the meadow that day. They had just been going for a short walk, enjoying their woodland home. What could be more innocent than that? Dolores could still picture the way her mother’s small nose would quiver as she inspected whichever weed or wildflower had caught her attention. Dolores had wandered a few yards away, delighting in the sensation of the short grass tickling her fur-covered belly when she had felt the monstrous shadow pass over her.
She looked up to see the hawk’s dark, angular figure plummeting to the patch of ground where her mother sat, munching obliviously on the petal of a honeysuckle. She had barely been able to make a squeak of warning before the feathered beast already had her sweet mother grasped in its gleaming talons. She could hear the screams like it was yesterday. Numbly, she watched as her mother became just a speck in the sky before disappearing completely, leaving Dolores alone in the buttery afternoon sunlight, the serene meadow seemingly oblivious of the horror it had just been witness to. That had been the single most thrilling and horrendous day of her short life. She shook her head, trying to chase away the image.
“There’s no need to ruin a beautiful morning with such thoughts,” Dolores said to herself as she got up from the table and began to fix breakfast for her family.
“Mama, what is for breakfast?” came a small voice from the doorway, as a small rabbit hopped into the kitchen.
“Why, we’re having our droppings from last night, Henry,” Dolores said as she picked up her youngest. Henry was her baby, her only child who did not yet squirm away from her embrace or complain when she licked his fur. She kissed him on his fuzzy cheek and set him down in her vacated seat at the table. Of course she would never admit it, but Henry was her favorite.
“Mom, I’m not eating this morning. I don’t have time,” said Charlotte, combing her fur swiftly as she stood in the kitchen doorway. “And I’ve got a big project due tomorrow so I’ve got to stay late after school.”
“Alright, dear,” Dolores said, her nose giving an anxious twitch, “if you must.”
But she knew what “working on a big project” really meant. Her daughter had been up to no good for some weeks now. Dolores had tried to put a stop to it but she had many children to tend to and could not watch her eldest daughter’s every move.
Tilly told her it was just a phase. “Let her be,” she’d said jovially, “She’s not a kit anymore.” But Dolores could not help but worry as Charlotte came home night after night, fur mussed and smelling of dandelion wine.
“I’m going to be an actress, Mother,” Charlotte had responded haughtily when Dolores asked her about her plans after school. An actress! As far as Dolores was concerned she might as well have wanted to be a burlesque dancer down at that raccoon bar by the pond. (It was called Bandit’s and Dolores knew this full well although she feigned ignorance if it ever came up in conversation. “Oh, you know,” she would say vaguely, “that place down by Baker’s Pond. A total dive, I’ve heard.”) An actress… Dolores blamed herself. Charlotte was no name for an innocent bunny. It was a strumpet’s name, a tart! Charlotte was harlot with a few extra letters. Why had she watched all those soap operas while she was pregnant? Why?
Dolores watched Charlotte walk out the door without a word. Of course she would never admit it, but Charlotte was not her favorite.
Kevin came next into the kitchen.
“Awww, poop again?” he whined, “but we reingested our feces for breakfast yesterday!”
“And you will tomorrow morning, as well,” Dolores said sternly, “Until all the nutrients are absorbed.”
Kevin grumbled a bit more but sat down beside Henry and had his meal. Dolores rubbed his ears lovingly. Kevin had always been a bit of a troublemaker but he had a good heart. “Kits will be kits,” thought Dolores, “but Mother knows best.”
The rest of the bunnies passed through the kitchen, eating quickly and gathering their things, and after a small fight between Alan and Doug was diffused (“There’s no need for that alpha behavior, boys!”), they all hopped off to school. As Dolores began to clean up after her children her thoughts fell on her mother once more. Her mother who had been such a good rabbit, living a careful life, never stepping out of line, and yet, taken away by the sharp talons of death at such a young age. Dolores had always looked up to her prudent mother, had always prided herself in following her careful paw prints. She had used her mother’s life as a template for her own and it had never bothered her in the least but for some reason, on this sunny morning, the thought left a sour taste in her mouth.
However, before Dolores could reflect any further, her husband shuffled into the kitchen, his whiskers aquiver, small necktie askew.
“Honey, I’m late again. Could you just wrap up some of the kids’ leftovers for me?” Craig asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Of course, sweetie,” Dolores said, scooping some of the soft pellets into a small paper bag.
“What are you up to today?” enquired Craig casually as he sifted through the morning paper, drinking his coffee in small, quick sips.
“I told you yesterday, I’m going over to Tilly’s,” Dolores told her mate, “She’s just had another litter and I promised to go over the first couple days and make sure she doesn’t eat any of them.”
“Oh, right,” Craig mumbled offhandedly, “Of course, well, give Tilly and Todd my love. I’ll come see the new additions this weekend. It’s just been Hell at the office lately with all the new accounts. How many?”
“I think nine this time.”
Craig looked up from his paper with raised eyebrows. “Well, good gracious, I’d eat some of them too, with a litter of nine,” he chuckled to himself.
“Now, Craig…” Dolores chastised, but she smiled. She had always been secretly proud of the small litters of three or four that she and Craig produced. A bit classier, she thought. Sophisticated. Obviously, she would never judge her dear friend for her gigantic hillbilly litters. It was not her fault, of course. It was just nature. “Some of us breed quality and some of us breed quantity,” Dolores thought smugly to herself, “That’s just the way it goes.”
Craig finished his coffee and quickly kissed Dolores’ cheek before rushing out the door, running back in seconds later after remembering he’d forgotten his lunch, and rushing out once more without giving his wife a second glance.
“Have a good day, dear,” Dolores said as Craig hopped away, but he didn’t hear her.
Dolores finished tidying up her empty kitchen and drank her now lukewarm tea before setting out into the woods, enjoying the warm day and the sound of fallen leaves crunching beneath her paws. She reached Tilly’s burrow fifteen minutes later and knocked softly on the knotted door before letting herself in.
“Hello,” she called, stepping lightly so as not to wake any sleeping kits.
“Oh, Dolores, I’m so glad you’re here,” Tilly called from the living room, “Come in, come in!”
Dolores walked into the living room to find Tilly lounging on her couch.
“Where are the kits?” Dolores asked, looking around.
“Oh, they’re in the nest in the bedroom. They should be up from their nap soon, but sit down!” Tilly said excitedly, “You’re so good to come visit me.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Dolores said as she patted Tilly’s paw, “Now tell me how you’ve been.”
“I’ve been well, thank you. A little tired,” Tilly said with a small smile.
“Well, of course you are. That was quite a litter!” laughed Dolores.
“It was indeed. But, I’ve been feeling better. I’m sure I look a fright though,” Tilly said in a way that was meant to be cavalier, but Dolores could sense true self-consciousness, “I pulled out so much fur for the nest… I look like I’ve got the mange!”
“Oh, Tilly, don’t be embarrassed. It will grow back in no time. It’s what any good mother would do; it’s what’s right for your babies. Why, I was reading an article in Bunny’s Home Journal the other day that said they’re making synthetic rabbit fur to line the nest.
“Can you imagine?” Dolores said incredulously, “Being so vain that you would deprive your kits of the comfort of their own mother’s fur?”
“Oh, that’s horrible. Some rabbits just shouldn’t be allowed to procreate,” Tilly said, shaking her head before suddenly exclaiming, “Oh, how rude of me! Could I get you anything to eat, dear?”
“I’m alright, but you’re the one who’s just given birth to a litter of nine. Is there anything you would like me to get for you?”
“Oh no, I’m fine,” Tilly replied relaxing back into the couch cushions, “I just finished the afterbirth this morning and now I’m simply bursting at the seams.”
“Why, I forgot all about the afterbirth,” Dolores said, her smile fading slightly, “I haven’t been pregnant in such a long time…”
“It has been at least half a year. Aren’t you and Craig trying anymore?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Dolores mumbled as she stared at a crack in the coffee table, “It’s just… different now. Sometimes I wish it was like it used to be.”
“You can’t tell me you miss coming home from the bars late every night, drenched in some overzealous buck’s urine?” Tilly joked.
“Of course not,” Dolores laughed.
“Do you remember Gus? He used to spray every doe in the bar and then introduce himself!”
“Oh, Tilly. You know I don’t miss single life, but I feel like the spark is gone. I remember when Craig and I first met, he used to lick me all the time. He was so sweet, he would follow me wherever I went trying to get a sniff! Now I’m lucky to get a kiss on the cheek in the morning. We’ve become so complacent. It’s the same thing everyday.”
“Dolores, that’s how any relationship goes. The beginning is always the most exciting but then you settle into a routine, a sense of stability. When Todd and I were first married the sex used to last almost a minute!”
“Oh my,” murmured Dolores. She had always been much too prim to discuss her sex life but, although she would never admit it, she quite enjoyed how frank Tilly was about her own.
“Now I’m lucky to get even fifteen or twenty seconds. But would I trade the stability that I have now for the old days? Of course not,” Tilly said, as if that settled the matter, “Todd and I are happy to live a quiet life with our children.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Dolores said resignedly, “It’s just that I’m almost four years old. I’m no spring chicken. Sometimes I wonder if Craig… If he ever wants…”
“Now, you’re just being ridiculous, Lore,” Tilly scolded, “Craig would never. Now, let’s put this silliness behind us and talk about something else.”
“You’re right,” Dolores said, shaking her head, “Of course you’re right. I’ve been being foolish.” But deep down, she wasn’t quite sure.
“I feel like I’ve been practically quarantined from the rest of the world ever since I had the babies,” Tilly said, back to her usual cheerful self, “I’m positively starved for news. Have you heard any good gossip?”
Dolores had. And so, the two friends chatted the afternoon away, talking about how Patty Smith’s daughter Penny had eloped with a hare (“Oh my goodness! I would disown her!”) and one of Jean Fitzpatrick’s kits had been born with wolf-teeth (“Poor Jean, dental work is so darn expensive”). They talked about how one of Fran Douglas’ kits had gotten his sister pregnant (“Well, that’s her own fault. Everyone knows you have to separate them after four weeks.”) and how Dolores would soon have to wean Charlotte and kick her out of the burrow (“Oh, dear, that must be so hard for you”).
Later, they went into the bedroom to watch the pink, hairless, sightless kits sleeping in a heap in their nest, their tiny chests lifting up and down.
“My little angels,” Tilly said, adoring her new brood.
“They look just like Todd!” Dolores exclaimed.
“I know he was so pleased. He wants to name them all Todd Jr. but I told him that might get confusing.”
“Oh, I see you have a runt in this litter,” Dolores said, her eyes falling on a tiny kit lying slightly apart from his brothers and sisters.
“Yes, I think I’m going to have to abandon him,” Tilly said gravely, “If I had a smaller litter it would be different but I only have six nipples! I can’t feed them all.”
“It’s such a shame but it happens to all of us,” Dolores said, “Maybe you could slip him in with Jean’s new litter. She only had three, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind raising another. It’s only been a couple days, she might not even notice he’s not hers.”
“Maybe I will,” Tilly said unconvincingly.
It was time for Tilly to nurse, so the two said their goodbyes, kissing each other’s furry cheeks and agreeing that they simply must do this again sometime soon.
So, Mrs. Dolores S. Milton returned to her burrow, to her quiet life, her monotonous routines, and her impervious husband. She returned to the life she had wanted since she’d been in high school, just a swooning young doe with pictures of her favorite movie stars and lead singers of bands whose names she could no longer remember taped to the inside of her locker. The life her mother had always wanted for her. The life she thought she had always wanted for herself.
But as she hopped through the forest, the late afternoon sun streaming through the branches, she closed her eyes for just a moment and wished that she could feel that hawk’s dark shadow on her back once again.