The Hutch [Short Story]

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The rabbit hutch was about three foot tall, and came up to Olivia’s waist. It was second-hand, and the wooden parts were starting to rot, but she liked how the waterproofing on the sloping roof felt rough under her fingertips. She lightly dragged the pads of her hands on its sandpapery surface as she circled the contraption, in a trance, every evening. Four sweeping strides along the length, and one around the width.

She walked round and around the hutch, stroking its spine as though it were the pet itself. Sometimes she spoke softly, reassuring the hutch that it would like its new inhabitant very much.  The hairs on her arm went up with excitement whenever she spoke the word: “Rabbit.”

She shattered the heavy summer silence in the back garden.

“Rabbit.”

The word reverberated through the air. She rolled the ‘r’ luxuriously, but her lips popped loudly at the double ‘b’, making her jump. The letters she imagined in front of her, floating in the air, and covered in a hazelnut down, wriggled slightly like kits and then burst before her eyes, like clumps of fur falling to the patio. She blinked. There was nothing but her own shadow on the dusty floor.

Her face flushed red as she looked away in embarrassment. She concentrated again, pushing her index finger into the corner of the roof. She reached the front in two quick steps. It was the 486th time she’d circled the hutch. She wanted to make it a round five hundred before the front door latch inevitably went, any moment now. If she picked up the pace she could do so without too much difficulty.

She heard gravel crunch at 495, and the satisfying click of the lock at 498. She saw black spots in her periphery – the last survey of the hut had been enough to induce the loud dizziness that comes just before fainting. She blinked. The door closed softly, like it was concealing a secret. The hutch creaked. Suddenly her tongue felt too big, and like it was made of the waterproofing on the roof of the hutch. She clenched her fists and squared up to her reflection in the patio door, eyebrows furrowed.

Her father came into view suddenly, like an apparition. His arms were cradling something. The sunlight was distorting: she strained but all she could see was her own face: red, intense and pining.

Then she saw the rabbit, peeking out over the crumples in his sleeves, nestled into his forearm. She thought she could hear purring, snuffling. His smile was ice white, his skin brown and creasing, with a light sweat on his brow. She avoided the eyes that did not know how to look kind and instead saw only his suit jacket. Crisp, anonymous. He could have been anyone.

Her stare bored through the glass. The letters appeared on the window in rainbow hues, smudged fingerprints. The ‘a’ was swimming across and merging into the first ‘b’, which bumped lazily into the second.  She squinted and the word disappeared into a kaleidoscope, frazzling her pupils. She blinked. His knees were now bent, his arms extended, in his goodbye/hello stance. It was well practiced: twice a month.

She stared at his shoes, pointed and leathery, with toes wiggling underneath.  She looked back up. The pulsating fluff was gone from the crease of his elbow. Scanning the floor for its movements, she saw the carpet was upturned and a shadow behind the sofa.

She threw the patio door open and made a dash, teeth bared like a hunter, eyes wet like a mother. But her father was quicker: he scooped her up on the fourth step. Same aftershave, different in-flight meal.  His forearms wrapped tightly around her, like a trap.

Then, all of a sudden, the rabbit appeared, but not bouncing across the floor as she expected. It had fallen into her view from above, and was now hovering at eye level, as though possessed. Nose to nose, she felt the nuzzle of whiskers.

Then, all at once, it shot out of sight, back towards the heavens, and she tumbled from her father’s arms, spinning round to square up to him..  He held the rabbit at arm’s length above her. At first glance she thought he was suspending it by the scruff. She was sure she saw it by the scruff.

She blinked. She was mistaken.

He was holding it by the label.

He laughed a hearty, contrived and meticulously planned laugh. The laugh of an actor in a film who is under-paid and over-practised. It rang through the house, and seemed to ripple across the wooden flooring. She stared upwards, shaking. The rabbit’s button eyes were dull and scratched. The stuffing was falling out of the bottom, slightly, innards sprawling, embarrassingly.

She stroked her arm, willing the downy hair to sit horizontally. Her eyes felt hollow, and she felt as though her stomach was lying discarded on the floor, heaving.

In the garden, the hutch collapsed.

 

Image Credit: Niel3K via Compfight

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