Graveyard Rabbit by Joshua Carpenter

Palatino kept her trail right along with me. She’s a good hound when she wants to be. At least to me not Brother. Brother says its cause we’re both girls. Says we both smell so good for good reason. I don’t pay him no mind, even though he’s telling the truth. Palatino is my little precious Puddin and she knows it, whether or not her lazy eye cain’t find me in the dark in Momma’s old room when I’m playin hidey mouse from her.

I popped us both out through the backdoor, stepping tippy toe on the porch to miss the barkin cracks. Had to take her out when Brother was sleepin. Whenever he falls asleep. Dew pools the grass when he’s finally asleep. Always lookin out at the wind and the dark stars past the warbled tree line. He screams out there. Goes out like I’m goin out now and stands in the pike grass. He don’t know I see it, but I do. He don’t make a sound, but his face stretches like what you do when you make a loud one. I hear it when he’s asleep. At least what I think is him cryin for Momma. I say Daddy’s just up the hill aways, always there for ya. He says shut up Phaedra. Shut up or I’ll hit you.

I git out of sight of the porch. Lights are off so I know Lorrie’s sleepin. The tree by the house up the hill looks like its waving to me.

Brother looks off into the brush. He’s awake on the porch when Auntie Lorrie can’t stay awake. He says there’s a rabbit out there, Phae. There’s a rabbit out there and it’s the same black one from two months ago. Lorrie planted her in the wood box in the sign of the head, so she says the rabbit makes sense. It’s always there. It’s always around hobblin. Imma see for mysailf if the rabbit’s there tonight.

Pally ruts through the dew like a plowl, like ol hog findin’ simmon seeds and peach nuts. She’ll find him. I pat her the way she likes to hear me pat her, same with Brother, scept he pats a little harder. Cain’t tell if she likes that or not but she don’t complain, just turns her head all po’jo like when the river don’t show the fish the way he’s used to. She smells something, but it ain’t what I need. I tug her along. She usually puts up a fight but it’s nearly morning, so I guess she’s tired.

Fray limbs scare me. Like old lady hands creepin over. Trynna pinch my cheek when I come see ’em. Creepin through, hiding, not hidin. Pally slunks by ’em. She’s used to the old folk. I still don’t like it when I think I see a hoot owl peekin through their fingers. Their wrinkle bark showin through the blue moon. I love the moon when it’s like a hen’s aig, like a buttermilk plate. Momma said it’ll hatch, chickadee, if you sing it a song long enough, but I always start to get sleepy just when it looks like it’s bout to crack. Momma says it gets bright when its gonna hatch. One time I woke up and a hen was borned outside in the pen. Momma said it was my moonhen. She said we couldn’t keep it though, cause it had a wonky leg and wouldn’t eat. I cried, but Daddy went and scooped a new chick and said, look it’s your new chick. This’n hatched when the sun went down while Momma was singin to you. I told him she stopped singin cause her throat wouldn’t let her keep singin but he said hush and it was my new chick. I named it Hainty like the haint-blue ceiling on Lorrie’s porch.

The trees kinda look like Lorrie’s porch ceiling when the moon hits the trunks and the branches, but that don’t help ’em lookin like old lady hands. I only look down while we walk. Pally’s tail and her big back feet step in and out of my eyes while we walk. But then she goes behind me and I have to lead the way. It’s alright though. I know where we’re goin. My legs are cold, but I put on some long johns of Brother’s. They itch but they keep me from shakin like leaves and the janglin parts of Pally’s collar. I tuck them in her folds around her neck but she keeps dippin her head and liftin and dippin and the jinglin starts again and I don’t mind. I just leave it. We’ll be there soon. A hoot owl up along the way keeps barkin, or a coyote. Sometimes I get them confused.

When the trees clear I know I’m by the road. I follow the dirt long ways with Pally now walkin by me. She’s good like that. She stays on the side of me to make sure I don’t fall in the road. Daddy showed her to catch a rabbit long time ago, and, when he did, I saw them walkin down the road while I was playin with a Junebug and Brother. We ran up to him and he got mad because he was trynna keep Pally calm. She was smaller with a big head and big feet and big tail but the rest of her wasn’t that big, just a lot of tan and skin. My feet hurt in my shoes. I like ’em, though, I don’t mind. Lorrie got them new for us. She’s got a better job. She works with the valley, so she has shoes all year long. It’s nice of her. They still are stiff though so they hurt. I wish Pally had shoes but she don’t mind. She likes her toenails clicking the dirt. They stab it like a hardtail does when it’s mad but she’s not mad nearly ever except when Brother don’t know how to pet her.

The church is like a smokehouse painted silver squirrel gray. It’s pale at day but I see why people come here at night. I see why Daddy came here a lot when Momma couldn’t sing all night. I don’t know why he always snuck in something to drink, figured they’d give people a drink in there if they needed it. But he never minds. He’d come home smellin like a gasoline stove, kiss me goodnight, and his tears would hit mine, but then I’d get tears from his gasoline breath.

Pally goes to the steps, but I pull her back. She does what I say without me havin to pull too much. I feel like she’s me and I’m her but without having to tell her to keep straight and act like she loves me or somethin. She just does it like she can hear me whistle before my lips purse.

The fence is like teeth open in the back. The grass is really dirt clopped and full of dew. Even the plastic flowers. Momma liked them because they never stayed wet, just ran off the dew like a duck, ran ’em off like a hawk landing near the crows. The crows sit along the long old lady arms in the trees, which I don’t mind. I just hate seeing so I don’t look up. I feel them lookin at me the way the hardtail looks at me sideways to make me not trust him, even though Daddy says he’s the only way we’ll make it.

Pally really loves this place, sniffin it, sniffin it. Now she can look, that’s fine with me. I ask her to sniff out that rabbit, but, before I do, she already has. She’s tuggin harder now at the leather and I hold on and yell at her and she stops but growls. The rabbit’s eyes shine like the moon. It’s blue, on its back where the moon shines. The whole thing is like a shadow painted blue on the back. It’s so black. Like coal shining. And it just looks at us. Not even flinching. I don’t want Pally to kill her, I really don’t. But I want that rabbit so I tell her to go get it and she does. Tears at the ground, but not really at the ground, just at the rabbit, and she, running at it, grabs it and thrashes her. And I start yelling at her. She’s still holding it by the ribs, but she won’t shake it. She knows better. I go over to her and tell myself not to hit her, even though I’m mad at her. She don’t know better.

I pick up the rabbit and it’s scared. Looking right at me the way the mule does and I hate it for it but I love it in a queer way. It’s the graveyard rabbit, Lorrie says, it watches over the stones and their names and their families. Don’t touch it. But I’m touchin it and it likes me. I look down and I remember Momma singin to me with the cicadas in my ear and I don’t mind it, my new shoes are as wet as my eyes. I twist my boots and jog out of the cemetery with Pally behind me, but stop at the door. Whispered whippoorwill tickling back of my head, so I turn around back to the graveyard and I see her. She’s standing at her stone, right where the rabbit was. Lookin’ at me like I done something wrong and she wants to whoop me but say sorry after. She opens her mouth like she stepped on something and I just run. I don’t look back I just run. Pally is right behind me hitting her breath hard against the air and she’s following me too. I look back over my hair and she’s coming after me, behind Pally. She cain’t catch Pally though, but she’s floating and coming after me. She’s white like the church but thinner, a see-through glass person. She’s just that way and she’s flying like a towhee.

The cicadas stop. There’s no noise. My feet only hit the ground, that’s it, I swear there’s no noise. I’m listenin hard and turnin around and my hair don’t even sound in my ear. And she’s behind me, and the rabbit’s bouncing with me. It likes my heart like this, like it’s running because it is.

I dart under the trees. I cain’t help but look up now, I know where Lorrie’s is so I keep running and kicking through the leaves and the gourds along the ground that have started to ferment into boomer mash. Their guts linger on my new shoes and I feel terrible because I don’t want to die and these are new shoes. Pally is in front of me, stomping on the ground with her not hooves and I still don’t hear her. I look back and the lady’s still behind me. I cry so much and the dew is all over me. I don’t know why.

Tumbling bum over kettle my knees scratch, but they’re so soaked and cold in the long johns I don’t notice. I keep at it to Lorrie’s, past the porch. I turn and she’s still there. I run to the tree that waved at me behind the house. The one furthest away from the chickens and still on Lorrie’s land. I stop and lay the rabbit down by the tree and by the rock and the sticks and I hold my head like it might not stay with me. I still don’t hear anything.

She’s behind me. I’m peeking but she don’t know I’m peeking unless she does. She quits her mouth open and calms down her face. She reaches out a hand, slow-like, like she doesn’t wanna scare something, but really wants it. And I see the hand coming from in front of me, right over my head, as bright as she is. It’s a square hand. I look in front of me, behind the rabbit are some brogues. They look worn, like I’ve seen before. I follow them up, and he’s holding her hand, smiling with his eyes sorrowful like. I get out of the way. They hold each other when I move. And then they kiss a long kiss like they did when I didn’t look, but did because I was peeking. The rabbit just sits there before it starts to graze. I don’t know where Pally is, but I can hear her panting somewhere that way she does when she’s laying down. The whine of her throat comin out like a handsaw on metal.

I come up to them, kickin off gourd guts as I step to ’em. His knees bend and he drops to my height and looks in my eyes and says I love you booger. I say I love you too, Daddy. Go on to bed he says. I look at Momma and she says I love you Chickadee and I say you too. Momma reaches down and hugs me, kisses me, but I do not feel it and I don’t mind.

The door creaks a bit, but I get a look at them while she sings, then fades away, with him, humming a song. My hainty chick chirps in the windowsill by my bed, the quilts still smell like my momma’s dress and Daddy’s breath. I sing to the moon in that low way Momma does and I think it hatches a dream.

 

Joshua Carpenter is currently pursuing an English degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with an interest in modern and postmodern literature. He wears Liberty overalls and a ball cap signed by Phil Fulmer most of the time. William Faulkner‘s As I Lay Dying was his inspiration for “Graveyard Rabbit.”

 

**Photo Source:  Pixabay/ Submitted by darksouls1

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