Monday, June 23, 2003

In 1977 I was house sitting for a favorite professor of mine at her house on Mill Road in Thornton. The house dated from the early 18th century, had its own gentle and witty ghost (per the owner, he would set fires in the fireplace during arguments) , and I loved going there. I remember being sad when she gave it up and moved to a condominium in the city a couple of years later, after her divorce. One time I was there and another friend named Donna, an English major like myself, was over, sharing the house-sitting duties with me.

One extremely sunny summer day we were out walking in the rustic back yard near the inground pool which was broken and filled with rainwater and had developed its own ecosystem, with more frogs (Northern Leopard Frogs, rana pipiens) per square inch than I have ever seen anywhere. Most of it had been left wild, but there was a small clearing that she had mowed, and on it I noticed that one of her dogs had caught something.

I had to look closely to tell what it was. It was a bleeding, completely naked rabbit, shivering with fear in the 85-degree heat. The dog had torn off all its fur, and was continuing to play with it in a decidedly un-canine manner; normally it's cats who prefer to toy with their prey like that. The rabbit couldn't have had more than minutes to live.

Donna winced and turned away. I didn't know what else to do; I felt horrible for the wretched thing. So I panicked and found a heavy tree bough, a small log actually. I shooed the dog away, and I brought the bough down heavily on the rabbit's head.

When I lifted it up, I saw that the rabbit had not been killed by the blow; it was violently convulsing. Donna began to cry. I was seized by horror. I could only think of that pathetic, utterly terrified, utterly despairing animal consciousness, submerged first in appalling bodily pain followed by a nuclear explosion of kinetic energy. Oh God, I thought, furious with myself for my incompetence and weakness, what must this poor thing be feeling? So I instantly brought up the club again, and slammed it down with all my strength.

The rabbit didn't move any more.

I just needed to tell that story today, as I am feeling lots of rabbit empathy.

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