from “Rabbits” by Matthew Jordan Schmidt

June 8, 2010


When Nevil came back from the lake that day I waited for him. I waited for three hours, not knowing that he had already disappeared in the darkness somewhere between the water’s edge and the wooden cabin we’d been living in for ten years. The night had been a still one, unbroken by word or rustle, and I’d sat by the window and watched, waited, tried to remember his face as I always did when we were apart, having no idea that this idle game of mine was to become a permanent way of life, this game of imagining him as he had been, as we had been. Even now, were I still able to, I would go to that mirror and search out his face inside of it, or place my hand upon the railing leading up to the bedroom—our bedroom—to feel the vanished warmth of his hand.

But I, too, am gone, and now someone else will feel the fading warmth of Nevil’s hand. Someone else will stare in the mirror and catch a glimpse of his face. What they will see will be confusing, probably nothing more than that blurred haze that memory engenders when it is at its most feverish and fluid. It flickers like a candle and then vanishes. But there are cinders. Always ashes that we crunch through as we come back down the stairs and see where he left his sneakers, in the nook by the door; or when we open an umbrella to step out into the rain and see the stains where his own black umbrella once dripped, pellet by pellet, into the sandy wood that we varnished ourselves in the back shed.

I combed the entire property for five days before calling the police. And then another five after the police had left. I took the dogs and tried to sniff him out. I took a flashlight and shone my beam on the places where we had laughed together. I cried in the bough of the tree where he’d come to tell me his mother had died. I sat on the swing and remembered Carrie’s visit all those years ago. Carrie with the pigtails and the ideals. Carrie with the dreams. I had never wanted Nevil’s children to be a part of our lives. I wish now that I had thought differently.

The water was still after Nevil disappeared. It refused to give me what it had given before. When I put my feet into it, I shivered with discomfort. When I took the boat out, I seemed to get nowhere; the far shore was an ocean away. Even when the leaves twirled down and got snuggled up in my swirling strokes, their crimson spirals offered me no solace. They only bled into the sediments below and lay still.

I have done the same.

I wonder if Nevil ever understood my eyes: the way they carried fog in them like an hourglass does coloured sand. I wonder if he knew about my pills, or the violence I executed in secret. That summer when we found the rabbit strung up in the tree, our eyes met in silence and the last grains tumbled down through the bauble’s glass neck. I blinked and flipped the hourglass over. Nevil did too. We buried the rabbit and stuck a cross made of poplar stems into the earth above its eyeless head. One of the dogs barked and tried to dig up the sad little victim. We ignored her, lit a fire and got drunk.