Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The Virtue of Heredity by Benjamin X. Wretlind
They come early in the evening, the sun just beginning to interact with the horizon, turning colors of yellow into orange and then a deep, bloody red. Some arrive in pairs, some alone, some as a family. They come to feed, to play, to live out their lives as nature would dictate, seemingly blind to the eccentric world about them. They are as much creatures of the night as they are creatures of the day, though by night they are the most prominent. They defend their territory with passion and stare down those animals who may tower above them. They fear little and dare to play life and death games with Fate. They are perversions of Flospy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. They are rabbits, and they infest.
I have seen their presentation replayed in bits and pieces nearly every night, although up until yesterday I hadn’t stayed to watch more than five minutes. The first rabbit to arrive that evening did so as the sun had just touched the horizon. It hopped nervously across the parking lot, stopping now and then to investigate a lonely leaf or a spot of oil. Every few seconds it would look up as if guilty of some heinous crime, then hop forward a few more steps. By the time it reached the edge of the grass yard, the sun had slipped quietly away for the night. The wind blew kisses at the Cottonwood trees and rustled a few premature autumn leaves. The rabbit looked up, then around, and finally entered the grass wonderland.
The first nibble–like the first step–was a tentative one. It bent over, tasted the greenery, and then looked back up. A small blade of grass stuck out of the side of the rabbit’s mouth as its black eyes searched the periphery. Out on the road beyond the parking lot a car drove by. The fur on its back twitched involuntarily, a rear foot thumped the earth, and the ears rose high. The rabbit waited until the sound of the engine was lost in the breeze. A few moments passed before it took another nibble, another glance around, and then a hop forward to a greener patch of grass. The pattern continued until, at last, the rabbit felt confident.
I sat back in my chair and lit a cigarette. The shadows of evening were beginning to melt into the descending darkness, and before I realized it a waxing moon had risen over the mountains to take charge of another night. The yellow porch lights above me snapped on as if they had minds of their own and could sense my need for a little more light to write by. I glanced at my watch, noted the time and began to think about dinner. When I looked back out at the yard, the rabbit had cloned itself; instead of one lonely rabbit, I was now faced with four. It was like I had turned my back on a closet for just a moment and the clothes hangers had magically multiplied.
The rabbits were grouped together around one of the smaller trees, each intent face firmly rooted to a little patch of grass. They seemed to be completely oblivious to one another, yet working together as a team. When one rabbit would tire of his patch and hop forward to find something better, another rabbit would hop to the right or to the left in order to keep some sense of both territory and distance. There was something almost telepathic about their movements. One rabbit would be facing away from another, contentedly gnawing at a small twig. The other rabbit, having apparently decided that its grass wasn’t the right consistency, would hop farther away. Without hesitation, the first rabbit would grab the twig in its mouth and close the gap, thereby preserving the illusion of strength in numbers.
All of this would continue undisturbed all night long, were it not for a game of life and death these rabbits play. Unlike many other types of games, we are left to know only who the losers are; the winners escape into the night without a scratch. They play a game of joust between the themselves and the Beasts with Glowing Eyes. More often than not, this game is played on the paths that humans use to travel around from place to place. These rabbits in front of me have won the game before, but winning once is only an enticement to play again and again until they finally lose.
For several months I have found myself an eye witness to this jousting match, crouched inside the Beast, directing the motion of the Glowing Eyes. I have won some and lost some, and although I do not delight in killing animals I don’t intend to barbecue, there is a reassuring feeling to the sudden “thud” of victory that comes at the end of the game.
I waited for what seemed like an hour before the rabbits had moved toward the edge of the playing field. Their little mouths worked tirelessly, chewing the grass and secreting enough saliva to wash it all down. Another group of rabbits formed on the other side of the lawn, though I knew from previous encounters that the two groups would remain as far apart as possible. Minutes dragged on, and I began to think that I wasn’t going to get to see the game. Then, off in the distance, acting as if in a dance with the rustling leaves, the faint growl of an old Beast drifted through the night air.
I sat up. The group by the road continued to feed, heads to the ground, eyes on the prize. I watched their movements closely, hoping to find some evidence that at least one rabbit had heard the rumble–maybe an ear thrust higher or a quick glance out of curiosity. The noise grew louder, drowning out that of the leaves, and the light from the Glowing Eyes could be seen rounding the bend.
The rabbits continued to feed.
The Beast came into view down the road, gaining speed and closing the gap. First gear. A small bump bounced the Eyes into the air and then back on the road. Second gear. The growl grew higher, commanding the wheels to move the Beast faster and faster. Third gear. The black skin reflected the moon. The Glowing Eyes bared down.
The rabbits continued to feed.
The Beast came closer and closer, until I felt a twinge of doubt that any of the rabbits would take the chance. Maybe they could judge the intensity of the growl by listening. Maybe they could tell whether or not they stood a chance by watching the Eyes. Maybe they knew I was watching. Maybe–
An ear perked up. I looked closer at one of the rabbits, its head rising from the grass and turning toward the road. The fur on its back twitched involuntarily, a rear foot thumped the earth, and both ears rose high. It hopped toward the road–still chewing on a blade of grass–and stared directly into the Glowing Eyes.
I read not too long ago that the DNA strand of any human, when broken down into its component letters, is remarkably similar to that of almost any other animal. For example, the genetic spelling of a simple nematode is, in fact, almost ninety percent the same as the code for any human. An ant is nearly ninety-two percent similar. What this means in the grand scheme of life, the universe and everything, I don’t know. But it must mean something.
And what of the rabbit? What of the animal who had risked everything for a little rush of adrenaline? What of the animal who had given its life for a little taste of the narcotic of chance? Well, that tangled mess of blood and fur out there on the road is ninety-seven percent human. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?