Home away from home.
This morning, E.g. and I took the dogs and went to visit her Yukon cousin Stuart and his wife Chris, who are staying at their St Martins trailer for the week. Stepping inside from the brisk air, I admired the tiny model cars and zoo animals that served as proportionate decoration over the built-in sofa. One item differed from the others.
I cupped it in my palm. “There’s a story here.”
“Yes,” said Chris. “I’ll tell you after lunch.”
We dined on samosas and Greek salad, followed by a dessert of Smarties and Scrabble. Then it was time to go. I asked again about the little charred object.
“Maybe next time.”
“It must be a hard story.”
“Well…” And then her words tumbled out, a tale that reached back eight years and culminated less than a month ago. Stuart stood by, silently weeping, as she spoke. I’ve remembered only a fraction of the story, and probably have some details wrong, but I hope there’s enough here to explain this post’s title.
Eight years ago, when their Golden Retriever Windy was still a puppy, Stuart acquired a little toy bunny. It came with a white plastic clip, and when squeezed it said “Cluck-cluck-cluck.”
Stuart showed the toy to the puppy. Windy looked it over, sniffed it, licked it, and took it in her teeth.
“No, no, Windy,” cried Stuart in mock horror, “Mustn’t bite the bunny!”
Windy understood that Daddy was kidding her, and “Mustn’t Bite the Bunny” became their special game.
About a month ago, Windy couldn’t get up. Cancer, the vet said, all through her.
The good-byes began. Final details were planned out. On the appointed day, Chris drove their pet to the vet’s. But when they pulled into the parking lot, Windy suddenly sat up.
“What’s wrong, honey? Do you — do you want to go home?”
Windy stayed sitting. Home they went. Stuart bent down to Windy, holding the bunny.
“Cluck-cluck-cluck” went the bunny between Windy’s teeth. Thump-thump-thump went her tail on the floor as she wriggled in glee.
Then she lay down and never sat up again.
They built a funeral pyre for Windy, and held a wake there in the snowy field. Friends came into the dark Yukon night, telling stories, making music, laughing and crying, drowning their sorrows. The fire was lit and did its work, transforming Windy, some flowers, her food bowl, and her toys into flame, ashes, and breeze.
Maybe a log landed hard as the great fire collapsed in on itself, or maybe the heat activated the mechanism. At any rate, no one disbelieved the close friend who silenced the gathering with the startled cry, “I heard the bunny, it went cluck-cluck-cluck!”
And the wind blew.
In the morning, the bereaved couple gathered the few remains — some bones and the metal food bowl, which had glowed white from the heat the night before — to bury in their garden.
Then something caught Chris’s eye: a white plastic clip. It wouldn’t budge when she pulled on it, so they pried at it with a shovel.
Windy had left it for them.