Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. His website is https//www.stevecarr960.com.
THE LEPUS FACTOR
By Steve Carr
Under the late summer sun and baby blue sky, dry, yellow prairie grass crunches beneath my boots. The world is filled with the scents of grass, earth, and wild flowers, brewed in the air amidst eastward breezes. In the near distance along the border of the Badlands, rock formations of layer cake patterns with jagged, tilting, limestone candlestick-like spirals breaks the line of the horizon.
Meadowlarks warble their brief arias moving from post to post along what seems like endless barbed wire fence that separates the ranch lands from the park lands. There are no buffalo in sight, but near the fence their droppings are fresh and slowly bake in the heat. The warmth of the sun on my bare back draws the sweat from my body, and it runs in rivulets down my spine and chest. I was not born here, or even near here, but this place among the tall grass became my home the minute I arrived.
The small house I live in leans slightly and can play tricks on your eyes, like an optical illusion, when viewed walking toward it from the flatness of the prairie. It hasn’t been painted in a long while, and there’s only smatterings of white peeling paint that remain on the brown boards. The gray stone of the chimney sticking up from its roof is its own Badlands formation; jutting up from the roof as if it’s holding the rest of the house down like a protruding nail to keep it all from being blown away during the harsh South Dakota winters.
She is gone, and in her wake the house feels empty even from a distance. With her also went the white wicker chair that sat outside the door and the metallic wind chimes that hung from a nail over the door and cluttered up the air with their discordant tinkling. Leaving the sea of breeze-tossed grass, I step into the patch of brown dirt that the house rests on, and encircles it like an earthen moat. Only the rabbit hutch surrounded by a small circle of bare earth of its own and a mesh wire that surrounds it all, remain behind, along with Lilly the rabbit who sits in the entrance to the hutch, her nose twitching and her ears turned my direction as I approach.
At night, as soft warm breezes send blades of grass dancing across the dirt I sit on a wood crate outside the front door of the house beneath a sky sprinkled with glistening stars and hear the yelping and howling of coyotes out there in the prairie.
Lilly is in my lap, her ears flat against her back as I run my hand over them and down the smooth white fur to the small knob of fur that is her tail. As I watch a thin luminous streak scar the sky and disappear into nothingness I feel the anticipatory grief for someone or something not yet dead. I carry Lilly into the house, out of harm’s way from marauding and murderous coyotes who roam the prairie at night, and close the door. Sitting her down on the living room floor, she remains there only momentarily before following me into the small kitchen and watching me with wide pink eyes. There isn’t much left in the way of dishes or pots or pans or even utensils. She took them with her; they were her’s to begin with.
“Are you sure you don’t want more than a bowl, a glass and a spoon?” she asked as she was packing her things into boxes.
I pour some Raisin Bran into the bowl and pour some milk on it and begin to eat.
During the night the wind has picked up and in the darkness I listen to loose tar shingles knocking against the roof. Other than that the silence is deafening. Wide awake, I stare into the darkness around my bed and recall so vividly the fragrance of her hair that I forget she is not here by my side. Unable to bare the stillness of the covers on the side of the bed where she laid, I get up and go to the curtainless window and look out at the prairie; a vast ocean of mostly black on a moonless night. Lilly rubs against my socked feet with her nose and I pick her up, feeling the beating of her small heart in her plump body against my chest.
“You should take Lilly with you,” I told her as she was collecting pictures she had hung on the walls badly in need of fresh wallpaper and putting them in a box.
“I got her for you,” she said.
“I’m not good at taking care of pets,” I told her.
When I went back to bed I don’t recall, but Lilly is on the bed with me and snuggled against my chest as I awake. Sunlight is streaming through the window and the air in the room is still and stifling. The frame in the window is broken so it can’t be opened, so I get out of bed, put Lilly on the floor and go into the living room and open the door. Morning on the prairie rushes in, nearly knocking me back with the intensity of the aromas it carries into the house. I stand in the door frame and watch as a white tailed deer saunters across the driveway then wanders into the grass and out of sight. I notice, and am surprised I hadn’t noticed before, the tracks of her car left behind in the dirt are still visible.
Lilly brushes against my ankle and I pick her up and in my socks I carry her out to the enclosure. There, on the edge of the dirt bordering the grass, the large brown hare has returned again. He doesn’t move as I lower Lilly onto the ground. Going back to the house I turn and see him hop to the mesh wire, meeting Lilly nose-to-nose. This has been going on for a month.
Entering the house I look around and realize how few things left to be packed into the back of my pickup to be taken wherever it is I end up. I put on my clothes and boots and quickly pack. Taking my things to my truck I see the hare is still there and Lilly is near him. With everything in the truck I scan the prairie and see a line of buffalo going through the grass on the park side of the fence. A meadowlark is perched on a post and adding its tuneful staccato whistles to the sound of the wind brushing the tops of the grass.
As I walk toward Lilly’s enclosure the hare hops into the grass, remaining on the border, and watching. I lift Lilly and hold her close for several minutes, feeling her rapid breathing through her pulsating sides against my chest.
“She’s a rabbit,” I said when she gave her to me on Easter. “She should be out hopping through the prairie with the other rabbits.”
“Those are hares,” she said. “This one is a bunny rabbit. They’re different. I’m not sure she would even survive if let out on the prairie.”
I put Lilly on the ground and then stand and watch as she hops over to the hare. Going to my truck, Lilly has not moved. I get in my truck and turn the key in the ignition. Before the truck starts to move, a tumbleweed blows across the road and into the grass.
“They’re like you,” she told me once while we watched one being blown by a summer wind after I told her I was moving on. “They don’t stick to anything and nothing sticks to them.”
I start down the driveway and look in the rear view mirror and see Lilly hopping after me through the dust being thrown into the air by the truck tires. I bring the truck to a skidding stop in the dirt and take my rifle from the gun rack in the back window, get out of the truck and shoot her.
Driving away I see her dead body in the dirt as tears stream down my cheeks.