Fiction · 09/26/2012

Rodent Sounds

She’s told she has her father’s strong jaw now and stands in front of the mirror, studying it. The Fat Rabbit is in the side yard again, looking in, and she watches him watch her in the smudged reflection of the full-length mirror. Where he goes most of the time, she doesn’t know, but after days and days she thinks finally now he is dead, finally now he is flattened — too fat to run from the cars or the cat with the torn ear who hops off rooftops and climbs rain gutters — but then there he is again, The Fat Rabbit, sitting in her yard, chewing clover.

“Would you just look at that Fat Rabbit?” she says, a bobby pin between her lips. She wants to see her jaw full-on: without hair, without makeup, everything up and out of the way because just how square has it really become?

From the kitchen, there is nothing, which means he is peering out the window.

“We shouldn’t judge him,” he says. “He might be self-conscious. Not everyone who’s fat is fat. Maybe he has a medical condition. Who are we to say?”

“The Diabetic Rabbit,” she says, and then she sees him appear in the mirror. He puts his hands around her neck, pulls her close, makes quiet, constant rodent sounds into the depths of her left ear.

“Stop,” she says, “stop!”

She says, “Bunnies don’t even make noise.”

He wrinkles up his nose and makes one last grunt into her neck.

All of this could be easy, she thinks sometimes. If she were any other woman, she would just tell them that she loves him.

“Come with me,” she would say. “I miss you when you’re gone. I talk to you when you’re not around.”

I see your shape, but it’s just the coat rack.

I think of things to say.

Sometimes she wonders what it would be like to rent a house with him in the countryside, a shack made of plywood and all those empty spaces in-between them. She imagines leaning against the shack, this plywood structure, and dirt coming off onto her blouse. But it would be dry dirt. It would rub off easily and leave things clean.

Maybe the shack would have looming, long windows that look out at fence posts and standing cattle. She thinks he might look good on a porch, sipping coffee from chipped white mugs, wearing sweatpants she’s let him borrow.

Then the winters that everyone warns her about will come, and how nice it would be to have him there beside her. He’d build a fire with small, square logs and she’d cook soup with a bean red broth. Plus chunks of potatoes, slivered peppers, an entire summer garden cubed and soft.

In the mornings, he’d drive her to work over icy black roads and smirk as she clutched the door handle.

“This is what I grew up doing,” he’d say, “it’s just water. It’s nothing scary.”

His minimization used to bother her until she realized he was almost always right.

The way her mother tells it, she was born in the only nice city in the country’s worst state. The nurses there told everyone how she looked only like her mother, nothing like her father, tying her black hair into a ponytail on the top of her head like a Dr. Seuss character, “like Cindy Loo Who,” they joked, knotting pink ribbon they pulled from a spool. Her father was nearly bald already, the age that she is now, and the nurses handed her over to him, teasing, saying, “Is she yours?”

Saying, “Could she possibly be yours?”

She doesn’t know the rest but imagines her father silent. He is silent even now. He held her, she thinks, looking down at this dissimilar child who was looking up at him.

But she was his.

It is all anyone has ever told her — her rosy complexion, her straw-colored hair. Her eyes, small and round and wide that remind everyone of doe-eyes, deer.

“These are things of your mother,” they say. “You are her spitting image.”

It is good to look like her mother, but the change now, she thinks, is curious. Why now? This jaw that’s somehow stronger?

And now she loves a boy who is not yet capable of being a husband, a father, but someday, certainly. There are many men who could be husbands now, good ones, but she finds them all boring, their sandals ugly like professors, like men with braided hair.

Who will make her laugh?

Who will kill the bugs?

Sometimes he comes over to find her curled in bed, her face pressed to expensive pillows, and he scrunches his nose and makes sounds just like a rodent.

“Ffffee fffee ffee,” he says into her ear, like a weasel, louder and closer until her body curls and bends and gives. He says this is how he burrows. She laughs and the sadness goes — the despair suddenly less urgent — and if that isn’t love, she sometimes wonders what is.

She’s the child of stories, and in the earliest one she knows, her parents meet at her father’s birthday party. Her mother’s just a guest. Her father doesn’t even know her.

“Who are you?” he asks. Maybe he pulls her onto the dance floor.

Maybe he pulls her onto the staircase.

Maybe they go for a walk around town because she has doe eyes he finds charming.

This was how it began: they were first talking and then they were moving and then they were moving out of state. They fell in love. He found a job. What else is there to say? They lived in a pretty town with foggy lamplights and a white gazebo.

They had first one baby and then two and raised them in a country house with big, long looming windows that looked out on standing cattle and tall weeds that moved together, like pastoral brush stokes on a fresh, wet canvas.

It’s easy to be in love with that beginning, but still she imagines her parents met and probably never once did they think that this is what would happen — that this is how things go. But maybe that’s exactly how they go. Maybe love that seems so certain isn’t so certain when it starts. Maybe you fall in love with someone strangely.

Maybe they make rodent sounds that make you laugh.

And maybe you just don’t know and you move together until you do.

She squishes her face in the mirror, wiggles her nose. Even scrunched, her features don’t dull: she’s certainly her father’s daughter.

“Fffee-fffee,” he says, nosing the skin around her mouth, her cheekbones, her jaw, so strong and square, and when he moves his mouth closer, she thinks, You can burrow in this place.

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Amy Butcher’s recent essays have appeared in The Indiana Review, The Colorado Review, Hobart and The Rumpus. She is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.