The Rabbit Freezes

This seventy-five word story was posted September 24, 2018 by Richard at Paragraph Planet.

The rabbit freezes. I raise my rifle and sight. Our eyes lock. It stares back, seeming to dare me to blow it away. You asked for it. I start to squeeze the trigger. Next to me my son says, “Go for it Dad, kill the bastard.” Just then I catch a lively twinkle of light in the rabbit’s eye and it softly blinks. I lower the gun to my side and whisper, “Let’s go inside.”

 

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What Grandma Said

The last time I saw my Grandmother Sara I’d wheeled her down to the community room of Meridian Way, the retirement home where she’d been living for the last year and a half.

“Is this okay?” I asked, setting the brake, “Are we close enough to the window?”

Grandma smiled, sat forward looking out over the skyline of Minneapolis and said, “It’s fine, Ethan, just perfect.”

“Would you like something to drink?” I indicated the refreshment area on the far wall, “Some tea, maybe?”

“A glass of water would be nice, sweetheart. Just a small one.”

It may sound like a simple thing, but I liked that Grandma always told the truth. It was a way of life for her. If you asked her about anything: are you hungry, tired or thirsty, for example, or her opinion on politics or religion, she’d always be honest with you. In my experience, most people weren’t as forthcoming. Not Grandma Sara, she always told the truth. It was refreshing.

“I’ll be right back. Don’t do go anywhere.”

She laughed at my lame joke, “Don’t worry, I’m perfectly happy right here.”

My earliest memory of her was when I was four years old. Mom dropped me off a lot back then when she went out on one of her ever increasingly frequent dates. I loved being with Grandma. We were snuggled on the couch, and I had my sleepy head resting in her lap, wrapped up in a shawl she’d knit. We were watching television, one of the courtroom dramas she loved so much. I remember the guy on the witness stand being approached by a solemn looking man holding a bible and being asked to ‘Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’

I roused myself and sat up, “What’s that mean, Grandma?”

“It means to never lie, Ethan. Always tell the truth.”

“Always?”

“Yes, always.”

It was my first life lesson from Grandma, and one that always has stayed with me.

She was a seamstress and worked for Lea’s Creations, a dress shop just off Nicolett Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Grandpa Ernie had been killed in World War II on D-Day and she lived in the bungalow they’d purchased in northeast Minneapolis just before he’d enlisted. She didn’t drive and took the bus back and forth to work. After mom left for good, Grandma took over the task of raising me and it was probably a good thing, too.

Once I was caught stealing a pack of gum with my friends Eddie and JK. They took off running and got away. I wasn’t so lucky. The store manager, a huge, hairy man with bushy eyebrows, caught me by the collar of my tee-shirt and made me sit in the back room while he called Grandma.

“You’ve got yourself a career criminal in the making here, Mrs. Stevenson. Make no doubt about it.”

I was seven years old and terrified. Grandma left work and took the bus to the store. We walked home without saying a word, me becoming more and more frightened with each step.

We walked in through the back door sat at the kitchen table. She looked me in the eye, her voice full of sadness, “Ethan, why did you do such a terrible thing? You just about broke my heart, stealing somebody else’s gum for pity sakes. Haven’t I raised you to be better than that?”

I felt horrible. It was plain that I’d disappointed her and let her down. “It wasn’t just me, Grandma. Eddie and JK were there, too, but when Mr. Jensen asked who else was there I told him it was just me.”

“So you lied?”

“No. Well, yes,” I said, tears suddenly flowing. I’d not only nearly broken her heart but also lied, a big “No no” in Grandma’s book.

“So you didn’t tell on them?”

“No.”

Grandma sat back and thought for a minute before saying, “Well, then, good. That’s a good thing.”

“What do you mean? I thought I wasn’t supposed to lie.”

She surprised me by suddenly reaching over and hugging me. “No, you shouldn’t lie, but you need to do right by your friends, too. Sometimes it’s okay to lie a little like you did. It’s called a white lie.”

I didn’t realize that life could be so complicated, but Grandma dedicated herself to helping me navigate my way through it.

That last day together her heart was worn out, weakened by a series of mini-strokes, but her mind was sill sharp. We’d stayed close our entire lives. I helped her choose Meridian Way, helped her move in, and visited at least every other day. She was the only family I had next to my wife and three kids.

One of things she told me that last day was how much she loved raising me.

“You were like a son to me, Ethan. The son I never had.”

What could I say? I gave her a heartfelt hug and she hugged me back, both of us making the most of our time together. I’m glad that we did. She passed away during that night due to a massive stroke. I was told she didn’t feel a thing.

And that thing about lying? Well, just before I left her that last day she asked if I ever regretted not having my birth mom around in my life.

“Were you okay with this old lady being your mother?” she asked.

I looked at her, this self-sacrificing woman who was the most wonderful person I’d ever known, and said, “Well, Grandma, I have to be honest here,” and I paused for effect, a long, pregnant moment, before grinning and saying, “You were the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“You wouldn’t lie,” she asked, joking.

“Never,” I said.

I remember that she smiled, then, and I did too. I couldn’t have asked for more from her. And that’s the truth.

 

 

Yellowjackets

It was Field Day, the last day of school for the Long Lake 5th graders. I was looking forward to tomorrow: no kids, no schedules, no rules to enforce. No nothing. I was also looking forward to a summer of alone time – my idea of heaven.

I was standing on the sidelines, monitoring a soccer game between my class and the other fifth grade class, Mrs. Elbert’s, and talking to Edith Silverstein, the oldest teacher at the school. She was a sixty-five year old sprite of a woman who taught first grade; had been for nearly forty years. Lots of people thought she should retire. Not me. She was a witty lady with a great sense of humor who had a firm but kind way children. I liked her a lot.

“What are you planning on doing with your summer, Ed?” she asked, watching all ten kids on the field run after the soccer ball.

“Oh, not much. Just hang around. You know.”

She bristled in response like I’d just poked her with a sharp stick, “No I don’t know, Ed. You should do something other than ‘hang around,’ she said using finger quotes to poke fun at me. Then she shook her head to indicate her semi-serious disappointment. “Me, I’m going on a month long cruise to Alaska with my friends, Maggie and Becky. I can’t wait.” She gave me a look like, ‘Get with the program buddy and do something interesting with your life.’ A sentiment that made perfect sense, especially after what was about to happen.

I’m forty-five, a bit of a loner and have been single my entire adult life. I live with my big tabby cat, Toby, in a tiny apartment a mile from the school; close enough to walk or ride my bicycle. Long Lake is small town located on the edge of undeveloped farm fields and woodlands twenty miles west of Minneapolis. I’ve taught fifth grade Life Science in the local grade school for the last twenty-one years. Though I’m withdrawn by nature, I love teaching, it’s just that it takes a lot out of me. I treasure my time to myself, but understood what Edith was getting at. I also valued her opinion. When I really thought about it, at my age, maybe I really did need to get a hobby other than the only one I had, collecting old marbles off eBay.

Anyway, her analysis of my life notwithstanding, we’d been having a nice, friendly conversation, when, from the far end of the soccer pitch we heard screams from the kids. “Shit,” I said to Edith.

She looked at me and yelled, “Go,” and I did. I took off running wondering what the hell had happened.

It soon became apparent. Both fifth grade classes were standing where the soccer field met the woods. There were yelling as I ran up. Some were even crying.

Johnny Leibert, one of my prized students met me, “Mr. Mack, Mr. Mack. Jenny’s getting attacked by bees. I think they’re going to kill her.”

The Jenny he was referring to was Jenny Goldenstein, a ten year old tiny waif of a girl, prone to hives and every otherĀ  kind of skin problem you could name. She was also the unluckiest kid I ever knew. Last year she kindly brought her teacher a handpicked bouquet of flowers, including a sprig of poison ivy. She was covered in calamine lotion for nearly a month. If anyone was going to be attacked by bees, it was bound to be her.

I ran to the edge of the woods watching as Jenny frantically waved the attacking swarm away from her head. I could see in an instant that they weren’t your common garden variety of non-dangerous honey bees or anything like that. No. These were yellow jackets, one of nature’s most vicious insects. They could do serious damage by stinging you multiple times. And those stingers hurt. I’d read once that they felt like needles pushing deep into your skin. My heart went out the little girl and I didn’t stop to think. I ran in to rescue her.

“Jenny, Jenny,” I called, “Don’t worry, I’m coming.”

She turned, tears in her eyes, those friggin’ yellow jackets all over her. “Help,” she called except it wasn’t as much a call as it was more of a whisper. She was really frightened. Terrified. Poor little kid.

I grabbed her and swung her in a circle a few times to try to shake some of the yellow jackets off. As I did, I could see what had happened. A soccer ball lay next to a log rotting on the forest floor. The kids must have kicked the ball into the woods and Jenny had run in after it. The ball had hit the log and by the time she got there, she was met with the wrath of what seemed like hundreds upon hundreds of raging, swarming bees.

I turned with her and we fought our way to the edge of the woods, me yelling at the rest of the kids, “Get the hell out of here. The bees are coming.” They ran and I did, too, all the way back to the school. In a few minutes we were all safe.

Fast forward to two hours later. It turned out that Jenny was fine, just a little swollen from the bee stings. She had eleven of them, poor kid. Me? I ended in the hospital – the Hennepin County Medical Center. I guess I had developed an allergy to bee stings over the course of my adult years, unbeknownst to me. Who would have thought it? Certainly not yours truly. I was stung twenty-seven times! But it turned out to be a good thing in the long run even though I was told by the doctors and nurses time and time again that I’d almost died from anaphylactic shock. Let me tell you, that was one sobering thought.

I stayed in the hospital for three days. During my recover I had a chance to think about what Edith had said to me on the soccer field. Specifically, I had time to think about my life. I came to the conclusion that I really did need to get my act together. I need to expand my horizons.

To that end, I accepted an offer Edith made while I was recovering to join her and her friends on the Alaskan Cruise. It might sound weird, me, a guy in his forties going on a cruise ship with three ladies in their sixties, who, by the way, called themselves, “The Girls,” but I don’t care. I’m looking forward to it.

When I accepted the invitation Edith said, “It’ll be nice to have you along, just as long as you don’t cramp our style.”

“Funny,” I told her, playing along, “I’ll try not to.”

She just grinned and pulled out a map to show me the route. It looks like it’ll be a riot. We’re leaving the first week in July.

You know, when you almost die, like I did, it gets you thinking. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will tell you this: If it wasn’t for those damn yellow jackets, I might have ended up spending the summer hunkered down in my tiny apartment with my cat, searching the web for old marbles. When I think of it that way, I shudder. I was on path where I could have easily spent the rest of my life doing just that. What a waste. I’ve got a lot to learn. It’s a big world out there. I’m looking forward to seeing it. Alaska, here I come.

 

The Last Garden Contest

“And the winner is…”

Blake Jorgenson held his breath. This was it. This was his chance. Was this the year he’d win first place in the Long Lake Garden Contest? He closed his eyes and thought back over the past two years. The memories weren’t pretty: two years ago, second place; last year, third place. This year, could he hope, could he even begin to imagine that he’d win? “Yes,” he thought to himself, “Yes, he could.”

Next to him Alicia, his wife of over forty years held his hand and said a silent prayer, “Please, please,” she thought to herself, “Please let this be his year. Please let him win.”

Last year her husband had suffered a mild heart attack brought on by doing battle with a female rabbit who’d been spending much of the summer eating his prized flowers, especially his pretty blue and white and pink straw flowers, often referred to as bachlor buttons. He’d placed third, which to her highly competitive husband was unacceptable. A slap in the face really. And that wooden third place plaque he’d been awarded? Not even worth mentioning. This year Blake still had his heart set on winning first place and the big, shining, gold trophy that he’d already cleared a space for on the fireplace mantle in their living room.

Alicia sighed, something, it seemed, she was doing way more often than she used to the last few years. She really could do without having a trophy in the living room for the whole world to see. There was no doubt in her mind about that. None at all.

Blake felt the calming touch of Alicia’s hand in his, and he appreciated it, he really did. But he was here to win, not be gently encouraged by his wife. Or his friend, Toby, for that matter, who was standing with him too. Toby McCourt, his best buddy, the guy who’d loaned him the Haveaheart trap last year that he used to try to catch the pesky rabbit, the one he often referred to as That Damn Rabbit.

Blake still bristled sometimes when he thought about it. The trap has proven useless, and the rabbit too smart or too uninterested, or too something, to be enticed into it. Yes, Mrs. Bunny Rabbit apparently was not the least bit interested in partaking of the delectable salad mixture he’d baited the trap with: romaine lettuce, baby carrots and sliced radishes. No. All she wanted were to eat his beloved nasturtiums, bachelor buttons, delphiniums and any other flowers she could sink her rabbity teeth into. It was horrible. Then, to add insult to injury, she started bringing her babies into his yard! Blake sighed at the upsetting memory. It had been a long summer last year, a long, long summer indeed.

But this was a new year, and he felt he’d spent the intervening months wisely. He’d changed his diet, listened to his relaxation tapes and tried to learn how to calm down. Plus, and this was more to the point, he’d made a plan. Over the winter, he’d studied the behavioral habits of rabbits, specifically cottontails. He found out that among their favorite food was red clover and creeping charlie, plants considered by most, Blake included, to be weeds. They also liked watercress, collard greens, swiss chard. “Well,” thought Blake to himself, “Why not plant all of that for the rabbit to eat? If I grow what they like to eat, maybe the damned thing will stay away from my flowers.”

And early this spring that’s exactly what he did. He dug out and planted a new garden, one especially for the rabbit. It was a five by ten foot space, rich with sweet clover, creeping charlie, watercress, collard greens and swiss chard. The plants had flourished (Blake really did have a green thumb) and the female rabbit fed exclusively there, in her garden, eating what she was supposed to eat. Blake was ecstatic at his success. He even got into the habit of spending a few minutes each day watching her, first, early in the season when she was all by herself, then later during the summer when she brought her seven babies. It was kind of cute, really, Blake thought to himself, when he wasn’t thinking about all the damage she’d done in years past.

Feedback on the microphone drew his attention back to the present. The past was, as they say, past. This was now. It was a new Blake with a new, rabbit friendly garden, and now it was time to find out who the winner of this year’s garden contest was going to be.

Everyone turned their attention to the small stage set outdoors down by Lakeside park. Gwendolyn Pickle, Long Lake City Council President, stepped to the mic and said in a voice loud and clear, “And the winner this year, for not only having a beautiful garden, but one that also is home to some of the critters and wild life in the neighborhood…The winner is Blake Jorgenson.”

” Finally,” thought Blake, “It’s about damn time.”

Then he accepted the congratulations from his wife and Toby and about a hundred other people, none of whom he knew. But that was okay. He’d won. That was the main thing.

Later that evening, Blake and Alicia were strolling through the front yard, looking at the pretty flowers and waving at passersby who were stopping by to congratulate them. Then, just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, they took a moment to sit in a pair of white Adirondack chairs, strategically placed to give the viewer a sweeping view of the front yard and all the lovely gardens. After a few minutes Alicia said, “It’s such a wonderful evening. How about if I go inside and bring us out some nice iced tea? Would you like that?”

Blake smiled at his wife, “Yes, I would, dear. Thank you.”

He watched as she went inside and then turned his attention to his yard and his gardens. My how pretty everything looked, he thought to himself. The last year had been very trying, what with his heart attack and all. But he’d preserved, and now he’d won the first place trophy. It was already proudly displayed inside on the fireplace mantel. His garden was the best in the city. Good for him.

Blake felt wonderfully calm and at peace. All was right with his world. He sat silently as the twilight deepened, listening to the last song of a robin and the final cooing of a mourning dove. Over the past year he’d listened to many different types of relaxation tapes on his road to recovery, but there was something to be said about being in his own yard at sunset. It was better than any damn relaxation tape. He was in the natural world and it was real and it was right here, all around him. He felt himself mellowing out even more. After a few moments, he nodded off to sleep.

A few minutes later, Alicia came out with their tea and found her husband dozing peacefully in his chair. She smiled and set his glass aside and then sat down to savor a sip of her own tea while she enjoyed the serenity of the quiet evening. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a movement. She looked closely and saw her husband’s nemesis, the big female rabbit, confidently hoping across the yard, carefully skirting the flower gardens, making her way to the sweet clover and watercress and creeping charlie – her garden. She had three young ones with her. Alicia watched as the mother and her young made a meal in the garden Blake had planted especially for them. She wondered if she should wake him so he could watch with her. No. Better let him rest. It’d been a long year. She closed her eyes and rested with him.

In amongst the creeping charlie and clover the female and her young fed hungrily. The man had been nice to plant a garden for them. She had done her part and stayed out of his precious flowers. It’d been a nice year for her: abundant food, a nice litter of babies and, most importantly, no metal trap. She was happy.

When they were finished feeding, the female led her young ones away, back to their burrow on the far side of the garage next door. On the way, she couldn’t help herself, she stopped and nibbled some of the man’s bachlor buttons. Oh, did they ever taste good! She’d almost forgotten how tasty they were. She encouraged her babies to have some. They all agreed it was a welcome change from their rather bland diet in ‘their garden.’ Then she led her little family away. Maybe tomorrow they’d come back for some more of the man’s flowers. As she hoped away, she thought about it for a few moments and then decided that, why not? She’d been a good little bunny rabbit all summer. She deserved a treat. Yes, that’s what she’d do. Tomorrow she’d come back for more of the man’s flowers. There were a lot of them for the taking. After all, there was only so much sweet clover and creeping charlie a hungry rabbit family could eat. Especially with a garden full of so many other tasty flowers to choose from.

Slowing Down

“Tommy, can we rest up ahead? This old heart…”

Mom let the words trail off. Congestive heart failure, I thought to myself, what a friggin’ bitch. “Sure, Mom,” I said gently, “Here, take my hand.”

With no argument she put her hand in mine, and we made our way to the bench fifteen feet away. It took five minutes.

As we walked I gazed down at my mother, a tiny, bird of a woman, thin as a rail, her formally auburn hair now snow white. “I’m keeping it natural,” she told me once, “The way it’s meant to be.”

Mom was like that, independent. She became a single mother at thirty-one to four children (I was the oldest) after dad left home without a word. That was fifty-three years ago. To help make ends meet she worked part time as a cashier in a local grocery store, then later, after we’d grown, she’d become a teaching assistant helping out at the local grade school. She was a friend to many and beloved by all.

Now this. These slow steps toward the end of her full life.

We sat down and looked out over the wetlands behind the senior living complex she’d called home for the last seven years. Suddenly, excited, she pointed, “Tommy, look, a family of ducks. What are they? Mallards?”

“Yes they are, Mom. Cute, aren’t they?”

She smiled, “Little puff ball babies. So sweet.”

We watched the mother and five ducklings in silence. I listened to Mom’s breathing as it finally slowed down, becoming less labored. She still held my hand. I squeezed it and said, “Mom, what about it? Should be think about a wheel chair for you? It would make it easier for us to be out and about.”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

I nudged her gently, “How long did it take us to get down to this bench?” I asked, trying to make a point.

Mom was no dummy. “Don’t get smart with me, young man,” she said, barking a phase she used with me quite often a lot when I was growing up.

I smiled, “Well, the point is, it took us forty-five minutes. Last year we could make this walk in ten.”

She patted my hand, her tone softened, “I know, but I just don’t know if I’m ready to make that step.” She paused, then added, “No pun intended.”

I laughed. She had always had a good sense of humor.

We stayed on the bench for most of the afternoon. We watched the mother with her ducklings and, later, we even saw a great white egret land nearby. I’ll always remember that day.

Three months later she passed away in her sleep. We never did get that wheelchair, we just slowed our walks down and didn’t go very far. And when she got tired, I carried her. I think she enjoyed it. I know I did. She was my mom. It was the least I could do.

 

The Injured Owl

Miigwan Martinson worked as a technician at the Minnesota Raptor Center on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. She was gazing out the window talking to her idiot boy friend when she saw a compact car pull up to the curb, skid on some ice and bump to a halt. On the phone, Frankie was going on and on about how sorry he was that he had fooled around with that slut Jasmine, but Miigwan had pretty much tuned him out. She was watching as a skinny old man with a scraggly beard got out and went around to the passenger’s side. He opened the door and took out a bundle. There was a flurry, and she saw a head pop up. The head of a great horned owl.

“Screw you, Frankie,” Miigwan said, “Don’t bother calling again.” She clicked off and stuck the phone in her back pocket just as the guy and the owl came in the front door.

“Hello, welcome to the Raptor Center,” she said walking toward him and smiling her greeting, “I’m Mia. Looks like you’ve got a patient for us.”

“Yeah. Hi. My name’s Greg. Yeah, I found him by the side of the road west of here near Long Lake. I was out for a walk, bird watching, and found him by the edge of the forest. It was snowing so I wrapped him in my parka to keep him warm,” he spoke rapidly and was clearly flustered.

He was also reluctant to let go of the owl. Mia could see that. She also thought it was nice, really, that he felt so attached to the injured bird. Sizing up the situation she said, “He seems very comfortable with you, Greg. Why don’t you hold on to him, and let me make a quick call.”

“Okay, that’s good,” he returned a quick smile, calming down a little.

A moment later Linda Zen picked up and said, “Hi Mia, what’s up?”

“A gentleman just brought in an injured great horned owl.”

“Okay. Bring him back right now. Hurry.”

Mia hung up and said, her voice urgent, “Let’s go, Greg. Follow me.” She led the way through a swinging, double-wide door, down a gleaming hallway and into a brightly lit room.

A short, stocky, no-nonsense woman was waiting. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” She gently took the bundle from Greg and lay it on a spotless metal table. She gently pealed back the parka and began studying the bird.

While Linda carefully checked over the big owl, Mia turned to Greg, “I’ve got to help out here. Do you want to wait?”

Ignoring the question, he asked, “What do you think is wrong with him? Is he going to be all right?”

Linda paused in her examination and looked up, “I think his wing is damaged. I need to check him out some more.”

“Oh, no,” Greg frowned, clearly upset, “He’s not going to die, is he? Please tell me he’s going to be all right.

The lead surgeon of the Raptor Center cracked an encouraging smile, appreciating the old man’s concern, “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure he’ll live. He’s banged up, probably hit by a car, but he’s a strong bird. I think he’s going to be fine. He just needs some TLC, and we’ve got that in spades here, don’t we, Mia?”

Mia grinned back but didn’t say anything. She was in the process of ridding her mind of Frankie. The guy was a loser. Why she had bothered wasting the last three months of her life with him, she’d never know. What she did know was that owls were signs of many things: imminent marriage, sudden travel, a guest arriving soon, mental distress and impending death, to name but a few. Mia understood all that. She also knew owls could stand for good fortune and that’s what she was going to go with. Dumping Freddie would be the first step.

Mia had studied birds extensively throughout her young life. Her first name, Miigwan, in fact, meant feather. But birds were more than a hobby to her, they were a calling. She was an Ojibwa from the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. She was nineteen years old. She was in her second year of college, majoring in Wildlife Biology at the University of Minnesota. She had a good job at the Raptor Center and worked with good people, Linda Zen being one of the best. Every day she learned something new. One day she hoped to be doing , something meaningful with her life, like what Linda was doing, working on an injured bird and performing one of the many steps required in bringing that bird along the road to recovery.

She even got to meet decent people like the old guy who brought the owl in.

“If it’s alright with you both,” Greg interrupted her thoughts, “I’d like to wait around for a while.”

Mia smiled at him, “That’s great. I’ll take you back to the waiting area.”

Linda spoke up, “Hurry back, Mia. I’m going to need you.” She gazed lovingly at the large raptor, the biggest owl in north america, “This looks like a two person job.”

“I’ll just be a minute.”

Mia got Greg settled and was on her way back to surgery when her phone buzzed. She took it out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. It was a message from Frankie. She grimaced and shook her head. She went to contacts and deleted him. She was done with the guy. Then she hurried off to help out Linda. The owl was going to live and she was going to be able to help with the first stage of its recovery. It was looking like it was going to be a really good day. In fact, a great day, especially now that she had an injured bird to take care of.

Mellowing Out

Alicia Jorgenson set the cup down and said, “Here you go, Blake, some nice chamomile tea for you.”

Blake held up a hand, smiled his thanks, and said in a low voice, “Come and join me. This will be done in just a minute.” Then he closed his eyes and went back to his relaxation tape, ear buds firmly in place, listening to the melodic strains of “Trickling Forest Stream.”

Alicia went to the kitchen, made herself a cup, came back to the den and sat down. She wasn’t sure what to think about her husband, recovering from the mild heart attack he’d suffered earlier in the summer. A heart attack six weeks ago brought on by his obsession with his garden and with ridding it of the female rabbit and her babies that had taken over. He’d wanted to win first place in the garden contest this year after settling for second place last year. Well, this year he’d placed third.

Alicia remembered the outcome of the judging very well. At the time, Blake had been into his third week of recovery. When the announcement was made, Alicia had expected him to explode and rant and rave and go completely nuts and out of his mind. It would have been par for the course given his competitive nature. But he hadn’t even gritted his teeth or swore an oath of revenge. Instead, he’d shrugged his shoulders and grinned, “We’ll, at least it’s something,” meaning the third place award, a simple plaque, not the shining gold trophy he’d envisioned. It was so out of character for her high strung husband, that she’d had to look twice to see if the tall, slightly overweight man she’d been married to for over forty years really was, in fact, the same man. He definitely was. Maybe, Alicia thought to herself, as she went back to sipping her tea in companionable silence while Blake finished listening to the trickling stream, maybe he really was starting to change.

At just that moment, Becky Johnson and Maggie Jones, two old friends who had outlived each of their respective husbands by over twenty years, were walking past Blake’s house.

“Look at how lovely the pink geraniums are looking in those hanging baskets,” Becky remarked.

“Humph. That Blake, he’s such a jerk,” Maggie rejoined, “Thinks he knows everything about gardening.”

“Well, his flower beds do look awfully nice.”

“He’s just so full of himself. He doesn’t even bother to help out at the community garden. He’s a jerk in my book.”

The garden Maggie was talking about was the recently established Long Lake Community Garden, a lovely planting space donated to the city by Wilber Smith and his wife Edith after they had passed away. The two friends volunteered their time, both being avid gardeners themselves, usually for a few hours most mornings before the summer days became too hot.

Becky grinned at her friend. Deep down she agreed with her assessment of their arrogant neighbor, but she enjoyed winding Becky up occasionally. It helped keep their friendship interesting. It was easy to do, too, since Maggie had opinions on nearly everything and everybody under the sun, Blake Jorgenson being near the top of the list. Not that either of them were happy he’d suffered his heart attack. They weren’t those kinds of people, not at all. But they both secretly agreed that Blake really was, in their opinion, a little too big for his britches. Plus, the fact that the heart attack, which had been brought on when he’d freaked out over what he referred to as “That Damn Rabbit,” well, you had to admit, in the right context, it was kind of funny.

That being said, Becky pointed and grinned. There was the aforementioned rabbit, calm and unafraid, nibbling contentedly on one of Blake’s orange nasturtiums. She was about to shoo it away when Maggie put her hand on her friend’s arm to stop her. Becky just grinned, “Okay. He does sort of deserve it, doesn’t he?”

The two smiled at each other and continued walking on, arm in arm, happily enjoying the tranquility of a quiet August morning, ambling down the street and away from both Blake’s garden and the healthy looking rabbit, who, having finished with the nasturtiums was now moving on to some delectable looking bachlor buttons.

Back inside, Blake’s tape had ended. He happened to glance outside and spied the two elderly ladies. “Look at those two old bitties,” he said to Alicia. “God, they’re so high and mighty.” He took a gulp of his supposed relaxing tea, choked on it a little and coughed.

Alicia patted him on the back. “Blake, calm down. You know what your doctor said.”

“I know, ‘You’ve got to try and learn how to relax and mellow out,'” he said, in a sing-song voice, mimicking the words of Dr. Rose, a doctor chosen by Blake as much for his last name as anything else. “I’m trying.”

Alicia took a sip of her tea, “I know you are dear, but you really do need to try harder. Especially when it comes to your gardening. It’s supposed to be fun, you know. Relaxing. A hobby.”

Blake gazed at his wife with affection. Of course she was right. He wasn’t a dummy. He knew he that for the sake of his health he needed to learn how to relax, but it was hard. If it wasn’t for that Damn Rabbit, he’d have won first place in the garden show this year. A big, shining, gold trophy instead of that stupid wooden plaque. Everyone said so. But, no, Mrs. Bunny Rabbit had chosen this summer to not only return to the neighborhood, but to have about a million babies, all of which she brought to feed on his prized flowers. Damn it, life just wasn’t fair. He felt himself getting worked up all over again. Alicia was right. He really did need to learn to calm down. To mellow out, as the doctor had said.

He took a deep breath and let it out, “I know, dear,” he said, sighing.

Alicia stood up. “Well, that’s good. Now, I’ve got some errands to run. I’ll be stopping at the grocery store. Need anything?”

How about a shotgun for that Damn Rabbit, Blake thought to himself, but, instead, said, “No. I’m good.” He paused and added, smiling, half way joking, half way not, “How about maybe something stronger than this tea?” He grinned and mimicked a drinking motion.

“Blake,” Alicia admonished him, “You know what the doctor said.”

“I know. No booze. No red meat. No nothing fun. I get it. Tea and saltines.” He sighed again, starting to feel just ever so slightly sorry for himself.

“It’s not that bad. All of us just want you to get better.” She bent to give him a kiss on the forehead, “I’ll see you in a little while.” She patted him on the arm, “Good bye, dear.”

Blake waved her goodbye and returned to his iPod and his relaxation music. He scrolled down the playlist until he found, “Soft Springtime Rain,” and set it playing. He sat back and closed his eyes, dreaming of better days. Better days when that rabbit was finally gone. They couldn’t come soon enough as far as he was concerned. It was frustrating. All the time he put into his garden, gone to waste. Third place. What a disappointment. Alicia didn’t care about the award, she just liked to garden. Maybe he should be more like her. Food for thought. On the other hand, maybe he really should get a gun and blow that rabbit to Kingdom Come. He thought about it for minute or so, picturing a disgusting, bloody scene. Naw. He could never harm any animal, even the rabbit, much as he despised it. Maybe he really should learn how to relax. Yeah, that would be the best thing to do. He signed once again, leaned back in his chair and drifted off to sleep, the sound of soft summer rain in his ears.

Blake didn’t see it, and it was probably a good thing, too, that out in the garden the female rabbit that Maggie and Becky had seen was still there, only now her four babies had joined her. They moved as a group through the flowers, happily feeding on newly sprouted bachelor buttons and whatever other delectable treat they could find. They were so many choices. After a few minutes, before they became too full, the big female gathered her young ones to her and led them away. She had learned over time to never completely eat all the food in a given location. She always left some for another day, and that’s what she did now.

She began making her way to a field of clover across the street and the next block over, down by the railroad tracks. The clover was sweet and tasty, a nice change from the flowers in the man’s garden. In fact, the more she thought about it, maybe she’d just leave his garden alone for the rest of the season. There was whole summer’s supply of clover, fresh for the taking in the field. She could always come back to the man’s garden. Anytime. If not this year, for sure next year. As she hoped along leading her babies she made her decision. She wouldn’t return for the rest of the season, but next year she’d be back. Maybe with a new batch of babies, too. Why not? It made perfect sense to her. She liked almost all the flowers in the man’s garden. The food was good for her babies, a welcome change from the clover in the field. Besides, in a way she felt she owed it to the man, especially since he had so thoughtfully planted such a lovely garden with all those delectable flowers. It was almost like he had done it just for her. She was finished with his garden for this year, but next year? Next year she’d be back for sure.