I was fifteen when I held Bunny against me for the first time, in the field behind the schoolhouse. The dramatic, animal curve of her hips filled my hands like plump blessings. She was shy, and did not speak much about her home life. She liked coming over to my house after class. My father told me privately one morning, "You have to be careful with her son. She's not made of the same stuff as you or me, you gotta be real gentle-like. Like she's something kept behind the glass counter at the store."
I had not thought of her as breakable and this troubled me. So I asked her to stay the night one evening, because I worried about her when she wasn't under my protection. Unhappinesses always find the small and vulnerable. She agreed to stay, and I think she liked being worried about. It was a new experience for her.
The next morning, my father was angry to discover Bunny in my bed. "Your mother wouldn't want it." I nodded, and that was the end of the conversation. I continued to sneak Bunny into my room, and he continued to pretend he didn't hear, presumably so that when he talked to Mother in the shower as I often heard him do these days, he could plead innocent. He began leaving out breakfast for Bunny as well as for me though. My father is a serious but soft-hearted man.
Bunny was a restless sleeper. Always hungry, always horny, I had my work cut out keeping her happy. Eventually she learned to curl against my chest, and just as my father pretended not to know she was here, I pretended not to know she wasn't.
Bunny wanted children. I was too tired. I'm still in high school. I work weekends. I don't have enough time or money to look after them in addition to you. She wanted to leave. I convinced her that she wouldn't be safe anywhere else. That anyone who told her they'd take care of her babies would leave her the second they popped out, and at least I was being honest about not wanting them.
Her restlessness bounded about the walls of the bedroom like Peter Pan's shadow. Some nights she didn't even touch the bed. Her once full hips waned before my eyes. Sadness poured out from her frame like a portrait inside a church.
I missed holding her. Kissing the velveteen rim of her lobes and hearing her excitable heartbeat when she'd tickle my chin with her hair. Loneliness howled its most bitter one night, and as her flip book body disappeared past me, I stopped the pages and grabbed her. My hands kept clasping, as when you go to catch an animal and realize it is much slimmer than the fur implies. She had lost so much of her endearing plump. When finally I found her waist, she panicked. Her struggle hurt me, when did I become something to run from? Her flightiness at the only one who had ever protected her drove me to earnestly remind her that my arms were a haven. I pulled her with my weight to the bed, and laid over her to protect her. If she'd only let me, everything would have been fine. But my love bounced off of her, like apologies on the ears of the wise and hurting. She spooked even worse and continued to struggle. Her body was so sharp and so easy to snap. I screamed at her, through her. Love me again. I cried until I fell asleep like that.
I woke up to my father shoving me aside. I caught a glimpse of Bunny still lying in her crooked place before I hit the floor painfully. Father looked anguished. I didn't mean to, father. She wouldn't lay with me and I was just trying to get her back. I didn't mean it. He didn't even look at me. Just scooped her up and held her like a woman holds a pregnancy test. I saw the question of "yes or no?" written on his brow, fleshy complication ripped away to expose bone. I had to know, too. He turned and carried Bunny out the door. I sat there dumbly. When I got up shakily to open the door, my father had locked it. It must have been an accident.
It was an accident.
Cass Bartlett is an undergraduate in the Creative Writing program at Western Washington University. Her work will have been published in the 2017 edition of Jeopardy Magazine.