Short Story // Maud’s Rabbit
She squatted over the dead rabbit, palms flat and fingers stiffly splayed inside a plastic bag. She gave a quick look up the road, then checked over her shoulder towards the weir. With the road empty she leaned into the rose bush and carefully scooped the carcass from beneath it, encasing the animal’s languid broken frame between her gentle hands. Through the plastic she could feel flecks of ice caked in its fur and the soft rattle of broken ribs just below the skin. She was relieved its eyes were closed as she peeled it from the frosted grass. Her lower back twanged as she straightened with the stiff grace of a heron, rotating her hands slowly to cause minimal upset to her arthritis she cupped its body and dropped it into the bag.
She held the handles out from her face and watched as the morning light passed through the plastic and nestled in the rabbit’s fur. Inside the bag, there was a strange distorted peace. She studied the creature as the bag turned in slow rotations; its sleek form interrupted by mangled contortions, its head askew, the ripples of shattered bones bulging beneath its fur, its tail a clotted brown stump. Maud had to remind herself that the rabbit didn’t know her from a gooseberry bush. Her garden had just been an insignificant patch of nature it traversed in the watery light of dawn, Ronan’s roses a bush of no consequence to sniff and nibble. Yes, she had watched the creature take across her driveway in short billowed hops, often chatting to it through the window as it mounted the curb to gnaw on the fence or find a sunspot in the grass, but at the end of the day rabbits die all the time – and this rabbit was no different to any other. She had stood rooted at the window for the bones of half an hour telling herself this, eyes trained on the wild dead creature stretched under the rose bush, the chain of her necklace twisting between swollen fingers.
The morning sky leaked a sharpening brightness across the fields and through the branches of birch where crows took to their nests. They cawed as she perched the bag atop the low wall and went inside for a trowel. Ro had kept tools in an empty paint bucket below the work bench in the garage, she was near certain they’d still be there. The garage was a part of the house Maud used to avoid, with its dark corners of spindled cobwebs flailing against the windows which faced out over the yard where the van once parked. There was too much of him in there. The stacks of empty plant pots, the tools scattered across the counter, the paint-flecked vice grip with the table leg clenched between its teeth, exactly as he had left it.
It wasn’t that the ghost of him seemed to haunt the place. Maud wouldn’t have minded that so much, being a woman with plenty of space in her life for those gone before her to come and go as they pleased. She would have welcomed it, as she did the others.
She knew her father was visiting when the smell of oil and sawdust found her at the kitchen table, sliding jigsaw pieces around the vinyl on the nights when sleep wouldn’t come and she couldn’t be bothered to light the stove. When a wet drizzle took passing the cowshed, she knew it was Angie. With a curt toss of her head she usually asked if she had nothing better to be doing then addling her, but there was no denying the gentle pang of loneliness that took seed in her when the drizzle petered out and the smell of lilies left her alone on the road.
No, it wasn’t Ronan’s presence haunting the place that had kept her away from the garage but rather his acute absence, how everything in there seemed to be waiting for his return; the unclosed toolbox jammed behind the door, the limp gardening gloves reaching down from the shelf, the loose chain and broken spokes of the upturned bicycled in the middle of the floor. She found it hard to breathe in there, like the things he left behind took all the air out of the room.
Pushing open the garage door, bloated swells of dust caught in the dim light of the windows. She crossed the empty floor and taking a firm grip on the edge of the counter started her slow descent for the bucket. Over the years the place had been cleared out. His tool collection slowly depleted by children with half-notions of building bird boxes or fixing gates, bicycles taken for quick spins and never returned. Not that she minded. Sure, what good would they have been to her with the arthritis inching its stiff tendrils through her frame? Better for them to be used, taken away and no more said about it.
Condensation streaked the window and trapped the sun in slow golden droplets. She hoisted the bucket onto the counter and began rifling slowly, removing the contents and laying them across the counter in a neat line: a half-torn box of nails, Ronan’s battered old pipe, a bundle of mass cards tied together with twine. A large scatter of loose matches rattled around inside the bucket and like an old tune they prompted his image in her mind. How he used to strike the match with the pipe hanging out the side of his mouth, gripping it gently between his teeth, the strength in his pinched fingers as he struck the side of the box, the graceful swoop of his wrist and the swift arcing motion that would bring the match to the end of his nose. How he used stare into the flame then, cross-eyed, and she would laugh at him as he lit the pipe and shook the match out at his side, winking at her through the smoke.
It wasn’t until a car passed along the road that Maud came to, a single match resting in her upturned palm. The delicate sounds of his lip’s pap-paping evaporated from her ears as the waking dream fled from her. She tilted her hand and watched the match roll back into the bucket and slip between the narrow crevices of brus. Maud quietly preferred the memories to the visits. The memories slipped away as gently as they arrived, soaking slowly back into the furniture. The visits left her out of kilter, full of an emptiness she had been trying to forget. In all Ronan’s years gone she could count on one hand the amount of times she suspected him to be visiting, although there was no way of knowing for certain.
The trowel in her mind’s eye had a light wooden handle with twine looped through the shaft. She was surprised to find herself pulling a bright orange yoke from the bucket and inspecting a gleaming soil-specked blade. A very modern trowel altogether, she thought and for a moment worried the earth would be too hard for her wrists to make any bit of a dent in it. She pictured the poor rabbit outside on the wall lying inside in its plastic coffin and it rustling hard and loud against the wind.
The clouds bulged and sifted in quickening greys as Maud took up the weir road, a rain cover tied in a loose knot under her chin, with the rabbit swaying in the bag at her side like a morose pendulum. She tried not to think about its organs growing cold like soft little stones, its blood turning solid and congealing, its bright eyes under their lids now dull and clouding over with lifelessness.
She remembered the local papers after Ro’s disappearance, how his picture stared out at her; leaning against the low wall with his wellies crossed at the ankles, arms folded across his chest and the eyes glinting out from under his cap. It was like he wasn’t missing at all but frozen there eternally, on one of those Skype calls the children had them doing when they moved away. Can you hear me, Ro? You’re frozen stiff. Are you there at all?
The last she had seen of him he was going out the weir to mend a fence, then into town for a rotisserie chicken. It’s a fright for a man to go missing on a Sunday, of all days. She had been in mass that morning while what happened to him happened - praying to God, thanking him. When the garda inspector told her what he suspected had gone on, a numbness crept in through Maud’s fingertips and rooted itself in the hollow of her chest. It wasn’t until the memorial service, a funeral without a coffin, that she noticed just how low her heart sat, the hesitant beats pulsing in her stomach. Looking further along the road she found the gate to the weir hung open like a half-closed eye.
Maud sunk to her knees beneath a holly bush, gripping the top of a split fencepost with her rigid fingers, lowering herself slowly, one leg and then the other. This was the best spot for him, she decided. If a fox tried to go after him, it’s an eyeful of holly it’d be getting. She took in the tangible stillness of the place and decided to bury him deep.
A breeze carrying the warmer notes of afternoon travelled down from the mountain, and the blade of the trowel sliced through the damp earth with ease as Maud set into cutting scoops from the ground. When it was done Maud surveyed her work, nodding at the hole calmly like it was speaking to her. Beside her knee the dead rabbit lay with the plastic softly billowing around its icy body. She took the handles of the bag and lowered it into the hole until she felt the earth take the weight of him from her wrist. The soil sounded in sharp patters against the plastic as she pushed the loose earth over the rigid corpse until the hole was full. With the back of the trowel she patted the dark patch of terrain and settling back against the broken fencepost, thought to say a prayer but didn’t.
The spill of water over the lip of the weir carried a hush. A car passed up the back road. Then another. Through the canopy above her, light sifted with the turn of the clouds and a chaffinch sounded. A smell of pipe smoke found her twisting her wrists in slow circles by the holly bush.
’tis yourself, she said without looking up, have you come to fix that fence?
Sadhbh Moriarty is an award-winning playwright and fiction writer living in Brighton, where she completed an MA in Creative Writing. Born and raised in County Kerry, her writing reflects the nuances of rural Irish living grounded in surrealism and absurdist humour. She enjoys the music of David Bowie and isn’t too sure what to make of Marmite yet.