Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Patch of Violets - Part 1

This is an excerpt from my book in progress, "Songs of Abundance and Beauty: The Stories of Josiah."

You know when you first wake up in the morning and you just start to stir a little bit – your body is beginning to wake up, but your brain is still a little bit slow? I like to think of it as a foggy morning inside your head. You don’t know what’s going on around you but you’re so comfortable, all curled up snoozing, that you really don’t care.

“Hey Josiah!” The little voice came bouncing off the rough, wooden walls of the barn as the first morning light crept into the hay-filled corners and crevices. “Are you up yet?”

I slowly opened my eyes a little bit. I knew it was the voice of my little friend Zachary. Zack is a young bunny about half my age, who always was the first one up in the morning and ready to go out and play before anyone else.

“Zack,” I said, lifting up my ears. “You have to be quiet, you’re going to wake everyone else up!” He ran over to my sleeping area, a soft pile of hay underneath a wooden ledge that held some old flower pots made of reddish brown earth. “Everybody should be up!” he declared, with the little twist to his voice which made him always sound like he was asking a question. “It’s getting light outside, the sun is coming up! Come out and see.”

With a backwards-kick of his rear legs, Zack ran around in a small circle in front of my bed a couple of times to make sure I was getting up, and then bounced out the partially open door of the barn to the yard. I got up, did a big stretch punctuated with a big yawn at the end of it, and followed him outside.

Sure enough, the sun was just waking up, still covered with its blanket of clouds behind the big hills to the east. It was already painting the sky above it with highlights of red and orange, a touch of gold here and there. The very highest leaves of the big trees in the distance were also being touched with golden light. I so love to see the tree leaves in the morning light. I sat up on my back legs and sniffed the cool, fresh air. Then I turned all the way around and saw Grandfather Moon, a big round ball of pale yellow, floating low in the greenish-blue sky above the green, misty fields. He looked like a wise old rabbit to me, tired and heading for his burrow, ready to go to sleep.

“Good night, Grandfather Moon,” I said quietly, although I was sure he could hear me. “I will see you again soon.”

Meanwhile Zack was running and jumping and kicking up a little bit of dust. “Isn’t it a great morning, Josiah?” he said. He almost sounded like a little bird, he was so happy and delighted. Some of the other rabbits were beginning to wake up and amble around the yard, looking for their morning nibble.

“Come on, Josiah,” he called out. “Let’s race over to the far side of the yard before the others get there. I’ll bet there are some sweet, young leaves and new grass to eat!” He took off like a shot, scaring a couple of birds who were sitting in a nearby tree, and I took off too, following him in a zig-zag fashion.

Turns out, some other bunnies had gotten there before we did. There is a big area in the corner of the yard where we live that is full of plants and little shrubs, with big tree branches hanging overhead. Everybody loves to go there and look around for tasty things to munch on. It is a pretty safe area for us, with shelter and places to hide. If some of the bad flying things come around, the four-legged creatures who live on the other side of the fence start running around and making a huge racket, so we know we have to be very cautious and hide. Those big animals are very noisy and they all have really bad breath, but they can occasionally be useful.

But me, I like the area because I can look through the fence to what is outside. I have never been outside; it looks like a beautiful place but also a little dangerous. I hear weird noises coming from there every so often, along with some very interesting and exotic smells which I can’t identify. It’s a little bit frightening sometimes but I can’t help but be intrigued by it. I spend a lot of time thinking what it would be like to be out there, away from everyone and the food and the nice safe barn to sleep in. I think it would be a tough place to live, but still, I can’t help wanting to go out there and see. I know I shouldn’t think about it, and a lot of the old lady bunnies here scold me and tell me I would be crazy to do it, but I really want to see what is out there, so near yet so far away.

While Zack was busy stuffing his face with sweet grass, I was nibbling on some spearmint minding my own business when I noticed a group of bunnies nearby. One of them was a brown and white girl bunny I had seen a couple of times before. She was one of a litter of babies born right before the last lightdark, and they were growing up and leaving the care of their mother. There is something about her that I really like, and I don’t know what it is. I would never tell anyone how I feel because then you get teased to within an inch of your life and the bunny that you like thinks you are really pathetic, but I still feel there is something special about her. I love the way her mouth is shaped and she has the most beautiful dark eyes. I don’t see her smile much but when she does it’s like a light turns on. Her face is just perfect and I don’t know why. I have to be careful that no one sees me staring at her because that would end badly for both of us, but it’s hard not to.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t wander over to her to get a better look and see what she’s eating. So that’s what I do, I mosey on over in her direction and am a little surprised when I see that she’s not really eating anything, but staring at a little clump of dark blue wildflowers growing the grass. I get closer to her and try to think of something to say to her. I couldn’t think of anything clever so I just blurted something out.

“Are you going to eat those?” I asked, and right after I did I thought I was the biggest idiot in the world. I wouldn’t blame her if she gave me a loud thump and ran away.

She looked up at me and I noticed she had some really long, long eyelashes. They were gorgeous! Even if she told me to get lost, it was worth it to get this close.

She looked up and said, “Oh no, I’m not going to eat these. I just like to look at them, they are my favorites.”

I didn’t understand how you could look at a tasty plant and not eat it, but I had to be careful because I didn’t want her to think I was some kind of slob.

“Do you know what they are called?” I asked, trying to do anything to get her to talk to me. I was so excited!

“My mother told me they are called zinthann in bunny language, but I heard one of the humans call them ‘violets.” She put her head down and touched one of the flowers with her nose, and I thought I was going to pass out.

“My name is Josiah,” I said. I don’t know why I said that, because I couldn’t think of anything to say afterward. But before I could continue, she said, “I know who you are, I have seen you around the barn and the yard.”

That kind of took me aback a little, I had no idea that she had even noticed me. “I remember seeing you and your mother and your brothers and sisters in that place in the barn next to the big round thing.”

A very small look of sadness seemed to cross her face and I was very afraid that I had said something wrong.

“I remember being there,” she said quietly. “We always had a good time there and we were happy. Now Mama doesn’t have much to do with us anymore, and some of my brothers and sisters have already been taken away, so I try not to think about it too much.

I hadn’t realized that some of her brothers and sisters were gone. That’s what happens around here, you get used to seeing certain bunnies and then one day some humans come into the barn, grab a couple of them and then leave. You rarely if ever seen them again, and if you do see them again they are changed and very different from the way they used to be, and usually not in a good way.

I knew I had to think fast and change the subject to something a little more pleasant, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. I was desperate, and desperation makes you do stupid stuff.

“I saw Grandfather Moon this morning!” I said, and immediately regretted it.

Without even a pause, she said, “I saw him too. I love looking at him.” Somehow she made me feel at ease and not as much of a moron as I thought I was.

Relaxing a little bit and taking a breath, I said, “I just realized I don’t know your name.” She looked at me and gave me the tiniest little smile. “My name is Lila,” she said.

I felt like I had just been given a really wonderful gift. “It was nice talking to you, Lila. I hope we can talk again.”

“So do I, Josiah,” and at that point we both resumed what we were doing and gradually mingled in with the other bunnies.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Lila and even though our conversation was short, she really impressed me. She was just so sweet and self-aware and maybe a little bit sad, but I could not stop thinking about her. I couldn’t stop thinking about what was outside on the other side of the fence, either. I thought about that day and night, and every time I went outside my eyes were drawn to the distant world out there. Something was calling me, telling me I had to leave and find out what it had in store for me.

Some days later I decided I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to find out more about the outside world. I had overheard some bunnies talking about an older male bunny whom they said actually got out and spent time in the outside world on his own, before the humans somehow found him and brought him back to where we live. His name is Hector, and he is a big, gruff, unpleasant guy who spends all his time by himself and doesn’t have much to say to anyone. The other bunnies say he’s not that old but he looks old. I see him every so often and like everyone else, I don’t have anything to do with him; but I figured out that if I was going to find out anything about the places beyond the fence, I would have to talk to him.

I had to be cagey about the whole thing and approach him cautiously. If I came on too strong he would just kick me and I wouldn’t want that at all. So one afternoon I saw him sitting outside, alone as usual, and carefully, slowly, walked up to him, my ears against my back, showing as much respect as possible. I decided to greet him in the traditional rabbit fashion.

“May wellness and joy be upon you, sir,” I said meekly. A lot of the younger bunnies think that addressing the adult bunnies in the old-fashioned way is pretty lame, but I know they appreciate it.

Hector just glared at me with his dull brown eyes. He said nothing but I thought I heard a little grunt. Taking heart in not getting beat up immediately, I proceeded cautiously.

“May I ask you a couple of questions, please, sir?” I said. I put my ears and head down. It was now completely up to him, he was in control of the situation.

He glared like he was really angry at me and I thought, I am a goner. It was so quiet I could hear the wind through the trees over the fence. After what seemed like forever, he said to me in a deep, gravelly voice, “Why are you bothering me?”

I stayed completely scrunched against the ground, as respectful as possible. “Well, sir, my name is Josiah and -“

“I know who you are!” he bellowed. “Do you think I’m some kind of idiot?”

Trying not to act completely terrified, I stammered out, “N-No, sir, I..."

“I’ve been here long enough that I know everybody,” he snapped. “At least you have enough sense not to hang out with that pack of hooligans that are always getting into trouble around here.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. I really felt scared and confused, and I didn’t know what I could possibly say to make things better. So I said nothing.

After a short while (which seemed like forever) he finally said harshly, “What is it that you want to ask? Come on boy, spit it out. I don’t have all day to waste, waiting for you to think of something to say.”

I regarded this as a positive development. I figured that things could go south at any second so I better make my case and make it well.

“Sir,” I said, “I think a lot about what is out there, on the other side of the big fence. I don’t know what’s there but I feel I have to find out. I have heard that you have been there, on the outside, and I wonder if you could please tell me what you saw.”

Hector lifted his head a little bit, I think to make me feel even more inferior than I already did, and said nothing for a few seconds.

“So you want to know what is outside the fence?” he said, a little derisively. “You’re a nosy little thing, aren’t you?”

I couldn’t deny that, but I said nothing. I kept looking straight ahead at his front paws, all dirty and caked in mud, with cracked toenails.

“Are you thinking of taking a little excursion, young Josiah?” he asked bluntly. “Is that why you’re asking?”

“Well, yes, I mean, no, sir. I-I mean…” I was really getting rattled and I felt everything falling apart in front of me. “I don’t know exactly what I mean, sir.”

Still glaring at me with his dusty, cloudy eyes, he said, “If you’re smart, you’ll stop thinking about the outside and just be happy to stay where you are. The outside world is a mean, harsh place where you have to search very hard for your food and water, they aren’t just served up to you every day like here. It is cold and damp, and the ground is hard and rocky. You are very lucky if you can find a place to live that isn’t crawling with every sort of horrible creature that all want to have you for dinner, and I don’t mean as a guest.” He shifted his weight a little bit and I could tell he was starting to get agitated.

“When you’re outside, death can be waiting for you around every bush or tree,” he continued. “You never know when something is going to jump out at you or grab you from the sky, and break your back or tear out all your guts. That can happen in a second, before you even know it. As a matter of fact, it’s better if you don’t even know when it happens.”

I just crouched there and trembled in fear. “What did I get myself into?” I thought to myself. Hector continued in his deep, mean voice.

“You will watch other animals die all around you, and wonder if you’ll be next. You will see other rabbits, but they are born to live in the outside. They will shun you and attack you, and run you out of their territory because you have the mark of the humans on you. You will be very lonely and think you are the only rabbit in the world.” He stopped and gave me an icy cold look. “Is this the kind of world you want to go to?”

I didn’t know what to say to him. He stopped talking and took a slow breath.

“Listen carefully, and know this,” the grizzled rabbit said, fixing me with his piercing gaze. “If you want the have the world outside, you will have to give up something you have now. That’s how things work - everything is in balance. To get something you must give something up. Choose wisely, young Josiah, because what you get in return for giving up something you have may be, in the end, not what you really wanted at all.”

I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I could not move and was barely able to breathe. The old man turned to look over at the fence.

“I will tell you one more thing,” he said, a bit more calmly, "and then you will leave. If you go outside the fence, you will feel something, something that will change you and your life forever. It is something that will make you jump and run like crazy. It will make you dance for no reason, even if you’re feeling poorly, and make you want to put up with every horrible, terrible thing that will come your way. You will taste something that will transform your life and everything will be different afterward.”

I was scared and intrigued at the same time. Somehow I found my voice to ask him one last question.

“What is it that I will taste, that will change my life so much?” I asked very apprehensively.

Hector glared at me with cold, hard eyes that had seen far too many bad things. I had no idea what he was going to tell me, and I was very surprised when he said but a single word:


To be continued...

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