The Rabbit Eaters
These days, your dad’s attention is on gas prices, grain prices, and something called inflation that the new President—who I voted for, damned straight I did—is working hard to get back under control. Your mom sits in her chair, rubs her feet that she always says are dog tired, and even though you think she doesn’t pay him any more mind than you do, she’s the one who nods and says Mm-hmm every so often.
When your dad’s voice grows louder as he calls himself an American, a Patriot, God damn it, then says the only good things in this country are your mother and Reagan, you wonder how many beers he had on the way home.
You sort of remember the other President, the one your dad always called that no-good fool, the one with the really big white teeth and the brother who was always causing all sorts of embarrassment, but you remember the daughter better because she was just a little older than you, and you thought living in that big white house had to be the best thing ever, better than this drafty old house with chores to always do outside and a dad always telling you to toughen up and the government ain’t no friend of the working man. All you know about this new President is he used to be a movie star, and your teacher started crying one day when she told your class he’d been shot and you all needed to pray.
Now you pray every night God can fix this thing called inflation, because it seems like your dad is still always in a bad mood, even though he cheered when Reagan won, and he was so happy he spun your mom around the kitchen floor like they were a couple of teenagers, and your mom laughed and spun because she was happy to see him happy, and for just a moment she didn’t care your supper was burning on top of the stove.
But your dad says it takes time, and he knows better times are finally right around the corner again, but now’s not the time to grow weak and sit back on our haunches. Says, Real Americans take care of ourselves. Says he’d never do anything illegal to put meat on the table like some men who don’t know their asses from a hole in the wall, that he is still full of pride, God damn it.
You can tell your mom wants to tell him to quit taking the Lord’s name in vain, but she just keeps massaging her dog-tired feet.
Your dad tells you to follow him outside, to see what he’s brought home. Says your mom and church are good for your soul, but I’m the maker of your character.
You peer into the truck bed, reach out to pet the silky fur all huddled together, and he slaps your hand away. Says Don’t you ooh and aww. Those aren’t pets. Jesus Christ, you’re soft.
Tells you it’s your job to feed and water them every day. Points at the two biggest ones, tells you they’re ready.
You watch him grab one by the back legs. You watch him swing. You hear the crack of bone. Your dad grips you by the back of the head when you try to run as the silky body in his other hand twitches, once, twice, then falls slack.
Now grab the other one and prove you’re a real American.
The Strongest Jumper in the Class
You can tell he wants a strong boy, a tough boy. You snap your fingers. Wiggle your nose. Blow on dandelions and whisper your wish. Your mother tells you wishes only come true with hard work after she asks you why dandelion fuzz is all over your face one day.
The boys in school are little monkeys, jumping off the bleachers, leaping off the rungs of the jungle gym. You watch. Start practicing in the barn, perfecting your jumps from the hay loft, never once breaking a bone, never once crying out when you land too hard.
You leap up and down the driveway between the barn and the house every afternoon while your mother is busy with dinner. See how far I can go? I’m better than all the boys, you announce when your father pulls up to the house after another long day. I see that, he says, and heads inside to clean up for dinner. You didn’t even watch!, you cry out as the door shuts.
Your mother is always saying she deserves one night out a week for a nice dinner. You go to the same place every week, where he can get a beer and a steak, where your mother can stop at the tables of everyone she knows to say hello. You always sit next to him, feel the heat and muscle, absorb it, want to make the heat and muscle your own. You eat a hamburger with extra ketchup every week, half-listening as they talk about things you want no part of, like bills and taxes. Every week, you run ahead in the parking lot after he pays the check, willing him to watch how strong you are getting, stronger than any boy.
Tonight, you run ahead and crouch behind their truck. You’ll make him see.
When you jump, everything fades as he drops to the ground, eyes glazing, arms braced at his sides, finger cocked on a trigger from a time before you were born.
You remember the times your mother would remind you to turn your record player down, how loud noises gave him a headache for days. How he’d hole himself up in the basement reading Zane Gray novels until long past your bedtime. How your mother would try to explain words like war and point at a map of a long, thin country on the other side of the world.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, you sob, as your mother gently places her hand on his arm, helps him stand. He catches his breath, blinks as he tries to focus.
Your mother says, Shhhhh, it’ll be ok. You’re not sure who she is talking to.
He opens the truck door, tells you to sit on the other side of your mother. Tells you to go straight to your room when you get home. Tells you, It’s a good thing you’re a girl.