For the second year in a row, my family celebrated Easter with my father killing a rabbit.
Don’t think we’re revisionist Christians, attempting to wrestle the holiday out of the pink fuzzy hands of the Easter Bunny. We’re not. (Hell, we don’t even eat lamb on Easter Sunday anymore. We eat pork. “Ham of God, you take away the sins of the world.) No, the Slaughter of the Lagomorphs resulted more from the fact that my folks live in an area rural enough that their backyard vegetables often fall victim to hungry, toothy things. Upon getting home Friday night, I heard stories of the terror this rabbit has wreaked upon all things green: Mom’s flowers, Dad’s radishes, probably even the weeds — and you’d better believe that my parents don’t take kindly to others killing their weeds. With the rabbit attacking from above and gophers from below, anything green didn’t stand a chance, the way my parents tell it.
On Saturday, I walked into the yard and saw the dog. (He’d reportedly been obsessed with the rabbit since its two pointy ears showed up a few weeks ago.) Sure enough, I caught the dog staring at a bush with an intensity that most inanimate objects usually don’t merit. Looking a little more closely, I realized that he had cornered the very rabbit my parents had been trying to chase off. I could see him — small, young, brown with white spots — beneath the leaves, sitting utterly still in that strange way that rodents do when their instincts tell them to freeze up, even if doing so results in them being all the more conspicuous. I understood my parents’ frustration with the rabbit, but I figured I’d give him a second chance anyway. After all, it was the day before Easter. Rebirth. Redemption. All of that. I pulled the dog back by has collar and tossed a handful of dirt into the bush, figuring it would jar the rabbit into motion.
It did, but as he bounded out, I noticed that his back leg swung wildly behind him, tethered to his tiny little body with some tendon that should have been supported by body parts more substantial. He was hurt, and for an animal whose principal God-given survival skills involve running and digging, it was probably a mortal wound. As the rabbit slowed to a stop only a few yards away, the dog himself began to spin wildly. He slipped out of my hands, snatched the rabbit up and disappeared to another part of the yard. I imagine that he’d gotten wise to the fact that I wasn’t supporting his role in this particular Jack Hannah’s Animal Kingdom vignette. Some searching followed, and I eventually found both rabbit and dog on the side lawn. He would let the rabbit go and then scoop it up again, making the rabbit let out with that kind of scream that animals who don’t make noise do when they’re scared to death. In a way, that rabbit-scream strikes me as the most pitiful part. It’s a last resort for a critter whose natural defenses couldn’t get him far enough — a sort of “I’m not even supposed to make noise, but I am now. That’s how bad this is. Can you believe this?” When I decided I couldn’t listen to little rabbit screams any longer, I went and asked my dad if he’d mind killing it. Even at twenty-five years old, I’m still not big enough to mercy kill anything larger than a mouse. Besides, Dad was working in the garden and had a shovel.
Last I heard, Dad buried it. Last year’s Easter casualty got a less ceremonial ending: He was picked off with a shotgun. (In my dad’s defense, the 2007 model had been causing problems and eating greens for months longer than this year’s did.) I feel this tradition is a strange one for my family to implement, though I have to admit that I’m anxious to see how Rabbit No. Three will meet his demise next year.