Madeleine had just told him to go fuck himself and slammed the door for the last time when the jackalope began to speak.
"I guess that's that," it said as Henry turned back towards the bowels of his apartment.
"What?" he asked. The jackalope's jaw moved in lazy circles that gave off smacking sounds. The fur around its mouth was dark with moisture.
"I said, 'I guess that's that.'" It spoke casually, with the air of a workman briskly dusting off his palms after a satisfying job.
Henry was unsure how to respond. The same sentiment had been welling up somewhere in his own subconscious when the jackalope spoke. The little guy had an uncanny sense of perception for a gag gift from a mail-order catalogue. But then, when you thought about it, the creature had held a front seat to most of Henry's life for the last two years. Madeleine had given him the jackalope--really just a rabbit's head with a pair of antlers glued on, mounted to a pine board--only three weeks after their first date. It was his birthday. The occasion came at that awkward stage in their relationship when neither had known how serious it would be.
"For you," she smiled as she waltzed over the threshold, extending a clumsy package wrapped in Christmas paper. She had a spring in her step, and she smelled like the outdoors. "Because together, you and I make a strange combination."
Before the discarded paper had hit the floor, she was on him: "Well? Aren't you going to hang it?" As he groped around for an old nail, Madeleine settled on the spot over the couch. Standing on the cushion, holding the nail in his mouth as he positioned the ridiculous stuffed head, Henry had felt--in spite of himself--like a man. Madeleine marked the spot with a pencil. Henry silently prayed he would miss any live wires as he tapped the nail into the drywall.
Since then, the jackalope had seen everything. Henry pushed his tongue slowly around his mouth. On their first anniversary, he had came home late from the wine shop. Madeleine stood at the range cooking dinner, naked. Her dark hair fell over the top of her shoulders, onto the pale skin where her bra should be. The Barolo bumbled through his fingers and shattered on the floor. He never could get the stain out of the rug--but then, he always told her, some stains were worth it.
There was also the night Henry left the bedroom abruptly, throwing his soft blue bathrobe around his shoulders and tying the sash as he paced the tiny living room. He remembered sitting down--collapsing--and burying his face in his hands. Do jackalopes sleep? Its stiff ears must have caught his quiet sobs, the whines escaping between thin fingers.
Now it shot him an indecipherable glance with one of its cool, plastic eyes.
"Silence is broken by the word," it said, zen-like. The chewing had stopped. It cocked its head left and right, as if stretching after a long nap. Henry sat down on the arm of the sagging coach, lifting his bright white socks onto the cushions. He faced the jackalope.
"Do you have a name?" he asked.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," it said. "I am He Who Cannot Be Named, the--"
Henry would have laughed, but he choked on his own spit and erupted into a coughing fit. A personal God was too selfish, too far-fetched for him to believe. As his fit died down, he could have sworn he saw the plastic eye twinkle.
"It was worth a try," the creature said. Henry smiled and looked at his feet. He absently pressed a finger into the sock wherever the division of his toes left loose fabric. The apartment grew quiet. Through the blinds the light began to dim, losing the warm glow of the afternoon.
The jackalope turned serious.
"Why do you think she left you?"
"Oh brother," Henry said. "A thousand reasons." He thought. "Or no reason at all. I could tick off every fight we had and go through the whole analysis objectively--"
"You could?" The dull eye twinkled again. "You mean you will. You act as if you have no time for these things, Henry, but you know you do. If there's anything you'll have plenty of in the next few weeks, it'll be time. You'll think about it everywhere--in the lab, in the grocery store, in front of the TV. You'll come at this thing with your typical scientific rigor, and you won't quit until you've somehow convinced yourself it never could have worked. You'll come up with some kind of brilliant explanation. 'Elegant,'" the mounted head spat. "That's your favorite term, isn't it? 'An elegant explanation.'"
This was just the kind of thing he should have expected from one of Madeleine's gifts. "For your own good, too," she would have said. Could they be right about him? Did it matter?
The jackalope hung on display quietly. It looked like it may never have spoken at all. Once, after Henry told her that he was giving a paper and would not be back for her mother's Christmas party, Madeleine had thrown a book across the room. It hit the jackalope square in the face. The head fell from its nail and landed gently on the couch. But its nose was never the same. The old leather between the nostrils split crookedly; it was this split that caught Henry's eye now. He wanted to ask if it hurt.
"Well," the jackalope sighed, "She left her rings on the counter. I guess she'll be coming back for them." Henry looked into the alcove of the kitchen. The rings glimmered in the harsh light over the sink.
"She left a lot of things here," Henry said. "She'll probably want her CDs, and the Japanese kitchen knife she paid so much for, and all her other junk." He stretched his legs absently, like he was about to go somewhere.
The jackalope cleared its throat.
"I wonder if she'll want me," it said.
About the author:
J. MacNeill Miller is a freelance writer living in New York City. His non-fiction has appeared in Rain Taxi and Afterimage. He also writes Page 291, a blog on visual culture.