by Ricki Heller
They drove in silence over the gravel road to the trail, the same one they'd visited almost every weekend for twelve years. The dog, older (in dog years) than either one of them, usually walked or trotted lightly these days, nothing like the full-out gallop she enjoyed when they'd first got her.
Susan pulled into the clearing and parked the car. When Brian stepped out, she pushed the autolock, got out, and waited. He stood by the door, staring at her. When she didn't move, he fished in his pocket and retrieved his own key, opened the door again, and got the dog from the back seat.
"East or North?" he asked.
"It doesn't matter."
The dog was already loping toward the eastern entrance; they followed along. "Oh, great, Susan. Don't you think it's time to stop punishing me? It happened years ago. How was I to know you hadn't told them?"
"That's the problem, you just never seem to know what I want, do you?" Susan said. "It's so much easier to go with what you think is acceptable. You assume that I'll want to go where you want to go for dinner. You assume I'm in the mood when I'm not. Now you assume I would have told them."
"Susan, it was so long ago, you were barely two months along--"
"It's always the same with you, isn't it? It doesn't matter to you that no one knew. It was something private. I wanted to keep it between us. Why couldn't you understand that? Why must you always take whatever closeness, whatever sweet moments we have and turn them to dust? I don't know why I believed you'd be different this time. You made a promise to me, and as soon as the opportunity comes up, you see a chance to humiliate me--you just have to pounce on it."
"That's not fair," he said. "I had no intention of humiliating you! I wasn't even thinking about you at all when I said that. I told you--"
"Yes, you told me. It's always the same routine with you. It's becoming tiresome, Brian. Honestly, I don't know how much longer--"
But the dog was barking, furiously, hopping and snarling, several metres away from them.
"For God's sake," Brian said. "Kelsey! Kelsey girl, come back here!" He hastened toward her, his hand outstretched. Susan stood back, pushing her fingers into her jeans pockets.
After a minute, Brian called out. "Susan, can you come over here?" She didn't move. "Please? There's something here."
Susan walked slowly in his direction, hesitantly, as if he might be concealing a weapon.
He motioned to the dog. "She's trying to get at something. I can't quite make out what it is. Oh, geez, Sue, come look at this."
Susan came closer and peered toward the grass where the two of them, Brian and the dog, had directed their noses. "What is it?" She leaned over and examined the spot. The dog whined, looking up at her for an instant, then resumed barking and pawing at the ground.
"Oh my God, Brian, it's a rabbit," she said, almost a whisper. "Look at it, it's barely moving. We've got to do something."
He bent over until his face was almost on top of the tiny, brown mass of fur. "It's breathing, but barely. It's so young--its eyes aren't even open yet."
"What can we do? What can we do?" his wife said.
"This might not be such a good idea," he said. "We don't know what's wrong with it. Maybe we should just leave it--"
"No, we can't. We've got Kelsey's waterbowl in the trunk. Brian, please, you have to go get it."
He straightened up and stood there looking at her. After a minute, he said, "Okay, I'll go. You stay here and watch it, make sure it doesn't move."
She nodded, her stare transfixed on the little body. Brian turned back along the path toward the car. He stopped and faced Susan again. "Did you want me to leave the dog with you? So you can have company?"
"No, no, you take her. She'd probably just try to eat it, anyway," she said.
- - -
Brian brought an old canvas bag from the trunk. He used it to lift the bunny by the scruff of the neck and lay it tenderly in the dog's bowl. The dog barked, its tail wagging wildly. "It might be hurt a little," he said.
"Oh, no, I hope it will be all right," Susan said. "Let's get it home, quick. We'll call the SPCA and see what to do. They've got an emergency number."
At home, they laid the bowl on the counter. The bunny was fidgeting, moving its head side to side. "She's hurt, all right," Brian said. "But it doesn't look life-threatening. She's just shaking a little." The dog circled round him on the floor, trying to sniff the counter.
Susan handed Brian a cup of water and motioned to the bowl. She picked up the phone, punched a series of buttons, then hung up again. "They're closed." Her shoulders fell. "What now?"
"Try Animal Emergency Services," he said. "They have after-hours numbers for these things. Somebody will be able to help us."
He was holding an eye dropper of water over the rabbit's mouth. It lifted its head, sucking the air, trying to find the source of the water. "Come on, little bunny," he said as he dripped water over its nose. "Come on, sweetie, you can do it."
"No answer," Susan said. Her voice was strained. "Brian, there's no one there! What will we do? We can't let her die, we just can't!"
"Come on, little one," Brian said as he pushed the dropper toward the pink mouth. "She won't take it," he said. "She's not drinking."
"Here, let me try," Susan said. Brian held out the dropper. He leaned over, his hand on Susan's back as she tried to feed the rabbit.
"Oh, the little baby! She's just the tiniest little thing. . . "
"I know," Brian said. "Phone. Who else can we phone?"
"Let's think. Oh, God, Brian, she's bleeding!" She backed away from the bowl.
Brian put his arm around her shoulder. "Let me see," he said, peering over her. "Yep, looks like she was injured somehow. Maybe a cat, maybe a bird. Hard to tell. But it's not going to kill her, Sue, don't worry. We'll just nurse her back to health. We can do this."
"God, I just don't know," Susan said. "Yes, you're right. We'll just figure something out. If only we could get hold of someone. What about the vet's emergency clinic?"
"Great," Brian said. She ran to the phone book to look up the number.
"You keep trying to feed her," Susan said. She was on the telephone. "Hello? We found this baby rabbit. . .". After a while, her voice went low as she responded to the other voice on the line: "We've been trying to give it water, through an eye dropper. No, its eyes are still closed. . . About the size of a mouse. . . What? No, we didn't. . .Are you sure? But what if its mother is dead, or gone?" She went on this way for a few minutes, alternating answers with questions. When she hung up the phone, her face was white.
"They said the best thing is to put her back exactly where we found her," she said.
"What? That's absurd!" Brian said. "We can't go back there. How on earth could that be best for her?"
"They said rabbits don't do well in captivity. Humans aren't really able to care for them properly. It's possible the mother just left her for a while, or was going to go back. They hide really well, the woman said. She's got the best chance of survival if we put her back. Oh, Brian!" She leaned against him and buried her face in his chest.
They stood quietly for a while. Brian patted her back. "Well, if that's the best thing for her, I guess we have to do it," he said.
"Oh, Brian, if we put her back, she'll die! It's like a death sentence. We can't just give up that way!" She was crying now, big, sloppy tears, like a child. The rabbit in the bowl trembled, its eyes still closed, breathing in little strained gasps.
"It's the best thing, Sue," Brian said. "We'll have to let her take her chances. Let nature take its course."
They looked at each other. Of course, Susan thought, he was right. It was insane to think they could save her. Nature would always take its course.
"But we tried our best to save her, anyway," he said.
Susan sat down on the floor. She pulled the dog to her, hugging its neck. "Yes, at least we tried," she said.
About the author:
Ricki Heller, PhD lives and writes with her husband and puppy in Toronto, Ontario Canada. This is her first published fiction.