Faye took Avery’s hand and led her out to the garden as if it was the first time her daughter had seen it. The bird-feeder swayed from side to side as the chickadees hopped up and down the perches. The eastern bluestars stood tallest, surrounded by a thick crop of yellow daylilies.The sun glinted across the dew-kissed skin of the tomatoes, and every blossom was opened wide to soak up each and every ray. The flowers appeared as a varied company of dancers too mesmerized by their own beauty to sense the seasonal curtain call, and the vegetables stood as a proud army in formation, awaiting the call to culinary arms. It was quite a sight to behold.
As mother and daughter sat on the stone bench at the garden's core, Faye breathed in the pleasing aroma of the vegetation and sighed as if life couldn’t get any better. But then she looked at Avery and realized that if the girl was open to her lessons, it could get better still.
“Avery, do you remember the story about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden?”
“I think so.”
“And how it all got ruined because of evil finding its way into the Garden?”
“Well, it’s not actually true. It’s a metaphor, you see. Do you know what a metaphor is?” she asked.
“Like a symbol?”
“Exactly. The Garden of Eden is a symbol for an ideal world. The Garden was poisoned by evil in the form of the serpent that persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey God, and likewise, there are several things that can poison our world. Water, for instance. The world is a garden and it must be given good, clean water if it’s to flourish and grow.”
“There’s bad water?”
“Indeed there is. The bad water makes the garden wilt and pale with disease, and sometimes it will cause the garden to sprout fat weeds that kill the healthy plants. Then the insects come and devour them, and the fruit will rot from the inside out. The beautiful garden you see before you will lose all of its beauty.”
“How do I know if the water is good or bad?”
“It’s tricky, for sure. Sometimes you can tell right away: the spigot might be rusted or the water might smell funny, but sometimes, everything might look clean and pure. But once the water starts to flow, it’s too late. That’s why you must assume that all water is bad. The garden and the world would rather die of thirst than poison, and that goes for all of the living things that are nourished by the garden: the birds, the bees, the rabbits…”
“Oh yes, Avery. The rabbits are very, very important. They eat from this garden more than any other creature. They are like us. The world is a garden and we are the rabbits. They nourish themselves on this garden as we nourish ourselves on the world. Do you understand?”
“I think so, but if the garden gets bad water and the rabbits eat from the garden, what happens to them?”
“They become sick, and once that happens, there is no helping them. It’s best to put such pathetic creatures out of their misery,” she replied and Avery cocked her head in confusion. “You must understand that the bad water isn’t limited to this garden. There are many veins through which the bad water can flow. You never know exactly where or when you might find it, so you must always been on alert and avoid the places where it’s most likely to run.”
“But there isn’t any here, is there?”
“Not yet. Hopefully, not ever, but that depends on how well you take care of your garden,” she answered.
“Should I get the watering can?” Avery asked.
“Not yet. Let’s just sit a while longer. There’s something I want you to see.”
They sat for almost an hour in silence. Avery’s eyelids started to droop, and with each passing minute, she contemplated asking her mom if she could leave, but she was never able to muster the courage. Her mother remained sitting up straight, completely attentive, and Avery did her best to mimic her. Then all of a sudden, Faye flinched, and she grasped her daughter’s hand.
“There,” she whispered as she pointed at the cabbage patch. “There, do you see them?”
Avery stood slowly and tiptoed over to the patch where the leaves were rustling slightly. She gingerly parted the cabbage and saw two rabbits. They stared up at her with large, red eyes but then resumed their prior activities, which appeared to be some form of rabbit wrestling.
“Rabbits,” Avery said, puzzled.
“What are they doing? Eating the cabbage?”
“They might have been. There are bite marks, but they aren’t eating it right now. They're playing, I guess.”
“One on top of the other?”
“Yes. What are they doing?” she asked, but when she looked back, she found her mother standing directly behind her with one of her many paisley gardening bags in her hand. With a smile, she withdrew a pair of gardening shears, and before Avery could question her on it, the shears flew past her face and down into the cabbage patch.
The blades pierced through the top rabbit’s head and the bottom rabbit’s back. When she pulled the shears up, the bottom rabbit slid off, but the top remained skewered with its mouth hanging agape. She screamed in horror as her mother twisted the shears and the rabbit’s face turned to her, frozen in its death rattle. She tried to run away, but Faye’s bloody hands held onto her daughter, staining the dress Paul had given her.
“Be quiet, Avery,” Faye whispered harshly and plunked her down onto the bench.
“What did you do? Why did you do that?” Avery stammered through streaming tears.
“Because they were poisoning the garden. Because they deserved it.”
“No, no, it’s not fair. It’s not right.”
“It is right, Avery! Like I told you, they became sick from the bad water. They needed to be put out of their misery. It’s the humane thing to do. What they were doing was very, very bad.”
“What were they doing?”
“Let me show you,” her mother said, and with a grunt, she wrenched the skewered rabbit free and flipped it over. “Do you see the mark on its belly?”
“The yellow one?”
“Yes, and what color is the mark on the other rabbit?” she asked as she flipped it over.
“Correct. You see, Avery, I’ve marked every rabbit I’ve found in this garden. When I found two rabbits playing in that certain way, I marked them with the same color: blue and blue together, yellow and yellow, and so on. If the colors don’t match, it means the rabbits are switching partners. They’re being brazen. They’re being bad, and we can’t have bad rabbits in the garden.”
“But the colors are on their stomachs. How did you know they didn’t match?”
“I’ve been doing this long enough that I can tell, and one day, so will you.”
“No, I can’t do it. I can’t kill bunnies!”
“No one is asking you to kill anything, Avery. All I’m asking you to do is protect the garden from the bad water. As long as it’s clean and pure, this sort of thing won’t ever happen. I did this on purpose to teach you that,” she said and wiped away her daughter’s tears. “I’m sorry if I frightened you, but it’s important for you to know what happens when rabbits, and people, get careless with their bodies. Some don’t care or realize that they’re getting poisoned, and that’s when good people like us have to step in and help them understand the evil they’re doing to themselves.”
“I don’t think I can do it, Mom. Why can’t you just tend the garden like you’ve been doing all along?”
“Because you’re old enough to do it yourself now. Besides, I have bigger gardens to tend,” Faye replied and kissed her daughter’s forehead. “You’ll do just fine, sweetie. Come on; let’s get you cleaned up and throw away that dirty dress.”
After taking a long bath, Avery lay down on her bed to absorb the truths of the day, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw the rabbits. Their red eyes burned, and as they floated lifelessly toward her, their jaws got increasingly slacker until their mouths were wide enough to swallow her whole. For several weeks, she was haunted by the mismatched rabbits, but with each day she spent tending to the garden, the nightmares faded a little more. Every morning, she would rise with the sole intention of gardening, but before she watered anything, she thoroughly checked what was being transferred from the spigot to the watering can. She’d check the color, smell, and feel, and if it was even the slightest bit cloudy, she’d pour it out and start all over again. The weeks passed and the obsession grew, but it was an obsession based more on fear than desire. She didn’t want any more rabbits to die, and to ensure that the rabbits remained alive, she had to keep the garden clean and pure. But as happy as it made her mother to see her working so diligently, Avery couldn’t deny her boredom and overall exhaustion. Her mind and body were strained beyond belief, and she couldn’t help but think of how much of her time the garden had devoured, time she could’ve been climbing roofs or running up and down the streets of Oak Bluffs. Time she could’ve been spending with Paul. For two months, she made her mother smile without wearing one of her own, and she was tired of it.
"Rabbits in the Garden" is available in print from Post Mortem Press, and in print and ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!!