She rises up, dark and looming. Her fangs are eight inches long. Bigger and bigger. It's . . . it's Nelly, her shadow on the wall, thrown by a reading lamp. Yet that is in some ways her truest self, epic, ferocious. A wolf in Nelly clothing.
How cute! How pretty! Such a sweet little dog! they exclaim. They didn't see her today, trotting down the rail trail with a decapitated bunny in her mouth.
Let me hasten to record that she was not responsible for the demise of this truly cute, pretty, sweet little creature. Not this particular one, at any rate. A half hour before, I heard the inimitably excited bark she employs only on wildlife sightings, and then saw Peter Cottontail speed by through the trees, Nelly still far back trying to figure out the scent trails, doing demented figure eights. Then she returned to me, practically sighing.
This one was just lying there, already headless, as we walked back to the car. Nelly was on leash, for once. So I allowed her to pick it up and carry it for a while--and there is nothing like the emblematic pride of a dog carrying a dead animal: they were made for this. The carriage goes up; the step becomes impossibly light, like a dressage horse doing a passage. I don't want her to get the idea that she better run fast because I'm always going to snatch away her prize. Even though this is exactly what I intended to do. But let her have her few minutes of glory first. (I had just given her some expensive and caustic wormer last month to get rid of the lovely tapeworms that were colonizing her gut and the hair on her behind, and I was not eager to have my stomach churn again like that so soon. Or hers.) So I give her the thing she'll remember: What a nice mom, to let me have my bunny. Just like when I let my child stay up late or eat too much ice cream. What a nice mom. Then I revert to being the gatekeeper to homework hell.
There are benefits to having a small dog. Like the ability to pry her jaws apart with relative ease. Not so with Nora the great big Leonberger with jaws like a trap. Not so with Nora the big dog who then picked up the headless bunny when it was freed from Nelly's grasp.
She carried it back to the car with the same great pride. And got in, and proceeded to eviscerate it. Long glistening strings decorated the upholstery. This unhinged Nora's owner. Curiously, though I am the vegetarian in the pack, the sight of red globules disappearing quickly down the throat--hmmm, that's interesting: wonder what bit that is?--didn't bother me at all. In fact, I was thinking instead how Nora had just had the ideal meal, one that would have cost eight bucks at Adams! I would never spend that much on Nelly; she gets chicken feet and gizzards, at 30 cents a pound.
The dead flesh in cellophane is what really makes me queasy. Precisely because it doesn't make most people sick. And because I know that that is exactly what I would like after the butcher got through with me and loaded the white styrofoam tray.
From the high electric wire spanning our road, a long pine bough dangles. It blows back and forth, suspended by only one small twig. It has been there for months, looking as if it might fall at any second. A breath could bring it down. It might be there forever.
I walk Nelly down a road of permanence, a road of impermanence. Tumbling down the bank to the beaver swamp is a rusted car half. It must have been there since the forties. The person who once drove it has been in the cold ground lo these many years. He is forgotten. We look at his car, though, as we go by, Nelly very much alive.
It is our expectations that are the most durable things of all.
Perhaps we are at the same remove from death, she and I. Perhaps not. You never know. You never know.
There is a church-ish mystery in the phrase "This too shall pass." I have had cause to say it to myself a lot of late; I uttered its calming syllables to a friend in extremis the other day. But the thing is, it's not true. Only some things will pass; others will stay, swaying in the wind, forever. Context will die before they do.
But I find myself wondering. What kind of creature takes only the head of the rabbit?