Down the Rabbit Hole Darkly


by Margo Rife


Jacob’s mom rummages through the discount bin at Costco. The cover on a children’s book catches her eye—a florist shop run by rabbits and hummingbirds. Intrigued, Jacob’s mom begins to read.

CHAPTER 1

Foxy the fox enters his burrow and hangs his hat after a long day of selling

flowers. His wife is preparing dinner. “Rosie, set aside the stew,” he says. “Mr. Hoppy

is coming for dinner, and he’s going to want iced tea and carrot cake.”

“But the sparrow stew is going to spoil.”

 “It can wait, Rosie. I’ll pick some carrots and make a cake. You prepare iced tea.”

An hour later, Foxy is pacing as Rosie walks in holding a tray with a pitcher of iced tea.

“Should I set this down some place?” she asks.

“No, Rose. Go to the forest and open a stand.” Rosie grimaces at the sarcasm.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Foxy says. “I’m anxious about Mr. Hoppy’s visit. He’s going

to be moody. Did you know he’s getting a divorce?”

“Oh! My goodness. Why?”

“Just last month, Mrs. Hoppy ate their daughter.”

“Eww.” Rosie shudders.

“She claimed she didn’t know what she was doing but yesterday she did it again.

Mr. Hoppy is going to need cheering up,” Foxy says.

******

Jacob’s mom rereads the sentence “Mrs. Hoppy ate their daughter.”

It perplexes her so much she takes out her phone. “Okay Google. Rabbits eating their young?” Sure enough. They’re inclined to that activity. Grabbing a bag of baby carrots, she recalls The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Poor Mrs. Josephine Rabbit became a young widow when her husband snuck into Mr. McGregor’s garden and ended up in a pie. Peter obviously took after his father. Once free of his mother—he headed straight for the carrot garden.

Jacob’s mom sympathizes with Peter’s mother and her frustrations with her son. Jacob, just like his dad, also headed to the carrot garden. Only that garden had security cameras. Didn’t he notice those ADT alarm trucks in front of the Goodwin’s house last year? With her son in jail for stealing from a neighbor, she is ostracized from book club, and knitting circle. To avoid her neighbor’s angry stares, she’s forced to shop at this distant Costco instead of her beloved Piggly Wiggly. She misses that familiar store. Her uncle was a butcher there and taught her some valuable knife skills. Maybe she’ll write a sequel to the Peter Rabbit book. Josephine ends up eating her wayward son in a pie. Hah! Serve him right.

Jacob’s mom passes up the bulk canned section. No cases of Spaghetti O’s. Jacob is still in prison so her rabbit burrow is empty. Her phone pings as she receives a text from her son.

Mom, I’m only allowed a few minutes phone time. Listen, I have something I need to get off my chest. This past visit left me quite disturbed. I stewed in the prison yard the whole afternoon.”

She frowns after reading her son’s text. She thought their last visit had gone well. It was difficult to talk face to face with all those cameras, but they had watched a football game on her iPad.

A new text pings. Her son again, assaulting her with a long list of her parental crimes.

Pointing out ragged appearance… don’t you have a comb? …nosey mother questions… utterly uncomfortable… overexcited mothering voice…high-pitched artificial laugh”

Jacob’s mom is tempted to reply, “I’ve been a good mother—this is what I get?” She chuckles at “jabbing all my buttons…getting me riled.” She knows how to rile him. Perfect timing too as the camera sweep caught his under-table leg kick—and then her cry and wince. The wounded all-suffering mother and her violent son to view on film.

Navigating the meat section, she declares, “Jacob, I’m not even sure I like you anymore!” It feels good to say it. Freeing. Too many years spent trying to be the good wife and mother. And utterly failing. Suddenly, she doesn’t give a damn. Is this the last taboo? Not to like your child? Is this how you felt Josephine? Mrs. Hoppy?

Jacob’s mom needs to rest her aching bunions so she sits in a metal chair near the pharmacy. She takes the children’s book from the cart and opens it.

CHAPTER 2

The hummingbirds from the floral shop accompany Mrs. Hoppy halfway on her journey but it’s hard to follow their darting movements. At least their frequent flower stops to refuel let her take in the surroundings. Normal countryside suddenly turns from pastures to hillocks. A distant lake can be viewed. It’s a new experience for Mrs. Hoppy who is used to flatter terrain.

The hummingbirds say goodbye at the edge of a meadow and Mrs. Hoppy is now alone for the first time in her life. Growing up in a rabbit burrow with ten siblings was chaotic. Moving in with Mr. Hoppy and the broods of babies that followed meant constant companionship. Now alone, she isn’t sure how to navigate her thoughts. The sun warms her soft brown and white pelt and makes her sleepy. Her pink tongue flattens a wayward fluff. Nose to the sky, she sees cirrocumulus clouds that look like baby bunny tails. Her dark eyes mist as she thinks of her babies. Time to hop along before dusk.

Mrs. Hoppy is tempted to take a well-worn sheep trail but she decides on the tall grasses following the creek. As a lifelong-sheltered doe, she’s never had to tap into her instincts, make a decision.

Jacob’s mom rolls her eyes. “Get used to it, Hoppy,” she mutters. “That’s what life’s about—good vs. bad choices. Looks like we both made bad choices in mates. Run, rabbit, run.”

She continues to read Chapter 2.

The creek ends at a heavily fenced farm. Rabbits don’t like fences. Mrs. Hoppy confronts the wire barrier. Left? Right? Up? Down? She decides to dig with her soft paws.

Her thirst makes her tired. Why didn’t she drink from the creek? Halfway under the fence an alarm sounds—high pitched and ear splitting. Mrs. Hoppy freezes. A dog howls.

“Hey, lady!” barks the pharmacy clerk. “Are you picking up? If not, this isn’t a reading room.” Jacob’s mom ignores him and keeps reading.

“Quick. This way.” An older doe with kindly eyes beckons her to follow. Mrs. Hoppy struggles to keep up with the lead rabbit who is adept at leaping over stones and roots. Their speed inhibits any conversation but she realizes the only way to survive is to trust this rescue rabbit. Strangely, after her deep depression, Mrs. Hoppy realizes she wants to live. The fence ends and an open field appears to be their escape route. Rabbits do not like open areas, but the doe knows every clump and divot that provides cover. The alarm stops and the dog whimpers.

At the edge of a copse is a familiar sight—a rabbit burrow. The rabbits descend a smooth- walled entrance that leads into a lovely shop that displays hand-knitted hats, mittens, jarred jellies and fragrant herb-filled pillows. There is also the smell of carrots.

Jacob’s mom grabs the baby carrots and rips open the bag. The pharm clerk tells her there’s no eating in this area. She crunches her carrot and sneaks the bag into her purse.

Mrs. Hoppy finds herself in a cozy kitchen. “Sit down at the table. Let me get you some iced tea and carrot cake,” says the rabbit. Mrs. Hoppy’s eyes water and her nose

twitches. “Those are my husband’s two favorite things to eat and drink.”

“Welcome to my shop and burrow. I’m Josephine Rabbit.”

“Why it’s you I’ve traveled to see! My name is Mrs. Hoppy.”

“What’s your first name?”

“Being the last of eight, I was never given a first name. I just have my married name.

But my husband and I are separated.”

“I’m saddened to hear that, my dear Mrs. Hoppy. But we need to name you. What

 shall we call you?”

“I’ve always liked the name Priscilla?”

“Lovely choice. What brings you to the Lake District, Priscilla?”

“Rumor has it you’re a wise rabbit and all ears to tales of worry and woe.”

“Really? I’m very flattered. Some tragic events made me look at life through a glass darkly. Early loss and constant worry. But, please, eat your cake.”

Priscilla laps up the honey-sweetened elderberry tea and nibbles at her cake. Then she looks Josephine in the eye and declares, “I ate two of my babies.”

Jacob’s mom undoes her shoe buckle and props up her foot. “Two? I can maybe understand one. But two? I dunno.”

Josephine is shocked into silence but covers her dismay quite well. She’s heard that mother rabbits do on rare occasion eat their newborn. But she’s never sat face to face at her kitchen table with a doe who devoured her young. Twice. Twice! Josephine takes a long lap of tea. What kind of state do you have to be in to become a baby killer? Well, there were times that she took the wooden spoon to her son. Peter had tested her constantly after his father had been made into a pie by the man living next door. Why was she being confronted with this revolting occurrence again—rabbits eaten? Her normally clear mind is as clouded as her ice cubes. Say something, Josephine.

Just say ewwww like Rosie the Fox, Jacob’s mom silently tells herself.  Ewwww is a perfectly good response. She loudly declares, “Ewww.”

“Josephine, I don’t expect you to understand, but I felt so deserted and overwhelmed.”

“You’re welcome to stay and sort things out, Priscilla. My three daughters have moved so it’s just me and my son, Peter. He’s never home. Too busy raiding the man’s garden next door.”

“He must be very clever to not get caught. I need to thank him for the carrot cake. A treat for the common rabbit. But I wouldn’t want to be a pest. And who wants to harbor a bunny killer?”

“Hush. I’ve learned to harness my judgmental nature. Let real life events come knocking and your perspective changes quickly. You can help me in my shop. Business is picking up.”

“Mr. Hoppy never let me help him at the florist shop. I was always underground caring for the babies. He was never home. Only came around at night to eat, mate and count heads.” Priscilla rests her head on her paws and sobs. Josephine offers a hand-embroidered hankie. Mrs. Hoppy looks up with red-rimmed eyes and a bright pink nose. She has a certain vulnerability—an emotionally fragile aura. No rabbit thrives being cloistered and dominated. Josephine feels lucky that she shares the strong-self-sufficient spirt of her pioneering ancestors. Just as Pricilla’s sobs taper “Hi, Mom” floats down the burrow entry. Bad timing as always, Peter.

Her son leaps up to his mother. “Carrot cake. Yum.” He looks at Priscilla. “Hello, ma’am. A very good day to you.” He smiles at his mom. “It’s been a very good day for me. Mom! I’ve got a job. A real job! I’m going to be a delivery boy for Furry Florals. The new owner, Mr. Foxy, hired me.”

Priscilla drops her hankie and raises her paws. “Wait. Mr. Hoppy is the owner of that shop.”

“Not anymore. Mr. Hoppy decided to retire from the floral business and he asked the fox to take over. After the loss of his last child and the separation, he wants to sort things out. So, Foxy will be the new owner of Furry Florals. I got the job because Mr. Hoppy likes that my mom has her own shop and I help her out. I’ve got valued experience. Hear that, Mom. Valued. As in worthwhile!”

“Congratulations, Peter. Your mother has trained you well. And I’m sure you will be valued by Mr. Foxy.”

“I start tomorrow.”

“Peter, would you mind if I join you when you head to Furry Florals?” pleads Mrs. Hoppy.

“Oh, Priscilla. Are you sure you don’t want to stay? You could use some time on your own,” says Josephine.

“Thank you, but if Mr. Hoppy is retiring, he can now help me with the children. We can have a fresh start.”

******

Rubbish. Absolute rubbish, thinks Jacob’s mom. Mr. Hoppy will never be home. He’ll start visiting that carrot garden. Peter will teach him tricks to get inside unnoticed. She places the book back in her cart.

Jacob’s mom stops in the refrigerated section displaying meat pies from Scotland. They’re enormous but look tasty. She puts one in her cart, grabs a DVD from the discount bin and heads for checkout.

The nosy checkout girl reads the title of the children’s book. “Mrs. Hoppy’s Revenge. That sounds intriguing. Who knew rabbits were revengeful?” She picks up the DVD. “Silence of the Lambs. I was going to buy this. So creepy.”

“My son’s coming home in a few weeks.  He’ll enjoy watching with me if he’s not out with his wild bunch of friends every night. Borrowing my car and trashing it.”

The checkout girl laughs. “You should go to the wine section and get a nice Chianti.”

“Of course. Can you watch my cart?” Jacob’s mom likes this checkout girl. And she is starting to like Costco, too.