I first spotted the rabbit sitting outside the window of my flat on a tiny triangle of grass at the junction, just a few steps from the road. A hedge and two large black refuse bins sheltered it from the sight of the pavement. I could see its heartbeat in its chest, rapidly pushing against the skin. It looked wildly out of place against the concrete, littered with shards of glass and cigarette butts. It looked like an alien with flesh that was too soft - as if at any moment it might be torn apart by the hostile planet it had landed on. I'd not expected to see wildlife in the city. It was rare for me to see a rabbit at all - growing up in northern Jutland, Denmark where rabbits are not native. I'd only moved to England recently.
A car rushed by and the rabbit perked up its ears, pushing itself further into the shadow of the foliage. Another car rushed by and the rabbit hopped alongside the bins, jumping around the border of the hedge and taking off down the road in the direction of the park. I felt with certainty that the rabbit was in danger - that it would get hit by a car - or crushed under someone's boot - or something. I grabbed my keys and headed out toward the park.
It was a warm evening and people were lying out on the grass, drinking and chatting. In the distance I could see two black bins for rubbish and a grey blob that I thought might be the rabbit moving slowly away. I headed toward the bins, climbing around the hill that ran along the edge of the park, but as I arrived I couldn't see the rabbit. Instead I noticed another red bin next to the black bins, slightly raised off the ground, intended for dog waste. It was smelling strongly - a rich and sweet smell; intuitively disgusting. I carried on up the hill.
The air was hot and stuffy and my skin felt prickly. I had an acute sensation in my ears, like someone had left an old analogue TV on. Two girls jogged past me. One had her hair tied back into a pony tail. It flicked back and forth as she ran. My thoughts started clicking in time with the flick of her hair. I reached the top of the hill and sat down, looking down into the small valley. Tall rust-coloured grass covered the far side and the sun slanted down over the top of the hill and into my eyes.
The smell of the red bin kept drifting up toward me on the breeze, inescapable. It was a smell I knew well. That twisting, curdling smell had infested our house in Denmark for months. I associated it with the dog we'd kept on the farm in Jutland; a border collie called Preben. He was the best sheepdogs my father had owned, but he'd also had what my father had called 'social issues'. Often he had chased me around the house barking loudly and violently.
One day when I was about twelve my mother and father left the house together to pick up the visiting relatives, leaving me alone with Preben. When the car rolled off the gravel onto the road and a silent dread settled on the house. Preben was sitting in the hallway chewing at his paw and glaring. I quickly locked myself in my room and started playing computer games.
It was mid summer and the air was incredibly dense. It felt like a storm was about to break. The dryness of the air and the heat was making me thirsty so I placed my ear to the door and listened for the sound of Preben, creeping downstairs and heading to the kitchen. I opened the fridge door to pour myself some milk. A huge burst of thunder shook the house. In the hall Preben howled and started scratching his paws on the wooden floor - supernaturally loud - like some god dragging rocks across a glacier. He came rushing into the kitchen, sliding on the tiles, smashing into me. I fell, dropping the bottle of milk onto the floor, cutting my arm, shattering glass, and splashing milk in a large arc. Preben looked at the floor, grey madness in his eyes. He began licking up the spilt milk - scratching his tongue on the glass, swallowing the smaller pieces. I ran to the front door and shut myself outside. The thunder rattled overhead in the sky. Flies zipped around in the thick air. Half an hour passed. I peered into the lounge. Preben was whining, pushing his hind quarters into the carpet. He squeezed out a thin, bloody shit, kicked at it with his paws, and moved forward a few steps to repeat the process. I turned back to face the driveway to see lightning flash across the fields. Finally, it began to rain.
When my father found me soaking, sitting against the front door I pointed toward the window.
"The dog," I sobbed, "he drank the milk."
My father peered through window and spotted the shit on the floor. Something flashed across his face. So fast - a single electronic pulse. You'd could've missed it. You were meant to miss it. He looked back toward me kindly.
"Don't worry. It's no one's fault, Preben is a dirty dumb dog."
I was shocked to hear my father saying such things about Preben. I knew my father didn't blame anyone, but there was change in him after the event. Some tiny, shameful, uncontrollable part of him had solidified in that flash. It'd become thick with bitterness. Vapour-like, it drifted out of him.
At the bottom of the valley I spotted the rabbit.
It was lying down and nibbling the grass, hopping between patches of long shadow and sunlight. Its ears turned slowly and its black eyes looked ahead. For several minutes I watched it, feeling at peace. After some time the rabbit rose up and pricked its ears - suddenly alert. It turned its head and fell to the ground, running and skipping across the grass. A large black labrador was chasing it, barking loudly. The dog grabbed the rabbit's leg and pulled it to the ground, tossing the rabbit around in its mouth. Red specks of blood spread onto the ground like flowers. The dog trotted with the rabbit in its mouth over to its owner. The rabbit's body looked like it was made of long strings of felt.
The dog's owner was an older man in a black coat. He tried for a while to get his dog to drop the rabbit, looking around seemingly embarrassed as blood ran onto his hands. There was no one else walking along the bottom of the valley and with more force the dog dropped the rabbit. The man picked it up by the ears and stood on one foot, swinging it into a bush. The dog ran along, sniffing the bushes and rocks, looking back occasionally for approval.
I hated the man and his dog. I hated the dog's bark and the way the man had thrown the rabbit away into the bush. In my mind I saw the rabbit lying in the grass and hopping around in fast forward. It moved anxiously, resting for only short periods of time before moving on. The dog trotted away with the rabbit in its mouth. The rabbit swung in rhythm to the girl's pony tail. I sat for some time stewing over the rabbit's death. I imagined the man quietly telling the story of what had happened to his wife.
A few drops of rain began to fall. The pressure in the air was released like a blister. Rain smell burst over the grass like flowers blooming. It rained like it had when Preben shit in the house. That was how I'd felt as I'd gazed down the driveway waiting for my dad to return. Like a little rabbit - panicking, lonely, black-eyed, in a valley, running scared.
I gathered myself together and began to head home. Rain soaked my clothes. I stopped off to pick up some chips for the way home and, after eating, began to feel better. I entered the flat and I sat down once again in the kitchen. It was quieter than ever before.
Outside the window the street lamps were now on. The light shone directly down onto the patch of grass I'd seen the rabbit before. It was flood lit like a crime scene, or like a playing field, or like there was a UFO performing an abduction. I started to notice some movement in the hedge. I sat up to look closer. In the hedge was another rabbit. It was huddled by the bins, sheltering in the depths of the hedgerow, shuffled into a sleeping position. Perhaps it was the same rabbit. Perhaps the first rabbit had returned to the hedge. There was some relief in that - that some rabbit was still alive. But as I sat and watched the rabbit peacefully sleeping an unavoidable sense of betrayal grew in me. And slowly, slowly, a tiny, uncontrollable part of me began to solidify, fixing itself into a tight black ball, and it was filled with bitterness.