A black cat killed a rabbit last week, my neighbor said. Did it right over there—pointing to a shallow roadside ditch abutting his garden. The ditch was a wild tangle of elms, mulberries and Osage oranges, a place of concealment and cover for predator and prey alike. I hadn’t seen it around before.
I had. First across the street in our vacant lot, a mask of feral golden eyes staring from the deep grass, lethally alert, followed by several intrusions into our yard, shadowy and silent, more phantom than blood and bone. Quick to bare fangs, quicker to flee.
A silence fell between us as if together we contemplated the implications. His wife keeps a half-dozen bird feeders active, all of which are placed off their back porch a man’s length from dense woods. Our yard is a rabbit sanctuary. I wasn’t sure how he felt about it but I knew how I did: the cat had to go. And I knew that live-trapping hadn’t worked, nor had a long-range shot with a pellet rifle. A .22 would have been ideal but I couldn’t take a chance on ricochets or misses. It’s not as if I live in the country with unrestricted fields of fire. The neighbors would seriously object, and rightly so.
But a shotgun, well, that has potential. Short range, good spread, not that loud—I’m talking 20 gauge here, not the 12. The riot gun would most assuredly raise hue and cry. A backfire makes more bang than the Beretta; so do most tractors rumbling down the rutted road.
I’d been meaning to broach this delicate subject to him but never knew how to bring it up. Here, then, was my opening.
I’ve been gunning for that thing for a while, I said. I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about me banging away with the shotgun.
Bang away, he said.
Lately life has settled into a new pattern where sleeplessness kicks me out of bed around two in the morning. I suppose it could be something as ordinary as insomnia but it feels different, more of an instant wakefulness that at first seems like reanimation before decaying into a weary concession of defeat. Sometimes I stay up the rest of the day—day, night, the delineation between the two blurred into a new, unnamable concept—and sometimes I’m up until exhaustion has settled deeply enough to ensure a second helping of sleep. Which, by necessity, the rising sun and the demands of the day cut mercilessly short.
Being the kind of man who believes firmly in the examined life, I tried ferreting out the reason or reasons behind this sudden nocturnal disruption. My first impression was that it was merely a rhythmic continuance of early morning risings. After all, for seven years I’d set the alarm for three a.m., a routine by now deeply entrenched and not at all contingent on a discontinued career.
It sounded plausible. Perhaps too plausible. Our psyches are implausibly complex, arcane, labyrinthine and unknowable, dark wells best left undisturbed. Even when we are able to draw conclusions, the conclusions themselves are at best specious. We’re like weather forecasters in that regard, doing our best to find patterns and reason in what is at heart arbitrary and random.
Maybe it’s anxiety, I thought. But I didn’t feel particularly anxious, or not on most days. Some, yes, but not all. My moods have always been closely aligned with financial stability, or instability, as is often the case, though age and experience has whittled the edge off my responsiveness to money matters. Worrying about it is counterproductive and futile, serving only to heighten tension and muddy the waters, so to speak. Better to chart solutions however half-baked or preposterous.
Whatever the source of disturbance, the anxious days and nights ebbed and flowed like tides imposed by the gravity of foreign objects, external to myself and mysteriously assertive. We are not islands so much as planets orbiting others exerting various measures of attraction and repulsion.
When dawn lit the east I would find myself by the back window watching for rabbits, or the black cat. Sometimes I would unsheath the shotgun and admire its clean lines and heft, the lovely contrast of bright brass and black steel. I’d imagine taking a bead on the creature as it crept toward the brush pile, my finger light on the trigger, leading it by a nose and dropping it cleanly. And then, feeling almost foolish, I’d case the shotgun and make a pot of coffee.
There is no reason for this, I thought. I wondered if the source of my sleeplessness might be the sheer unimaginable uncertainty of life. My new business venture seemed impossible to grasp, nor was it alone in creating difficulties that felt impossible to surmount. Everything, from writing to putting together slideshows for an upcoming workshop to reading a book, remained hopelessly incapable of completion. “I can’t get anything done,” I told Lori one day. “With all this extra time, you’d think I’d get caught up.” Instead, I sensed I was falling behind.
Those were the down days. On good days I felt a stirring of something like hope, though there was no real reason for it. Latent, or nascent, optimism, perhaps. Considering the rest of the world, I had nothing to complain about. I might wish for many things, and I did, but never with rancor or bitterness. Mostly I wished Lori was home more.
One evening shortly before dusk I looked out the window to see a rabbit lying beside the entrance to the warren. On first glance it appeared relaxed, the model of contentment, eyes slitted and ears folded back, but then I noted its posture, hind legs squarely positioned to bolt if necessary. At that moment I felt much the same, content but wary, trying to restrict myself to the now and not having much success at it. The problem with the now is the next, and my next fluctuated between extremes of euphoria and despair. I no longer trusted anything, least of all myself.
For rabbits, positioned as they are on the lower rungs of the food chain, and for people as well, I thought, there are no certainties but the present. With each heartbeat we venture into new terrain. Beyond here there are no maps.