Hometown Stories: Animals

Carmen Lau


Saint of Rabbits

Back in those days there were so many rabbits they had special days for killing them. People would stomp on the ground with their heavy boots, scare the rabbits out of their dens and clobber as many as they could with their implements of farming. They were the worst vermin, only a hair better than rats. They ate up all the crops, ruined the dirt with their burrows.

But you,you wanted to save them. You were the only one. You took them in your arms and stuffed them under your shirt, feigning some roiling state of pregnancy, ran to the back of your father's house and released them in the yard where they burrowed, and every night of your remaining childhood—even after you started going out with men thrice your age, even after you got knocked up and had to kill the baby, even after you scratched Jenny's eye so viciously in a fight, she was half-blinded her whole life—you could hear them singing, "All hail the Saint of Rabbits! We thank you for our lives," and wonder why the hell they wouldn't shut up.



"Coyotes," a man once told you, "mate for life. They don't form packs but duos."

You believed him because he was a scientist. One time, when he was out inspecting pH levels in soil, he saw a couple of coyotes getting married. It was a civil ceremony—they didn't want the ostentation of a wedding. It was only them against the world, after all. They had a few friends over to witness it, a technical requirement of the law, but that was all. They looked immensely happy.

Years later you saw two coyotes rag-dolled and bloody on the road. It was them against an 18-wheeler. The idea remained beautiful.

At Table Mountain Resort and Casino the coyote is a symbol. Its profile, snout upturned in a silent howl, crowns the gleaming main entrance. Stuffed coyotes, stiff-legged and beady-eyed, are sold in the gift shop. In the domed ceiling above the slot machines a flashing LED coyote bounds, its trajectory an arc mapped in bulbs.

Desperate for reasons you yourself could not pinpoint, you fed the entirety of your admittedly scant savings into the machines in a matter of days. You don't know what you were thinking—you weren't really thinking at all. You just wanted to see what happened each time you pressed the button. The high of excitement and the resulting crash of disappointment became a reliable loop you liked to observe the biological manifestations of—here, the perspiration rising to the surface of your hands, armpits, brow; here, your diaphragm gaining mass in seconds. Until one day you sat at the machine with nothing, nothing anywhere in the world.

Looking up at the coyote, you wondered where your love was.

The thing with the scientist ended up, like all the others, nowhere. The thing with the surgeon also, and then the thing with the drifting media man. There's always one reason or another—sometimes it was you, sometimes it was them. The truth is your curiosity always gets the better of you. You feel love with one man and you wonder what it would feel like with another. Because it's somehow the same yet somehow different with each one. You're the ultimate romantic. You're the ultimate cynic. These days classifications don't help much.

"Me and who else against the world?" you said. "I've been waiting all my life."

The coyote winked. The machine before you burst into convulsive jingles. It spat out streams and streams of coins. They buried your feet, your calves, your thighs. But what would you do with all of them? What could you possibly make of this largesse?



Cats kept coming in and out. Black-striped gray cats, mottled orange-white-yellow cats, black cats with white dots on their noses. They went out thin and came in with their sides bulging as if they'd swallowed bowling balls. They were babies having babies, and their babies were having babies too. The neighbor threatened daily to call animal protective services.

"It's none of your business," your mom said. "They're my cats."

"Do you let your daughters go around like that?" the neighbor said.

"Lay off my daughters. My daughters are fine."

You and your sisters kept coming in and out. You were babies having babies, and your babies would soon be having babies too. You were a clan of glitter-eyed, bubblegum-lipped witches, initiated early, giggling, into the mysteries of the fecund.

One of you loved the way your body moved: walking, sitting, getting clothed, getting unclothed. More than that, you loved boys. You loved the way they smelled, you loved the way the way they felt, you loved the way they made you feel, like a thoughtless animal. You loved how you could turn them into thoughtless animals. The funny ones and the serious ones, the smart ones and the dumb ones, the brave ones and the wimps—they were all indescribably beautiful. There would never be a boy who was enough, an ideal boy who was every boy at once. But that was fine.

Another of you loved one boy in particular. You loved his brown eyes, you loved his swagger, you loved his voice on the phone when he asked where you were. You were going to marry him and run away to Texas. When he vanished one day all you had were the kids, and that was okay for a while, until one day it wasn't, he was an asshole you would never let into your life again even if he came back begging—but some days you still looked in your kids' faces and thought of Texas.

The youngest of you hated your body. You felt no connection to it at all. Boys were boring. You couldn't wait to get out of this town. You wanted to be a botanist like Ellie in Jurassic Parkand make discoveries in the jungle. But everyone was coming in and out, in and out, and it was so lonely to be still. When you first noticed your belly swelling, you were so scared.

You went to your oldest sister and said, "I want to get it out."

She pressed her hand against your forehead. She pressed her hand against your bulge. Her face was radiant; she was the feline goddess of all of you.

"Baby, why would you want to do that?" she said. "It's a life. Feel it moving inside you."

You did.

"It's a beautiful, sacred, throbbing life, the most miraculous thing we'll ever experience."

It was.

"Don't you ever cut it short."

You wouldn't.