Jessica's hair was not completely white, though
it did look that way under a reading lamp or next to white walls.
That night it looked more golden, like the flaxen hair that grew
up north, in snowy countries. She wore a white cardigan that had
a hole in one of its elbows and a yellowy stain along the hem
in the back, under which was a white blouse, much like the one
she had worn the other day in the rain, and a thick tweed skirt
that reached past her knees, checked in tiny white and black squares
so that it looked gray at first. I noticed when she sat down with
us on the floor while we gathered ourselves and decided what we
would all do together that the waist of it was pinned, quite awkwardly,
in the back, as if she had tugged and dug into herself for several
minutes before getting the sharp point to catch and hold.
We decided to draw. Corine turned onto hands and knees and pulled
from the bottom shelf three partially used drawing pads. She handed
Jessica the one with the most clean pages. I got the bucket of
pens and centered it between us. One at a time we dipped our hands
in and drew our colors. Soon we were bent over the white paper,
our eyes lowered in devotional concentration, our breaths matching
each others', inside out, inside out.
"I brought a present for you," Jessica announced so
suddenly my pen skipped across the page. She reached behind her
and under Corine's bed. There was the strange white bundle she
had carried into the house earlier tucked under her arm.
She unwrapped it carefully. It was made of cloth, a blouse or
a dress of some kind, with a piece of string attached to it somehow,
and some fur. White fur.
Finally, Jessica had it spread out in the middle of us. "It's
a cape," she said slowly, as if the words sounded funny spoken
aloud. "It's a cape for your rabbit."
Corine and I smiled in unison and thanked her. It was impressive,
the way it really did look like a cape a rabbit would wear, all
white with white fur lining along the neck and the hem, a white
shoelace threaded through to be tied under the chin in a small
"I sewed it last night when it was raining. I thought your
rabbit could wear it so she wouldn't get too cold and wet."
She hadn't looked up yet. Her eyes remained lowered upon the form
on the blue rug, smoothed out in a shell shape, like the skirt
of a tiny woman.
The rabbit was at that moment out in the cage, a stilted hut with
too separate rooms and a peeked roof just like the a-frames in
the area. She sat pressed up against the grill of the walls, her
fur bursting through, panting to herself in the shade.
"Thanks," Corine said petting the lining admiringly.
"That's so nice . . . I'm sure she'll like it."
"Let's go put it on her," I said, enjoying the way Jessica's
eyes lit up and her chin lifted glowingly. She sat behind her
white creation for a moment like an old woman, proud of her final
Outside, the twilight leaked through the needles and bay leaves
patterning the sky in shades of lavender and blue-black. The rabbit's
hut was still like an unoccupied house and it felt like we were
sneaking up on it, cowboy robbers in a TV Western. Jessica carried
the cape dutifully, her head and shoulders serious, making it
seem impossible to break the silence.
The three of us stopped beside the cage and peeked in. The rabbit
was balled up in the corner of its newspaper bed. Water sat glassy
and thick in a bowl.
"Hello there," Jessica greeting the animal with her
finger. "We've brought you something warm to wear tonight."
The rabbit's head froze, only the nose twitched secretly, the
white body pulsing against the cage. The black eyes looked tearful
but apathetic, their depths fathomless. Corine unlatched the door
and reached her hand in.
She looked boneless in Corine's small hands, her ears drooped
back in surrender, though all the while her nose began to shake
more quickly and her fur shivered tall and straight on her back,
more alive than her soft face. Corine nuzzled her under her chin
and then turned toward Jessica, who was waiting with our present.
The cape slipped easily over the neck encasing the body in its
own color but different texture. The stains I had noticed earlier
were invisible in the dark and so the form seemed to glow evenly
white. I stepped forward to tighten the knot at the neck.
"It fits perfectly," Corine complimented. I couldn't
make out Jessica's face in the dimness but I could sense the triumph
in the way she held her head at an angle to inspect her work.
Corine extended the rabbit out to her to hold.
I filled the troph with the food I had brought and tested the
water to be sure it felt clean. The surface arced in faint reflection.
I straightened to find Corine standing still looking interestedly
at Jessica and the rabbit, whose head she had up against her mouth,
the ear resting against her cheek. She was whispering something
"I think she likes it," I said, interrupting. "She
isn't trying to take it off. Maybe she knows it's going to rain."
The rabbit shook herself when she was released back into the cage,
the cape like a new extension of herself, a newborn shell. We
watched her skip quietly to the food and dip her head in, turning
her back to us.
Piled under extra blankets on the floor that night, we listened
to the rain run down the windows and soak the trees. It tapped
the roof and slid along the gutters, splattering noisily to the
ground. The thought of wood soaking, of the cool wind shuffling
the slick leaves in the night, drifted just above our heads as
we listened in silence. Below, where the stilts of the house went
underground and the land began its steady slope down into the
valley, the rabbit huddled calmly in its hut, amid tall trees,
a solitary clump the color of snow, offered up at their feet.
Jessica's mother was at the door two weeks
later. It was a Saturday morning and the cartoons were on the
TV, Gabe huddled in the afghan on the couch. Corine and I had
been half watching, half paying attention to other things like
the noises in the kitchen, our drawing pads filled with rabbits,
and the coppery coins of sunlight beading across the deck. The
sun was coming up in lace.
We answered the door, and there she was, surprisingly a woman.
We had never seen Jessica's mother in the daylight before. In
fact, we had never seen her face straight on. In the house, she
was always mostly sound, bumping from her study to the kitchen
and sometimes to her bedroom, creaking in her chair like an old
rocking ship. We would catch glimpses of her-a bundle of cardigan,
baggy skirt, wool socks, ragged, gray-blond hair. Alone on our
walks home we would picture the face that might peek through it
all, haglike, crooked nose, wrinkled, dried-up eyes. Somehow the
thought of it matched the clouded, quiet day, the late afternoon
gloom just before rain.
But here she was in the quickening sunshine, facing us full on.
She was wrapped in what looked like a long sweater with large
leather buttons bulging unclasped down the center. She wore her
sneakers untied, the thick wool socks lumped around her ankles.
All the same blurry, sagging material, the same sunken mass that
we had caught sneaking about the house.
All except for the face.
Jessica's mother was stunning. She bent over Corine and me goddesslike,
peering out of a dream. Her eyes were large and lush blue, rimmed
in white lashes and delicate wrinkles. She looked sketched into
the sweatery clothes she wore, a perfectionist's portrait of his
beloved daughter traced in thin, unfolding lines. Corine and I
stood towered over, unworded.
Because we were so quiet no one else came to the door. Dad had
the blender going and Mom was probably busily pulling breakfast
out of the refrigerator. After a few moments of standing there
in the shock of each other, Jessica's mother finally spoke, her
voice a whisper. "My, you are twins." She seemed just
as stunned by us as we were by her, her look locked, as if jolted
"Hi," Corine braved a greeting. "Is Jessica with
you?" She didn't dare peek behind the mother; we didn't dare
move at all.
The mother was looking only at Corine now, her pool-blue eyes
beginning to swim over her, deciding where to dive in.
"You must be Corine."
We both nodded.
"Jessica and you were closer, weren't you?" With this
she glanced over at me, apologetic.
"I don't know . . . me and Grace . . ."
"I mean she told you more things didn't she, things she didn't
tell your sister." I noticed her hands tightening their hold
on her sweater, her white neck quivering just above the collar
bone. I saw Corine's eyes begin to water, and I thought she would
either run from this woman or bury herself in those long mothery
Jessica's mother then turned to me. She was looking harder now,
warming to our twinness. She seemed to know us well, as if we
had chatted with her every time we'd been to her house instead
of hiding behind her daughter's back.
"Jessica has run away," she said flatly, aiming her
words at my eyes. "She was not in her room this morning and
I can tell she is not here," she was roaming now up and down
the two us with her twin lakes of shark-infested blue, deep-dive
blue. A breeze picked her hair up and lifted it as if she were
about to take flight.
My heart was pounding and I wanting to find a way to call Mom
without Jessica's mother hearing, a whale sound picked up only
by submarine sonar. Corine, miraculously seemed much less daunted
and much more concerned.
"Where do you think she went?"
I immediately thought underneath the house, the treehouse at the
Petroff's, the park down the hill. Corine had run away to the
treehouse once. It had felt like days until Gabe finally went
and convinced her to come back home an hour later.
"I think she's walked downtown and gotten on a bus. I found
a number for the bus schedule written on the kitchen counter this
Downtown? A bus? Jessica was beginning to feel hundreds of miles
away, further and further away as the seconds ticked by and the
wind kept picking up and the sun brightened with every breath.
"She never said anything to me. I wish I could help, but
she never said anything, not to me," Corine steadily admitted.
For a moment I thought the mother would respond, maybe even smile.
Her eyes were starting to melt and flood into her face, and I
saw her teeth come out and bite her pale pink lip, her face stretching,
or was it grimacing? into something next.
Then she looked up over our heads, a tear loosening.
"Oh, hi Jennifer," came a soft, helping voice from behind
us. "What's happened? . . . Oh, why don't you come in . .
Mom stayed with Jessica's mother at the top of the stairs by the
front door, and Corine and I turned and ran to find Gabe, who
was now out of his blankets, standing in his pajama shorts and
shirt out on the deck. His long skinny body bent over the the
railing. We slid out after him into the warming air. Coming up
behind him we stopped when we saw what he was looking at, next
to the base of the bay tree, down below the house. The rabbit
cage, wide open, nothing but weathered wood, newspaper, and a
silent bowl of black water.
Free Williamsburg | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| November 2000 | Volume 8