by Josh Goller
I was the first to see the dead rabbit. The other kids fought over a cluster of Jolly Ranchers the clown had thrown and the grown-ups in back chatted about ways to get grape juice stains out of couch cushions or how the President was a Commie. Hanging by its scruff from the magician’s fat fingers, the dead rabbit almost looked asleep.
Shirt darkened under his armpits, the magician’s breath whistled through his nose, too upset that nobody was paying attention to his big finale to notice the pet rabbit had suffocated in its secret compartment.
Somebody behind me finally saw it too and screamed. I think it was Chad’s mom, because she always used to lose it when me and Chad would hide plastic mice or spiders in the silverware drawer or laundry hamper back when I was still friends with Chad and would sleep over sometimes.
After the scream, everyone saw the rabbit, the girls squealing and the other boys pointing and scooching closer. Like always, the grown-ups murmured but none of them seemed to know what to do because the magician – probably causing more excitement than he ever had in his whole birthday party magic career – was the only person in the room who didn’t know his rabbit was dead. He bowed and everything, even with the rabbit’s mouth hanging open so we could see its yellow chompers.
He would have crammed the dead rabbit right back in the trick hat like he did with the unending rainbow of hankies he’d pulled from his breast pocket, but my dad came walking through the breezeway to get more beer and saw it all. He cussed louder than he usually did in front of company and shoved the magician, who was too surprised and out-of-shape to avoid falling onto the couch. Trying to catch himself with his rabbit hand, the magician came down on top of it instead.
My dad stood over the magician, yelling and jamming his finger right in his face, like he did with me sometimes when I flunked a test or left his tools out in the rain. But the magician only looked down at the squashed rabbit.
Mom and the other grown-ups herded the kids into the other room and distracted us with cake even though nobody sang for me and the candles weren’t on yet. But after my dad came back through the dining room and cracked open another beer, I looked outside and saw the magician hunched over his El Camino, struggling to load his big suitcase of magic gear.
I acted like I needed to go to the bathroom, but instead I slipped out and caught the magician getting into the driver’s seat. I told him not to worry, the rabbit was already dead before he fell on it, but when I asked where the rabbit body was he looked at me funny, then pointed to the bed of his car.
I pulled the dead rabbit out and held it like I would’ve if it was still alive, and I asked the magician if I could keep it. He shrugged and revved the engine. I asked him if the rabbit had a name and he said it was “Houdini” and I told him that was a good name even though I knew it wasn’t very original. I didn’t know what to say next so I asked him if he liked being a magician and he wiped his forehead and said he did sometimes, but not today.
I hid the dead rabbit in the garage under my ball bin and went back to open my presents, but that night I snuck out to the backyard and dug a hole and buried the rabbit in the weeds by the lot line and marked the spot with a popsicle stick with “Houdini” written on it in magic marker. As I crawled back into bed I imagined that Houdini had been my rabbit all along, that I’d raised him from when he was just a baby bunny and I never got angry when he wouldn’t sit still and I’d always made sure he got plenty of fresh air and could play outside even if I was too busy to keep an eye on him.
After I washed up and crawled back in bed, I fell asleep dreaming about feeding him heaps of carrot peels and spoiled lettuce. More than he could ever eat.
JOSH GOLLER sprouted in Wisconsin soil but the winds carried him to the gloom and damp of the Pacific Northwest. He now resides in Oregon where he enjoys driving through fog and listening to raccoons fight on his roof.