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Chapter One: Belligerent Binky

EBD Cover After living so long in the city, the farmhouse in Lowell felt peculiar. Looking out the window and seeing woods instead of another window disoriented me. So did waking up to songbirds and a shotgun blast from across the river rather than car horns and a pistol shot from down the street. I had trouble getting used to the well house outside the back door, the hulking wood furnace in the basement, and the wall of brambles beyond the fence. Strange beasts prowled the property by night. Vultures sailed overhead by day. Stanchions in the barn and a rusted-out cattle trough on the edge of the swamp told of other animal residents—all part of the past, I told myself. But my wife-to-be, Linda, had plans of her own.
            Linda couldn't wait to start crowding every surface in the house with knickknacks. The same three-acre plot of land whose flooding riverfront and mysterious boulder heaps intimidated me struck Linda as an unbounded gardening opportunity. But she wasn't so certain about living with me. Her original plan had been to live part time in her northern Michigan cabin. But once we got married a few months later, she changed her mind. I couldn't even get her to move out to the barn. Harmony ran rampant. And then we got Binky.
            Buying Binky was one of the most pivotal, far-reaching actions of my adult years, and it's inexcusable that I can't retrace the tortured chain of reasoning that convinced me having a rabbit was a good idea. Binky was more than just a bunny. He transformed our house from a pristine, animal-free environment into an indoor petting zoo. He changed my life forever. When I ponder my pet-free past, I ask myself not only why I ever agreed to buy him, but also why a sour dwarf Dutch rabbit with few social skills ended up embodying an argument for more animals rather than none.
            It was during our first spring together in the house, when Linda lobbied me for a bunny. "Wouldn't it be fun to have a little animal hopping around the house?" she asked.
            "You sort of hop when you walk," I told her. "If you worked on it a bit, we wouldn't need a rabbit."
            "You couldn't find an animal that's less trouble," she insisted. "My friend Justina has a bunny, and it just hangs out near the clothes dryer and uses an old towel for a bed."
            "Then where will you sleep?" I asked her. But I had learned that it was useless arguing with anyone as strong-minded as Linda.
            Before I'd met Linda, she had owned a couple of dogs and missed having them. A rabbit seemed like an easier alternative. From my experience with Muffin, I knew that a dog had to be walked, bathed, brushed, housebroken, lugged around in the car, trained to bark rarely, taught not to knock down the elderly, flea-powdered, dewormed, pooper-scooped, spayed or fixed, deflected from visitors' crotches, kept away from fellow dogs, protected from roaming skunks, talked to through a vacuum cleaner hose, fed, licensed, vaccinated, and generally made a part of the family pack. The world of a panting, ever-hungry, free-range hound was my world, while the world of a small caged animal was merely a three-foot cube. So went my thinking at the time.
            A visit to my friend Philip's seemed to confirm the trouble-free nature of owning a rabbit. As we sat in his living room, I asked him if he might let his bunny, Drusilla, out of her cage.
            "Oh, she's already in here somewhere, probably hiding behind a chair," he said.
            As I stood up, I caught the barest glimpse of fur backing into the shadows. Compared to the lap-bounding behavior of a cat or the pet-me persistence of a dog, Drusilla's reticence appealed to me. "Is this all she ever does?"
            "She basically has two modes. When she first comes into a room, she'll run all over the place as fast as she can. After that, she just stays in one spot unless you can convince her there's a reason to come out." This sounded ideal. I dismissed as sheer whimsy the caution that came next. "She does have an attraction to electrical cords. I usually unplug anything I'm not using and put the cords out of her reach before I let her into a room. Otherwise, she goes right for the cord and bites it cleanly in two."
            "And she doesn't get a shock?"
            "Rabbits' mouths are very dry," Philip surmised. "They don't have much saliva, so she doesn't get the same jolt you would get if you tried biting through a lamp cord."
            The image of my acquiring a taste for plastic-coated copper wire was so preposterous, I filed the matter away with Philip's other peculiarities—such as keeping a two-year-old Thanksgiving turkey carcass in his refrigerator's vegetable crisper. Some mysterious agent was undoubtedly putting the guillotine to Phillip's appliance cords and pointing the finger at his bunny.
            I told Linda about Drusilla's alleged taste for electrical cords.
            "My customer Rose has a bunny, and she doesn't have that problem," she said.
            "I thought Justina had the rabbit."
            "Rose has one, too," said Linda, who ran into all sorts of colorful people in her job as a housecleaner. "He sits on Rose's lap while she watches Wheel of Fortune."
            "That's my favorite show!"
            "I know."
            "And the bunny would sit on my lap?"
            All at once, the road to bunny ownership seemed as slick and effortless as a good intentions-paved super highway. But in an attack of poor judgment, we ended up choosing a rabbit that showed signs of being exactly the opposite of what we wanted. To start with, it had never dawned on us to do anything as sensible as research before making our move. Our assumption was that except for variances in size, a bunny was a bunny. Who would have suspected that different breeds might possess different personalities?

            Apparently not the farmer just north of the village of Rockford, who had posted a hand-lettered sign in front of his trailer succinctly advertising "Rabbits." To Linda's horror, the farmer raised "meat pen" animals, bred especially for the dinner table. Chastened, she tried another farm down the road sporting similar advertising. This time the rabbits were for sale as pets, but only the French lop variety, a breed whose floor-dragging, excessively floppy ears make it resemble a stuffed animal designer's notion of a cocker spaniel puppy. Linda favored what she termed a "Cadbury bunny," an alert, upright-eared rabbit. The lop-eared breeder, a man with normal ears of his own, suggested that we attend the annual Easter Bunny Show at North Kent Mall the following weekend.
            In my graduate school days I had visited a San Francisco cat show so chock-a-block with attractive and distinctive breeds of felines, I left vowing never again to use the vulgar term "kitty." And Linda had encouraged my attendance at craft fairs and antique shows brimming with countless numbers of undifferentiated items and varied things. I imagined that the North Kent Mall Easter Bunny Show would be a combination of these.
            Instead, the event was a celebration of vacant real estate. Staggered within a vast aisle whose acreage yawned past joyless, deserted shoes stores were exactly three Bunny Show conglomerations of less than six cages each. The first aggregate held a few miniature breeds like the Netherlands dwarf. It reminded me of guinea pig with Popsicle-stick ears. Never mind that we would later learn that the breed was considered to be remarkably affectionate. The next batch of cages contained the dreaded French lop, renowned for its gentleness and pleasant nature. We passed it by. On the last cluster of tables were several California breed "meat pen" bunnies a little too large and salty for our tastes, plus dwarf Dutch bunnies. A judge at the Kent County 4-H Youth Fair in Lowell would later charitably describe the Dwarf Dutch breed as "moody." We zeroed in on one of these.
            A small bristle-haired boy was petting a mid-size, amiable rabbit stretched placidly on the tabletop with no urge to squirm or bolt. Like a cat that's taking an extended nap, the rabbit basked in human companionship. We could not resist stroking its back while chuckling at the jovial coloring which suggested black britches and a black head cowl with milk-white fur in between.
            "Is this one for sale?" Linda asked excitedly.
            "She's the mother," the boy told us without looking up.
            "But is she for sale?" I asked. "How old is she?"
            "Thirteen months."
            Linda and I took a hasty conference. A year and a month seemed wizened by rabbit reckoning, especially when we had our minds set on a blank slate of a baby bunny that we could lovingly raise and mold to our wills. A breeder had told us that males make better pets than females, presumably, I realize in retrospect, because their habits of mounting anything that moved and spraying the furniture in tomcat fashion appealed to his darker side. Still, the mother bunny did have the quiet temperament we were looking for. We visibly leaned in her direction.
            "These are from her litter," the boy told us, indicating a trio of eight-week-old dwarf Dutches in an adjacent cage. If the mother was friendly and people-loving, surely her offspring would follow suit, we reasoned, forgetting the lesson of Cain.
            "That one sure is cute," Linda said.
            "Has he seen Wheel of Fortune?" I asked.
            "You like him?" beamed a round-shouldered man wearing a plaid shirt and a nametag that identified him as Warren. "I favor the Dutches, too," he admitted, and indeed there was a similarity about the teeth and jowls.
            "Can we hold him?" Linda asked.
            "Sure," Warren assured us with a doubtful air. No sooner had he unlatched the wire door and slid his hand into the cage then the docile bunny absently nibbling on the steel spout of his water bottle turned into a churning, clawing, parcel of disdain for human contact. Despite his diminutive size, he packed a wallop via muscular back legs whose sole purpose honed by eons of evolutionary development was propelling him forward by kicks. With the practiced dexterity of a juggler, Warren tipped the writhing bundle into Linda's arms, but she could not hold him. Neither could I.
            "Are there any other boys?" Linda asked as Warren returned the rabbit to his cage. As soon as his feet touched the cedar chip bedding, he reverted to a picture of innocence.
            Warren shook his head. "All the rest are females."
            We weighed our options. The pair of breeders Linda had visited near Rockford didn't have what we wanted, and the notion of seeking out other breeders, visiting the numerous pet shops in our area, or waiting even another instant never entered our minds.
            "It may be that he just doesn't know you yet," Warren offered.
            "We'll take him!" we essentially shouted.
            That man knew how to close a sale. Since we lacked the prowess and body armor to carry our purchase from mall to parking lot, Warren packed our bunny in a sturdy cardboard box. All the way back to Lowell, he scratched and bit the carton in a preview of the carpet-pulling, shoe destroying, antisocial behavior to come. Within an hour of installing him in our home, Linda had managed to convey our new pet to the couch using an embrace resembling a wrestling hold that restricted his struggles to angry wiggles.
            "He just needs to get used to being held," Linda suggested, interpreting my vigorous head shaking as permission to drop him in my lap.
            "Let's give him a few days," I suggested as I fought to restrain his clawing feet.
            "See. He's settling down."
            "He hasn't any choice. If loosen my grip, I'll probably lose a hand." But after a few seconds, tremors ceased rocking his body and he started to relax. "Well, maybe you're right," I told Linda precisely as the rabbit cemented the relationship between us by peeing enthusiastically all over my pantleg and the front of the couch.
            In the days ahead, I made a game effort at bonding with Binky, whom we named after the sullen rabbit in Matt Groening's comic strip "Life in Hell." Mimicking photos of Diane Fossey communing with mountain gorillas, I sprawled across the kitchen linoleum in an unthreatening, welcoming posture as Binky hopped around me obliviously. But I was merely a navigation obstacle. I even brought a pillow into the room, dowsed the lights, and feigned a nap to put him at ease with my presence. Ease wasn't the problem, however, as Binky proved whenever we offered him a banana. He'd be at our side in a flash, front paws resting on our wrist for extra eating leverage. His notion of affection was deigning to share a room with his back to us. When feeling especially generous, he'd allow us to squat behind him and give his head and ears a few brisk strokes. If further intimacy were pressed on him, he'd shake our hands away, hop to a human-free zone across the room, and lick himself where we had touched him.
            We wheedled Binky with a fancy water bottle, litter box, and chew toys, fed him tortilla chips and buttered toast, built him an outdoor exercise pen, and allowed him unrestricted run of the house, yet he still displayed what we would come to know as typical rabbit belligerence. We bought him a lavender colored leash and matching Chihuahua-scaled harness, which he hated, and took him out in our woods for ill-conceived walks that alternated between Binky welding himself to a spot and bolting ahead so quickly we couldn't keep up. Judging by his attitude, we still didn't spoil him enough. My friend Philip would lavish M&M candies on his bunny, Drusilla. The books on rabbits we'd bought warned us that chocolate was poisonous to them. Drusilla obviously hadn't bothered to read the literature. Whenever Philip wanted to summon her, he'd shake a bag of M&Ms, and she would come running from whatever corner of his apartment she was holed up in. The only thing that rousted Binky from a hiding place was the descent of a human hand threatening to pet him or pick him up.

            Binky's breeder Warren had handed Linda his business card at the time he had sold Binky to us, inviting her to call him with any problems. It was reassuring that we had an expert on tap, and many were the times that Linda took him up on his offer.
            "We're having trouble with Binky not wanting us to pet him," Linda said to Warren on one occasion.
            "That's odd," Warren replied. "I've never run into that one before. I just don't know what to tell you."
            Another time Linda called him about Binky's habit of gnawing on everything in our house. "I wish I had an answer for you," Warren told Linda, encouraging her to phone again if we had any other concerns. We received an identical answer about Binky's penchant for running in circles around our feet while making a buzzing sound. "Boy, that's really a new one on me," he admitted. We wondered how any person who made a profession of breeding rabbits would know so little about their behavior.
            Having never owned a rabbit before, I didn't know how to interact with Binky. I'd expected him to behave not too differently than a cat, to be more curious and attentive to his owners and perhaps less fastidiously self-involved. Dogs are easy to deal with because they are so much like us. With a single word or the arch of an eyebrow, you could shame a dog into curling up in the corner instead of bothering you. Cats aren't as easily dissuaded, but you can at least be sure that they're reacting to the sound of your voice. Under the right circumstances, a string of words will evoke paroxysms of pleasure in a cat, far greater than what could be achieved with the finest canned dinner product. I'd read that bunnies enjoy being talked to, but Binky gave no outward sign that this was true.
            His muteness struck me as eerie. A happy cat will purr. An unhappy dog will whine. Parrots are vocal tracts on legs. But rabbits come into this world and leave it as sonic blank slates, occasionally grunting when they're picked up in a manner offensive to them and, as we later learned, emitting a low buzz when they're sexually stimulated or in an aggressive mode. Making eye contact with Binky was only slightly more rewarding than staring into the shallows of an opaque pond. I knew someone was there, some being with a strong personality, but no spark of recognition leaped between us.
            Though Binky challenged my communication skills, he was adept at conveying his own desires. Banging his empty water dish against the bars of his cage expressed his dissatisfaction with being locked up as unmistakably as Jimmy Cagney in White Heat. He was addicted to schedules and loathed changes in his environment. The addition of a Christmas tree in our living room met with his approval, because its boughs gave him a new place of concealment. But when Easter rolled around, and we finally removed the tree, he expressed his outrage by thumping the floor with a hind foot whenever he came into the room and snubbing us for more than a month. On another occasion, we had the audacity to shift the position of the couch to accommodate a new floor lamp. Minutes after his evening parole from his cage, Binky snuffled at the new lamp, raised himself on his hind legs, and with a shove of his front paws toppled the interloper.
            Binky's narcissism was greater than any cat's. The majority of his non-napping hours were spent fastidiously grooming himself. Other than that, his favorite out-of-cage past time was giving electrical wires the licorice whip treatment and hiding in impossible places. He was happiest combining the two. The AC adapter cable to my pricey Sony shortwave portable ran through a narrow channel between the wall and our platform bed, where I figured it was safe. Elongating his pear-shaped bulk to the requisite two-inch width, he wriggled snake-wise down the passage way and clipped the wire into pieces. To curb his appetite for the cables I loved most, I cut a three-foot length from an old extension cord and presented it to him. With all the disdain a rabbit could muster, he plucked it from my hand and with a toss of his head flung it from his sight. Like sharks attracted to transatlantic phone cables on the ocean floor, Binky apparently craved live voltage. He never injured himself pursuing his habit, but our appliances sported numerous bandages.

            Binky gave us our first jolt of pet destructiveness. Though his widely scattered poop pellets were inoffensive as such materials go, they presented us with an ongoing maintenance problem. Rabbits, we'd been told, were easy to litter train. And it's true. They gravitate naturally toward a litter box, mysteriously divining its purpose the first time they hop inside. Just as instinctively, they are also keenly set on establishing a presence throughout their territory. Chin rubbing is one method. Glands on the front of their heads deposit their scent on whatever coffee table, coat stand, chair leg, or human foot they rub against. But when a rabbit, especially a male, is serious about letting others know which lands he claims as his own, bodily functions are most effective. We learned this with Binky, and the lesson was magnified with a later rabbit population, where three males vied to plant their flag in shared territory.
            More worrisome, we found, was the front end of a rabbit. Rabbits' teeth grow continuously. Unchecked, the lower incisors rise up in werewolf fashion, while the upper teeth can curve inward until they eventually penetrate the roof of the mouth. Usually, the act of eating grinds down the teeth, and excess length is kept in check by a rabbit's love of chewing any object within reach. To that end, Binky gnawed at our woodwork. He pulled out our living room carpet fibers. He made hors d'oeuvres out of the dust jackets to Flying Saucers From Mars, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, and They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, three classics of modern science I kept on the bottom shelf of an upstairs bookcase. He decimated shoes, speaker cables, antenna feeds, chair legs, phone lines, computer interconnects, area rugs, record album jackets, litter boxes, wicker baskets, magazines, and the ribbon cable from our satellite dish.
            If an irreplaceable possession was challenging enough to warrant several sessions of intensive gnawing, it would turn into a project with Binky. The degree to which we opposed a project defined his enthusiasm for it. To thwart his will was to energize him. As soon as we'd released him from his cage, he would make a bunny-line for his worksite and eagerly resume his labors where he'd left off. Reducing a reference book to paper pulp or chewing the Egyptian motifs off a decorative pillow were favored projects. But his appetite for this line of work paled next to his obsession with gaining access to a hiding place once I had blocked its entrance. One of these was the space between the headboard shelf of our platform bed and the wall it nearly touched. Ensconced in this dark recess, Binky was virtually unreachable. Assuming we even knew he was huddled there, the only way of rousting him was to thrust a cardboard wrapping paper tube down the crack between bed and wall and blindly whisk it back and forth.
            I first tried preventing access to this miserable lair by placing a small suitcase on the floor next to the bed, but he easily nosed it aside. When I wedged it in firmly with the help of a spare blanket, he scuttled over the roadblock. I finally had to cobble together a wall of blankets and boxes arranged around a heavy cushion. Though he was unable to surmount the obstruction, he would not be dissuaded. Day after day he would bolt from his cage and scurry directly to the bedroom, where he'd rake his front paws furiously against the pile until Linda or I finally pulled him away and shut the bedroom door. That only turned his attention to the outside of the door, bringing the sound of his clawing into the living room.
            When you match wits with a rabbit, you cannot win. If the rabbit bests you, you're a fool. If you best the rabbit, you're a fool who's bested a rabbit. This truism sunk in the day I forgot to close the basement door and Binky found the most vexing hiding place of his career. I scoured the usual places for him: behind the washing machine, between the dryer and the sink, beneath the workbench, under the fuel oil tank, in the hellacious cubby hole where Linda stored Halloween, Easter, and Christmas decorations, against the wall next to the water heater, in a pile of possibly clean, possibly dirty clothes, and even among the canning jars. The third time I hit the basement to search for him, Binky sat nonchalantly grooming himself in plain view as if awaiting my arrival. When I took two steps toward him, he sauntered to the end of an unfinished run of plasterboard, hopped onto a cinderblock, and disappeared behind the wall.
            Just beyond arm's length he resumed his toilette, oblivious to my cajoling, pleading, and threats. I tried to chase him out with a broom, but that only drove him deeper. From a step ladder, I poked my trusty wrapping paper tube down toward him via an opening at the unfinished ceiling, hoping to block his path and force him out into the open. But he was too fast for me. He scuttled down the full length of the wall to the far corner where I could just make out the shape of his ears with a flashlight. I had no reasonable hope of getting to him.
            Common sense told me to wait patiently until Binky tired of a warren that lacked a single chewable wire or until his stomach beckoned him toward his food-stocked cage in the kitchen. But I wasn't in the mood for common sense. I needed to show Binky that a rabbit wasn't boss of our house.
            "Leave him alone," Linda counseled. "He'll come out when he's ready."
            "You're absolutely right," I told her, pretending to agree as I followed her upstairs. Then, while Linda was taking a bath, I sneaked back to the basement.
            With a small utility knife, I cut a vaguely rectangular shape in the plasterboard at the base of the wall exactly opposite where I knew Binky sat, then used a screwdriver to pull and tear the hunk of drywall free. The commotion should have tipped Binky off, but since no amount of thumping had ever driven him from a hiding place, he remained still just long enough for me to make a grab for him. He was sitting too far forward with just his hindquarters framed by the wallboard cut-out, and he wriggled from my grasp just as I tried darting a hand in front of his chest. He came out from behind the wall the way he had gone in and, before I could catch him, ran across the basement floor towards the stairs to the kitchen.

            Binky's independence angered me, and the fact that he angered me angered me further. After almost two years in our house, he wasn't becoming any more domesticated. If anything, he seemed to be growing wilder by the day. I didn't like the feeling of chaos that Binky brought to our environment, the notion that I could be innocently reading the Lowell Ledger newspaper thinking all was well with the world when some portion of the house was being eaten away under our feet. I also took his disobedience as a conscious thumbing of a wiggly nose at my alleged authority.
            I came to this conclusion after the most impressive of Binky's numerous escapes from the backyard pen that I had cobbled together for him. I had based his pen around the structure of a play area and sandbox which the previous owner of my house had built. I added metal fence posts between the existing four-by-four timbers and looped a roll of chicken wire fencing around the whole thing. At first, it was simply a matter of Binky perfecting his hurdling skills to clear the three-foot-high fence I had foolishly assumed would keep him in. When I raised the height a couple of feet by adding another roll of fencing, he started probing my less than sterling workmanship. My fence posts protruded from the ground at widely varying angles like a bad set of teeth. Upon locating the post that leaned away from the pen at the greatest angle, Binky developed the fancy footwork needed to scramble up the steeply inclined fencing. And he would run in circles around the pen until he'd built up sufficient speed for an impressive leap onto a board and enough residual momentum to launch him over the fence. In the end, I had no choice but to add a third level of fencing, bringing the total height to an insurmountable six feet.
            "That's one pen he won't get out of," I bragged to Linda after depositing Binky in his newly refurbished stockade. Fifteen minutes later, I was upstairs trolling for African music on my shortwave radio when Linda called to me.
            "Sweetie, I don't see Binky."
            "Don't worry," I hollered down to her. "He's in there."
            "I sure don't see him."
            Surveying his pen from the upstairs window, I couldn't see him either. He was usually a blur of motion busying himself with an escape attempt, but the cage was calm and apparently quite empty.
            Linda bolted out the front door in hopes of intercepting him before he hopped out into our busy street or lodged himself under one of our cars. I ran out the side door and nearly tripped over him as I went down the outside steps. He was sitting on the second step licking himself with unusual gusto, as triumphant as Houdini at the completion of a spectacular feat. "Running away isn't the object," Binky's presence at the door told me. "Escaping from your stupid pen is the point." How had he pulled it off? I'd never paid any attention to the numerous holes Binky excavated while out in the yard. He would dig down a foot or so, then immediately abandon his burrow to start another one. But never before had he extended a hole into a bona fide tunnel.
            "I wonder how long he was working on this?" Linda marveled as we surveyed the exit hole that popped up through the grass a couple of feet from the northeast corner of his pen. His ingenuity forced me to line the inside perimeter of his cage with rocks whose weights would thwart any more escape hatches.
            "This is our last rabbit," I subsequently told Linda. "They don't make good pets."
            "There's nothing wrong with Binky."
            "He belongs in the barn," I fumed.
            "You shouldn't talk about Binky like that," Linda said. "He's crazy about you."
            In fact, Binky had begun to exhibit one or two endearing characteristics. Often when I puttered around in my upstairs office, he would sit on the floor beside my chair and groom himself, happy as long as neither of us acknowledged the other's presence. Sometimes when I came home from work, I'd find him upstairs under my desk apparently waiting for me. I experienced a small but unmistakable flinch of pleasure at seeing him, and if I approached him on hands and knees pretending to be searching for a mechanical pencil that had jumped out of my pocket, he'd even tolerate a few light strokes of my fingers.
            We marveled at his brashness with our cat, Penny, whom we had brought home as a companion for him. Though Penny did play a little roughly once she had outgrown the kitten stage, Binky could give as good as he got. Head bent low, he would grunt and launch a rhinoceros charge at her, forcing her to leap to the top of the couch for safety. They were especially rambunctious in the morning, waking us by bounding onto the bed in pursuit of one another. Even without Penny, Binky had begun greeting us by jumping on the bed, scampering across our legs, then immediately returning to the floor. With any other animal, these morning leaps would have served as mere footnotes—and leg notes. With Binky they were a veritable declaration of love.
            As the first week of May rolled around, however, he failed to act as our alarm clock. He kept to himself in a corner displaying unusual listlessness. His appetite was poor. When I would carry him back to his cage, he didn't fight me. We knew he had to be sick, but didn't realize that rabbits often show symptoms of illness only once it has advanced too far to easily treat. One morning his situation had obviously worsened. He barely moved at all. Linda hurried Binky to the veterinarian a half-mile up the street, but returned home less than ten minutes later with the extraordinary news that Binky had died before she could get him in to see the doctor.
            "Not Binky," Linda wailed, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Not Binky," she repeated through her tears.
            I put my arms around her. Well, that's that, I thought. Life will be much simpler now. Then, it was as if a stranger stepped into my body and took over. I found myself sobbing like a steam engine. We wrapped him in a blue bath towel and buried him on the edge of our property beyond our backyard fence. We left the house, driving north to Greenville and eating lunch at the local Big Boy—hoping, I suppose, that things would seem better by comparison with our lackluster lunch.
            That night, though, I couldn't get to sleep. There was a full moon, and it seemed as if all the luminescence were concentrated in a spotlight that shone on Binky's grave.
            "I can't stand the thought of him being all alone out there," I said to Linda. The sense of him buried in the ground was intolerable. I was connected to him by an invisible wire, and I wished he were alive to chew through it.

            In the end, I memorialized Binky by building him an elaborate grave complex that would have impressed the Pharaohs, crowning his grave with an inordinately large pile of rocks. One damp spring afternoon, after standing at his resting place, I brought the flat central rock into the basement workroom and with the dregs of a can of latex housepaint, I inscribed a headstone: "Binky 1990-1992—Farewell to Our Dear Friend."
            "This I've got to see," my mother muttered when Linda told her about the monument. But I was far from finished. Using a grasswhip, I cleared out all the weeds and brush between the boundary fence of our backyard and Binky's grave beneath a stand of maples. I laid out a straight path to the site, bordering it first with two-by-fours abandoned in our barn by the previous homeowner, then anchoring the boards on both sides with cabbage-size rocks. I filled the mourning path with a three-inch-deep layer of wood chips. Then, I created a second rock-and-board-bounded, woodchip-filled path that meandered from the mourning path down the hill beyond the burn barrel, turned west to wander roughly parallel with the backyard fence, then jogged north and joined the fence, which I lowered at that point to step-over height with a pair of bolt cutters. For a distance of 30 feet or so I tore out the weeds and brambles, turned over the soil with a hoe, and planted an incompatible mixture of ground-level creeping myrtle and billowing purple vetch. The latter spread that summer like dandelions, burying the myrtle in balls of woody vegetation.
Buy This Book           The next summer, only the barest traces of my paths remained, just rocks and boards to stub the toe of anyone foolish enough to fight their way through the virulent weeds, wild blackberry bushes, stinging nettles, purple thistle, mullein, and out-of-control vetch. The paint had long since flaked off Binky's marker. I had already touched up the inscription once, but finally let it go. I soon found myself with little energy to pine for him. We had unwittingly taken in a new pet who was every ounce as belligerent as Binky.

Reprinted by permission / © Copyright 2003 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill / Bob Tarte



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