You pretend to play on the rusting swing set knowing that when Dad has finished skinning the rabbits, he’ll need you. He’ll holler from the coon dogs’ pen that you need to run up to the house and ask Mom for a pan of cold water. You are anxious knowing the way he’ll yell will make it sound like an emergency, like the rabbits were killed by a tragic accident, or like you’re already in trouble for not being fast enough. It is a mystery why he doesn’t just get the pan before he starts skinning. You know when you look his way his overalls will be splashed with blood and his hands so full of steaming rabbit parts, you’ll feel the urgency, too, and sprint your tiny body through the yard and up the steps two at a time. You anticipate busting through the door, scaring your mom and yelling, your voice imitating your dad, that you need a pan of cold water, god dammit. The smell of grease already heating on the stove, the air moist with the boiling of potatoes in the pot, she’ll wipe her dishpan hands on her shirt and fill up the metal pan so full you won’t be able to move without it sloshing out the sides.
Today, when you hear that last sinew snap, you take off toward the house but hear him yell for you to come back. Today, instead of the pan, he just wants you; he wants you to hold out your hands, cupped like at church, and take the rabbit parts from him. Today, when you try to protest that you’d much rather get the pan, he’ll yell at you to just take the goddamn meat into the house. And, since he is taller and bigger and bloodier than you, you’ll accept this pile of tiny, slippery warm muscles. When you feel the sharp poke of a broken bone digging into your palm, you’ll say nothing and turn your face away. The coon dogs, excited by your dad’s shouting or by the smell of dead game, are twice your size on their hind legs barking and clawing at their fence so hard you fear it might break. You remember the time you once went in to pet them and they jumped all over you, their thick nails, smelling like shit and piss, raked through your long hair. Your dad heard your screams and saved you.
So, you start to run, careful not to drop the rabbit parts, the bone that feels like it’s punctured your flesh, the blades of dried grass sticking to your dinner. You bound up the steps and see your mom’s figure behind the steamed-up glass of the kitchen door. You yell and she gets a pan of cold water, and you plunge the rabbit in, finally releasing the dead weight.
When your eyes meet, it looks like she’s crying too.