"I set up a tent under the table and I wrote your name in big orange letters, even though I probably got the letters wrong."
Bunny Rabbits was originally published in Verandah Journal (Volume 31) and won the Editors Choice Award. It was also published in Award Winning Australian Writing in 2017 and shortlisted for the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction in 2014. You can read it below.
I wore a nappy and a pink t-shirt, my short hair tucked behind my ears. You walked in front, clutching a bucket of wet water, the leader of our two-person pack and the person I most wanted to be like.
I remember the water clearly. The way it sloshed about in the bucket, bumping and knocking on the plastic sides, desperately trying to escape. It didn’t belong in a cage. It needed to be free. We held onto that bucket, lifting water in and out of it as much as we could. We didn’t care about freedom. You held my fingers in your hands and spoke of Kings and Queens, about places that didn’t exist but maybe one day we could still find. I believed everything you said. You were strong, with an assured voice and a face that looked like it would never falter. You pointed at mud puddles and said there were mini kingdoms inside them.
We ate fruit out of plastic ice cream tubs. You said strawberries were the best because they got all sticky and red. We washed ourselves in the Murray and I thought, as I threw my arms about, and kicked you playfully with my legs that you were the best big brother a little sister could ever ask for. And growing old with you, shifting and changing into people, real people with thoughts and ideas was something I couldn’t wait for.
Sausages and onions in white paper napkins, cartoons of juice and red wine for the adults. You grinned at me, your cheeks plump and pink, and I didn’t understand but I laughed because you laughed and that was enough. I liked the way your eyes sparkled, gleamed with mystery. Like you were listening to a Tchaikovsky no one else could hear, sounds moving and wailing inside the walls of your head. I raced you round the picnic table and mama called for us to sit down and we sat, holding onto one another and we whispered secret thoughts about turtles and flying saucers. Do you remember? We were best friends, making shapes in the clouds and wrapping childish hands around everything, clapping, giggling in the gurgling air. Counting all the invisible stars, trying to write down everything we couldn’t see. There was so much we couldn’t see.
Grandma and Grandpa and Aunty Joyce and Uncle Rod watched us play and I stood up and told everyone that my brother was the best big brother in the world and they smiled and widened their lips like baby flowers and then suddenly it was bedtime. The heat hovered in the air and we pushed blankets away and lay next to one another, dreaming separately but probably also in unison.
They gave you a yellow sunhat to wear and I stood on the driveway in my bare feet and watched you trundle off and my heart sank when I realised you would learn all about the world and I would be stuck with crayons. You had on a blue shirt and brown pants and your shoes were glossy black. I waited all day for you, watching Binky Bill spray himself across the television. I drew garden gnomes and house elves and I made a pie out of mud and rose petals. I set up a tent under the table and I wrote your name in big orange letters, even though I probably got the letters wrong.
You came home waving your hands, drawing pictures with your fingers, talking about building blocks. Mama said that you were just settling into your new class, that it would be my turn before long but I knew that you were changing because you no longer wanted to drink out of the same straw as me. You started reading lord of the rings and I was only just learning my alphabet and then suddenly you won an award and suddenly I was thick, a head full of rocks, and my eyes hurt from crying but you just shrugged your shoulders.
And ten years drifted by and everyone said words I didn’t understand and I cried and mama cried and poppa was angry. Your awards piled up and your grin widened and I wanted to be proud of you but your heart was closing in. I was being tested at special testing schools and besides, you were winning and winning and I kept failing, crumpling, a washed up shell on the beach, smiling, weeping, wondering, wanting to be more like you. But they should have helped you, they should have known you were shutting down, the cogs in your machinery breaking, a light bulb cracking, but they didn’t. Your arms learnt to swing and sometimes I’d bite you in revenge and our anger would mount one another, our heads choked with swarms of bees. We didn’t know what was going on. Mama would yell and poppa got that stern look on his face, and sometimes you’d hang your head down like a dog and mumble sorry but most of the time you closed the door and I sat on the kitchen tiles and wondered if you’d ever like me again. I made watery milo and ate dry crackers and you told me I was getting fat but I wasn’t and I wondered what they were teaching you at that posh private school of yours.
Then they found out I wasn’t so stupid after all. Just slow to get going. Not exactly dyslexic and they couldn’t diagnose me with autism but nonetheless, there was something not quite right going on. They said my head was queer. But they never really did anything about it.
You pulled on thick coats even though it was the middle of summer and you said it was indecent to show bare arms but that didn’t make much sense. So I wore dresses with pink bows and I listened to a lot of music and I read Charles Dickens and felt safe, nestled within his words, and I wondered if you would ever be the same again.
You told me I was a slut.
I started going out with boys. I kissed at parties and sobbed in bathrooms, blowing my nose on shower curtains and downing cheap beer. You sat at home, twiddling your thumbs, learning Greek and Latin and curling your nose up and I wished I could pull you along and make you see what I was seeing. I wanted you to move to the city and marry a pretty girl with olive skin and emerald eyes and she would love you in her arms and bring you spiced tea and honey sandwiches and then you would be happy. But your fingers tap tap tapped the keyboard and your computer screen exploded with letters and words and sentences and yes you were smart but what was smart when you were lonely? Maybe you thought I was broken, with my fresh tattoos and pierced belly button, reading Charles Bukowski and giving myself a boy’s haircut. But I was just trying to live, tearing my heart in two, listening to Leonard Cohen and his unmistakable truths. Then I listened to you and you talked about God and Freedom with a capital F and Tolerance and EDUCATION but you still sat in that little room, the wallpaper childish, trucks and cars racing on baby blue, and you never saw the world you claimed to love.
Mama died, I’m sure you’ve blocked it out but still, you must recall the way it was suddenly just you and me and there was so much noise and then a lot of nothing and our words stretched out, tangled within one another. And you told me that people die it’s normal we must carry on but you weren’t carrying on at all. You drank melon tea and bawled a lot and sometimes you’d come out of your room and look at things. I never knew what to say when you looked at me. You refused to go to the funeral so I went and sat with poppa and he squeezed my hand and later when we were all eating cucumber sandwiches, everyone asked me where you were and I didn’t know how to answer. That evening I saw tears streaking down your cheeks and your shoulders heaving, crashing, waves over cliffs.
So now it’s been six years and a lot has changed but then, nothing at all. You’re still thin and your arms are still hidden and I hug you and you hug back and we don’t really know what we’re doing. We make tea and then coffee and then tea again. We talk about art and politics and theology and I am hot headed and you are calm, working on your PHD and I’m scratching at newly manicured nails. If we were children I’d be chasing you around the garden, spraying you with the garden hose, filling up water balloons, the sun dancing and bounding around us. But we aren’t children and you are so serious now, glasses perched on your curved nose, your eyes brown.
Do you remember when we were bunny rabbits? Jumping and hopping, our noses twitching, pink lips trembling with laughter. Our hands curled into paws, our throats stretching to make new sounds. Sometimes I wish we’d do that again but if we did, I would surely cry and smash my hands on grey pavement and pull gum leaves off branches but then, I am not brave and I never have been. Besides, we never really were bunny rabbits, were we?
You stand and walk me to the door and I watch you as I get into my car. You’re smiling but your hands are stressed. I blow you a kiss and you blow one back. I wait until I’m down the driveway and then I cry, the tears bending and flattening themselves out on my skin.