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A West Side Story

It was the spring of ’98 and the second year since the passing of a black rabbit named Harry belonging to Lai and I. he was our first experience with a woodland critter who gently, if sometimes impatiently, herded us along creature paths we had never walked or even knew existed. It was a tight bond that had been torn away and seemed irreplaceable. To me.

Driving with my mother to Cape May and her favorite restaurant on her 95th birthday, Lai spied the sign, Pet Shop. “Let’s make a U-turn,” she said to me without hesitation. “The joy they give while they’re with us is a far greater experience than not risking the pain.” Hesitantly, I did the 180.

Directly to the left of the large store was the area relegated to rabbits and drew us like an unseen hook. They all, however, appeared merely dim shadows surrounding one slightly more mature, grey and white splotched lop in the deep pen. This lone, part Angora, put his size to good use, shoving and wrangling away the others, then standing erect on unsteady hind feet to be the recipient of any hand reaching in. With dark patches circling each eye and one pulled across the muzzle, he looked as if nature could not decide to outfit him a hero or bandit. “Please take him” begged the lady owner. “He’s so bossy.” Laughing, we decided to make our minds up over dinner.

At the waterside eatery, however, attempting to brush aside, even for a moment, the upright rabbit’s image was as futile as would be ignoring a Great White’s fin circling in the chowder. “What would we call him?” asked Lai as if reading my thoughts. “Charlie” popped out the already formed name from somewhere within. Lai liked it. I looked at my mother. At 95, a new arrival was just christened.

Now, four years later with his crown of fine, upright spikelets and soft calico coat, Charles rules in our Tribeca apartment. On cold days we serve as doormen to the balcony, his bidding announced by thunderous thumping on the closed door. By 8pm, kale, carrots (with tops), spinach, parsley, plus greens du jour must be on his plate. Even slight deviations to any agenda can produce clamorous indignation or Dickensonian pathos. Threats of physical attack are a last resort since the effect of such intense posturing is more comical to us than fearsome.

Even on his most tyrannical days, however, Charlie is a most benevolent dictator. Licks of affections are a daily reward, the final uninhibited outpouring, unfortunately, saved solely for Lai at 2:40am. As for comatose me, I am occasionally deemed worth a short audience, bunny butt first, a raise of the trapdoor tail and quick squirt marking me as claimed domain. And anger is never allowed to linger. Though we are always judged by the perpetrators, a firm poke of his nose, like a magic wand, is the signal all is forgiven. And off he sprints to other pressing, if often secret, matters. Typical of his species, he scampers as if perpetually late.

What was never anticipated, however, when we first brought him home, was his sudden demon possession at puberty. Nothing could stem the wanton onslaught. He constantly hung from our shins like some Cossack’s live fur boot. Finally, we reluctantly contacted Dr. Haddock about an operation, uneasy about the unknown consequences. She assured us St. Mark’s was quite proficient in ‘taming’ male rabbits with more than one female surgeon poised for the dicing. I prayed their motivation was strictly medical.

She was right. Nothing could have gone more smoothly and Charlie was ready to come home the next day, slightly lighter, but with a completely altered, more relaxed attitude. As for myself, when visiting St. Marks now, I merely keep an arm’s length from the “proficient” blade babes and so far everything has remained intact. Charlie shows no fear or apprehension at all when we return. In fact he seems to savor the caring attention. Each day with him provides us another surprise. Another smile. A place burrowed deeper into the heart. A place, our place, just west of St. Marks.

Guy, Lai and Charlie