The car next door woke Alan early. Again.  
A few minutes after daybreak its engine raced
to a whine, then the tires scratched out of the
driveway below his bedroom window.  The red
Saab never seemed to come or go quietly.  
Always tearing in or out of the driveway too
fast, radio blaring, making too much noise.  
There was something almost angry about the
way it came and went at all hours.

He opened his eyes and groaned.  When he
was sure he couldn't go back to sleep, he sat
up and rubbed his eyes, trying to ease the dry,
raw feeling they had when he didn't get
enough hours.  Now I'm going to be tired all
day, he thought, all because that guy next
door is such an inconsiderate jerk.  That's L.A.
for you.  If it's not the garbage trucks at six,
it's the hulking guy next door in the red Saab.  

Alan worked as a waiter in a pasta restaurant
on Wilshire, usually past midnight.  He had
lived in Santa Monica less than a year and
already hated it, but he stayed because he
wanted to give acting a serious try.  People
said he was a good-looking man and he didn’t
want to be a waiter forever, so this was the
place to be, but the dense California housing
and bright morning sun were too much for a
guy who was used to the pale daylight and
cool air of Seattle.  Back home he could easily
sleep till noon if he wanted.

Already in a bad mood, he pulled on a pair of
running shorts and went into the kitchen,
stood at the sink drinking orange juice while
he waited for his coffee water to boil.  He
looked out the window at the house next door
and wondered if he ought to complain again,
but if his landlords hadn't said anything by
now, they probably wouldn't.  

Maybe he should talk to the neighbors
directly, but he'd never met them, didn't even
know their names.  After all, he was living in
L.A. where you never really knew anybody.  

The only thing he'd seen of his neighbors was
a woman who watered the lawn constantly and
her heavy-set husband who always seemed to
be climbing in or out of the red Saab, always
in a huff.  The man had a brooding look about
him and heavy arms that hung from his thick
chest and shoulders, a simian in clothes.   

Talk about clothes—the woman caught Alan's
attention one day because of the way she was
dressed.  It was August, and nobody wore
much more than a T-shirt and shorts outside.  
Yet she had on a pair of red rubber boots that
went up to her knees and a plastic rain hat,
looked like a commercial fisherman in New
England.  How could she stand to have all that
on in the California sun? he'd wondered.  
She's got to be burning up under those
clothes.  When he came home that day, she
looked up from her watering and tilted her hat
toward him.  He nodded politely, but thought,
what a strange bird she must be to dress that
way.

He'd only been living in the upstairs
apartment a couple of months and barely
knew his landlords, Jim and Edie, who lived in
the main house below.  The apartment was in
an older two-story house a few blocks east of
Lincoln where he’d assumed the neighborhood
would be quiet.  After the nightly barrage of
sound in the restaurant, he wanted to go
home to a place where there were no clanging
noises or shouts, no crowds and no traffic.  

He’d decided he would never get into the
industry unless he worked hard and avoided
the party life down at the beaches, but now
this apartment wasn’t working out.  Only thing
left to do, he'd tell Jim and Edie again he was
going to move out if they didn't do something
about the noise.  That's what he'd do.  That
Saab had woken him up one time too many.

He went outside and down the stairway to pick
up the morning paper, but it was on the
ground below the mailbox.  As he stooped to
pick it up he glanced at the house next door
through a gap in the hedge.  It seemed
ordinary enough, a forties-style pink stucco
with green shutters, but there was also a wire
cage in the front yard that stood under the
shade of a lemon tree.  A small wooden house
sat inside it, and the cage appeared to be
empty.  He’d never heard a dog over there.  
Thank God for that anyway.

A little after nine he put down the paper and
coffee, went to the bathroom to shave.  A long
day ahead, he thought, acting classes
tomorrow and an audition to prepare for next
week.

He was half-finished with his shave when he
heard a woman’s voice call out below the
bathroom window.  "Jim!"  Then again, the
voice called out louder, "Jim, are you home?"  

He heard a knock on the back door of the
house. He put down his razor and turned to
the window to listen.  The woman's voice
sounded urgent.  "Edie?  Are you in there?"  
She knocked on the screen door again so
loudly it banged against the frame.  

"Edie?"

Then, a moan.  "Is anybody home?"

Alan wiped the shaving cream off his face and
went to the front door, hesitated when he
realized he was barely dressed, then stepped
outside onto the landing anyway.

"Hello?" he said.  "Who's there?"

A woman appeared around the corner and
looked up at him.  He didn't have his glasses
on and could barely make her out.  She was
probably wearing a business suit.

"Thank God, somebody's here," she said.          

"Is something wrong?"

"I need help."

"Well, Jim and Edie aren’t here."   

"Can’t you help me?"

"What's wrong?"

"Please help me.”  Her voice grew emphatic.  
“Usually, I get Jim or Edie to help."

He felt annoyed but started down the steps
anyway, and when he reached the bottom of
the stairs he saw it was the woman who lived
next door, the strange bird.  She looked
different without the red boots and hat.  She
was about forty and wore her black hair pulled
back.  In make-up and a suit, she appeared to
be a serious lawyer or accountant. He opened
the iron gate at the foot of the stairs and
stepped out onto the sidewalk.  

"Thank you," she said.  "It won't take long."

"What are you talking about?  What won't take
long?"   

She paused and composed herself a moment,
smoothing the sides of her suit jacket with a
downward motion of her palms.  "I'm Claire,"
she said.  Her head tilted toward the house on
the other side of the hedge.  "From next door."

"Alan," he said.

"I know," she smiled.  “Edie told me about
you.”

She turned and started out the walk,
gesturing for him to follow.  "It's going to
rain," she said with authority.  "I can't leave
my rabbits out all day, and I can't handle them
by myself because one of them might get
away."

He stopped and shook his head.  "Rabbits?"

She stopped with him, but continued talking
as if he'd said nothing.  "I really appreciate
your help."

"You want me to help with rabbits?"

"It won't take but a minute."

"I don't think so," he said.  “I don't want to get
bit."

"Oh, they don't bite.  I just need you to hold
the cage door."

"I’m not really dressed."

She smiled at him as if that hardly mattered,
and when she did, her lips stretched back and
he saw the gums around her teeth.  What a
weird lady, acting up about her rabbits and the
rain.  

"Please, it'll only take a minute."

He shrugged and followed her through an
opening in the hedge to her yard.  "By the
way," he said.  "You have a red Saab that
comes in and out so early."

"Yes, you're the one who doesn't like noise,"
she said quickly.  Her voice became tight.  
"That's my husband's car."  

She moved out across the lawn before he
could say anything else, heading for the wire
cage under the tree, her black heels
disappearing into the emerald grass with
every step.  Alan followed her but stopped
again when she opened the gate and went into
the cage.

"Are you sure these rabbits don't bite?"

"Oh, they're very tame."            

She went over to the little wooden house and
peered into it.  "There they are, my
sweeties.”  There was a smaller wire cage on
the ground next to the house.  “We have to
put them in this traveling cage so I can take
them inside."

Alan went over and saw a fat white rabbit
cowering in the back corner and a darker,
mottled rabbit squatting in front of the white
one.  Both looked at him nervously, their
noses twitching.  

Claire stooped alongside him and pulled the
wire cage closer.  "We have to raise the hutch,
then reach underneath and get them.  The
door is a bit too small."

He looked at her.

"You have to be careful with the brown one,"
she said.  "If he gets out, he'll run away."

"Are you sure they don't bite?"

"Oh, there is no danger."

He looked at the anxious rabbits backed
against the far corner of the house.  "Can I get
them by the ears?"        

"No.  That might hurt them.  Just reach in and
pick them up one at a time."         

"Me?"

"Yes, while I hold the hutch up."

He realized then she wouldn’t touch the
rabbits.  She never touched them.  That's why
she'd come over for help.  He turned and
looked at her again, squatting close beside
him in her blue suit, so close he could smell
her shampoo.  Then she smiled again and he
saw the gums around her teeth.       

"Okay, raise the box higher," he told her.  She
did and he reached underneath it.  The rabbits
scurried away from his hand but made no
move to bite him.  They separated and he
went for the white one and got it by the fur on
the back of its neck.  It was a funny feeling,
he thought, very soft, with the warm skin
loose and rumpled over the bones beneath.  
The rabbit struggled as he pulled it closer, got
a better grip, then lifted it out.  Claire pulled
the traveling cage closer and the rabbit
started kicking, but he managed to drop it
through the opening in the top.

"They don't want to go in there," he said.

"No, they don't like being caged," she smiled.

"Okay, that was easy enough.  One more."

She raised the box again and the mottled
rabbit quivered inside.  He reached
underneath, but the rabbit darted away from
him.  He leaned in closer and used his left
hand to stop it from running and managed to
grab a paw with his right hand.  He pulled the
rabbit toward him, whispering to it gently,
trying to calm it down.  It was a bigger,
heavier rabbit and he grabbed the fur on its
back but didn't get a good hold on the loose
folds of skin.  The rabbit squirmed too much
for him to get a better grip.

"Get the cage open," he said.

Claire fumbled with the wire door on top.

"Hurry, it's slipping."

She got the door open and he swung the
rabbit over the opening, but it panicked and
started kicking wildly.  He tried to get his free
hand on its ears, but the rabbit whipped its
head around and bit his first two fingers.

"Damn!"

It felt a bit like touching a bee, a sudden
stinging pain concentrated in one spot.  Alan
yanked his hand back and cursed again while
the rabbit kicked violently and wiggled out of
his grasp.  Claire yelped and fell back on her
seat as the rabbit landed on top of the cage,
then jumped across her lap to the ground.  It
made two quick leaps for the open gate, then
went springing across the lawn where it
disappeared underneath some shrubbery
beside the house.  He shook his injured fingers
and squeezed them with his other hand.

"Oh, no!"  Claire said, sitting back on the grass
in disappointment, her heels in the air.  "He's
gone."

"Well, just where is he going to go?"  Alan
said.  "He'll probably come  to your back porch
as soon as he gets hungry."  He squeezed his
fingers harder as the pain started to spread.  
"Why didn't you just close the outer gate?"

She looked at him with sudden lucidity.  "I
suppose you're right."  Her eyes moved to his
hand.  "You're bleeding."

He looked at it and was surprised to see blood
oozing between his fingers.  He wouldn't have
thought a simple bite would bleed that much.

She pulled her skirt back down over her thighs
and stood up.  "Come on, I'll get something for
it."

"No way," Alan grumbled as he got up. "You've
done enough already."

"I know," she said.  “I’ve got this way of
causing things to happen.”  Her tone was
suddenly different, not apologetic, but
something else he couldn't identify.  "Come
on," she said.  She took him by the elbow and
led him toward the house.

They went to the back door and stepped inside
the kitchen.  The house was dark inside and
felt strange.  It smelled closed up, as if the
windows and blinds were rarely open.  She
went to a cabinet and removed a bottle of
antiseptic, groped around until she found a tin
box of band-aids and put them on the
counter.  

"Come over here."  She gestured toward the
sink, and Alan went over and put his hands
over it while she turned on the faucet.  He
couldn't understand her manner.  She was
again on a different key, all business,
sounding entirely new to him.

"Claire, why did you tell me there was no
danger?"

Alan looked at her and saw a disconnection in
her eyes as if she wanted to answer him but
couldn't.  He hadn't had a chance to study her
face before, and now that he did, he suspected
a person whose thoughts shifted unpredictably.

"What danger?" she asked coyly, the business-
like manner gone.           

"The rabbit bit me."

"That's not danger."

She took his hands in hers and slowly peeled
back his fingers that were gripped tight around
the bite marks.  When the bites were exposed
she looked at them curiously, raised the
fingers closer to her eyes and watched the
blood ooze from two pinpricks.  Then she
looked into his eyes and he saw something
there he'd never seen in anyone before.  
Holding his stare, she raised his fingers to her
mouth and wrapped her lips around them.  
Slowly and gently, she drew his fingers inside
against her tongue and sucked on them,
drawing the blood out.

Alan felt a kicking sensation inside his chest
and his throat clamped shut.  He tried to pull
his fingers away, but the strength had
suddenly left his right arm and the insistent
movement of her mouth pulled at him, drew
him closer, deeper, until he felt himself
slipping, spinning out of control.  

"What is this about?"   

Then he felt her hand on him, between his
legs, and his mind started to spiral.  His
thoughts blurred, he tried to speak, but there
was nothing there other than the question
he'd just asked and he couldn't ask it again.  
Then her mouth was on his bare chest and he
felt a whining sensation inside his head,
spinning incomprehensibly fast, roaring; then
it became an actual sound, one he
recognized.  Outside.  Not in his head.  A car
engine outside.  Then a car door.

He opened his eyes and turned his head
toward the sound.  The kitchen door was
standing open.  She left it open!  Heavy
footsteps outside.  She, in front of him going
to her knees now, her mouth open, the lips
peeled back, her nostrils flaring wide, and he
saw her laughing.    

"What is this?" he pleaded.

She looked up at him wildly, screaming with
laughter, and threw her head back.  "
This is
danger!"
CLAIRE'S
RABBITS
by David Darracott
David Darracott is a native
of Atlanta and a graduate of
Emory University. He
received a Hambidge
Fellowship for fiction in
2009. His work has appeared
in past literary magazines,
Archon, and Aurora, and he
has creative nonfiction
forthcoming in Blue Ridge
Country, and Sculpture. He
is currently at work on a
novel. Though fiction is his
passion—first, last, and
always—fly fishing and golf
run a close second.
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