The summer I graduated from college I spent a short time in the Wimbledon Square Apartment Homes. Lived in by many students and unmoored alums as well as young couples and old alcoholics, these apartment homes were not really homes but hovels. The one I subletted came furnished with a bed, a lot of kitchenware, and an orange rabbit. The carefree young lady to whom this apartment belonged offered ambiguous promises of rabbit removal as she drifted through the place showing me around, but I didn't push as strictly as perhaps I should have. In four days I would be homeless, kicked out of the luxurious on-campus apartment in which I'd spent the last year.
The rabbit lived in a hutch out on the small, shaded balcony next to a meat smoker. The balcony was edged by plants growing in large Tupperware containers. The rabbit’s poop fell onto some young potatoes growing in a big planter, and tomatoes grew in buckets next to the sliding door. When I went out to inspect it, I noticed that the rabbit’s water container was empty. It drank heartily when I refilled it, and I wondered if perhaps my new roommate was used to going without proper food and water.
The rabbit had a little Y nose that never stopped twitching and wispy whiskers that grazed my hand. I brought him inside and let him explore his new surroundings while I considered my own. The living room was small and dark, but the ceilings were high. This feature was advertised in the complex, but laughed at darkly by those who had experienced the high ceilings of a Wimbledon apartment. The rabbit's experience of the inside of the apartment was brief, however: the activity was soon vetoed by my roommate and boyfriend, who admitted that he already leaned towards the anxious side without having a twitching animal hopping always too close to his twitching foot. Goodnight, Ginger Thumper, I said, as I stuffed the bun back into its cage.
Ginger was a healthy looking fellow, but it is hard for any animal to look too good when imprisoned. There was not much room in the hutch to hop around, and the wire looked like it would tire one’s feet. I considered letting him hop free on the balcony, maybe let him get some greens in his diet. We were on the third floor, and I remembered the stories I’d heard throughout my life about babies falling off decks. But Ginger was a rabbit, and I trusted his innate judgment to keep himself alive. I opened the latch and Gingey stuck his head out the door and peered at the ground, nose twitching. One velvet ear stood on end, the other was flopped down. He looked curious, but not about to jump, so I made a ramp with a small sheet of plywood and a cooler.
The rabbit bounced out and ran a preliminary circle around my feet—an expression of joy, no doubt. It must feel good to stretch, I commented aloud. He sat still and erect in front of a planter of violets, mouth moving madly as he chewed a stem. I told him not to jump, then went inside to eat my own meal. Soon Gingey had proven his ability to judge depth and earned the privilege of being let out of his hutch in the morning and returned to it at night before I went to bed. When it got hot, he’d relax like a lion in repose under the gentle drip of the air conditioner.
Within a week he’d excavated an entire pot of tomatoes and was making tremendous progress on the mint. My boyfriend and I would watch him at his work, which he took quite seriously. He could frequently be found attempting to build a tunnel, which was a futile exercise because he would reach the bottom of the pot before he got deep enough. This did not deter him from his God-given task of destroying the garden. I felt quite comfortable leaving him alone for the day, knowing he had his own agenda to occupy him.
Only once did I have a bit of a scare. We’d gotten home from a day on the town and I went to check on his progress with the plants. Normally he’d be stretched out on the cool cement or doing some excavation, but that day the balcony was quiet. I called his name a couple of times, but he did not appear. Usually if he was hiding behind a planter or having a drink in his hutch, my voice would prompt him out. He did not like to be held, and I’m still not sure of his stance on being touched, but he was a social animal, and enjoyed making contact.
We searched the courtyard and entire apartment to no avail before I went out on the balcony again and began to desperately move the planters around. I found him nestled between the potato container underneath his hutch and the wall. He huddled in a furry little nest, the soft material all pulled from his underside. It was a false pregnancy and Gingey was a girl. When I picked her up I could feel her swollen nipples, ready for real baby bunnies. She chattered angrily at me when I tried to put her away for the evening, so I let her stay outside. After some research on WabbitWiki.com I found that false pregnancies are apparently common in rabbits and do not last as long as a real gestational period would. Soon she abandoned the nest, and by the following week seemed to have recovered from her brief foray into motherhood.
As everyone who’d heard about my furry roommate suspected I would, I began to fall in love with Ginger. As my stay at the Wimbledons drew to a close, I felt worse and worse about the prospect of leaving her. I was sure that no one could look after the rabbit in the way that I had, and I grew depressed when considering her future. A 2” by 4” wire hutch is no life for a creature meant to live in a burrow, to frolic and procreate freely. If I had never let her out of her hutch I would have never known how fast she could run, even if it was only in circles, and now I felt it my duty to help this soul out. I knew that she took herself just as seriously as I took myself, and I could tell that she pursued her unique rabbit goals even more seriously than I pursued my human ones.
I would have very much liked to have taken Ginger with me, and to have given her the green pasture every rabbit deserves. Instead, on the day we moved, I put two sweet potatoes, a clove of garlic, and some apples on the balcony and slid the door shut. Ginger’s ear flopped over and she looked curiously through the glass as we gathered the last boxes and left. I went back to the courtyard a week later and looked up to our old balcony to see if I could see her moving around, but everything was gone. I imagine that she is living with her rightful owner again, though I do not know where. I wish I had taught her to open the latch on the hutch in case she found herself in a bad living situation, but I'm not sure you can teach rabbits anything. She already knew a lot.