Valentine

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Valentine

My new neighbor keeps a rabbit fenced in on a platform in his back yard. A hutch, he calls the little house that sits in one corner, and he has everything raised to almost shoulder height on his son, whose job it is to feed and water and clean up after something that must wonder why it’s the only one of its kind who isn’t running free in the back yards and thick shrubberies along the street where my family just moved in.

“Discipline,” my neighbor says, not friendly like. “Good for the boy to master. He knows that without him doing his job, the rabbit will die.” He nods toward the rabbit’s tree house replica. “I have to tell you I’ve been telling him that hutch is looking slum-like lately.”

The boy is twelve, a year older than my daughter. She spends time down there with the rabbit, the boy explaining, maybe, the daily chores. She says its name is Valentine and it’s four years old, which, to me, means that rabbit leads a charmed life despite all that fencing and winter being what it is around here.

My neighbor, for himself, has taken up archery. “You hunt?” he asks, and I shake my head rather than my voice. He has a big target he shoots at in his back yard for practice. A quiver he straps across his back so everything, he explains, feels like it will when he’s in the field after the seasons open in the fall—wild turkey and deer. When I stay mute, he says he’s looking forward, when he’s ready, to taking a black bear with an arrow, that you can down one if you’re perfect with your shot, that I’d be surprised by the damage an arrow can do. “It sharpens you,” he says, “having just the arrows between you and something that can do you serious harm.”

A week goes by before he calls me over while I’m out clipping hedges. “Watch me for a bit,” he says. “I need to feel some pressure and see how I react.” He launches eight arrows more rapidly than I would have thought could be done, and every one of them hits the target.

“Looks damn good,” I say, but he makes a noise like slurping.

“Half of them would have made a mess of things,” he says, and brushes a yellowed leaf off his shoulder, one that has fallen from a tree of mine that sits close to the property line. “Those leaves of yours are a bitch come late September,” he says.

“I bought myself a grass rake right after we moved in,” I say.

“You’ll need more than that. They’re so narrow a rake has a hard time getting after them. Before you know it, you’ll want to buy yourself a chain saw.”

Two days later, as soon as I get home from work, my daughter tells me the hutch is gone. “Valentine died,” she says, looking weepy. I glance outside and see a rectangle of bare earth where that contraption must have stood for over four years.

“That’s about as long as a rabbit lasts,” I say, though I’ve never done any homework about that, and she sends me a stare that screams.

By the time we finish dinner, my neighbor is out back with his archery set-up, but what I spot right away is the bare spot is gone, sod laid down so I can hardly tell the difference between it and my neighbor’s chemically treated lawn.

“You noticed,” my neighbor says. “Good. It was a bitch measuring it.” He looks comfortable standing there with an arrow notched and ready.

“I bet it was,” I say.

“You want to go down there for a look-see and tell me if I missed a spot?”

“Not really.”

“Go ahead,” he says. “I’d like that, you making sure my perfect is your perfect, too. My boy wouldn’t touch that bunny of his, so I did everything myself. No more pets though, no doubt about that.”

He waves the bow as if shooing me away. I conjure my best smile-and-shrug combo, but I go the whole way and stand right there beside that new-laid lawn, turning and giving him a quick thumbs-up before I start back, zig-zagging a little, toward my house. When I take a peek, he still has the arrow all poised and ready. He nods and turns, draws and fires. “Yes,” he says, and I set my eyes on where the steps to my deck begin. Before I reach them, he says “Yes!” a bit louder, and I have to look, half-expecting he’s split the first arrow in two.


Photo used under CC.

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Gary Fincke's newest collection, The Sorrows, will be published in February, 2020, by Stephen F. Austin. West Virginia published The Out-of-Sorts: New and Selected Stories in 2017.

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