Esme’s House

Ginny sat on Esme’s porch and watched her two children playing on the lawn. Kyle was just four and Stella, nearly six. They had thoroughly explored the yard and climbed all over the new play set Barry had recently installed. Stella was sending their stuffed rabbits, Bun and Bunbun, down the slide for Kyle to retrieve at the bottom. Every time one arrived, Kyle’s burst of laughter, sent a jolt of happiness through Ginny.

It had been years since she was last at the beach — college, a job, meeting Barry, kids — life got in the way. Ginny looked around the lush yard and remembered when it was raggedy and brown. The house was in better shape now, too, but it still reminded her of Esme, the several summers she had spent here and of her visits with Esme. Esme was old even then, and had been blind for many years, but she had been a great friend to Ginny.

Ginny and Barry were surprised to learn that Esme had given her the house when she died; Ginny hadn’t seen her for several years. The family had become extremely busy when she and her brother became teens and it seemed like they never could work out schedules to go to the beach. However, Ginny and Esme communicated with each other frequently; since Esme was blind, Ginny had bought each of them a small tape recorder and they sent tapes back and forth.

The house had needed work, and Barry had been out to the beach early to get it in shape for the summer, particularly making it kid-friendly. Barry had never been to this beach, and Ginny suspected that he spent most of his time on the sand rather than working on the house. However, plumbers and electricians had come, some of the windows were replaced and the inside was cleaned and painted.

Ginny scanned the yard. Back then, she and Esme had made friends with the feral bunnies that inhabited the neighborhood. They could usually be seen on lawns and in the shrubs edging the yards, but on this trip, she hadn’t seen any. Could they all have disappeared?

The kids laughed and yelled as they played, so Ginny didn’t expect any bunnies to brave the noise, but still…

That evening, while Barry read bedtime stories to the kids, Ginny sat on the porch and watched the fading light. She heard the birds calling, the wind in the trees, and quiet voices from the surrounding houses. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t hear a single “Munch, munch.” Esme had told her once that many things, including bunnies, could only be seen when they were ready to be seen. She wanted to be patient, but she felt like an anxious child again. Where were the bunnies?

As Barry finished reading, Kyle asked for Bun, his stuffed rabbit, and Stella joined in, demanding hers, Bunbun. Ginny got up and looked in all the usual places: the living room, behind the sofa, under the stairs, in the kitchen, the pantry, the bathroom, and finally Barry and Ginny’s bedroom. No dice. She poked her head in the kid’s room, saw they were still awake, and asked, “Where did you last see the bunnies?”

Barry shook his head, but the two kids exchanged a look. Stella replied, “Maybe when we were playing outside?”

“I’ll look,” she told them, and headed out the back door. It was a nice night, not much wind and only a sliver of moon. She thought that maybe she should go back inside for a flashlight, but it seemed like too much effort. She wandered out by the fruit trees and remembered when she first came to Esme’s house. It had taken her a bit to understand that Esme was blind, but she had been surprised at how well Esme got by. It was as if she could tell things by touch that Ginny couldn’t even see. If Esme petted one of the bunnies, she could usually tell what color it was, but the multi-colored ones threw her off.

Ginny smiled at the memory.

She saw a blur by the hedge across the yard in the faint moonlight, “Hello, Bun and Bunbun,” and felt the soft grass on her bare feet as she crossed the yard. Something flew out of the tree as she passed, but she couldn’t see it. “Probably not an owl,” she thought, “just a little night bird.” Looking down, she couldn’t make out the bunnies she thought she’d seen. She peered more closely, but nothing was there. “Humph!” she muttered and scanned the rest of the yard.

Off to the side she thought she could see something in shadow near the house, but the light from the window made it hard to see. As she approached, the view through the window caught her eye. Barry reading, cradling Stella on one side and Kyle on the other. It tugged at her heart strings when she saw them together; Barry was a great dad.

When she stepped out of the light and looked down, the light made the shadow seem much darker. It took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the dark again, but nothing was there. “Humph!” she muttered and scanned the rest of the yard.

She wandered across the side yard scanning the shadows for Bun and Bunbun; thinking that maybe there was something by the front walk, she headed that way. The shadows on the front gate made her remember her first trip to the beach, when they had stayed in the house next door. She had lain in the grass and a bunny had quietly come to nibble on her crown of dandelions — until Jamie and his out-of-control puppy, Oliver, had intruded! She laughed at the memory of their entanglement and Oliver’s antics. Back then they had seen many bunnies, unlike today.

She wandered to where she thought there was something on the ground, but nothing was there. “Humph!” she muttered and scanned the rest of the yard. Over by the play set there seemed to be a dark blob at the bottom of the slide. “Of course,” she realized, “the kids were sliding the bunnies down, and no doubt left them there when they came in for dinner.”

As she approached, the dark blob resolved into four discreet brown lumps. “Someone left their shoes out here,” she mumbled. When she stooped to gather them up two of the lumps moved slightly, stopping her dead still. “Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble,” she heard. Involuntarily, her nose wiggled, making her laugh.

The nibbling stopped and each of the lumps stayed still. Slowly, she knelt and waited, hearing only her own breath. She reached for the nearest one, and it remained still. Soft fur, squishy — it was probably Bunbun so she picked it up. She reached for the next one, and felt the soft fur, but it was warm to the touch. She wiggled her fingers (and inadvertently her nose) and it hopped a few feet away.

“Well,” she thought, “That’s not Bun.”

She reached for the next one, and it was also soft and warm, so she remained still, her hand on the bunny’s back. It shifted slightly against her hand and she tried wiggling her fingers. She sensed it turning to look at her, “wiggle, wiggle,” then hop over to the other bunny.

She reached down for Bun, and while it was also soft, it was a little crusty and dirty. “Yep,” she thought, “that’s Bun.”

When she stood, the two remaining bunnies scampered off into the darkness. Inside, the lights in the kids’ room had been turned off, so they had probably got to sleep without their bunnies. She sat on the end of the slide, cradled Bun and Bunbun, and scanned the grass for any other bunnies. Then the stars caught her attention, and she leaned back against the slide and watched them twinkle.

She woke up slowly, conscious of something warm against her feet. Bunbun and Bun were no longer in her lap, so she must have dropped them. Sleepily, she peered down to pick them up, then stopped. The moon had set, but her night-eyes let her see the half-dozen fuzzy critters gathered at her feet. It was not clear who was keeping who warm.

“Bunnies,” she thought, “They’re back!”

She lay back and concentrated on staying still. She could hear the “Munch, munch,” and imagined a whole bunch of “wiggle, wiggle.”

“Hon,” Barry was shaking her gently. “Time to go to bed,” he chuckled, “I see you found the bunnies.”

The stars blared overhead and it felt late. She shook herself, and sat up with Barry’s help. He held Bun and Bunbun together in one hand and pulled her to her feet with the other. A big hug, “Some bunny-finder you are, asleep on the job!” he teased.

Ginny looked around, “There were lots of them, everywhere. They sat on my feet…” she explained.

“Come on to bed, Kitten,” Barry led her inside, “I think you had a nice dream.”

“No, Barry,” she turned to him, “they were real.”

“I’m sure they were,” he tucked her in, “Now sleep and dream of more bunnies.”

The kids awoke early, and demanded breakfast first thing. First Stella, then Kyle, asked for carrots to feed their bunnies. They wandered out to the porch and sat playing quietly by themselves while Ginny and Barry read the paper and finished the coffee. They discussed the day and what work they would try to get done while here. Ginny was pushing for more time at the beach with the kids, but Barry wanted to finish a couple of projects.

In the background they heard the kids outside talking and giggling to each other. Kyle came in and asked for more carrots, so Ginny retrieved a few for him. “I suspect that carrots aren’t the best post-breakfast snack, but they’re probably better than donuts,” she told Barry as she sat down.

“I’ll take a donut,” Barry replied, skeptically eyeing his yogurt. They both laughed.

“I really did see bunnies last night,” she explained, and told him about her night. “Uh huh,” he remained skeptical, which irritated her so she remained quiet.

As she gathered the kids and their paraphernalia to take to the beach, Ginny went out to the front porch to clean up the mess left over from the kids’ breakfasts. It was pretty clean, no stray carrots or carrot residue, and Bun and Bunbun appeared to be no worse for wear. “How do you eat all those carrots and still retain your figure?” she asked Bunbun. She imagined that Bunbun blushed and Bun only grinned.

When they came back from the beach for lunch, they could hear Barry banging and sawing at the back of the house. She hosed the kids and herself off by the front porch, and made them all some lunch. She noticed they were nearly out of carrots (again!). She added carrots to the grocery list, with two plusses.

After lunch, the kids napped, while she helped Barry with some small (and quiet) projects around the house. They avoided discussing the future of the house, Barry had more than once suggested that they fix it up and sell it. “After all,” he had noted, “We would only come here a few times a year, and we could get a lot of money out of this place.” For some reason, she just couldn’t contemplate the house, Esme’s house, going to some stranger. The thought brought tears to her eyes, which irritated Barry greatly. So, they avoided the topic completely.

When the kids woke from their naps, they moved out to the yard to play, while the adults continued working. Stella had started a tea party for Bun and Bunbun under one of the fruit trees, and Kyle was delegated the role of waiter. Stella made several trips getting tea (iced, of course) in the teapot and Kyle intermittently came in for a cheese stick or cookie.

He showed up again, “More?” Ginny asked, “Aren’t you both full already?”

“It’s for the bunnies,” he replied, “We need carrots. They don’t like tea.”

Ginny gave him the last three carrots, “These are the last ones. You guys are eating so many carrots, I think maybe you’ll turn orange!”

“Not any orange ones, Mom.” Kyle replied as he went out the door, “Not yet.”

Ginny paused, then got distracted by Barry who needed her help in the next room. He had started a complex project that she hadn’t paid much attention to, but involved some of the wiring. He seemed determined to upgrade several of the rooms that Esme hadn’t used for years.

The windows were open so they could hear the kid’s laughter and snippets of some song that Stella was singing, so they didn’t feel the need to go check on them. When she finished helping Barry, Ginny went to the store — more carrots!

They waited until late afternoon to go back to the beach, and by then the kids were ready for some more energetic play, and so was Barry. The three of them romped and played tag with the cold waves, getting wet and sandy. Ginny sat on the blanket and watched them, enjoying the moment. Stella came to be toweled off and snuggled up for warmth. Barry carted Kyle into the waves and playfully threatened to toss him in, which elicited screams of glee, tinged with a little anxiety. Barry ker-plunked Kyle down in the shallow water when the wave had receded, then raced him back up the beach to the warmer sand before the wave returned.

Back at the house, Bun and Bunbun were waiting for them on the porch and Kyle got a carrot for each one. After the kids were hosed off, they carried Bun and Bunbun back inside, but Ginny noted that the carrots were gone. Ginny looked around the porch quickly — no carrots. “No late night rambles for you two,” Ginny told the two bunnies, and gently tweaked Kyle’s nose, making them all laugh.

After dinner, Barry asked Ginny to put the kids to bed and read to them. There was something he had to finish. “Okay,” she complied, “But you’re being a little mysterious.” He winked at her and closed the bedroom door.

Stella and Kyle dropped off to sleep pretty quickly as a result of the beach play and the warm dinner. Ginny slipped out of their room quietly and found Barry sitting at the kitchen table.

“Okay,” she asked, “what’s the big secret?”

Barry straightened some papers he had and signaled for her to sit down. “You know that my company has shifted to more work through the internet, and that we’re spending less actual time in the office.” Ginny nodded.

“And when the kids are a little older, your writing and consulting can be done pretty much anywhere.” She nodded again.

“I have a proposition for you then,” he indicated the papers in front of him, “The numbers work out pretty well, with a few adjustments.” He took a breath, “Come look.” He opened the door to one of Esme’s unused rooms. “I’ve basically gotten this place set up for an office,” He opened the door across the hall to another room Esme hadn’t used, “And this one as well.”

Ginny looked to see that Barry had built in a desk in front of the window and shelves in each room, and there were more wall plugs and lighting. On each was a hand-carved name plate – “Ginny’s Desk” and “Barry’s desk.” “It’s beautiful,” she said, “But what are you saying?”

“I’m saying that we should move here permanently. There’s room for the kids, and now work space for us, so we don’t need to live back in the city.” He paused, “We can live here.”

Ginny was overcome with the idea, “Live at the beach? But there must be all kinds of reasons we can’t. What about the money?”

Barry waved the papers at her, “It’ll work!”

Overwhelmed, Ginny followed Barry out to the porch and joined him on the stoop. He took her hand and gently kissed it. “Think about it, and we can talk more about the details tomorrow.”

They snuggled together with their feet in the grass and a gazillion stars overhead. Her mind raced with the possibilities, but he shushed her when she tried to talk. “Just let it rest tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough.”

The air was cooling down in the gentle breeze, and Ginny felt warm and safe in Barry’s embrace. They sat quietly for quite a while, drowsing a bit and watching the stars move.

“Munch, munch.” Ginny thought she heard it, but was she dreaming? “Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.” That she definitely heard, and started to sit up.

Barry gently held her tight, “Stay still. The bunnies are back.”

“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.” Ginny smiled, then couldn’t help herself, “Wiggle, wiggle.”