Ginny sits on the porch listening to the rain and sipping her coffee. The day is cool, but her sweater is enough to keep her warm as long as she avoids the wind, curled up in her chair. She muses on how things have turned out since they moved here to the beach; Barry still spends some time back in the city, but he manages to be here most of the time. Stella and Kyle have been able to merge into the local school, and are actually doing pretty well.
With Barry gone and the kids involved with school and their new friends, Ginny is occasionally lonely. But sitting out here on Esme’s porch helps. Usually, she is entertained by the feral bunnies that play and romp across the yard. Some are pretty big, but they all retain the various colors of their domestic rabbit ancestors: black, white, yellow, brown and various combinations.
Occasionally Ginny leaves carrots or lettuce for them at the bottom of the porch, reminding her of how the kids fed them surreptitiously when they were small. She chuckles to think that she had believed it was her kids eating all those carrots.
At one point, she had worried the bunnies had disappeared, but they were there all along, lurking in the bushes. She remembers the brush of a bunny’s fur against her skin (“Munch, munch; wiggle, wiggle”) and recalls the chaos that Jamie’s puppy, Oliver, had caused among the bunnies.
“We are all older now,” she thinks, “Even puppy Oliver got old and went off to a place where bunnies are plentiful and he is no longer old — playing on the beach and chasing bunnies around the yard.” She smiles to remember how he had once ‘fetched’ a baby bunny so gently in his mouth that it was completely unharmed, if a little slobbery.
Her brother, Jamie, had married but still came to visit occasionally when his and Doris’ jobs allowed. In fact, they are due this weekend! She shakes herself and goes to get things ready for their guests.
Later, when the kids came home from school, she fixed them a snack and prepared the mandatory carrots for all the bunnies that would join them. To be a little more efficient, she sliced the carrots so that they would last longer.
Out on the porch, the kid’s laughter suddenly quieted down, and she heard, “Hello. Is your mother home?”
A tall thin man dressed in a baggy black suit was standing at the base of the porch. His fingers were long and thin and his skin was pale. His thin black moustache and oily black hair gave him the appearance of a crooked salesman or maybe a showman of some kind. When Ginny stepped out the door, he bowed, handing a crisp white business card to Kyle.
“My name is Valente, and I’m looking for Esme’s friend, Ginny.”
Kyle studied the card then passed it to Stella, who read aloud, “Victor V. Valente, Magician.” Valente bowed again. Ginny took the card and looked at both sides.
“Excellent,” he replied, taking her hand and gently kissing it, “the bunny whisperer,” he bowed. “Esme told me all about you and your exploits with the bunnies,” he paused, “she trusted you with her friends.”
Ginny shifted uncomfortably. Kyle asked, “Are you really a magician?”
Valente smiled and picked up one of the carrot slices, waved it around, placed it between his hands, then pulled them apart making fists. “Pick a hand,” he instructed Kyle. Kyle tapped the right one, and it opened, showing no slice of carrot. Valente held the other hand out and when Kyle tapped it, it opened to reveal … nothing. The hand was empty!
Kyle and Stella look at him in amazement, and he leaned over, touched his hand to Stella’s ear, and producing the slice of carrot. “Viola!” he pronounced, and ate the carrot. He made a face, “Ugh! Earwax!” They all laughed with him.
Ginny invited him in and offered coffee. They sat at the kitchen table while he commented admiringly about the improvements Ginny and Barry had made. They chatted about Esme, and Valente’s longtime friendship with her.
“She helped me get my start in show business,” he noted, “And I need to follow up on a promise I made to her.”
“You see,” he went on, “Esme was very supportive of my desire to become a magician. She let me practice here — my parents weren’t really accepting of my plans — and she allowed me to … borrow some things of hers for my act, on the condition that I return them.” He looked a little sadly at the floor, “I didn’t get to it before she was gone, and was not sure about returning them after.”
He looked up into Ginny’s face, “I now know that you can be entrusted with them.” He hesitated, “But I have a favor to ask, as well.”
“What is it?” Ginny asked.
“Let’s discuss this outside.” He walked out to the front porch where the kids were still playing and
waved Ginny to a seat on the steps next to Stella and Kyle.
From his jacket, he removed a flat disk of black satin, tapped it against his arm and — pop — it became a top hat! The kids clapped, and he smiled and nodded in thanks. Then he swirled the hat around and passed his hand over it, mumbling something unintelligible and placed it on the ground, upside down. He crouched over the hat, and moved his hands mysteriously over it, mumbling continuously.
Then he beckoned to Stella and they huddled over the hat. He reached in and said, “Presto!” pulling a white bunny out of the hat with a flourish and handing it to Stella. She cradled it gently, and stared at it in awe. Valente helped her sit in the grass, where the bunny nestled comfortably between her knees as she petted it. No one spoke.
He beckoned to Kyle and they huddled again over the hat. He reached in and exclaimed, “Change-o!” pulling a black bunny out of the hat with a flourish and handing it to Kyle, who also sat down and stared at the bunny in his lap. “But how,” Ginny started then stopped as Valente shook his head and smiled.
“When I needed props for my show,” he began, “I tried to obtain pigeons or white doves, but they were expensive and unreliable.”
“Esme agreed that I could borrow Dorothy and Nigel on the condition that I cared for them and returned them when they had grown. I now satisfy that condition and return Dorothy to her home.” He nodded to Stella. “I am also returning Dorothy’s brother, Nigel, as well.” He nodded towards Kyle.
Everyone was shocked, and Kyle looked closely into the hat, turning it right-side up and tapping it, causing it to collapse into a disk again, and Kyle to jump about a foot in the air.
Dorothy and Nigel sat quietly at the kids’ feet. “Wiggle, wiggle,” go the bunny noses, and Stella mimicked them unthinkingly. She gave each of them a slice of carrot that they delicately nibbled.
“Would you be so kind as to look after them?” Valente asked Ginny, “They’re house-broken, and very companionable.” He looked a little sad, “I’ve come to like them very much, but think that they should be allowed more freedom than I can provide, and I gave my word to Esme that I would return them to their families.”
“Oh, mom,” Kyle asked, “Can we keep them?” Stella stared at her imploringly.
“I think so,” Ginny replied, “A promise is a promise.”
Valente smiled and the kids carefully stroked each bunny. Valente sat with them in the grass, and Dorothy and Nigel each came to him to be petted, then began to explore their new home. Everyone watched as they prowled through the grass, then both rabbits suddenly froze.
“Look,” Kyle said, pointing to the hedge, “More bunnies!”
First one, then several bunnies appeared out of the bushes and moved carefully across the lawn. Dorothy and Nigel sat upright, staying very still. The large yellow bunny that Ginny thought might be the grandmother to the whole herd approached slowly, sniffing. She circled Dorothy, smelling her fur, then methodically repeated the process with Nigel.
She hopped off a bit while several of the other bunnies approached. Both Dorothy and Nigel relaxed and sniffed each of the approaching bunnies in return. They even rubbed cheeks with one particular brown one.
“I believe they still know each other, at least that they are in some way related.” Valente mused aloud.
The humans watched the bunnies get to know each other and mingle comfortably. Several of the bunnies approached Valente, who scritched their ears once they had sniffed and approved of him. The bunnies appeared to be drawn to him and clustered about his feet. Stella distributed carrot slices to the bunnies and humans as well, and they all sat companionably together.
“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.”
“Thank you,” Valente whispered to Ginny, “I know it would mean a lot to her.”
“Yes,” she replied, “It means a lot to me.” She paused, “But don’t you need something for your act? You’re not quitting, are you?”
Valente shook his head, “No, I’m not. But I may just have to stop that part of my act. There’s always pigeons or doves. I know a magician who uses boa constrictors.” They all grimaced at that image.
“How about another bunny?” Stella asked. “We have plenty here, and maybe you could take one of them.” She gestured to the lawn where a handful of small bunnies were nibbling the grass.
Valente raised his eyebrows, “That’s interesting. I would make the same promise to you that I made to Esme,” and looked at Ginny.
Ginny thought for a few minutes, “It’s up to the bunnies,” she said, “They’d need to agree.”
Valente nodded, “Of course. May I have the afternoon to discuss the matter with them?”
When Ginny nodded, he ambled around the yard and sat down near one of the hedges. Several bunnies followed him and he appeared to be chatting with them. The bunnies moved around, while appearing to pay attention to him. Dorothy and Nigel joined them and all settled down, nibbling the grass. Gradually, bunnies joined and left the conversation, but Dorothy and Nigel remained.
Meanwhile, Ginny took the kids inside, and they marveled at the amazing feats they have just seen. The kids peered out the windows watching Valente, and reporting to Ginny, “He’s just sitting there, talking to the bunnies!”
After a while, “He’s coming in.” Both kids ran to the door to let him inside.
They gathered around the kitchen table and Ginny poured Valente a cup of coffee. “I believe there are two who would be willing to come with me,” Valente looked at each of them, “They are young and willing to be trained and willing to travel with me.” Ginny didn’t doubt that he really knew this.
“However, the older bunnies ask that I bring them back once a year so they can be checked on. They can quit at any time they want, and will be returned to Esme’s — no, Ginny’s — house when we are finished.” He smiled, “I will of course pay all their room and board.”
The kids both looked at Ginny, then Stella asked, “Which ones?”
Valente looked at Ginny who nodded, then reached into his coat and produced first one, then another bunny, setting them in the middle of the table. “I believe you know George and Gracie?”
George was a very dark brown, with a white chest, and Gracie was almost yellow with white feet. They sat comfortably in the center of the table, looking around curiously. At Valente’s nod, the kids reached out gently to pet them. “Wiggle, wiggle,” go the bunnies and Ginny, Stella and Kyle followed suit.
“Nigel and Dorothy were helpful in convincing the bunnies that it would be okay for George and Gracie to come with me.” He looked at Ginny, “They would like to be able to come inside sometimes and to play with the kids.” She nodded and the kids beamed.
The next day, when Valente returned, George and Gracie came out of the bushes with many other bunnies, including Nigel and Dorothy. The young bunnies approached Valente, gave him a “Sniff, sniff. Wiggle, wiggle” and allowed him to pick them up and place them inside his coat. Valente said his goodbyes, giving Ginny a hug, “Next summer, we’ll be back.”
After he had gone, Stella and Kyle stayed outside playing with Nigel and Dorothy. After a while, Kyle went inside and Stella lay in the grass next to the two bunnies, musing about how strange everything was. “A magician, and bunnies!” She made up her mind to go see one of Valente’s shows sometime. Maybe she could be his beautiful assistant and be sawed in half or made to disappear!
The grass was green and cool, and made her sleepy. She cradled her head on her arms amidst the humming of the insects, bird calls, occasional buzzing from the bees and the gentle swish of the wind against the leaves.
“Munch.” Nigel brushed against her arm.
“Munch, munch.” Dorothy was near her feet.
“Munch,” Her nose wiggled. “Munch,” Her nose wiggled again. “Munch. Nibble, nibble. Wiggle, wiggle.”
The bunnies suddenly sat upright, tense and listening. Stella heard nothing at first, then heard footsteps on the sidewalk beyond the shrubs.
“Here, Olivia,” her Uncle Jamie called, and the gate swung open. The bunnies crouched stiffly, willing themselves invisible in the grass. Jamie clumsily blundered in through the gate, carrying a suitcase, gym bag, and a bag of groceries. At first he didn’t notice his niece lying in the shade — or the two bunnies next to her.
Olivia burst through the gate with the energy and lack of grace common to puppies and young boys, and, spying Stella, galumphed over to her eagerly, anticipating an opportunity to wrestle and lick the defenseless girl lying in the grass.
Dorothy and Nigel stayed perfectly still as Olivia scampered around them. The puppy and bunnies sniffed each other, then Olivia leapt onto Stella, licking her face.
“Oh no!” Jamie cried, smacking his hand to his head, “Not more bunnies!”