As they pulled into the drive, the tall hedges around the house made it difficult for Ginny to see into the yard. It had been a long year, and she was anxious to check in with her rabbit friends. Her older brother Jamie and his puppy Oliver — now almost fully grown, bailed out of the car first and ran ahead of her into the yard, Oliver barking and jumping, glad to be free after the long drive.
Ginny pushed past the gate and stopped, looking over the lawn and into the shrubbery for any trace of the bunnies but there was no sign of them. With the exception of Oliver’s barking and Jamie chasing after him, the yard was still and quiet.
“Okay you two,” came their father’s voice from over the hedge, “time to unpack and start our vacation.” Dutifully, if reluctantly, they went back to the car and started carrying things into the house. On each pass through the yard, Ginny scanned for any sign, but found nothing.
Her mother and Jamie were anxious to the beach, and her Dad was heading off to pick up groceries, leaving Ginny alone in the house. Last year on their vacation at the beach house, Ginny had made friends with the bunnies that lived in the hedges throughout the neighborhood. They were various colors and not too shy. Her dad theorized they were pets that had escaped or been set free, then multiplied. She didn’t like that he called them “feral”. She thought of them as independent — free to make their own choices.
Actually, she was getting tired of being treated like the baby in the family. She was always being bossed around by Jamie, and her mom and dad were way more strict with her than with him. He was allowed to do things they would never let her do. It was so unfair. She got better grades than Jamie, she was much more responsible, fixing dinner one night a week and doing some of the laundry. Jamie always had to be bugged to do the dishes (as if loading dishes into the dishwasher was work) and mow the lawn (which was only a chore for part of the year). Now they were considering letting him take driving classes (as if anyone would be safe on the road with him around). It was so unfair.
Ginny stepped out into the yard, and nothing moved. She heard the wind in the treetops, but it was still quiet on the lawn. She sat on the step and waited. She heard the gulls screeching down on the beach, and there was the sharp chirp of a tiny wren-like bird flitting among the bushes.
But there was no “munch, munch”, no scurrying sounds from the hedges. A raven coasted by overhead with a raucous cry. She was alone.
Slowly, she moved out onto the lawn, and sat near a dandelion patch. She “poofed” a couple of the seed heads, and began braiding the stems together while she eyed the bushes discreetly. She still saw nothing.
She stayed as still as she could. But there was no scurrying in the hedges; no “munch, munch.”
After a while, her dad returned and asked her help carry the groceries. Then he made her put on her beach gear and accompany him down to the beach. As usual, it was breezy and cool, and the water was downright freezing. But the view was incredible with the waves and the sea stacks — but there were only a few uninteresting sea shells. When Jamie came back to them, he tried to scare her with a big wad of kelp and Oliver tried to get her to play. “How childish,” she thought and ignored them. Jamie and Oliver ran off across the wet sand and her parents sat in deck chairs back from the surf where it was dry and warmer.
Ginny moped down the beach, looking for shells, interesting stones, feathers — anything! There was a furry looking mass half-buried in the sand at tide line and she panicked. “Oh no, not a bunny!” she thought. She approached it warily, nearly overcome with anguish. It was the body of a very dead, very long dead, sea gull. She nearly cried with relief. But now, looking at the detritus along the tide line, she became afraid that she would actually see a dead bunny. The thought was unbearable so she headed back to the house. Her parents tried to get her to stay on the beach, but she just mumbled that she didn’t feel like it, and went on.
Her parents paid no attention to whatever mischief Jamie got into, but they were always telling her what to do or not to do. It wasn’t fair.
With trepidation, she quietly entered the yard and scanned the lawn and hedges for signs of movement or color. It was too dark beneath the hedges to see clearly, but nothing moved. Last year, she had found bunnies that were brown, black, gray, white, yellow and combinations of each, but now all she saw was the green grass and leaves, the yellow dandelions and the impenetrable dark gray of the hedge. Where were the bunnies?
She peeked over the wooden fence into the yard next door. It was a new modern-looking house with well-tended flower beds of roses. The small lawn was confined by gravel walks of different colors and a large wooden porch. “Not very bunny-friendly,” Jenny thought, “Nor is it Ginny-friendly.”
On the other side, a small weathered house sat in the middle of an unkempt lawn and shared the large hedge with Ginny’s house. There were a smattering of fruit trees and some early apricots littered the ground. Ginny thought she saw movement at the back of the lawn, but then it wasn’t there.
She looked both ways down the street, and peered intently at the weathered house. In the windows facing the street, nothing moved. Carefully, she lifted the gate latch, and swung the gate in with but a small squeak. No one appeared, so she quickly dashed into the side yard, scanning for any movement. There were more bird noises here, and several small brown birds flickering past her head, startling her. At the rear of the house, she checked the bushes across the back of the yard where she had seen movement earlier.
Watching birds fluttering around the bird feeder on a pole a short ways from the back porch, she thought, “This is a perfect place for a bunny.”
“Who is it?” came a voice from just behind her.
Ginny jumped about a foot and gasped. She turned to see an old woman sitting in an even older rocker on the porch just a few feet from where she stood.
“Well?” the old woman said.
Ginny stammered, “Um. It’s me.”
“Yes, I thought as much,” the woman paused, “but who are you?”
“Ginny,” she said softly, “from next door; we’re staying here for vacation.”
“Oh, yes,” the woman replied, “with the boy and the dog.”
The woman didn’t seem to look straight at Ginny, but stared in her direction. It made Ginny uncomfortable, so she shifted a few steps to the side. The eyes didn’t follow her.
“That’s my brother Jamie,” Ginny explained, “and Oliver, his dog.”
The woman shifted her gaze back toward Ginny, “What can I do for you, Ginny? To what do I owe the honor of your visit?”
“Well, you see,” she began, “It’s the bunnies.” The woman looked intently at her. “I can’t find any.”
“There were tons of them last year and they were nice and they weren’t afraid of me, but maybe Oliver scared them away. I don’t know where they went.”
The small old woman glanced out at the bushes at the back of the yard, and said, “Well young lady, I suppose I should introduce myself if we are to be neighbors.” She rose shakily and Ginny joined her on the porch, taking an outstretched hand. “I am Miss Stewart, but you, Ginny, can call me Esme.” She sat down slowly, “Please sit here,” she indicated a rickety old wicker chair to one side.
Ginny noticed that Miss Stewart — no, Esme’s — eyes were cloudy and unfocused.
“So, tell me about your bunnies, Ginny.”
Ginny thought back to last summer, and lying on the stoop, told Esme about the bunny that came up and ate her wreath (Esme interrupted her, “Munch, munch, nibble, nibble, wiggle, wiggle ” she said scrunching up her nose, making Ginny laugh), and about the ruckus with Oliver and Jamie and how crazy and funny it all got. Esme laughed along with Ginny as she told how the three of them had gotten all tangled up … and how later when she was alone, the bunnies would come out and eat (“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.” Esme repeated) and not be afraid of her.
“But now, I can’t find any bunnies’” she complained, “Do you see any in your yard?”
Esme chuckled softly, “Oh, Ginny, I’m way beyond seeing bunnies now.” She thought a minute, and continued, “But it seems to me that bunnies and such creatures are only seen when they’re ready to be seen. They may be there all along, but sometimes no matter how hard you look, you don’t see them.”
Esme waved a hand towards the bushes, “Do you see any now?”
Ginny looked, but the yard was empty. “No, nothing,” she said.
“Hmm,” Esme nodded, “Maybe you’re right, I don’t hear any munching either.”
Ginny carefully waved her hand in front of Esme’s face, She didn’t move. “Can you see?” she asked.
Esme chuckled, “Not with my eyes,” she turned to Ginny, “But I can see the story you told me in my mind, and sometimes I can see what I hear or touch.” She laid a dry hand on Ginny’s, then carefully touched her hair. “I can see you, now.”
They sat quietly for a minute, then Ginny heard her parents talking next door. “I’d better go,” she said.
She took a few steps off the porch, “Can I come back again, Esme?”
“Of course, child. Anytime.”
Ginny’s parents were concerned that she wasn’t home when they got there. Her father chastised her and was very explicit that she was not to go wandering off like that. She felt wronged.
“Jamie gets to do whatever he wants!” she thought, “but they treat me like a child.” She decided to go look around the neighborhood to see if she could find the bunnies, but her father interrupted her and made her stay to help fix dinner.
The next morning, Ginny’s parents and Jamie went to the beach, but she stayed behind with an admonition from her father to stay in the yard. She moped around the house, peeking out the windows to look for bunnies. Finally, she went out and sat in the lawn by the dandelion patch. She wove a wreath of the stems and flowers and lay down in the grass. Nothing moved.
Boredom made her sleepy, but as she looked up at the bright blue sky, she saw a cloud that looked like a bunny ear. Was that other one a bunny tail? She searched for other bunny clouds as they floated past her view. She found several bunny feet (“That’s good luck,” she thought.), and a nearly complete bunny head with eye and ears. Drowsy, she closed her eyes to let them rest.
She became aware of something moving through the nearby grass, but kept her eyes closed and tried to stay relaxed. She could imagine a big brown bunny gradually moving closer, remembering her and that she was a friend. Next, perhaps she would come over and much on the wreath. (Munch, munch; nibble, nibble) She tried not to wiggle, and held her breath to contain her excitement.
Suddenly, a warm hairy body leapt onto her, and she received a giant sloppy dog kiss across her face.
“Oliver!” she screamed, “Get off me!”
Oliver jumped back as she sat up, but found the play too exciting to stop and rampaged around and around her. He leapt in again and knocked her onto her back, then came in for another slobbery kiss, which she deflected with her forearm. She managed to get onto her feet, and Oliver excitedly circled around and around her, then around the yard in bigger circles.
“Stupid dog,” she cried, and tried to wipe the slobber off her face and arm. Oliver was undeterred, so she quickly ran into the house.
Washing her face and arm, she was angry with Oliver and felt that he had ruined any chance she had to see the bunnies. She had to get out of the yard. If the bunnies were feral, maybe she should be also. She had to go find them. She would be Feral Ginny.
Having already checked out the yards on each side of her house, she decided to look in each of the surrounding yards; first on this block, then further as necessary. Carefully making sure the gate was closed to keep Oliver in, she began at the house across the street. It had a picket fence and was surrounded by shrubbery. Peeking in the gate, it was easy to see there were no bunnies in that yard. Next was a newish place with a tall privacy fence, but no gate. Slipping quietly inside, she looked around, careful to avoid the windows. Neither bunnies nor people were evident.
The next house was also relatively new, but the fence was shorter and she could see over it. No bunnies. She moved to the next with the same result. At the corner house she could see the entire yard from her position in the side street, so she ventured further in that direction. Maybe the bunnies had moved farther from the beach during the year she had been away.
As she peered over the next fence, a huge German Shepherd dog charged at her, barking wildly. She jumped back and quickly ran to the corner where she stopped to catch her breath. Slowly, she walked down the street, only peeking into yards she could see into without getting too close.
A tabby cat pounced off a porch and greeted her in exchange for a pet. “So, do you know where the bunnies are?” Ginny asked her. “Bbbrrrrrppppt,” the tabby replied.
Ginny continued down the block, then made the corner back towards her house. No bunnies were seen anywhere.
She was very discouraged and became extremely concerned. What could have happened to them? Maybe the dogs had scared them off. Maybe someone caught them and sold them in pet shops. It was too horrible to imagine. She went back to their house.
The first thing she saw as she entered the gate was Oliver, excited to see her again. Next was her father, sitting on the porch step, looking extremely angry.
Her parent’s anger stung her deeply and the lecture made her cry. Her father suggested that if she couldn’t behave, they would end the vacation right there. Jamie gave her a stern look, which made her mad, as well as upset. She was sent to her room for the rest of the evening. Later, her mother brought a sandwich and milk, hugged her and went back out. Ginny was miserable.
The next morning, she went to the beach with her family and stayed with them all day. She felt like a prisoner. When Jamie tried to get her to play with him and Oliver, she sulked instead. That night she had trouble sleeping with thoughts of terrible things happening to her bunnies and bad dreams about her parent’s anger.
She woke up determined to be more obedient and more cheerful. When she went in for breakfast, her mother and father told them that they would continue the vacation, but they had to do some work to pay back the vacation days they had spoiled.
Jamie muttered to Ginny, “They? I didn’t do anything; you were the jerk.” He gave her a dirty look.
Their father frowned at him, but their mother interrupted. “We want you to do something nice for someone, and we have found out that the lady next door is blind and can use some help around the yard.” She tried to look serious, “So, after breakfast you will go next door, introduce yourselves, and do whatever she needs. She is expecting you.”
Jamie and Ginny exchanged a glance, and finished their breakfasts.
Esme was on the back porch, just like before, and she rose as they approached, “Good morning Ginny,” she said, “And you must be Jamie.” She shook Jamie’s hand as he shot a quizzical look Ginny’s way. Ginny ignored it and looked around the yard for bunnies.
Esme asked them to do various yard chores, such as picking up the windfall fruit and branches that littered parts of the yard. She offered them lemonade and asked that they clean off and fill the bird feeder, then clear off several paths across the yard.
They worked all morning until Esme told them they had done enough, and invited them to stay for lunch. Jamie wanted to go off to the beach, but Ginny decided to stay. Esme moved about the kitchen confidently, and made PB and J sandwiches for both of them with milk and potato chips. She suggested they have dessert (“Store-bought cookies,” Esme apologized, “I’m not supposed to bake.”) on the back porch.
After Jamie had left, Esme asked Ginny how her vacation was going, and bit by bit Ginny explained how she had looked forward to playing with the bunnies, they weren’t to be found, her brother was a jerk, her parents were unfair and … “what happened to the bunnies?”
Esme took her hand and listened and didn’t try to explain away Ginny’s fear. “I know it feels terrible and horribly unjust,” she said, “but sometimes life is like that. We have to put up with a lot in life, but somehow we need to get through and look for the good things.”
“Like bunnies,” Ginny said.
“Exactly,” Esme replied. “If I remember correctly, just about over there,” she pointed off to one side of the bird feeder, ”there’s some nice grass with maybe some dandelions.”
Esme continued, “Let’s take off our shoes and you help me out there. We’ll lie in the grass and tell stories, and watch the clouds.” She paused, “You can tell me what the clouds look like.” It was hard for Ginny to help Esme down onto the grass, but they managed together with grunts and groans and lots of giggles.
Esme chuckled, “Whoo, me! I haven’t done this in years. I suppose it may be years before you can get me up again.” She let loose a hearty laugh and Ginny joined in.
They listened to the birds at the feeder and Esme named them for Ginny. “Each one has a special way of being there, their chirps, how they go after the seed, how they interact with others,” she said. “Kinda like people.” she added wistfully.
Ginny thought about herself and Jamie and how they were different. She could tell when he was home just by the noises he made. Her parents, too. It occurred to her that her parents were people just like she and Jamie. Curious. And Oliver, that was no challenge, except sometimes she couldn’t tell if the clumsy knocking about in the house was Jamie or Oliver. It made her laugh, and Esme laughed when she told her.
Ginny lay back and described the clouds to Esme. Their shapes and colors, how fast they moved. Esme knew their names based on her description, but was pleased when Ginny could find one shaped like a thing or animal.
Gradually, Ginny quit talking and they sat in silence, listening and absorbing the sounds and smell and sunlight. She cradled her head on her arms, closed her eyes and listened to the humming of the insects, a few bird calls, occasional buzzing from the bees and the gentle swish of the wind against the leaves.
Slowly Ginny became aware of the quiet sound of, well … nibbling.
“Shh,” Esme whispered, “I think we have a bunny. Stay still.”
The nibbling stopped, then resumed, “Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.”
Ginny tried to look around without moving, which caused her to try to bug her eyes up out of her face. Esme tried to hold back a giggle, “Whatever are you doing?” she whispered.
“Trying to see,” Ginny whispered back.
“Just listen, like me,” Esme whispered.
“It’s easier for you,” Ginny said without thinking, then gasped.
Esme burbled out a giggle, “Hush!” and they both shook with suppressed giggles. “Listen.”
“Munch.” Rustle, rustle. “Munch, munch, nibble, nibble.” The rustling was getting closer.
Ginny saw some movement out of the corner of her eye, then felt something brush her arm. She stayed very still.
She turned her head very slowly, scarcely breathing. Esme seemed to be holding her breath, too.
The brown bunny was sitting against her arm, nibbling away. It looked directly into Ginny’s gaze and wiggled its nose. Wiggle, wiggle. “Nibble, nibble.”
Ginny wiggled her nose while the bunny continued to munch away.
Ginny reached for Esme’s hand and slowly slid it across to where the bunny hunched, watching closely, but continuing to eat. “Munch, munch.” Wiggle, wiggle. Ginny wiggled back.
Esme gently touched the bunny leaning against Ginny’s arm.
“Ooh,” Esme breathed, “She’s so soft.”
The bunny continued to watch Ginny and eat.
“Munch, munch. Nibble, nibble.” Wiggle, wiggle.
Slowly, Esme stroked her hand along the bunny’s side. “I can see her, now,” she said.
“I think she’s brown.”