He played along. Just for the adults. He’d rather be working on his wireless remote pigeon tracker or pressing his PE kit. He even had homework to do, but the parents had insisted he leave it. Incredible abuse, he’d thought. But, he considered, they did earn the money to pay for his projects, provide accommodation and taxi services, food, laundry resources, and the occasional trip to the Science Museum, that he may as well bolster the relationship with some form of reciprocal happiness. So, he’d posed for the stupid photo with the stupid fake too-yellow chicks. He’d greeted the overly excited neighbourhood children as they were dispatched by their parents at his house. And he’d only rolled his eyes slightly as his mother handed out the boiled-beyond-death eggs along with trays of poster paint and cheap brushes. He’d been as polite as possible about the disastrous results. His mother voiced her approval with squeals of delight and bulging eyes that apparently made all four of the invited children extremely proud of their eggy art works. The most difficult part was dealing with Marcia, the next-door-but-one neighbour’s five year old girl. All pink and ribbony, and very much into unicorns. Their respective parents were good friends, and, as they lived so near, they felt it was good for Marcia and Tom to be friends, even with the age difference.
He’d see her at school and she’d always make a point of saying hello, especially in front of his friends, just to cause extra embarrassment. Even the nerdiest of kids have standards of cool and not cool, and a kid from first year talking to a kid from fourth year was bad enough, never mind a kid that was a girl, never mind a kid that was a girl with pink ribbons and unicorn dresses. She seemed popular amongst her peers. Any time he spotted a crowd of girls on the playing field he knew Marcia would be in the middle, the focus, the centre of attention. All the girls peering at something in amazement, pushing and shoving to get closer to the pink ribbon in the middle, the one on top of Marcia’s head. When a dinner lady approached they’d all feign nonchalance, and Marcia would put on her brightest smile as she concealed whatever was so fascinating behind her back. Tom noted the dinner lady never asked to see what was being concealed, but the flattered smile on her face told Tom that Marcia had just paid her a very charming compliment, thus deflecting attention with wonder and awe at what an amazingly lovely little girl she was. She was doing the same thing right now with his mother.
“I love these buns you’ve made, Mrs Boyle. The icing is so pretty.”
“Oh, thank you, Marcia,” said Tom’s mother, with that expression of delight that only a pink ribboned five year old girl paying an adult a compliment can do. Marcia was smiling so sweetly that the sugar filled buns felt they may have competition in the room. One of them was handed to Marcia by Tom’s mother, who excitedly proclaimed it was finally time for the egg hunt in the garden.
The children scattered having been given the build up to “Go!” and Tom sluggishly trailed himself into the long but narrow back garden. “Keep your eye out for the Easter Bunny!” shouted his Nikon camera clad mother. He carried the basket his mum had procured from the local pound shop and searched under trees. In bushes. Behind freshly stacked sticks. All the obvious places from which he could get something into his basket that looked like he’d spent time, made an effort, etc. It was soon all boring enough that he noticed the trail of smoke curling up from behind the buddleia bush which, he thought, was worthy of further investigation. He picked his way carefully through the border of primroses, over the crisping daffodils and around newly budding buddleia branches, then stopped, dead.
The rabbit was what his brother would call manky. His white fur had lost its whiteness. Instead it was a clumpy yellow, with flecks of dirty fluff and patches of peeling skin. Tom didn’t know what to make of it, so he just stared. The rabbit peered back at him through the smoky curls.
“I’ve been watching you.”
Tom considered replying, but the fact he would be replying to five foot rabbit was something his brain couldn’t get over in order to form those word things it was usually quite good at.
“It’s kids like you that will be the death of us,” said the nicotine stained voice. He took another drag. His mangy ear flopped over his left eye as he did so. Shaking slightly with the effort.
Tom’s brain decided that superiority was the way forward in such a bizarre situation.
“Why would I listen to a stinky rabbit?” he said, with a dismissive nose twist.
“A stinky rabbit!” exclaimed the stinky rabbit, throwing down his half-finished cig and hopping stompily towards the boy. His arms with their chewed paws gestured wildly as he spat and spoke. “YOU made me like this. Kids like you. You have one job and you can’t even do that properly!”
“Yes!” the rabbit spat. “Being a kid.”
“But, I am a kid,” said Tom. “I can’t be anything else.”
The rabbit laughed into the air, then shook its head. It’s whiskered smile turned into a sneer as it edged closer towards the boy.
“Yes. A particularly stupid one, it appears.”
Tom was, in fact, stupefied. Tom had never considered he could become stupefied, but, in this moment, he would remember, he most definitely was.
“If you don’t believe,” said the rabbit, “then this is what I become. An old memory. Something pointless and lost. Forgotten. Homeless. That’s what kids like you want isn’t it? Hmm?” The rabbit’s eyes widened as it pushed its face into Tom’s. “Isn’t it?!” Tom tried to edge backwards but stumbled over a broken gnome. He felt the panic race through his body.
“Even disrespecting the King of the Garden,” the rabbit spat while towering over him.
“But, I…I didn’t know…”
“Hey, rabbit! Where’s your fat fluffy arse?”
This confidently demanding voice wrapped in the sweetness of a five year old’s voice box came from the other side of the buddleia bush, followed by a rustling of branches, followed by Marcia. The rabbit backed away instantly, seemingly cowering at the presence of the small human. It jittered and held its paws against its chest, almost like it was trying to be cute.
“There you are,” said Marcia, who then saw Tom and his very confused expression.
“Oh, you’re here too,” said the girl, slightly perturbed, for a second at least. “Never mind. So, rabbit, got my stuff?”
“Yes, yes, Miss…ma’am.” The rabbit fumbled within its fur, as if looking for some concealed skin pocket. “Here…” A small bottle of something pink and a little bit sparkly was handed over.
“Good,” said Marcia, sharply.
“It’s the finest breath you’ll get, Miss. Taken from one of the finest unicorns I know. Lives in the mountain forests of the Unseen where it roams amongst the ancestors, eating only the juciest of sprouting clovers of the four leaved variety.” The rabbit attempted a crooked smile, all teeth and stains. “Good quality clover, ma’am. Some say if you look really hard you’ll find a five leaved one in there somewhere. If the unicorn ain’t ate it, y’understand.” The rabbit let out a wheezing laugh, full of nerves and eager to pleaseness. But Marcia wasn’t listening. The girl was inspecting the small bottle carefully, like she knew what she was doing, it seemed. She was taking her time about it, which appeared to agitate the rabbit. He bit his lip a few times, pulling at the whiskers so they splayed out and sprang back like fibre optics. He rubbed the back of his neck, then his chin, glancing at the girl in between the awkward movements, then finally he blurted, “So have you got my stuff?”
“Oh,” said Marcia, distracted from her thorough inspection, “Yes. But don’t forget, rabbit,” she said, moving up close to the rabbit who, even though he rose above her a good couple of foot, still shrank back at her forwardness, “I make you, and I can break you, so don’t go running off too soon, I’ll require your services again.”
“Ye…yes, Miss…ma’am…,” said the rabbit, now visibly shaking.
The girl dropped an assortment of chocolate eggs, various sizes, at the rabbit’s feet, keeping eye contact with the animal at all times. “Don’t eat them all at once,” she said. Then, covering her face with her bestest overly-lovely grin, Marcia pocketed her unicorn breath and made her way out through the buddleia bush. The rabbit, as if a sudden bout of rabies had hit him, delved into the pile of chocolate, hurriedly unwrapping those that needed to be unwrapped whilst cramming those that didn’t into his mouth, smearing his yellowing paws and facial fur in brown goo. Tom took the opportunity to get the hell out of there, careful not to tread on the broken gnome, the King of the Garden, as he left.
As they all departed from the successful, happy-filled day, Tom’s mum gave each child a goody bag filled with their egg based works of art, some small chocolate eggs and too-yellow toy chicks. Tom was expected to stand at the door while this ceremony occurred, which he did, diligently. And with less superiority than usual, noted his mother. Marcia was last to leave. She thanked Tom’s mother with her trademark grin and big, honest blue eyes, and took her goody bag.
“Bye, Tom,” she said, as she walked past him. “Oh, and…” Her proximity was way too close for comfort, Tom knew, but his body wouldn’t move as she whispered in his ear, “It’s good to believe, Tom. But no one will believe you, of course.” And with that, and an extra sparkle from the pink bow on the back of her head, she was gone.
“Mum,” said Tom.
“Yes, love,” said Tom’s mum, mid-wave.
“I think we should get another gnome for the garden.”