Just Like Chicken

or

Making a Difference


Barbara Handshy Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

{   Maybe not for those not comfortable with the idea of rabbit as food   }

 

 

"Shhhhhh... Mouse hissed loudly… If William catches… William cooks US for dinner… not rabbits.”

Samantha’s eyes were as big as saucers, as she juggled two very nervous rabbits in her arms. She had never done anything like this before.

“I’m scared, Mouse,” she whispered back. “I’ve never stolen anything before. What if we get caught? I don’t want the silence.”

 

Mouse looked at her impatiently, and grimaced. He was finding it difficult to whisper and argue at the same time. “Silence not so bad,” he insisted. “Mouse knows… dunnit before… Quiet’s good… sometimes.”

 

He paused and frowned. “Sometimes not so good. Anyway…” he paused for moment and leaned closer to her face and shook his head. “… not stealing. Definitely not stealing.”

 

Samantha looked incredulous. “What do you call it then? It certainly isn’t borrowing, because we aren’t bringing them back. And it isn’t finding either… It is stealing.”

 

“Mouse is right,” Geoffrey interjected as he wrestled with two plump rabbits of his own. For once, he was going to prove Samantha was wrong about something. “It’s not really stealing. It’s… it’s…” One rabbit nearly jumped from his arms and Geoffrey hung onto him by his hind legs.

 

Samantha stuck out her chin proudly, defending her point, while trying not to laugh at how ridiculous her co-conspirator looked, holding a wriggling, frightened rabbit that way. “Then what is it? I demand to know before I take one more step.”

 

The rabbit gave one great jerk and wrestled itself free of Geoffrey’s grip. “Ohhhhh… See what you made me do?” He gave Samantha an angry grimace as he ran after the rabbit, only to return moments later dejected.

 

“He got away, Mouse. What should we do?”

 

Mouse looked harried as he replied, “Hurry and get another one. Can’t wait all night. Hurry.”

 

Geoffrey returned quickly with another nervous rabbit in hand. As he wrangled the rabbit safely into his jacket and zipped it up, Samantha asked again, “I still want to know what you think we are doing, if it isn’t stealing?”

 

Kipper stepped up to offer his opinion. “It’s… it’s… liberating… That’s it! It’s liberating!” he declared.

 

“SSSHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” Mouse reminded them loudly. “Mouse said quiet good sometimes,” he whispered loudly. “Mouse means, now!”

 

Samantha was still dubious. She would have folded her arms across her chest for emphasis if they weren’t so full of rabbits at the moment.

 

Tired of debating the issue, Mouse began slowly moving down the passageway, carefully listening for the sound of anyone coming. Samantha and Geoffrey followed close behind.

 

“I still don’t know why you think it’s ‘liberating’,” Samantha whispered, turning her head back to Geoffrey. “Isn’t that just another word for stealing?”

 

“No,” he replied, careful to keep his voice low. Why are girls always so dumb? he wondered. “It’s all about how you look at it. You know what I mean?”

 

“No, I don’t know what you mean. That’s why I’m asking.” she answered, clearly becoming frustrated by the conversation. Sheesh! Why are boys always so dumb? she wondered.

 

Even in the dim light of the tunnel, Samantha was sure she could see Geoffrey rolling his eyes.

 

“Do you remember, when we studied about the Civil War?” he asked.

 

“Yes?” she answered. “But what does that have to do with stealing rabbits from William’s rabbit hutch?”

 

“UUUugggghhh!” Geoffrey groaned in frustration. “Do you remember about the underground railroad? How abolitionists helped get slaves to freedom, even though it was technically against the law?”

 

“Yes, I… guess… so,” she said slowly, beginning to see his line of reasoning.

 

“And what about in World War Two,” Kipper added. “When some Germans and the French Resistance helped to hide and smuggle Jews to freedom?”

 

“Yes, I remember our history lessons.” Samantha was clearly getting frustrated with them. “Are you seriously comparing these rabbits to them?”

 

“Well, that’s what we’re doing, isn’t it?” Geoffrey asked. “We’re helping these rabbits get to freedom. You see? It’s not really stealing… it’s liberating. If we don’t… they will be made into stew.”

 

Although Samantha thought the rabbits were adorable, and she didn’t like the idea of them being killed and cooked, but she surmised that this was not the time to mention that she really liked William’s rabbit stew… and his fried rabbit… and his rabbit meat pies…

 

~

 

Vincent waited for Catherine at the threshold. He never tired of watching her descend like an angel from heaven, into the dimly lit underworld he came from. He loved to watch her face light up when she turned toward him, in the dim light where he waited. No torch below had ever burned as brightly as her face, when she saw him in that first, unguarded moment of recognition.

 

“Vincent!” she exclaimed in a loud whisper, as they reached for each other in the dark. “I’ve missed you!”

 

He laughed softly as she threw herself into his open arms. “We were just together on your balcony last night, Catherine.”

 

“I know,” she sighed. “And every moment since you left has been pure torture.”

 

“Yes.” He held her tighter and whispered into her ear. “Yes, it has.” He silently wondered what he had ever done to deserve such love.

 

For a few moments, they held each other and drank in the sweetness of their shared bond. Vincent inhaled deeply, consumed by the scent of her hair, and the warmth of her affection, as it washed over and through him. Finally they parted.

 

“Tell me, Vincent,” she inquired, smiling, “What are we doing tonight?”

 

Vincent chuckled again. “William has prepared a special dinner.”

 

“Really?’ she asked, her eyes bright with anticipation. “I can’t wait.”

 

“He asked me several times if I had remembered to invite you. He wanted to make sure you were in attendance.”

 

 “What’s the occasion? What is he cooking?”

 

“He’s trying some new recipes. He has barred almost everyone from his kitchen. He says someone’s been pilfering his fresh vegetables, and he won’t rest until the culprit is found. Until then, he is in there on his own. We’ve all been trying to stay out of his way for the last several days. But he was most insistent that you join us tonight.”

 

Catherine laughed. I can’t wait to see this, she thought.

 

“Well then, let’s not keep him waiting,” she said. As they turned away from the threshold, she slipped her hand in his, and they spoke softly as they walked toward his home.

 

“I thought we could take a quiet stroll in the park later,” he suggested. “Perhaps we could do a little star gazing,”

 

“That sounds lovely,” she softly replied.

 

~

 

Catherine seldom ate with the larger tunnel community. She felt it wouldn’t be right to ask them to stretch their already strained food supply to provide for her, when she could easily provide for herself. But from time to time, they made a point of inviting her to join them and she knew it would be ungracious to refuse.

 

In the dining hall, Vincent and Catherine visited with Mary and Father, as they all enjoyed their meal.

 

Looking around the room, Catherine took notice of a few of the children in particular. “May I ask why Samantha, Geoffrey and Kipper are looking so glum this evening?” she asked. “It certainly can’t be because of the food. This is absolutely delicious.”

 

Mary’s eyebrows shot up and she pursed her lips. Father cleared his throat loudly and looked away. He seemed to be suppressing a chuckle.

 

Catherine turned to Vincent, who only grinned.

 

“What?” she asked. “What is it?”

 

“They are being punished, Catherine,” Vincent explained. “And although they are not sorry for their crime, it’s clear that they are beginning to feel a bit sorry for themselves.”

 

“The silence?”

 

Vincent shook his head. “No. In this case, the silence was not an appropriate penalty. The council always considers the situation carefully. They must always be sure that the punishment fits the crime.”

 

“What is the punishment, then?” she asked, now keenly interested.

 

“Besides cleaning the dining hall every night for the next month, they have been sentenced to eat plain oatmeal for breakfast and boiled potatoes and cabbage for lunch and supper every day until the month is over.”

 

“It’s only been a week,” Father explained. “But I see by the way they are picking at their food that they’re already becoming tired of their new diet.

 

Catherine grimaced. “Do you think that’s wise, Father? Won’t they be malnourished?”

 

“They have been given an alternative, that they are free to accept at any time,” Father said. “And Peter has sent down daily vitamins, to be sure they receive the nourishment they need.”

 

“And what is the alternative, pray tell?” Catherine laughed. She couldn’t imagine it could be something worse than boiled cabbage and potatoes.

 

“If and when they are ready to apologize, they can work off their punishment by doing kitchen duty with William,” Mary said. “For every day they spend working in the kitchen, they subtract one day of eating potatoes and cabbage.”

 

Catherine was surprised. “Why in the world haven’t they chosen that?”

 

“Because,” Vincent offered. “Although the entire community could have been affected by their actions, William was the primary victim of their crime, and they are afraid to face him. They haven’t looked him in the eye since it happened, and they have stubbornly refused to admit that what they did was wrong.”

 

Catherine sat up straight and leaned forward. “Okay, there’s a story here, I certainly hope someone is one of going to tell me, before I die of curiosity. What in the world did they do? I can’t imagine Samantha ever doing anything wrong.”

 

It was Vincent who began to explain. “Every few years, in the study of world history, the children come to the conclusion that there is a great injustice being done here in the Tunnels.”

 

“An injustice that demands to be put right,” Mary added.

 

“Yes,” Father interjected. “That’s usually when something like this occurs. Just like when you were a boy, isn’t it, Vincent?’

 

Vincent laughed. “Yes.” He nodded. “I suppose I should start at the beginning.”

 

Catherine waited impatiently, anticipating that she was about to learn something about Vincent that she didn’t know.

 

“When I was a boy, we were studying the Civil War era. I was fascinated by the stories of the Underground Railroad. The plight of the slaves and the bravery of those who helped the slaves escape to freedom, touched me deeply. I would look at my good friend, Winslow, and imagine what I would be willing to do to help save him from such a terrible fate.”

 

Catherine was mesmerized. She could vividly picture the tender-hearted child he must have been.

 

“In those days, it was Olivia’s mother who ran the kitchen. At the time, there was a generous population of cottontail rabbits up in the park. Virginia thought that if she could raise some rabbits here in the Tunnels, it would be a good way to give us all a steady supply of meat, something that we had very little of.

 

"She asked her husband to build her some rabbit hutches in some empty storage chambers not far from the hub. The rabbits were quiet, and off the beaten track of most of the community. She figured she could feed them with vegetable peelings from the kitchen, to begin with.”

 

“Some of us thought it was unsafe and unsanitary to try,” Father explained. “We worried that having live animals down here in the tunnels would spread disease. But Virginia was stubbornly determined to do it.”

 

“Determined is putting it mildly,” Mary said with a smile. Having been a dear friend of Virginia’s in those days, Mary understood. “You see, Catherine, Virginia just couldn’t stand to see the children go hungry, when there were squirrels, raccoons and rabbits aplenty, just above our heads. And not just because one of those children belonged to her, mind you. Virginia considered feeding all of the children her responsibility. So she kept pestering her husband to build her those rabbit hutches. Well, old Hank figured he’d better do as she asked. He decided it was better to run afoul of the community, than to test his wife’s patience any further.”

 

Catherine laughed. “She sounds like someone I would have liked to know.”

 

Everyone laughed at her observation.

 

“Yes,” Father agreed. “I must say, now that you mention it, you do exhibit many of the same qualities.”

 

Vincent picked up the thread of the story. “One day I found Olivia on the bridge, in the chamber of the winds. She was holding one of the rabbits in her arms, and sobbing. I thought something terrible had happened. She told me that her mother was planning to kill the rabbits they had been raising, for meat pies. She was devastated and heartbroken. I wanted to help. I couldn’t stand seeing Olivia crying like that.”

 

“You haven’t changed much over the years, have you?” Catherine asked as she reached for his hand. “You’ve always had that tender heart.”

 

Vincent blushed, though no one but Catherine could really tell. He cleared his throat and continued.

 

“I gathered Devin, and Winslow, and Pascal. Olivia rallied  a few of the girls and we all decided that we would band together, just like the underground railroad, and set the rabbits free.”

 

Father laughed heartily. “I remember that fiasco. Sometimes I swear, Vincent, I don’t know how we all survived you and Devin.”

 

Mary laughed too. “It certainly was never dull, was it?”

 

Father laughed even harder, and shook his head.

 

Vincent couldn’t help but laugh at the memory.

 

“What happened?” Catherine asked, thoroughly enjoying this glimpse into Vincent’s boyhood years.

 

“We were determined to save the lives of as many rabbits as we could. So we got one of the push carts that the helpers used to deliver goods, and we put as many of the rabbits as we could in it and began to make our way toward the Park. We were so proud of ourselves. We were all walking along and laughing as we dragged that cart behind us. We were paying no attention at all to the rabbits.”

 

Catherine covered her mouth. Her wide eyed expression revealed that she had already guessed what was coming next.

 

Vincent nodded. “When we finally reached the portal we looked back and realized more than half of the rabbits had escaped, along the way. We retraced our steps, but to little avail. We had no idea where most of them had gone. We set the few we had left free, in the park, but only retrieved a few of the ones that had gotten loose in the tunnels.”

 

“Oh no!” Catherine gasped. “What happened then?”

 

 “That’s not even the worst of it,” Father laughed. “The children didn’t realize that several of those rabbits were very pregnant. When those rabbits began to multiply, we had Rabbits and kits popping up in all kinds of places, for months.”

 

“Despite the earlier concerns, everyone had been looking forward to having a taste of that meat,” Mary said. “The children began to realize the gravity of what they had done when all we had to eat for weeks was boiled potatoes and cabbage.”

 

Vincent elaborated. “At first Virginia was sure that there had been intruders in the Tunnels. She never suspected one of our own. Olivia and I felt so guilty for what we’d done, we confessed.”

 

“Oh no! Were Devin and Winslow and the others angry?”

 

“No, Olivia and I took all of the blame. We weren’t going to tell on the others, since it had been our idea to begin with. But Father didn’t believe we had acted alone and somehow managed to wrangle a confession out of the rest of them.”

 

Father paused, with his fork in mid-air. “It wasn’t difficult, once you knew who the weak link in the gang was. I could never break Devin, but Pascal was another story. He could never live with the guilt.”

 

“Olivia’s mother gave us all a tongue lashing I’ll never forget.” Vincent laughed at the memory. “I would take the wrath of William any day, compared to the dressing down she gave us. We soon learned how important those rabbits were to our world. We were not only held responsible for finding as many of them as we could, but we learned to care for them. She taught us how to kill them humanely and dress and cook them. She even made us learn to tan the hides, so that they could be used, here in the tunnels. Or sold Above.”

 

“Yes,” Father said. “They learned to appreciate how valuable those rabbit really were, when they had warm fur rugs to cover the chamber floors in the wintertime. The fir from the fryers isn’t high enough quality to sell Above, but it suits our needs down here.”

 

“Every spring, we go up and collect some of the rabbits people have discarded in the park,” Mary explained. “People buy beautiful rabbits at pet stores to give to their children for Easter, but soon learn they are too much trouble and abandon them. The fur from those rabbits can bring a pretty penny.”

 

Vincent continued. “We learned to make rabbit’s foot key chains, to sell Above. We even learned to dry out the ears to sell for rawhide dog treats. Nothing was wasted. The money we earned was used to buy more food for the growing rabbit population and each of us were paid a little bit of pocket money, for our efforts.”

 

Catherine shook her head and laughed. “I would never have imagined that in a hundred years, Vincent. You and Olivia, rabbit robbers… the bunny bandits.” Just imagining the baby bunnies everywhere, made her laugh again.

 

Vincent chuckled at that. “Ever since then, it’s become somewhat of a rite of passage. Every few years, the children try and pull it off. Some have even gotten away with it.”

 

“That is… if by ‘getting away with it,’ you mean, everyone in the tunnels is then forced to eat boiled cabbage and potatoes until the rabbits are replenished,” Mary added.

 

“If you know it’s going to happen, then why are the children punished for it? And why don’t you take measures to prevent it?” Catherine asked.

 

“It’s a delicate situation.” Father carefully explained, “You see, on the one hand, we need the rabbits, in order to be self-sufficient. We are poor, but we want to live as well as we can. We don’t want to rely on others if we can find some way to provide for ourselves. We want the children to learn that the rabbits are an important part of our survival, down here. Do you understand?”

 

Catherine nodded. “I do. That’s an admirable thing. But then why don’t you give them the silence, as in other acts of theft?” She remembered when Mouse had been given “The Silence,” for stealing.

 

“Because, on the other hand,” Father continued,this is a good lesson for them on civics and community, and working together. They felt that there was an injustice happening. And even though they knew they were breaking the rules, they felt that they must do what they felt was right, and set the poor creatures free.”

 

“But there’s something else?”

 

“Yes, they must learn that there are several sides to most issues and they should have brought their concerns to one of us, or even to the council, so that they could discuss and consider the other points of view, before they acted so rashly.”

 

“This has taught them to depend on one another, to trust one another, and to be loyal to one another,” Mary said.

 

“What do you mean?” Catherine asked.

 

“Well,” Mary explained. “We are fairly certain that Samantha attempted to talk them out of it. It just isn’t like her to do something like this. She was most likely pressured by the others. But when we gave her a chance to assign blame and save herself, she stood by her friends and took her punishment with the rest of them, much to the surprise of the other three.”

 

Catherine shook her head. “I must say, the education the children are receiving here is very different than children are exposed to, Above.”

 

“These children, will one day lead this community. That is, if they choose to stay. They must learn to rely on one another,” Father explained. “They need to know who they can trust.”

 

Catherine nodded thoughtfully. She looked again at the table where the culprits were sitting.  And then she said, “But Mary said there were three, besides Samantha. I only see Geoffrey and Kipper sitting with Samantha. Who’s the third?”

 

As William approached the table, everyone stopped talking and turned his way. They all silently agreed that under the circumstances, it was best to change the subject.

 

It was awkwardly silent for a moment until Catherine spoke up.

 

“My sincere compliments to the chef,” Catherine declared, as William sat down.

 

William flushed, as his chest puffed up at the compliment. “Thank you, Catherine. It’s nice to be appreciated.” He sent a scowling look in the direction of the table full of unrepentant miscreants.

 

“As well you should be,” she continued. “This meal was absolutely delicious! I don’t think even The Four Season’s has anything on their menu to rival this. These stuffed potatoes are divine and what do you call this chicken dish? If I was any good in the kitchen, I would beg you for the recipe.”

 

William became quite red in the face and coughed. “Um… well… to begin with, Catherine… it isn’t chicken.”

 

“It isn’t? It tasted just like chicken.” She looked down at her plate and asked, “Then what is it?”

 

Just then Mouse came wandering into the room, looking under each of the tables. “Arthur?… Arthur?… Where are you?” he called out as he bent to look under each table. Standing up after peering beneath Catherine’s feet, Mouse came face to face with a scowling William. He jumped back guiltily.

 

“Uh… uh… Catherine!” He stammered, bouncing nervously from side to side trying to avoid William. “Ha… have you seen, Arthur? Can’t find… missing all day… looked everywhere… thought maybe… in here?” He squeaked out the last couple of words as he withered under the heat of William’s angry glare.

 

The entire room had gone silent and the electricity in the room was palpable. “I’ll tell you where that no good, pesky varmit is!” he hollered. “I knew he was the one pilfering my vegetables, and now I have proof! He’s right where I told you he’d end up, if he didn’t stay out of MY KITCHEN!”

 

Catherine looked down at her plate in horror. OH, NO! she thought. Did I just eat…? She looked wide eyed in Vincent’s direction, her thoughts clearly written all over her face.

 

Without speaking, to deny or confirm her worst fears, Vincent reached for her hand under the table and gave it a gentle squeeze.

 

Mouse seemed to visibly shrink under William’s gaze.

 

If you want to know what’s become of your raccoon, follow me! William commanded, as he turned and headed toward the kitchen.

 

Mouse meekly followed. William’s bellowing became muffled in the bowels of the kitchen chamber.

As soon as they were out of sight, Catherine frantically turned to Vincent. “Please… Vincent… tell me we didn’t… that we haven’t just…” she couldn’t finish her sentence.

 

Vincent tried to suppress a smile as he squeezed her hand again, and calmly reassured her. “No, Catherine, I promise you that we have not eaten Arthur. Although, one of these days, if he’s not careful, he could accidently end up on the plate. We have eaten raccoon from time to time. But William would never purposely serve up Arthur for dinner.”

 

“But he said… he sounded so… angry.”

 

Mary proceeded to answer. “Oh he’s angry all right. And he has every right to be, after what they did. But he’s all hot air and bluster. Inside he’s a great big softy. He could never do that to Mouse, no matter how angry he was.”

 

“But if we didn’t eat chicken, and we didn’t eat raccoon… what was it?”

 

“It was rabbit,” Father answered simply.

 

“But I thought you said the children freed the rabbits,” Catherine said bemused.

 

“They did,” Vincent agreed. “Or at least they freed some of them. They carried two rabbits each, and made two trips before they were caught. The sentries caught them on the third trip, before they set the last bunch free. They managed to set sixteen free before we caught them red-handed. But our rabbits are tame, they're used to humans. It wasn’t difficult to round them up… most of them, anyway.”

 

“William swears that seventeen rabbits were missing,” Mary said. “He keeps meticulous records. Only sixteen were recovered.”

 

As if on cue, William stalked into the dining chamber, followed meekly by Mouse. Mouse was protectively holding a small cage which contained a very annoyed, and chattering, Arthur. William stalked over to the table where the other culprits were seated and put a plate of cabbage and potatoes down.

 

Mouse looked down at the plate and scowled. “Don’t like cabbage. Don’t like plain potatoes, too.” Then he looked up hopefully. “Got any gravy?”

 

“This is all you’ll be getting from me,” William growled.  “Take it or leave it,” he said, as he turned his back on Mouse and stalked again toward the kitchen.  “It makes no difference to me. I suppose if you get hungry enough, you could always eat that pesky raccoon.”

 

Mouse’s eye widened as he held Arthur protectively. He sat down with a pout and began eating. He attempted to share his dinner with his pet, but Arthur turned up his nose.

 

Vincent leaned over to Catherine. “See, Arthur’s fine. There was no raccoon on the menu this evening.”

 

Chuckling, Catherine concluded, “So Mouse was the other culprit?”

 

Vincent nodded.

 

“I see,” she said, trying to picture them all wrangling bunny rabbits up to the park.

 

“I hope everyone has saved room for cake!” William said loudly as he carried in a large sheet cake from the kitchen and placed it on the serving table. The sound of chairs scraping the chamber floor could be heard, as everyone rushed toward the cake.

 

Within a minute, William appeared at Catherine’s side. “Special delivery for you, Catherine,” he said. “I don’t want you to get hurt. It’s every man for himself around here when there’s cake. Anyway, you deserve special delivery for being the only one to appreciate my culinary talents, this evening.” He gave a quick, furrowed glance around the table and then placed a very large slice of  chocolate cake in front of her. Then like magic he produced two clean forks from behind his back.

 

“Two?” she asked.

 

He winked at her and inclined his head in Vincent’s direction.

 

“Ohhhh…” she replied, laughing. Standing up to accept the forks, she gave William a big kiss on his cheek. “You are a wonder, William! How did you know this was my favorite?”

 

Flustered by Catherine’s unexpected show of affection, William turned three shades of red and muttered something about ‘having his sources’ and needing to clean up the mess in the kitchen, before fleeing the room.

 

“Uh-oh,” she said. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked.

 

Father laughed. “No, you didn’t do anything wrong. He’s just not used to that much appreciation.”

 

Especially from someone as pretty as you, Catherine,” Mary said, smiling. “It’s not often we get to see him that flustered. I do believe you’ve cracked his tough shell. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get regular dinner invitations, from now on.”

 

“That would be wonderful,” she said. “But only if you allow me to contribute, in some way.”

 

“That sounds very fair,” Father graciously agreed. “Thank you.”

 

Then handing a fork to Vincent, she asked, “Would you do me the honor of helping me polish off this cake, Vincent?”

 

And he was only too happy to oblige.

 

~

 

As the last of the diners cleared and washed their dishes, and filed out of the dining hall, Samantha sighed. “I guess we’d better get to it.”

 

“Yeah,” Geoffrey agreed. “It’s our turn to clean up.” Then turning to Mouse and Kipper, said, “Don’t forget, it’s your turn tomorrow, guys.”

 

Mouse and Kipper wasted no time getting out of the room.

 

“You wanna wipe down the tables and start putting up the chairs, while I get the brooms?” Geoffrey asked.

 

“Sure,” she said, with little enthusiasm as she picked up the bucket of soapy water that William had left for them. As she wiped down the tables, all she could think about was that beautiful chocolate cake that everyone had enjoyed for dessert. Dessert was rare in their poor community, usually only served on special occasions.

 

I’ll bet William only made that cake so that we would have to watch everyone eating it, she thought bitterly.

 

Then a little nagging voice in her head answered. If he did, then it’s probably what you deserved. She hated it whenever her conscience convicted her.

 

If she was honest, and for the most part she was, her conscience had been bothering her a lot, lately. Nevertheless, she had stood bravely by her friends, and taken her punishment.

 

Glancing over at Geoffrey, he didn’t appear to be having the same struggle with his conscience. In fact, he looked downright cheerful. Is he whistling? she wondered. Watching him only irritated her more. She dumped the dirty bucket of water and retrieved another broom, to help Geoffrey finish.

 

“I don’t know why you’re smiling,” Samantha said, irritated by his cheerful attitude. “I’m getting so sick of boiled potatoes and cabbage, I could scream. And it’s only been one week! And that chocolate cake!” she groaned. “We didn’t get any! Everyone got to eat chocolate cake except for us. Chocolate cake, Geoffrey! I told you we were stealing… and everyone ate the rabbits for dinner anyway. Oooohhh… It smelled so good. What we did didn’t even make a difference.”

 

“I don’t care,” he said, still smiling defiantly. “I think it was worth it. There will be other chocolate cakes, Samantha. Anyway… it did make a difference.” What does she know? he wondered, She’s only a girl.

 

“How?” she demanded, with one hand on her hip. “How did it make one… bit…of… difference?

 

Geoffrey reached into his sweater. “See?” he said, holding up the rabbit proudly. “It made a difference to this one!” He held a squirming, and apparently very well fed, rabbit up by the scruff of the neck.

 

Samantha’s eyes and mouth opened wide in unison, as her broom dropped to the floor. She looked around furtively to make sure they were alone. “Where did you get that?” she whispered, looking around in a panic.

 

“When I went to get the brooms, he was hiding behind them, in the corner. He had a big fat carrot in his mouth.” He pulled the wilted remains of a carrot out of his jacket with his free hand. “See? I think he’s the rabbit that got away from me that night. Remember?”

 

Samantha nodded. “Do you think he’s the one who’s been stealing vegetables from the kitchen?”

 

 “Uh-huh,” Geoffrey laughed. “Look how fat he is. I betcha, he’s been hiding in the kitchen, right under William’s nose, this whole time.”

 

She gently stroked the rabbit between the ears. “You better give him back to William, before we get in more trouble,” she said sadly.

 

Geoffrey pulled the rabbit out of her reach. “NO Way!”

 

“Geoffrey, you have to,” she insisted. “Do you want to get punished?”

 

“We’re already getting punished,” he pointed out impatiently. “What more can they do?”

 

“Plenty!” she retorted.

 

“Come on! How are they going to find out? It’s just you and me here… unless you’re gonna squeal on me…” He looked at her with the question in his eyes.

 

Offended at the very insinuation, she stood up straight and stomped her foot. “Geoffrey! Oooooohhh! Sometimes you make me so mad! Did I squeal on you when I had the chance?” she demanded. “Did I even so much as breathed one word?”

 

Geoffrey hung his head. “No… I guess not… sorry.” Then looking at her with a mischievous grin on his face, he said, “Race you to the park!” dashed off down the tunnel.

 

“Hey! No fair! Wait…!!! Oooohh… Geoffrey!”

 

She hastily stowed the brooms and dustpans back in the kitchen, and ran after him.

 

She could hear Geoffrey laughing in the distance…

 

~

 

“There is no moon tonight,” Catherine observed, as they stood near the entrance of the culvert Tunnel entrance.

 

“No,” Vincent replied, his voice barely above a whisper. Ever since he could remember, standing under a canopy of stars had always filled him with wonder. “It’s better for spotting the stars. Especially here in New York.”

 

“Yes,” she agreed. “There is so much light here in the city. As a girl, I was always amazed at how bright the stars were when we were in Connecticut. Look, I can make out the Big Dipper,” she said smiling, as she pointed skyward.

 

He nodded, but didn’t reply.

 

Catherine turned her attention from the night sky to the man she loved. He looks thoughtful, I wonder…

 

“What are you thinking about, Vincent? Is everything all right?”

 

“Does it bother you, Catherine… that we eat rabbit?” Vincent asked.

 

“Not at all,” she answered. “I’ve eaten rabbit many times. Squirrel too.”

 

“Really? I’m very interested to know where?”

 

“Daddy and I used to spend holidays in Europe on a regular basis. And I spent a year abroad before I went to law school. Rabbit is popular in France. It’s considered a delicacy in French cuisine… Italy too. Before tonight, my favorite rabbit dish was braised rabbit, with bacon and mushrooms. Sometimes they use squirrel. It’s been ages since I’ve had it. But I do believe that William has won me over to his dish. Do you think he would teach me how to make it?”

 

Vincent smiled. “After that kiss you gave him this evening, Catherine, I think he might be willing to do just about anything you asked.”

 

She laughed. “He’s a very sweet man. Can I ask you something?”

 

“Anything.”

 

“Were you worried… that I would think badly of you… because you eat rabbit?”

 

He was a little embarrassed. “I… yes… a little. I thought you might think us cruel or… backward… or…”

 

“Rustic?” she suggested.

 

He nodded. “Yes… rustic.”

 

She moved closer into Vincent’s embrace and put her arms around his big chest. “There’s nothing wrong with ‘rustic,’ Vincent. But you must know by now, how I feel about all of you. The way you all love and support one another. And the way you manage to live so well. I have nothing but admiration for what you have all accomplished and built. Perhaps, some would call it ‘rustic,’ but I --”

 

“What would you call it, Catherine?” he asked.

 

Looking up into his beautiful blue eyes, she replied without hesitation. “Noble… I would call it… noble.”

 

 

Their eyes were locked on one another. All of a sudden, it seemed as if the world had stopped turning. Looking into Vincent’s eyes made her feel as if she was floating on air. She wasn’t sure if it was her imagination or if his face was coming closer to hers. She could barely breathe and then…

 

“You’re such a cheater, Geoffrey! Wait for me!” Samantha’s voice echoed from the tunnel.

 

They could hear Geoffrey laughing as he ran toward them.

 

Just as Vincent and Catherine pulled apart, Geoffrey came running out of the tunnel opening. Vincent’s reflexes were quick. He grabbed Geoffrey by the collar and stopped him short.

 

Geoffrey looked up, wide-eyed and frightened. Then his face relaxed. “Oh, Vincent, it’s only you. Wheeew… You scared me.”

 

“You should be scared,” Vincent said gruffly. He was more than a little perturbed.  “This is Central Park and it’s very late. Besides the fact that you should be in bed, it isn’t safe for children here, after dark. And the noise the two of you are making could draw the attention of the police.” Vincent’s voice sounded very stern.

 

“You and Catherine are up here,” Geoffrey argued.

 

We are adults and we certainly were not making any noise that would attract any attention. There are rules, Geoffrey, and you seem to be having trouble remembering that, these days.”

 

As Samantha came careening out of the tunnel, she stopped, when she saw the situation.

 

“Would you please join us, Samantha,” Vincent said, without looking her way.

 

Samantha slowly approached the small group.

 

“We have rules in this community, that are meant to protect all of us. Do the two of you realize that by acting the way you were just now… you are not only endangering yourselves, but everyone else? What if it hadn’t been Catherine and me standing here? What would you have done… if it was a policeman, or worse?”

 

With heads hanging low, they both mumbled something unintelligible.

 

“What are you doing up here?” Catherine asked.

 

Geoffrey looked up at Catherine and mumbled, “I… uuuh… We were… Uh…”

 

Samantha gave him a nudge. “Come on, Geoffrey, you better show ‘em.” She knew wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she had to tell another lie.

 

Geoffrey gave her a scowl. “Oh, all right,” he said, capitulating. He slowly pulled the rabbit out of his sweater.

 

Catherine gasped.

 

“So, you’ve been in William’s rabbit hutches again?” Vincent asked.

 

Geoffrey looked up in surprise. “NO… No, we haven’t. I promise, I am telling the truth. We didn’t get this one from the hutch… at least… not today.”

 

“Samantha? Is that true?” Catherine was confident that Samantha would tell her the truth.

 

“Yes,” Samantha offered. “That’s true.”

 

“Then, would you mind telling us how you came by him?” Catherine continued her line of questioning.

 

“We… uhm… we found it.” Samantha was reluctant to answer any further. She was worried that Geoffrey might consider it squealing and she didn’t want him to be in any more trouble.

 

Geoffrey recognized that Samantha was trying to protect him, and he didn’t want her to get into any more trouble because of him. “I found him,” he corrected. “He’s the rabbit that got away from me, the night we got caught with the other ones. I found him tonight, hiding behind the brooms in the kitchen. Samantha tried to convince me to give him back to William, but I… uhh…”

 

“You decided not to listen to the voice of reason?” Vincent suggested. “May I ask why?”

 

There was a spark of something in Vincent’s voice that made Geoffrey think that he might actually be willing to listen to him. He began to talk quickly, before the opportunity passed.

 

“Well, we’re already being punished for trying to save the rabbits, Vincent. And we didn’t save any… They all got eaten anyway… It was like… what we did…  like it was all for nothing. But when I found this one, hiding in the kitchen… I… I just thought… well, you know… since nobody missed him… we could at least… you know… we could at least make a difference to this one.”

 

Catherine could see that Vincent was attempting to suppress a smile. He began to nod.

 

“So you wanted to make a difference by saving at least one of the rabbits?”

 

“Yes,” Geoffrey replied. “Are you going to make us take it back? Are you going to tell the others?” he asked, still hoping that Vincent would understand.

 

“Do you realize that this rabbit has never lived outside? He has always depended on humans. He might not be able to survive, up here,” Vincent explained.

 

“He’s survived for the last week on his own,” Samantha piped up. “He’s been hiding in William’s kitchen this whole time, eating William’s vegetables and never got caught. William blamed it all on Arthur.”

 

Catherine laughed out loud at the thought that the missing rabbit had been right under William’s nose the whole time.

 

“Besides, shouldn’t we give him a chance?” Geoffrey asked. “Samantha’s never lived Up Top. Are you going to make her stay in Tunnels forever?”

 

Vincent thought for a moment. He recalled how often, over the years he had longed to be free, in the world above, and suddenly identified with the plight of this small creature. What harm would it really do, he wondered, to set one rabbit free? Who knows? Perhaps he could survive, after all. Perhaps he should at least be given the chance.

 

Vincent bent down to Geoffrey’s level and reached out to pet the rabbit. “I suppose it won’t make much difference if William is missing this one rabbit.” And then he spoke to the rabbit directly. “But it will make a big difference to you, won’t it?”

 

Geoffrey, Samantha, and Catherine all held their breath. It seemed that one rabbit might just get a reprieve.

 

“You and Samantha may go set this little fellow free,” Vincent said. “Put him in that line of trees and brush just over there, and return immediately. Catherine and I will wait here, and we will all go Below together… And none of us will ever breathe a word of this to William, understood?”

 

Samantha threw her arms around Vincent’s neck and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Vincent! Thank you.” And then she kissed him again.

 

“You’re very welcome,” he replied, as he sweetly kissed her forehead. “Now both of you hurry, and please do it quietly.”

 

Well at least someone is getting kissed around here tonight, Catherine laughingly thought to herself.

 

As Vincent stood up, they watched the two children run off to set their rabbit free.

 

“I’m suddenly a little jealous of Samantha,” she said, softly.

 

Vincent reached to draw her into a warm embrace. He kissed her on top of the head.

 

“What you did for them was very sweet, Vincent,” she said admiringly.

 

“I don’t know that it really makes any difference,” he observed. “After all, it’s only one rabbit.”

 

“I suppose it makes a difference to that one rabbit,” she replied. “But your compassion, Vincent… it makes a big difference to Geoffrey and Samantha. They will always remember it… I’ll always remember it.”

 

He kissed her again and tightened his embrace. “You’ll never know, Catherine, what a difference you have made for me.”

 

As the children came running back across the grass, they all turned and made their way back into the Tunnels.

 

~

 

In the distance, just at the edge of the trees, a lone rabbit stood and watched, as the strange little group of people disappeared from sight…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations supplied by the author

 

 

{ back to Monthly Creative Challenges }

 

 

 

Return to B&Bland home