of the Working Rabbit
"It's a fine night, Fiver," the old gentleman said, as he settled the brown rabbit gently, on the lush spring grass. "A fine night, with a handsome moon. We did well, today."
The black top hat came off his white-haired head, and Sebastian, street magician extraordinaire, counted out the folding money that he'd slipped into the lining of the trick hat. (The kind where the lining was not all it seemed, as Fiver could relate, having spent countless children's birthday parties being pulled in and out of its red satin folds.)
The hat sat on the bench, along with its owner, as Fiver happily sampled the dewy grass, then moved over to a tasty patch of clover.
The man had always treated him well, and they'd been companions for years. Fiver considered leaving, sometimes, just hopping off through the park to chase a doe, but never seriously. The hutch he usually stayed in when they were inside the apartment was warm and dry, and the occasional visits to the park were a welcome treat.
He stood up on his back legs, scenting the air.
The pleasant man, in his charming way, thought Fiver was adopting the gesture to indicate he was listening.
"You lived up to your name, my boy," Sebastian said, folding two five dollar bills and a lot of ones into his vest pocket. The loose change rode in a black velvet bag, and remained tucked inside Sebastian's cape. There was often a bit of that. Unless times were hard. Then, there was less.
Times, right now, were not very hard. It was a good spring night, and an early one, at that. The snow had melted a long time ago (or at least it had seemed so to Fiver), and though the nighttime park was still cool, it wasn't cold.
They usually sat near a large drainage culvert, and sometimes, Fiver investigated the narrow stream of water as it ran through. Fiver didn't feel like investigating the area tonight, however. There was no scent of a fuzzy little doe in the air, and no spoor of another buck. Besides, it had been a long day.
Fiver dropped back down on all fours and took a few short hops over to a dandelion patch, keeping his ears up, for sign of The Big One.
Those same ears had been pulled on at least twice, today, by children, but Fiver didn't actually much mind that. He'd been chosen for his affability, after all, and so it was, that when the occasional six-year-old accidentally tugged on his silky ears, or put his fingers back to touch his tail (how rude!), Fiver passed it all off with a certain lapin lack of concern. He was a working rabbit. He always had been.
"We're getting old, you and I," Sebastian stated. It wasn't the first time Fiver had ever heard the remark. "Old, and just a bit out of fashion.” The man swiped a sleeve along the top of the satiny top hat. “Old, a bit out of fashion, and no longer able to book the really big parties." He added to his own list.
The man shrugged at the information, and if the rabbit had shoulders that were shrug-worthy, he would have, too. Carrots were cheap (Sebastian always kept some for him, and made sure he got one, regularly), and the old man didn't seem to need very much, himself. He ate modest meals, sipped an occasional glass of port, and occasionally, they both went into the culvert, and the big round door opened.
Small parties seemed to pay the bills, adequately. That, and the regular routine on street corners and subway terminals. It wasn’t a bad life.
"We should consider retiring," the old man said, stretching out his septuagenarian legs. And again, Fiver knew it wasn't the first time he'd uttered that comment, either. Now would come the part about moving Below.
"Yes, sir. Hang up the top hat and cape, set down the cane, fetch your hutch from the spot near the window, and just... call it a day. Eat William's good cooking and visit with Jacob."
He tugged the string on his cape and it loosened, from around his neck.
"Get up at ten and... oh, I don't know. Practice my card tricks, and coins. Impress Samantha, some more. Or Kipper. Jacob wouldn't mind having me. He invited me often, enough."
Sebastian cut an old eye at Fiver. "Not quite sure if he invited you, though..."
Fiver wiggled his nose and hopped over to a nice patch of spring daisies. They looked tasty. But a dog had been by here, earlier. He hopped back over near the bench his master still sat on, and munched some grass.
"Still, I don't think they'd mind. After all, Arthur runs around a bit. You two would have to get along."
Fiver knew Arthur. Arthur was the raccoon everybody yelled at, come Winterfest. They never yelled at Fiver. Fiver was a working rabbit. Fiver had a little bit of disdain for any animal that didn't do that, though he didn't consider himself a snob. It was just a fact of life. There were animals that earned a living, and there were animals who didn't. He knew which category he fit into.
He wasn't sure about The Big One, though.
The Big One dressed much as Sebastian did, in cloth, and with a cape. And though Fiver knew the difference between an animal (of any kind) and a man (for the same reason he knew the difference between clover and daisies), there was something... different about The Big One.
In Fiver's lapin opinion, the Big One was different than a man, even if he did the same things men did. He walked upright, and spoke in the low, gentle voice Sebastian sometimes used when he was trying to coax good behavior out of the children. He smelled like Below, and he wore clothes to cover his fur, and though he had a human (ish) smell, there was something else, something just a bit mysterious, laying beneath that.
Fiver knew the Big One was a man. But also, that he was something more. His nose told him as much, just as his eyes did. And there was more.
Fiver, like most prey animals, was a Sensitive. Timid and non-confrontational, his senses were sharply acute. His mind processed much more than most people every realized, and it did so, quickly.
And though the large creature who sometimes greeted Sebastian in the park was no prey and never would be, Fiver knew that he, too, possessed an incredibly heightened sense of perception. To a level which rivaled Fiver's.
The thing that caught Fiver's attention about The Big One, was, he was more like an animal than most men were. He lived by his senses, as much as by his wits, and Fiver knew that the large being in the flowing cape was often reaching gentle, mental fingers in, to touch his rabbit mind.
Fiver had to admit he didn't much care for the sensation, even though it didn't hurt.
"Good evening, Sebastian," a sonorous voice rumbled.
Fiver jumped. The Big One stepped lightly as any cat. Ears up, he knew he should have heard the big man coming, down the path. He hadn't.
"Ah, Vincent,” Sebastian replied, “I was just taking in the glorious moon, with Fiver, here. Have you ever seen a more splendid Bella Luna?" He smiled.
The Big One's doe came walking up. Fiver figured that Sebastian was right about it being time for retirement. He hadn't heard either one of them approach, and the female was wearing soft boots.
"It is indeed lovely," Vincent stated, looking up at the milky orb. "Catherine and I are about to take a walk. Might you... join us?"
Though the invitation was given, Sebastian was no fool. He knew Vincent would much rather stroll with his lovely companion without an old man in tow. Much less an old man and his old jackrabbit.
"No, no, you two children go along. Fiver and I will just sit here and enjoy this lovely patch of moonlight. You look truly lovely tonight, my dear," he complimented Catherine gallantly.
"Thank you," she said, moving away from her buck to buss Sebastian's cheek with a soft kiss. Fiver watched, disinterestedly. There looked to be a nice patch of ragweed growing near the right leg of the park bench. Sometimes the weed trimmers didn't get everything.
Fiver wriggled his nose. The human doe smelled of roses, among other things, though he knew there were none of those, nearby. Fiver would be sampling the glossy leaves, if there were any.
"Have you been here, long?" she asked. Fiver knew humans often stood and made conversation with each other. It was some kind of odd human custom. One he couldn't understand, since neither carrots nor parsley were exchanged, with few exceptions.
"Not very. Just... contemplating my imminent retirement," Sebastian said.
Vincent chuckled. "I will believe that the day I see Fiver's hutch next to Arthur's cage," Vincent said, glancing over at Sebastian's furry brown companion. The Big One's mind “passed over” Fiver's. It was the sensation of being caressed, though the long gloves remained still, and where they were. Fiver wrinkled his nose.
Sebastian chuckled, in kind. "I can't do this forever, you know," he stated.
"So you said when you were nearing sixty. And sixty-five. And sixty-seven, I believe."
The old magician pulled a deck of cards from his vest pocket, and stood up.
"I imagine I did. And you have very bad manners to recall it," he chided, passing his hand over the cards with the same deftness Vincent had just used to pass his mind over Fiver’s.
Reflex. Vincent couldn’t help being aware of his surroundings. Fiver knew the feeling.
Sebastian handled the deck with a magician's flair. The cards fanned out in a perfect, fifty-two card arc, then folded back in again, smoothly. He shuffled them Vegas style, 'flying' them from one hand to the other, in mid-air. Nothing dropped. Nowadays, Fiver knew that wasn't always true.
Arthritis was taking its toll on Sebastian's once-nimble fingers, and only the magician knew that though his showmanship was still exceptional, and his category of tricks and illusions was honestly decades deep, the sleight of hand tricks were becoming just a bit more difficult to perform.
He'd once been so fast that he could throw the whole deck up into the air with his right hand, and catch it with his left, losing nothing. Ambidexterity was a street magician's best friend, and most had to learn it, even though some were born with it.
Still, he was having a good night. Fiver could tell by the way the long, white fingers moved.
"So, is my lady the Queen of Diamonds?" Sebastian asked, fanning the deck, showing it to her. Every card was a diamond queen. "Or the Queen of Hearts?" he asked, closing the deck then fanning it back open a second time. Fifty-two queens of hearts stared back at Catherine. She couldn't resist a smile.
Fiver caught the first trick deck being replaced by a second one, as the deck full of queens slipped up a well-cuffed sleeve. As a working rabbit, he knew all Sebastian's tricks, having seen them, countless times.
They all knew he'd never tell, or do anything to reveal the trick. Working rabbits were sworn to secrecy, about such things.
"And what about her vigorous young companion?" Sebastian asked, shuffling, again. "Which King is he?"
The deck opened up again, and all four suits of kings, mixed together in a spade, heart, club, diamond pattern, repeating, showed up. This time Catherine laughed, delighted.
"Not diamonds, certainly," Sebastian said, tugging out what looked to be a random card, which he showed to the couple. It was the king of diamonds. He threw it away, and it settled near Fiver, who wasn't terribly interested. He'd seen the trick, before. People apparently found such things more impressive than rabbits did.
"That leaves us with just the other three."
This time when he fanned the deck out, there were no diamond kings in it at all, but the other three suits were there, this time grouped together, by suit. Vincent smiled.
"You are amazing," The Big One complimented.
The cards closed, and Sebastian fanned them back and forth, but didn't seem to shuffle their order.
"He's the king of hearts," the doe said, giving her buck's arm a squeeze. Fiver knew the buck liked that. The Big One radiated contentment.
"Ah..." purred Sebastian, "Fate... and the cards, must entirely agree with you."
He fanned the cards out for the last time, and every card showed the red king of hearts.
Vincent applauded, softly, his gloved hands making a gentle (and to Fiver, familiar) sound, in the spring night. People often applauded, right before they reached in their pockets for the folding money, or the loose change. But neither of them did that, and Sebastian didn’t look like he expected them to. The hat on the bench stayed right where it was, rather than being offered for a donation.
The sweet-smelling doe continued to smile, and Sebastian tucked away his cards, retrieving the one near Fiver.
"Sebastian, that was marvelous," Catherine said. Her smile refused to dim.
"Do you think Jacob is still up?" Sebastian asked, collecting his hat.
"I'm positive he is," Vincent said. "Pascal was speaking to him in his chambers. Something about a way to expand the main Pipe Chamber."
"Ah, Pascal!" Sebastian said, with a showman's glee. "When it comes to pulling coins out of ears, you must admit there are few finer hiding places than Pascal's." He re-tied his cape.
Sebastian leaned over and scooped up Fiver, who was expecting it. He didn't ride inside the hat. They weren't working, now. Or at least, they weren't working for coins and paper.
"Good evening, Fiver," Vincent said, reaching over a gloved hand to touch him carefully, between the ears. Fiver liked that. Sebastian offered him to Catherine.
"Good evening, Fiver," Catherine echoed. Her pretty hands rubbed a little spot just behind his left ear. Fiver liked that even more. Does always knew the best spots to scritch you. He sat unmoving in Sebastian's sure embrace, knowing that it guaranteed him a longer scritch. She was nice.
"Rabbits were my favorite animal, as a child," she said, gently moving his fur this way and that, with a fingertips. "My favorite book was The Velveteen Rabbit."
"Do you hear that, Fiver?” Sebastian asked. “The Velveteen Rabbit. You're most definitely real, aren't you?" He waved Fiver's front paw in a gesture of "good-bye," then gave Fiver a little scritch, himself.
"Well, I'll let you young children get along with your evening, while this old codger sees if he can beat the other old codger at a game of chess," Sebastian said, tucking Fiver close. It looked like he was going to get to ride on the outside, rather than inside the special pocket of the cape, or in the hat. That was nice, too.
"I'm sure Father would like that. Not the getting beaten part, of course," Vincent said, getting ready to resume his stroll with his lady-love.
"You'd think he'd at least be used to that part, by now," Sebastian quipped, shifting Fiver to one arm while he tipped his hat to the retreating couple. Fiver swore he heard The Big One chuckle at that one, though it was a thing the large buck seldom did.
The couple moved off down the nighttime sidewalk, spring and the night smells swirling around them. Fiver watched their departure, knowing something none of the humans seemed aware of, at the moment.
"Well, what do you think about that, old boy?" Sebastian asked, all thoughts of retirement gone, for the time being. "Quite the pair, aren't they?"
Fiver, the working rabbit, wiggled his nose and moved his ears in what he hoped was the appropriate response. His ears dropped down. It was the way Sebastian had taught him to indicate the word "no," at parties. "No" was "down ears," "yes" was "up ears." It was the staged response to "Fiver, do you think the birthday girl is a terrifying ogre?" (down ears.) Paired with "Fiver, do you think the birthday girl is a marvelous princess?" (up ears.) It was a crowd pleaser.
"No?" Sebastian asked? "Why ever not?"
Sebastian, like other humans sometimes didn't realize just how much Fiver understood. But no matter what he understood, he couldn't speak, or answer a question with much more than either a "yes" or a "no," thanks to the limitations of his vocal chords.
But he knew how to use the muscles in his ears.
“You don’t think they’re a lovely couple?” Sebastian prodded.
Fiver couldn't answer any other way than how he previously had. So he kept his ears down and just wiggled his nose, some more.
"Well. I think you are a silly rabbit, then," Sebastian scolded gently. "Everyone knows they are a smashing couple. Married just a few weeks ago, on the twelfth of April," he chided.
Sebastian collected his cane and made off toward the culvert, knowing he'd have to step carefully, or get his spats wet, when it came to the drainage water.
From his position atop Sebastian's shoulder, the working rabbit watched the peaceful couple stroll. The big buck kept his long-legged stride short, and placed a loving arm around his doe's shoulders, keeping her close, warm, and protected.
It was good that he did that.
Because if there was one thing rabbits were excellent at sensing, it was when something was pregnant.
How can they be 'quite the pair' or 'a lovely couple' when there are clearly at least three of them, right now? Fiver thought, in Lapine.
Sometimes, his human couldn't count.
No matter. Given time, she'd have her litter, and then they'd all know.
Sebastian ducked down, and headed for the big round door. Fiver looked forward to the dry, warm ambience of the tunnels.
Maybe someone would give him a nice bit of celery, or carrot to chew on, while the two men played their game. Maybe Arthur was loose, and had something good to share.
Of course, Arthur wasn't supposed to be out of his cage.
But if he was, that was another secret Fiver was content to keep.
matter where you are when all your secrets are revealed,
Illustrations supplied by the author