Excerpt from 'Voices'
The rabbit had been hit by the car travelling in front of us.
We rounded a bend and saw the tiny creature in the middle of the road ahead; it was surely just a baby rabbit, shakily struggling to pull itself along, its shattered back legs dragging uselessly behind it.
The car that had hit it, its occupants then abandoning the injured animal to its lonely fate, was already far off down the coastal road, driving at speed through the remnants of the chilly, early morning mist that drifted in from the sea.
It was around 7am on a Saturday, and I was a front seat passenger in a car driven by my then husband, Billy Roberts. We were heading for Liverpool, and had only just left our house on the outskirts of Southport to drive the twenty five or so miles south, down the undulating, and constantly subsiding coast road.
There was no question of our driving past. How could we?
We stopped, and I hurriedly got out of the car and ran back along the road. There were no other cars around, and through my panic I was grateful it was a weekend, and grateful that Saturday’s habitual shopping exodus had not yet started, filling that road with car after speeding car, all intent on reaching the shopping centre car parks in the town.
The little rabbit had stopped moving when I reached it, unable to find the strength to pull itself further across the road. Without a doubt the next car to come round the bend would hit it. . .
I stooped and picked the small body up in both my hands as gently as I could. It lay silently unmoving, breathing quickly, doubtless terrified, doubtless already near death.
I ran back to the car, trying to hold my hands steady in front of me, trying to keep the rabbit still. I had some idea of driving fast to the nearest vet’s surgery – maybe something could be done to save the creature, to quell its pain.
We started off down the road as quickly as its uneven surface would permit, our old car bumping uncomfortably, and rattling along. The small rabbit lay motionless across my hands. Its fur felt warm and soft. There was no external sign of the internal trauma it must surely be suffering - no blood, no marks on the seemingly perfect little body.
We turned off the coast road heading for the town centre and the nearest vet’s surgery that we could think of. We drove in silence, each of us submerged in the overpowering agony of helplessness. For we were indeed completely helpless, unable to do anything at all but watch this small creature’s final moments in this life.
When the end came, marked by a high pitched call and sudden, violent twitch of the little body, we sat in awful, stunned silence, horrified and distressed to have witnessed this unjust passing.
Billy had stopped the car on double yellow lines not far from the local Police Station, and now two policemen, wondering what we were doing, approached us. They opened the passenger door and saw the small body lying across my hands,
“Could you check that he’s dead?” I asked them through my tears, “Just in case.”
The policeman reached into the car and carefully lifted the little rabbit from my hands,
“Yes,” he said his voice gentle, “I’m sorry luv, but he’s gone. He’s only a baby, isn’t he?” and he laid the rabbit gently back down on my knees.
We turned the car round and drove back home in stunned silence.
I knew I would have to bury the little body in our back garden, so I carried him inside the house and wrapped him in an old, clean, linen tea towel. His soft fur was damp in patches where my tears had fallen on him, and he still felt warm.
Our back garden was pretty big, and was in several places substantially overgrown. Although I tried, I never seemed to have enough time at that point in my life to dedicate to its care. The one really good thing about the garden then was that my father had just paid for solid wooden fencing to be erected all around it, and it was now, as a result, totally enclosed and private. Although we had neighbours’ gardens on each side of us, there was a large recreation and sports field at the bottom of all our gardens, so none of us were overlooked at the back of the houses.
The sun was shining that early spring day, and it was pleasantly warm as I dug a hole under the large, spreading bushes in the centre of the garden. Their branches reached eight, maybe ten feet skywards, throwing cool shadows around and about on the grass beneath them. I don’t remember what kind of bushes they were, I don’t think I ever knew, but they used to be covered in multitudes of pretty white flowers in the springtime. The flowers were perfumed too, and their pleasant aroma often filled the air around the middle of the garden, washing over you unexpectedly if you walked past the bushes.
It was a good place, maybe even a fitting place to bury a small rabbit.
I struggled to make the hole as deep as I thought it should be. The ground was hard and had probably never been dug before, and my old, heavy, second hand spade had seen better days.
Eventually I stood back, wondering if I’d done enough. Yes, that would do nicely I decided. I turned and looked over at the small bundle of old, white linen that lay on the grass a few feet behind me. I had a sudden, overwhelming desire to unwrap the tea towel and check that the little rabbit was still there, that he was still dead. Maybe it was all a mistake? Maybe he was alive and just stunned?
But I knew these thoughts for what they were – a natural human reaction to the trauma of a death.
I picked the bundle up and stood for a moment cradling it, looking down at the newly dug hole. Softly, I told the little rabbit that I was so sorry his life had ended as it did, and I wished him well in his new life in the unseen world beyond.
Then I knelt and carefully placed the bundle in the hole. The linen had been warmed by the sun as it lay on the grass, and I found this warmth somehow comforting as I placed the small, wrapped body into the dark coldness of the freshly dug grave.
I stood up, and for a long time just stared down at the pile of soil I knew I would have to fill the hole with. It seemed such a final act. I didn’t want to do it.
But eventually I stooped, and with my hands pushed the soil in on top of the little bundle, covering it, and filling the hole to the top. It was done.
I noticed that the flowers on the bushes above the small grave were almost in bloom; I could just about smell their perfume. Spring was in the air.
“Yes,” I thought, “this is a fitting place for a little rabbit.”
I went back into the house, and shortly after we got into the car again and drove down to Liverpool.
We collected Billy’s son Ben (from one of Billy’s previous marriages), and brought him back to Southport to spend the weekend with us. Ben was around the age of six or seven at that time, and living with his mother.
We made no mention to him, or in front of him, of the tragedy that had caused us to arrive late in Liverpool. Ben was a sensitive youngster.
By the time we reached our house again it was raining, and it continued to rain heavily throughout that day and into the evening. It was still drizzling the next morning, but brightened up in the early afternoon.
Having been trapped inside the house for twenty four hours by the bad weather, with little to amuse him, Ben was bored, and anxious to get out into the garden and spend some time wandering around and playing there. As soon as the rain stopped he rushed outside.
I was in the kitchen when he came back in some time later. He ran up to me and said excitedly,
“Come and see the rabbit!” and he pulled at my hand, laughing, trying to drag me over to the door with him.
“What rabbit?” I asked, startled, wondering if he’d somehow managed to see over the new fence. Maybe one of the neighbours had a rabbit in a hutch,
“Where is it?” I said, curious.
“In the garden,” he told me, “Come and look,” and he pulled my hand harder.
I started to walk towards the door, Ben running ahead of me, looking back over his shoulder,
“Come on! Quick!” he pleaded, “It’ll go. You’ll miss it!”
I reached the door and stepped outside. Ben had run into the middle of the garden and was dashing around, looking left and right, up and down.
“Which garden did you look into?” I called to him, wondering as I said it how on earth he had done that. I couldn’t see any way this small child could have seen over a six foot high fence.
“Here!” he shouted, “This garden. The rabbit’s here; it’s in this garden!” and he rushed round the back of the high, spreading bushes in the centre of the lawn.
I suddenly knew what was happening. I knew what Ben had seen.
When he came running back a minute later he was disappointed, almost accusing,
“It’s gone,” he said miserably, “You’ve missed it.”
“What did the rabbit look like, Ben?” I asked him, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Like rabbits always look when they’re in the fields,” he said, grinning at me, “It was light brown colour.”
“So it wasn’t a grey rabbit like you’ve got at school, or black like your friend’s got at home?” I asked, “Not the same colour as those rabbits?”
“No!” Ben said, “I told you, it was a rabbit that lives in the fields. But it was really small, like a baby rabbit.”
I smiled. I felt exhilarated, uplifted, as if I had been touched by an angel.
“It just hopped past me over here,” and Ben pointed to the area in the middle of the garden, around the bushes, “but it must have got out somewhere, ‘cos it’s not here now,” he said sadly, “I wanted you to see it.”
We had never seen any wild rabbits in the garden. We had never seen any on the recreation field behind the house either. We had occasionally seen hedgehogs wandering through the garden, but now that the new fencing had been erected even the hedgehogs couldn’t get in. The fences fitted snugly, leaving no gaps anywhere for any visiting wildlife to use.
I knew that Ben had seen the little rabbit I’d buried under the bushes.
Young children are able to see through the veil between this world and the next. Many a time a child may look unknowingly straight into the Spirit World, because through a child’s eyes the material and the Spirit Worlds blend seamlessly.
It doesn’t occur to a child that what they are seeing, whether human or animal, may no longer have an existence in the material world.
It never ceases to amaze me that an adult, one who believes implicitly in the existence of a life after death, and in the Spirit World, should question the probability of the continued existence of an animal after death.
An animal which has known the love of a human is thereby given the possibility, after death, of a continued individual existence in the Spirit World. Yes, your beloved pet, whether dog, cat, horse, no matter what, will live on.
You will be reunited.