The Rabbit that Hopped all the way to Jupiter
My only memories of him were from ten years ago; while my little sister was at her violin lesson, I was sent to stay with him at his house. We didn’t speak at first, he just watched me read my books. He seemed perfectly happy with that. I think he just liked my company, that I was there with him.
I remember he had kind eyes. Eyes that didn’t seem to ask things like why doesn’t she join in? Or, why does she keep putting her hands over her ears? It wasn’t until the fourth visit that we spoke. I was reading my favourite book about a rabbit called Hoppity, who went to outer space. I don’t know why, but I took it everywhere with me; I took it to doctor’s appointments, to the hospital, even to school. The other children would laugh at me and say it was a baby book, so I kept it tucked under my coat or hidden in my bag. I think having it with me and seeing all the pictures gave me comfort. Whatever happened, I knew that it would never change, that it would always end with Hoppity deciding to live with a colony of space-rabbits on Jupiter no matter what.
On each page, she explored a different planet trying to find somewhere to belong. First, she went to Neptune, then to Saturn, then to Mercury, but when she got to Mars, my grandad laid one of his white, wrinkled fingers on the page. I tried to turn the page, but he wouldn’t let me. The next page was Venus, that was my favourite page in the whole book. I liked the shade of orange the illustrator had used to colour in the planet. I tried turning the page again, but his finger was still in the way. I began to feel anxious. Then I started rocking in my chair like I always did when things got too much for me. What usually happened next would be me, screaming and throwing things.
But then my grandad said something that threw me off completely. He said, ‘I’ve been there.’ The urge to turn the page seemed to flutter away like little butterflies, and I just gazed up at him with eyes full of wonder. He was a frail-looking man with pale, liver-speckled skin. There were a few wispy white hairs on his head, and he wore thick spectacles which made his grey-blue eyes seem much bigger than they actually were. With his hunched back, baggy green jumper and round head I thought he almost looked like a turtle.
He tapped the page once more.
‘I did,’ he said proudly, ‘and I can tell you it looks nothing like that.’
‘How does it look then?’
‘For starters, there’s an orange orchard up there, and then they’re the squirrels, they can’t get enough of the oranges you know, they’re always scuttling off with them, tricky little — .’
‘But my teacher said nobody has been to Mars yet, she says it’s too far away, so you can’t have.’
‘Bah, what do teachers know? How many lessons have you had?’
‘About a million.’
‘Well, that’s your problem right there. Lessons lessen, that is why they call them lessons, so if you’ve had a million already, you should be having reverse lessons by now.’
I furrowed my brow. ‘What’s a reverse lesson?’
‘In lessons, you learn how to know things, but in reverse lessons, you learn how to forget things.’
‘I don’t want to forget things! What do I do to stop it?’
‘Write everything you know on a pocket-handkerchief and take it with you everywhere you go.’
‘What’s a pocket handkerchief?’
‘You see,’ he said gravely, ‘it’s already started.’
I gasped and put my hands over my mouth.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll give you mine.’
He passed me a used tissue with a few illegible scribbles on. Usually, I was funny about touching things. But considering everything I knew was at stake, I took the tissue, folded it up neatly, and put it in my trouser pocket.
He glanced at his shoes. ‘I once shot someone with a shotgun, you know. He was a reformed ogre, but don’t worry,’ he quickly added, ‘he was just pretend reformed, so it was ok.’
‘Did you do time for it?’ I asked him. I had heard people say this in the old gangster movies my father used to watch. I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but I don’t think I really understood the whole concept of shooting someone either.
‘I did, they took me to — ’
At that moment, there was a knock at the front door. It was my mother. My sister had finished her violin lesson, and I had to go.
I put my book back in my bag, got up, and followed her to the car without saying another word. As I went, my grandad smiled at me, and for a second, I smiled back at him, but then I felt embarrassed and stopped.
Every time I went to see him, he told me more stories about his life. Like the time he broke out of Azkaban Prison, or the time he found a golden conker on an old sycamore tree, or when he beat a hare at a tortoise race. I loved hearing them, and to me, they made perfect sense. I never even thought for a second that he was making them up. Lying was a part of human interactions I never could understand. Why would someone even say something they know is not true?
A few months later, we were given a special homework assignment at school. We had to do a presentation on a family member’s life. I chose my grandad. I wrote some of the stories he’d told me on post-it notes with my favourite purple marker pen and stuck them all on a big sheet of card. I was so proud of what I had done. I was so happy that everybody would find out how amazing my grandad was. But when I gave my presentation, they were not impressed. They pointed at me, and they laughed at me, and I didn’t know why.
The next thing I remember was begging my mother not to take me to see my grandad ever again. I’d go anywhere else I said. She ended up dropping me off at my father’s work. I had to wait in reception all alone for three hours every week. I wasn’t really alone, there was a woman there with shiny red lips, but she never spoke to me, so she didn’t count. She just sat behind a desk reading her gossip magazines and glancing playfully at the men who sometimes walked past.
So, if I could remember all of that, why didn’t I say anything when the funeral director asked me if I had any stories about my grandad? I just looked at the floor and shook my head like I always did, and he moved on to the next person.
My mother gave a teary display, and they all fell for it. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t have to, she was too traumatised according to my brother. Then my father put his arms around her and said, ‘we all know how much you loved your dad.’
Neither of my parents looked at me during the service. I don’t think either of them really loved me. I think they were just ashamed to have someone like me in their family. Growing up, I wasn’t a budding violinist like my little sister or a sporting prodigy like my older brother. I was just the girl who used to run in circles in the back lawn until she was sick with dizziness, who used to work herself into a state whenever she saw an odd pair of socks.
When the first part of the service had finished, I kept away from everyone. I tried to avoid any eye contact, so nobody would speak to me. If they were going to ignore me, I was going to ignore them right back. It was easier that way, better to pretend I wanted to be ignored all along. I could overhear them, they were all cooing over their loss, intentionally slipping in the occasional crow about their own accomplishments. Seeing them made me feel uneasy, they all had the same bird-like faces with sharp pointy features and untrustworthy eyes.
As I watched my grandad’s coffin being swallowed up by the earth, I told myself I should be feeling something. More than anything, I wanted to feel something, but I felt nothing.
Nobody noticed me slip out of the funeral. I tried to take the bus home, but the station was busier than usual. People seemed to scuttle like beetles; some getting on buses, some getting off buses, some just pacing up and down making clicking sounds. It was the noise that got me too, like a thousand chirping crickets, and then the constant clatter of footfall, and then the loud-speakers ding-donging and announcing something I didn’t need to know. I had to get out of there. I felt like everything was getting smaller. Like the world was closing in around me. I frantically pushed my way through the crowd.
As soon as I stepped into the lonely night, I felt relieved. The crisp air swirled around me, and the sky above was inky black and speckled with silvery starlight. I looked back at the humming bus station. It seemed to pulsate with pale white light. I didn’t want to go back in. I wanted to be away from them, to be in this sleepy little world alone; so, in spite of the wild noises that encircled the corners of the night, I decided I’d walk back home to my sheltered accommodation.
I took a deep breath and counted to five, then I breathed out slowly. One of my teachers had taught me this a long time ago. It helped me a lot growing up. Whenever I felt my emotions bubbling away inside me, I would do it, and it would still the waters. I even learned how to make my mind quiet too. That helped even more. It took me a while to master, but once I did, I was no longer controlled by my emotions. There was no more throwing things or screaming until my face turned red, just mindfulness and silence. I was able to concentrate more at school to become a better student. When I finally left college in my twenties, they told me I was ready to go out into the great big world.
That was my problem now, though. I knew how to manage my emotions, to control them, but not to process them. For as long as I remember I hadn’t cried; I hadn’t let out tears of sadness or of happiness. I hadn’t laughed, and even my smiles were plastered on. I’d sometimes dream I sat at a bar, an old-time saloon type thing, with three cowboys. The good sort of cowboys with white hats and star-shaped spurs on their boots. They’d be exchanging stories about the outlaws they had hunted down. Then, all of a sudden, the one with the bushiest moustache would slam his glass of milk down on the bar and say in his gruff drawl, ‘now listen here, y’all!’
We’d all turn to him and prick up our ears. Then he’d ask us, ‘what advice do cows give?’
We’d look at each other. None of us knew the answer.
‘Well, I’ll tell you then,’ he’d boom and take another sip of his milk. ‘They say turn the other cheek and moo-ve on’.
The room would fall silent. Nobody would laugh, of course they wouldn’t it was a terrible joke.
But then something strange would happen. In the dead of the saloon, I’d burst into a fit of laughter. I laughed so hard that I’d fall off my stool. There’d be tears trickling down my face. I’d wipe them off of my cheeks, and then off of the bridge of my nose, and then I’d rub my eyes, and then, nothing. There’d just be me laid in bed staring at the grey ceiling.
The night had grown cold, so I zipped up my coat. I passed by sleeping houses and abandoned alleyways. There were no cars whizzing up the roads, no people walking down the pavements. Nighttime has always been my favourite part of the day. When I was younger, I thought it was a magical time when the tiniest creatures of this world would step out of their front doors and go on little adventures of their own. Or when the toys would wake up and do their daily chores. I don’t believe that now, but it still feels like there is something mystical about the night, something mesmerising about the millions of beautiful stars just hanging there for you to gaze up at.
I think it’s easy to get swept up in the night, it’s like a wild torrent that rolls through towns. I tried my best to keep on track though, I ignored the rustling wind, I paid no attention to the ebbing shadows. I just kept my head down and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.
As I walked through the front door, I was greeted by two heated voices. They were having a lively debate about climate change. I must have forgotten to turn the television off when I left this morning. I put my keys down on the coffee table and hung up my coat. I went into my bedroom, switching off the television on my way. When I was inside, I fumbled through the drawer of my bedside table. It was like a treasure chest in there, a horde of old souvenirs and knick-knacks. There were Buddhist beads, brochures for fun things I was too scared to do, and a few crystals that were supposed to ground me or cleanse my aura or something like that. Then I found it; my old picture book, the one about Hoppity finding somewhere to belong.
Delicately, I turned the first crinkled page and just like that, I was transported into a world I could understand, a world with stars, and planets, and a plucky little space-rabbit.
They had given me the rest of the week off work because of my loss. On Thursday I didn’t do much, I just stayed in my pyjamas and watched movies all day.
On Friday, I went out. I ended up going to the local park. Sometimes I’d go there on my lunch hour if I needed space to think. I liked it there; the trees would leave me alone with my thoughts, and most of the time, the only sound would be the whistling winds. Today though, a clown was performing. Around him, people sat cross-legged watching. The sun was perched high on its throne, amber warmth trickled over the day, and the air rang thick with laughter. I sat on a bench that was far enough from the crowd to make it seem like I wasn’t part of it, but close enough to be able to overhear what he was saying.
He was funny, I think. At least the people in the crowd thought so anyway. I watched one of the girls that sat nearest to him. She was a happy looking little girl with big-button eyes. Every time she laughed her face would light up, and then she’d turn to her mum to see if she was laughing too. Sometimes her mum would see her and smile back at her reassuringly, other times she’d be too captivated to even notice.
Not long after, I decided to leave the park. I went home and spent the rest of the day inside. On Monday I’d be back at work, the day would be better spent getting ready, at least that is what I told myself anyway.
They had rearranged the offices when I got to work. It was to improve productivity the woman with the shiny shoes told me when she called me into her office. I liked it the way it was before, I had gotten used to it. I wanted to say something, but as usual, I didn’t.
When I came out of her office, everyone watched me sit down. They tried not to look directly at me, but I could feel their barbed glares.
They had taken down the dividers. I no longer had a little cubicle all to myself. I had to sit opposite Shawn. I had never even spoken to Shawn. I had seen him from time-to-time loudly, laughing and joking away with his fellow greasy-haired and sly-eyed friends, but they had always gone quiet whenever they saw me.
I sat down at my stark white desk and rummaged through the clear plastic pot I kept my pens in. The purple one I liked to doodle with had gone. It must have gone missing when they moved things around. The only ones they had in there now were red and blue. Red and blue pens were no good for doodling, the only things you can draw with them are things that are either really angry or really cold.
I took out a red pen, took off the lid, and looked at the tip disappointedly. Then I looked around to see if anyone had my purple pen in their pot. Most of the workers were busy tapping at their keyboards. There was one woman who was scribbling away. While I was watching her, she looked up, and our eyes met. I quickly broke eye contact and turned to my computer screen.
After dinner, Shawn brought out his radio and put it on his desk. He tuned in to Smooth FM. A sultry sounding presenter announced, ‘next up is the hour of love with Phil Pear, because we know you need that extra bit of loving on a Monday afternoon.’ Shawn slouched in his chair and threaded his stubby fingers over his podgy belly. Sounds bothered me. He must’ve known it bothered me. Before I came here, every employee had to have special training sessions on how to deal with my condition. I had moved on from feeling like I had to put my hands over my ears, but it still made me anxious. It made it hard for me to concentrate on anything else.
He brought it again the next day, and then the next day, and then for the entire month. I tried as hard as I could, but I was getting too distracted, and my work was suffering.
Eventually, the puppeteers decided that the best thing to do was cut my strings. They sent my case-worker a letter. It said that several co-workers had expressed concerns that I was becoming more and more distressed with my workload. ‘Because of this we strongly believe cancelling the scheme would be the kindest thing to do,’ it ended.
They gave me a three-week notice period before my termination.
The first two weeks went by like usual. Boring and Lonely. I liked to picture that one of the men workers would shake my hand and wish me well, or one of the women workers would say they would be sorry to see me go, but they never did. I don’t think they cared.
But then in the third week, something amazing happened, something I never saw coming. It was an ordinary afternoon, bleak, grey, and a little drizzly. The people who had done their best to ignore me for as long as I had been here were still ignoring me. Shawn’s radio was playing How Deep Is Your Love by the Bee Gee’s. Then all of a sudden it stopped. ‘We’re sorry, but we have to interrupt this groovy song with a special broadcast from our friends over at NASA,’ Phil Pear announced.
A clear voice came on the radio, ‘at 15:21 hours on Wednesday 14th November, our manned space mission to Mars was successful. Reports indicate that the planet has a volatile climate and a weak atmosphere. Some of the crewmembers even claim that they saw orange trees up there, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, maybe the six-year journey took its toll on them.’
Memories of my grandad flooded my head, and then the dams inside of me that had held strong for so long broke, and in the white room full of people, I burst into tears.