MOSCOW, Sept. 27, 2003 -- I had only gotten the damned rabbit in the first place to please Anton. The month-old little beast scampering with her brothers and sisters in the little cardboard box in the transfer tunnel of the Kurskaya Metro Station was nothing if not adorable and absolutely irresistible.
“Should we get it? I had pondered hesitantly.”
“Let’s,” he urged.
Okay, 300 rubles -- $ 10. It would give us another point of mutual interest, and let’s face it: there weren’t a whole hell of a lot of them.
The first time I had seen Anton strolling gently – everything he does is gently; he even exasperates you gently – across the open air plaza at Kropotkinskaya Metro Station on that August evening a little over a year ago, I had been mezmerized. He could have just stepped out of the frame of one of those pieces of schlock religious art that used to grace the walls of the Methodist church I sullied as a child in Orlando: “Christ Knocking At the Door”; “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane:’ “Christ Walking on the Water.”
I could easily imagine Anton, with his beatific, almond-shaped, olive-complexioned 23-year-old face floating across the Sea of Galilee, stretching forth his hand, saving first this drowning soul, and then another, admonishing, “Oh, ye of little faith….”.
I had assumed Anton was as saintly as he looked. I don’t mean religious saintly, although it turns out he had converted from Russian Orthodox to Baptist and had been brainwashed into believing that “lying with men” is an abominable sin guaranteed to get you straight to hell; do not pass go, do not collect $ 200.
What I mean is that I had assumed he was saintly good: gentle, kind, understanding, empathetic, loving, concerned, appreciative. A Mother Theresa from the Caucuses.
I must have this gentle saint as a part of my life!
The excuse I had used to lure him was the offer of free English lessons. On our first lesson on the couch of the apartment which I at that time shared only with Misha, “conjugation changed from word to deed,” as I breathlessly confided in a passionate poetic outpouring the next morning.
I became only the second man, the second person he’d ever had ever sex with!
He was at the time living awkwardly with aunt, uncle, and cousins in suburban Moscow. He was very morose. I invited – nay, begged – him to move in with me and Misha.
Shortly after he transferred his two shopping bags of worldly goods into my apartment, some money again turned up missing and I accused Misha of taking it – I suspected he had taken money before. Misha and I had a big blow-up and he left for Kiev. But I missed him so and was so worried about him – he had left at the onset of the Russian winter with not even a coat – that I e-mailed him to come back. If he had taken the money, I would forgive him; and if I had accused him unjustly, he would forgive me and we would resume our life as lovers, surrogate family, or whatever we were.
But by the time he came back Anton was a firmly entrenched figure. He and I were sharing the bedroom, and Misha was less than contented with the living arrangements, but I had found my Pearl of Great Price and was willing to sacrifice everything to keep him.
Reality rather quickly intruded on what the Russians charmingly refer to as the “chocolate and roses” phase of our romance as I began to realize that my angelic saint with the almond face and olive complexion was as self-centered, narcissistic, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and demanding as he was unappreciative and unaffectionate.
I crave love and the expression of affection. It’s a psychological deficit, I’m sure, but I thrive on physical touch and kissing. Snuggling in bed is something without which I almost can’t survive. At the end of our first night together, Anton announced that it was impossible for him to sleep with anybody else. He had to sleep alone.
And despite his change of venue, he was still morose.
“Smile,” I would chide him. “What is there to be happy about?” he would moan in reply. He was worse than morose; in fact, he was grumpy and critical. My pearl of great price was turning out to be just a beautiful rock – around my neck. He was killing my joie de vivre and bringing me down. I had begun reacting in anger to his lack of affection, and he had begun withdrawing; and the more he withdrew the angrier I got and the angrier I got the more he withdrew.
It was not the stuff of Eden.
So I viewed the enchanting little bunny like spouses on the rocks view kids: fresh glue for the marriage.
But he never took any responsibility for the beast beyond taking it home on his lap; and the bunny I had gotten at his urging was now obviously my responsibility.
I was stuck with the glue.
As she got older and hungrier and her bladder got bigger and its contents more redolent, and her rodent teeth got sharper and sharper, she definitely became resistible. She was refusing to eat the commercial rabbit food I bought her, which meant forays in search of dandelions two or three times a week.
Picking dandelions in the center of Moscow is not as unlikely as it may seem. Soviet city planning involved building massive ugly blocks of apartment buildings around a lot of open space. The pattern was actually begun in tsarist times. My pre-revolutionary apartment building itself surrounds a large court yard and boasts a lot of green space around it. So this was my first target.
The problem was that secret agents were monitoring Bunnykins’ feeding dish and as soon as they saw I was about to run out of dandelions, they would rush to mow my courtyard. So I would have to go further and further afield. I would find a lush crop and fill a plastic shopping bag, or “sumka,” feeling relieved that I had found an inexhaustible supply. But the spies would report my find to the shadowy figures who manned the scythes (I’ve only seen one lawn mower in Moscow), and the next time I would go to my inexhaustible source, it too would be exhausted.
There were other problems. We kept her in the kitchen, where she soon developed the knack of chewing everything she could get her developing incisors around: electric wires, phone wires, wall paper, chicken bones. Chicken bones? And clothes. As I was holding the lovable little blob of protoplasm on my lap, I realized she had deftly air-conditioned my “Sleeping in Seattle” nightshirt. We had to replace two phone lines. Misha, whose job was cleaning the kitchen, quickly developed a really deep feeling for her.
“If you don’t get a cage for her I’m going to kill her.”
As my birthday present, students Kostya and Dima volunteered to drive their car to the pet market on the Moscow outer ring road and get a cage. So Bunnykins now had her prison. Dismantling of the kitchen was no longer a problem, but others remained: the smell, for instance. When she was young, her pee and little black pellets hadn’t stunk. But as she grew older, her cage needed to be cleaned two or three times a day -- and without fail before one of my private English lessons in the kitchen.
The clincher was her insatiable demand for sex. She was worse than me. Unlike me, she never got any, but that didn’t keep her from running maniacally up and down her tiny cage demanding it. She would often wake me up at night tearing her paper cage lining into nesting material, trying to dig tunnels through its plastic floor, and banging on the sides of the cage.
Finally, in August, I told Sasha: “I’m really getting tired of that god-damned rabbit. Do you know of anybody who might like to have her?”
The next weekend when he came for our weekly sessions of cribbage, beer, and sex, he told me that a friend of his would like to take her – for food. The next weekend he amended the offer: His friend would like to have it for his
Fortunately for Bunnykins and for my conscience, Anton came up with an alternative: His aunt would like to have it.
Great! How soon?
This morning, the last Saturday in September, turned out to be the appointed day.
I was sitting at the computer when Anton glided in and touched the sleeping Yegor on the shoulder.
“Yegor, you have to get up and help me take the rabbit to my aunt’s.”
At last! My Alice in Wonderland adventure down the rabbit hole is about to come to an end.
I abandoned my computer and cleaned the cage for the last time. I gave her dandelions and raw spaghetti for the last time. I swept up her little black pellets for the last time.
Yegor packed up the cage and announced they were ready to go. When he turned around, Bunnykins was poking out of the zipper of Anton’s backpack.
“You can’t take her in that!” I protested. “She’ll pee in it; she’ll eat it; she’ll destroy it; she’ll jump out of it!”
“No she won’t.” Then a little later I realized Anton was digging through my clothes. “I need a cloth to put in the bottom of the knapsack so it will soak up the pee. Have you got an old T-shirt?”
“Why don’t you just put her in a box?”
He ignored me.
I went into the kitchen and got what was left of a roll of paper towels that Hong Kong Harry, my American professor friend who teaches Russian History at Univ. of Hong Kong, had left me the last time he had been here to do research on Russian History and Russian boys.
“No, I need a cloth,” he snorted. “The water will go right through the paper.” I handed him the kitchen floor rag. “No, that won’t do.” So I went back in and rummaged through my scattered clothes till I found an old Seattle Costco turtleneck I had brought with me six years ago. My constantly swiveling neck had reduced it to a rag.
Bunnykins was oh-so-adorable as she rode out the door with her little black nose, pink eyes and lop ears waving from the back pack.
We probably could have sold her in the metro for 300 rubles.