When the girl asks if she can help you with the rabbit, assume she is genuinely interested in animal slaughter. Don’t suggest alternate ways you can spend time together, or alternate things that you’re good at that you can teach her such as fishing, carpentry, history, or poetry. Bring your face really close to hers and tell her how proud you are that she wants to learn this from you, so she won’t be able to take it back when she changes her mind.
Begin by carefully picking the rabbit that is ready to die. This can be done by reaching your hand into their dark, shallow home and feeling around for the plumpest body. Explain to the girl why, when they see humans approaching, the rabbits collectively move to the far corners and bury their heads in each other’s bodies. Tell her it’s because they are afraid of open spaces. Invite the girl to reach inside and feel around the curled, shaking bodies. Heads burrowed in the nearest, darkest, warm space. Light equals danger.
Make sure the girl understands this is what fear does. This is what fear looks like.
Once you have chosen the rabbit, firmly cradle his ears in your closed fist and pull him out. The rabbit will kick, so pull him out quickly, making sure to swing the full weight of his body from the delicate overextended flesh of his tiny forehead. The bulging of the eyeballs will tell you that you are doing this correctly. It might be helpful to have the girl look the rabbit in the face to ensure that she is feeling included. She might place her hand over his wide eyes and whisper, Shhhh and it’s okay. She might look in wonderment at his nostrils, puffing in and out like delicate, pink butterflies.
Pick a place where the rabbit will feel comfortable and calm; preferably somewhere open and green where he can see the sky (which he has rarely seen, so this will be a real treat). Preferably away from the house so that the mother’s voice cannot reach you from the back door, where she is screaming something—one hand waving you down, the other over her brow to block the sun.
Make sure that you have a metal pipe, a knife, and the girl close by.
Take the rabbit by the feet and swing him upside down. Ask the girl to hand you the pipe she is now holding in her hand. She might refuse when she hears the squeaky stuttering noise the rabbit makes, like a plea coming from the back of his throat. She might come to her knees to get closer. She might run her hands over his soft, quivering ears. She might ask the rabbit, in a whisper, what he wants to tell her. What he would like her to know.
Calm her by explaining exactly what is about to happen. That you will take the pipe she is holding and bring it down on the rabbit’s skull. Tell her he will die instantly. Tell her that by the time the message of the pain gets to his brain, he will already be dead. The more details you provide, the more comfortable she will feel with what she is about to see. With what she will be complicit in.
Take the pipe from the girl by force, if necessary, and step a few feet away in case there is blood. And with the object firmly grasped in one hand and the rabbit in the other, strike the animal on the spot where the neck meets the skull. Take care not to hit your own hand or the girl.
The girl might be covering her ears. She might have her eyes tightly closed. Shout out her name. Place the rabbit corpse before her so she sees what death looks like. So that she knows what it will be like when she takes her very own pipe to her very own rabbit skull someday. If the girl doesn’t respond, placing the rabbit on her lap will get her to her feet.
Take the knife and make a circular incision above each hind foot. Make the cut only as deep as the layer of fat beneath the fur. You will know it by the thin white membrane that covers the flesh. Teach the girl this trick by insisting that she watch you as you cut and peel back the skin. Invite her to touch what lies beneath. Take her finger and press it to the warm, sticky body so she knows what death feels like.
The skin will peel off easier if the body is warm, so tell her to take a strong grip on the rabbit’s feet and lean back with her full weight. Show her how to spread her legs wide for a sturdier stance. If the girl falls back, tell her to get up and try again. If she happens to pull her shirtsleeves over her hands for a better grip on the rabbit’s feet, commend her for her quick thinking and tell her she’s doing it as good as any boy.
Repeat until the skin is off. Point out to the girl how funny the skin looks when it’s separate from the body. If this is her first rabbit, as a treat, offer to make the girl a rabbit foot for good luck. Don’t be annoyed when she refuses.
Carry the animal into the house, but let the girl be the one to hand it to her mother, who will clean and quarter and cook it. When the girl hesitates to hold the thing that looks like a wound, press it into her arms and let her know it’s important for her to follow it through to the end. If she starts talking to the dead thing as she cradles it, gently praise her for helping you put dinner on the table.
Eat together. Insist that the girl enjoy the result of her hard work, even when she refuses. Discuss what she learned from your time together. As an act of gratitude, offer her the head.
Fátima Policarpo is a Portuguese-American writer. Most recently, her work has been supported by the Luso-American Foundation, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center. She received her MA from NYU, where she studied literary responses to violence, and is presently working on a nonfiction manuscript about language and women’s bodies that explores the roots of various forms of violence against women.
Rabbit photo copyright: rabiatezcan / 123RF stock photo
Steaming pot photo copyright: Bernjuer / 123RF stock photo