The noonday sun shone down harshly over the rotten, decaying, landscape. Tar bubbles rose and popped on the crumbling road like molten lava drying at the foot of a volcano. Occasionally a leaf would blow across it and get stuck, becoming part of the once quaint but proud slab of one lane pavement winding haggardly between two other similarly forsaken roads. Below the seething tar dilapidated houses perched precariously on a ridge marred by the effects of erosion, straining against the pull of gravity that would one day win and wash them down into the gully.
Lee sat on the steps to the front porch of his sunken home, staring blankly into the midday heat while his barren landscape of kudzu and dust roasted around him. Incandescent tin roofs and tar shingles sizzled, and the voided surroundings reflected the heat onto the decaying boards of the houses. He thought nothing, he said nothing; he was looking in the direction of the road, idly rocking back and forth, absently grasping his prize between his palms as drool seeped from the corners of this mouth. This day was much hotter and much more exciting than any others for nearly forty years. Mechanically, he was waiting for his mother to walk slowly into sight at the top of the hill, returning from a day of housework and cooking for the rich family with the farm. Lee didn’t know their names, but he couldn’t have told you if he did.
He made little noises of communication, slight grunts of assent and purls of displeasure. His head was oddly shaped and literally a bit soft. Thick lips moved against a thin layer of foam that had formed on his tongue behind a severe under-bite. When Lee had turned five his mother had walked him down the decaying, dusty road, past the farm where she had just begun to work, to the small clapboard schoolhouse next to the Community Methodist Church. She felt defeated even before the teacher gently told her that Lee’s intelligence level would not improve with schooling. His mother had known her boy wasn’t normal from birth. Lee’s disabilities were achingly obvious. He was five years old, still in diapers, and the only word he could say was ‘Maw-Maw.’
As they walked home together, tears ran down Maw-Maw’s face while Lee burbled to himself, unconcerned. Afterwards, she left him at home; in the scrap wood fenced yard at first, until he was in his late teens and had mastered the skill of doorknobs and basic self-care; then she allowed him to roam freely in and out of the house, peeling paint off the house, poking bugs with sticks, and digging holes in the dirt.
At 12:45 every day Maw-Maw walked the four miles home to feed Lee his lunch and to choke down her own. She would watch with aggravation as Lee struggled to reach his mouth with his food still on the spoon. Each day she grew more and more bitter and desperate and finally when Lee was ten, she took to hitting him, her way of attempting to teach him the basis of right and wrong. Eventually Lee did learn, and he no longer regarded his mother as another person to love and feel affection for, but rather as a source of pain. He feared Maw-Maw. Maw-Maw had lived with a baby for nearly forty years now, her baby that had never matured more than a toddler. Maw-Maw had never had a husband; Lee was the only family she had. Maw-Maw was a fatigued and bitter woman.
Lee grew quite tall and became more awkward when he reached his teens. Throughout his twenties he continued to gain in weight and size, becoming quite a large man. By the time he was thirty, Lee would have successfully scared any child simply from his appearance, but he never left his yard; and no one ever visited his rotten house on it’s forlorn road, so Lee never met anyone but his Maw-Maw. And although he did look rather intimidating because of his size, the only person he had ever known he was afraid of, and was therefore incredibly timid and withdrawn. Having never gained control over his muscles and joints, his fingers twisted mindlessly into fumbling knots whenever he went to grip something or to hide his face from a passerby on the road. When walking aimlessly about the house and kudzu, he shuffled his feet, being that it took too much effort and attention to lift his legs. He took his time climbing the three steps to the porch, though the hill had eroded away beneath the house so that the front porch nearly sat on the ground and the three steps leading to it were nearly level with each other. Lee carefully watched his feet, attempting to calculate his steps so that he knew his porch with an unconscious familiarity.
Lee had spotted the bunny from the corner of the yard and cautiously inched closer throughout the morning. He was unaware that he was doing this. Its fur was a dark and lustrous brown, which stood out noticeably against the pale grey wood of the decomposing porch. When he decided it seemed safe- a small, furry, woodland creature of some sort- he sat down next to it and they considered each other, unconcerned with their surroundings or with anything at all.
He grunted at the bunny, pleased that something new had happened. Gingerly he picked it up, sweetly cupping his palms together as best he could. The bunny trembled and he watched it twitch. Its back left paw had been injured, a rock was stuck in its foot and protruded menacingly, He sympathetically did the best he could to mend it, pulling the rock out delicately and cupping his hand over the bleeding area. He squeezed the tiny foot with an odd delight, causing the animal to jolt with pain. Then, still cradling the feeble rodent, he sat on the steps. Lee considered the feel of the fur to be comforting, and he did not put the rabbit down for the rest of the afternoon as he sat rocking back and forth and waiting for Maw-Maw.
At sunset his mother walked wearily onto the porch and stared at her son. She was nearly sixty, but her face was unlined except for the creases around her mouth. A dark and disturbed frown formed when she saw what Lee was clutching, now tightly held against his chest.
“Boy, what you got there?” He blinked at her. She decked him, and then tried again, “Maw-Maw ask you what you got there?”
Lee presented the rabbit, still cupping it firmly, and declared, “Yuh-Yuh.”
Lee had acquired the skill of randomly naming objects in his mid-thirties, and the hobby thrilled him.
At first his Maw-Maw refused the rabbit, telling Lee that after it was well they’d have to let it go. Lee threw tantrums and wailed and whined and snorted until Maw-Maw, so appalled by her weak and peaceful son’s animosity, assented to allow him to keep the baby rabbit, “At least,” she said, “Until it is big enough to cook,” which always made Lee whimper and sob. And although she did regard the pet as a nutritious meal, she never truly considered cooking it; it just soothed her to make Lee upset.
After a few months, when the leaves changed color and began to fall and the forests of kudzu which shaped and governed their scanty habitat became looming skeletons, Maw-Maw grew weary of the extra care and attention the pet rabbit drained from her, and she threatened both Lee and the rabbit daily with a skewer. Lee did not understand how his Yuh-Yuh was a food, though he has unknowingly eaten rabbit many times before, and he kept his pet out of the way as much as he could, fearing for its life.
Lee developed affection and compassion for his rabbit, and the novelty of these feelings would have intrigued him, could he have comprehended them. Every day they played in the yard, until Lee, noticing its tendency to try to burrow under the fence, developed bravery and confidence enough to go onshort brisk walks, Yuh-Yuh tucked safely in his arms. Perhaps his mother endured the rabbit so long because she appreciated Lee’s ability to relate to it, or perhaps because she simply didn’t mind its presence after all, but most likely she endured it because Lee began to burble to himself more, and peddle around the yard alone and she finally got to catch up on forty years of rest. Maw-Maw was tired.
After time, Lee’s walks with Yuh-Yuh began to stretch further and further away from home, and Lee was ignorant to the concept of the importance of following roads and paths. Quite frequently Lee had to follow wagons and people back to the road which would lead him home, if he went in the right direction. Had Maw-Maw not been as old, shrewd, and tired as she was she might’ve begun to worry when these walks began to last for entire days, but her state of mind barely allowed her to notice.
While still shuffling his feet when he walked, Lee had gotten faster; he didn’t have to look down at his steps so much. He liked to look up and register color and movement in his sight while holding comfort in his hands, feeling the soothing fur. He was entirely stunned when, one day, Yuh-Yuh kicked free of his grip and darted out across a field. At first Lee watched blankly as his comfort ran aimlessly, liberated from his gnarled grip. Realizing slowly that he could lose comfort forever, never to caress its entrancing fur again, he took off stumbling across the field after Yuh-Yuh, waiving his hands frantically and making moans of pain and sounds of sorrow.
Yuh-Yuh led him to the frame of an old farmhouse, where Lee became bewildered in the midst of angles and lines. He gurgled deep inside his throat and began to cry until he spotted Yuh-Yuh. Across the deserted yard lay a pile of bricks with an old ply board neglectfully strewn across the top. Yuh-Yuh sat nibbling on some grass next to the bricks. Lee had become excellent at recognizing Yuh-Yuh’s rich brown color in contrast to the monotonous yellow, brown, green, and red, all of which were the same hue, that made up his despondent environment of dead kudzu. He stiffly scuffed towards the rabbit, slowly, and then pounced on it, throwing his entire sloppy weight and wiggling like a beached whale as he tried to capture it in his fumbling, mindless fingers. It hopped desperately onto the ancient wooden plank, clawing as the warped wood, but never escaped Lee’s frantic grasp. As he concentrated on getting up, Lee made throaty wailing noises that echoed off the crumbling bricks and into the devastated autumn landscape, and upon hearing his own sounds reverberate through the hills, he only wailed harder in disbelief and confusion. Lee and Yuh-Yuh struggled clumsily with each other as Lee got to his feet, and having given up hope in gripping the rabbit in his twisted fingers, Lee lunged once more, refusing to let the rabbit slip from his grip, and squeezing the little rodent into the crook of his arm, held firmly against his body.
The cracking of the board made a sound as loud as Lee’s wordless yelling, which ended abruptly as man and rabbit landed at the muddy bottom of the abandoned well. Reflexes found Lee gasping vainly for the air that had been knocked from him, but to no avail. As his eyes adjusted to the murky darkness and the surprise faded he felt fluffy comfort pinned underneath one of his hands, and he slipped peacefully into unconsciousness.
Lee didn’t realize at first that he had woken up, because it was so dark outside and Lee wasn’t accustomed to being outside at night. Slight mewing sounds escaped his foam covered mouth as he slowly slid his arms about in the muck, clueless. With no explanation available to him at the bottom of the well, he drifted in and out of sleep, half-paralyzed by fear and hunger and shock and sore with bruises. Birds and light and crickets and owls occasionally woke him, as well as the vacant awareness of lying in his own waste, but he did his best to burrow down into the muck so as to muffle his senses. Finally, with the sun directly above him and weighing down its heat, Lee woke up with enough awareness of the situation to be worried. He sat up and glanced numbly about himself, only seeing mud and dirt. Roots penetrated the walls of his cell in places and light fell on muddy puddles in the floor ina nearly perfect circle. Lee looked at this circle contentedly until he noticed the heap of fur in a dark corner, next to a shallow pool of stagnant dirty water. A crooked smile formed on is lips as he snuggled back to sleep with Yuh-Yuh tucked in closely by his side.
The echo of a monstrous growl awoke Lee next, scaring him, because he did not understand that it had come from his own stomach. He recognized the pain, though, deep in his chest, more so than he had ever felt before. “Maw-Maw!” he screamed, fear being recognizable to him now. He wanted to cry but found it hurt his belly too much, so he laid moaning and drooling, staring at comfort in the light. Yuh-Yuh lay stiff and motionless, the faint light making millions of colors in the rabbit’s fur. Lee stared at Yuh-Yuh indifferently.
Lee’s stomach growled some more.
Perhaps he knew, in the back of his mind, that rabbits were animals and animals were meat and meat was food. Perhaps Maw-Maw’s treatment of Yuh-Yuh as an opportune feast taught him. Perhaps, while laying abandoned and ensnared at the bottom of the well, he became frustrated and angry and Yuh-Yuh was available to for him to lash out at. Perhaps he instinctively wanted to kill him.
Lee reached out a hand and picked up the rabbit’s limp body: Lee didn’t understand that it was already dead. He dangled Yuh-Yuh in front of his eyes for a moment- in front of his face that showed no expression- then with a swift hurl he flung its body against the wall, knocking dirt down into his eyes and nose. This upset him.
Something inside Lee’s fragile consciousness ruptured and collapsed.
Bellowing and yelping he wildly tore his teeth into Yuh-Yuh, spitting out chunks of flesh and fur. Gouging madly at Yuh-Yuh’s eyes, poking with curled fingers and knuckles, Lee sobbed and mutilated.
Lee awoke sometime later to the salty smell of blood. He was drenched in it and in his own excretion. All that was in sight were bits of regurgitated skin and the desecrated carcass of what was once his only comfort. He tried to bury his face in the murky mud he lay in, but succumbed to reality for the only time in his life.
Shrieking and sniveling, he awkwardly rolled forward, fighting his lack of dexterity and brains, and thrust his head into the small pool of stagnant water in the dark corner. The water smelled and was pitch-black, but it soothed Lee’s squeals as it filled his mouth and nose and throat and lungs…