Monday, July 12, 2010

Is this the face of a murderer?

My nonagenarian aunt's late husband was once, among many other things, a sexton for the parish church in Harmondsworth, England. I seem to be following in a family tradition of gravedigging.

Leila, the serial killer, struck again this evening. This time, she achieved a lifetime's ambition and managed to outrun a very small rabbit. Mary and I hear the sudden yells of the children, but by the time we get out into the back yard, the damage is done. Leila is made to drop her prize and is hauled unceremoniously into the house, primal instincts still coursing through her sinews, puzzled at the absence of praise for her accomplishments.

This time, Primus is the conscience of the underbeast, demanding we rush the convulsing rabbit to the Rye Nature Center. Could it be saved? Is it just winded? There is no blood, but a strip of furless skin on its haunch shows mauve, and the animal's spine looks odd. As we place the patient in a shoebox lined with paper towels, the movements slow and then stop, and there's no reaction to Secundus's breath on the open eye or to my finger brushed against its whiskers.

Primus decides this is the worst day of his life and Leila the worst dog in the world and leaves the scene in distress. I fetch the spade again and, with the help of those experienced mourners Secundus and Tertius, choose a burial site. I explain this can't be next to Soldier, the valiant mouse, because that's where, a week ago, I secretly interred the baby bird that I had encouraged the boys to leave for its mother to find, only to have their visiting cousins unknowingly release Leila into the back yard while we were at the bookstore.

We find another spot and bury the little body. The two boys dutifully toss a pinch of dry earth into the grave before I fill it in, an odd little ritual that I first came across in Hammer horror movies. This time, the victim remains unnamed, but the digging threw up some slices of brick, which Tertius installs as tombstones for both the rabbit and the fledgling. Maybe tomorrow, they'll love Leila again.

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