Tuesday, 8 July 2008

HOPPING MAD - he breeds rabbits to save the world - by June Saville

Me wife’s an angel. Trouble is, she don’t like herself as much as other people do.

She gets angry with herself because she’s is really terrified of crowds.

In a shopping centre or on a bus she begins to sweat and tremble. I tell er don’t worry so much, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. The other day we were near the butcher’s in the mall when she had a panic attack. It had er crumbled up in a corner in no time, with chest pains and a feeling of bein smothered. So do how can you wonder why she’d rather stay at home?

I’m a bit like that meself at the moment. It’s a struggle to get to the supermarket, or do anythin really … Everythin’s an effort. I’m always sayin’ to meself: ‘Ralph, get a wriggle on.’ I get terribly sad about Alice and I wonder why I can’t fix things for her.

I got up this morning a bit late and the kids had already packed their sandwiches for school. We made it to the gate just as the buzzer was goin for their assembly. They’re good kids. They understand the problems Alice and me have. I just hope we don’t pass anything down to them …

* * *
Ralph is in his sullen mode – I twigged as soon as I saw him in the supermarket standing between the toilet rolls and the baby food.

Normally Ralph fills any room … with sound, and because he is big. He’ll usually greet you at the top of his voice. Today he seems diminutive by comparison, shrunken somehow. Quiet and unresponsive. So I know it is one of his bad days.
Ralph suffers bi-polar disorder — manic depression in the old money. So his life is high highs punctuated by low lows.

His wife, Alice, has problems with agoraphobia and her life is riddled with dark periods of wishing to shut herself in a cupboard and the other times when she steels herself to face the world, defying fear and trepidation. At times when she really hates herself she even slashes her arms, leaving great scars.

But those two – they’re good for each other. Ralph’s mania has him encouraging Alice to venture out of her cupboard to conquer the universe, and Alice works day and night to slow him down, for the sake of her own equilibrium.

Right now it seems as though Alice is winning. Ralph’s as low as the tide on June 30. He explains to me that he has given up on his Big Plan to apply for a government small business grant to breed rabbits. Last time I saw him he was all-fired to get into the scheme which was meant to produce high quality very large rabbits especially bred for meat production.

His idea was to build hutches on land belonging to a mate of his. The land is at the edge of town and he reckoned there wouldn’t be any problem. Now though the idea was dead.

I commiserate with him and move on. I know from long practice that trying to jolly Ralph out of his low moods is quite beyond me.

* * *
That person over there – the one in blue standing over there near the toilet rolls – he’s the bane of my life. Although I must say he seems calm enough today. It’s a case of be grateful for small mercies though. Normally he yells and rants around the shop aggravating the customers. Bails up my cashiers. ‘You owe me another dollar,’ he’ll say ‘it’s the wrong change.’ Then he’ll scream: ‘This tin of jam has a use by date of six months ago!’. Next thing he’ll have a loud conversation to himself about the shop staff being the stooges of international capitalism. We can hear him bellowing from the delicatessen counter all the way to the soap powders. He’s a raving lunatic and no supermarket manager should have to put up with him. He’s as loopy as they come.


* * *
I know this mood I’m in won’t last long. The extra lithium will kick in soon and things’ll look a lot brighter.

It’s about time. I’ve been as depressed as hell for six weeks now. It does horrible things to yer sex life. I’m as shitty as all getout if I can’t make it when we’re together. Alice is some woman in bed, except when she’s really depressed. I suppose sex is a comfort to her. A bit womb-like eh? Being in bed with me …
But right now I can’t be bothered.

‘Hey Alice! Have you seen me hat? I’m sure I put it here somewhere …’

Do you like me colour scheme? It can be depression blue or sky blue, according to my mood. Me mother used to say: ‘Make sure you match everything up Ralph.’ I have always had problems with that because, you see, I’m colour blind. I mix up greens and reds. So as I got to the age of consent I thought of a way out. I matched up me clothing with me eyes – they’re the same as me mother’s. A gentle shade of blue.

It’s worked well. I don’t have to think about what shirt is what colour. I just buy everything white and dunk it in a tub of dye. No worries. People make comments all the time, and it picks me out in a crowd ...

I thought I might get outside and water the fruit trees. But now, without the hat …

Yes, Alice is a gift from God. We’re good for each other. Teamwork in a marriage is the stepladder and the bookends as they say. The formula is sacrifice. The true blue bird of happiness has two wings – one male and one female – and they oughta fly in unison as though they were one.

* * *
Although they are on social security, Ralph and Alice have two kids who go to the best private school in their country town. He used to be a salesman in the city before his crisis hit, and a member of the Labor Party. Now the family survives, and very well thank you, because Ralph works the system.

He’s also a mad keen environmentalist, with a garden that is a mass of fruit trees and vegetable gardens; cutting down on the food bills.

With uncanny know how Ralph smells out the latest government and community handouts. How to get cheaper drugs, treatment, accommodation and schooling. He seeks out support for his brood, making friends of health workers, pension officers, church goers and government administrators. That’s how he got the idea to breed rabbits.

* * *
Alice and I come from a long line of dysfunctionals y'know. Addiction to grog and mental illness as well – on both sides. It was a big decision to start producing kids together, I can tell you. We were shittin ourselves about it. It took us a long time to make up our minds …

We were both married before and Alice had a daughter by a schizophrenic father. I adopted her and now she’s surprisin everyone. She’s got a job, employed as a psychiatric nurse, and our own three kids are doing okay too. I worked the system a bit with the church and got them into a good private school down the road. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, y'know.

The youngest girl tops her class, so the way things are going it’s possible that two wonky people may be producing leaders of tomorrow. How about that …

Would I do it again? Most of the time … I would. The kids are our life. They force us … okay, because of them we get to eat baked beans on toast when otherwise we could sometimes eat caviar. But that’s all right.

We could’ve eaten caviar if I’d got on with me rabbits. I had this idea to breed rabbits. For meat. To slaughter for meat. But I just didn’t have the guts to go ahead with it.

Well, I dunno what’s come over me … I’ve talked more to you than I have for days; to anyone. I gotta put me feet up now though.

Maybe the lithium will kick in tomorra …

* * *
Well hi! It’s been months hasn’t it? Boy, have things changed fer me. How about coming to look at me rabbits?

You look a bit shocked… didn’t ya think I’d make it? Yeah, they arrived yesterdee. I bought a job lot of just a dozen, and I reckon it won’t be long before I treble me stock. Come on give us a lift – it’s not far.

* * *
It had been three months since our meeting in the supermarket, and he seemed to be keeping a low profile. Yesterday though I was crossing the main street when there was a bellow a few metres behind me.

It was Ralph. The old expansive, rowdy, fun-filled Ralph. Hopefully, the lithium was doing its job, I thought.

He caught up with me: ‘How about coming to look at me rabbits?’ he asked.

‘What, you’re on the way?’ I gasped, a bit shocked. I should have learned not to be surprised at anything after all this time; in his good periods Ralph was a real bulldozer. Before I knew it we had jumped into my car and were on our way. to the rabbits.

* * *
Well, there we were standing on his mate’s land alongside maybe fifty big rabbit hutches sitting in straight rows, all as neat as pins.

Forty-eight of the hutches were bereft of tenants. The other two were filled with healthy looking bundles of fluff.

‘They’re the New Zealand variety – great for fur and meat, but I’m just concentrating on the meat side af things at the moment. Beauties, aren’t they?’

‘I bet your kids love them, Ralph.’

‘Sure do,’ he bubbled. ‘I do meself.’

‘What about Alice? Does she like them too?’

He glanced at me, momentarily glum. ‘She ain’t seen them. She’s real dark at the
moment ... ‘

‘Oh well Ralph, she’ll come good. Tell me. Why the extra forty-eight hutches? A bit premature, aren’t you?’

‘Do you know your multiplication tables still? Well, rabbits seem to. They only arrived in Australia in 1858 and multiplied so fast that the population grew to 500 million in next to no time. That’s before myxomatosis hit, af course. A single doe can have a couple of dozen babes a year y’know. I reckon I’ll need these hutches.’

What could I say?

* * *
God’s on me side in this. I’ve prayed for divine guidance about the rabbits, and He has assured me I’ve got it. I’ve been given a big responsibility here. It’s the beginning of a project that will feed the whole world.

I wrote to ex-President Mandela the other day to give him the benefit of me experience. They’ve got lots a mouths to feed over there, so I’m expecting a reply any day. Maybe he’ll even visit, now he has more time.

I’ve let little Johnnie Howard in on the secret too, although I can’t stand a bar of him. But still, he’s in power at the moment, so you have to take advantage of all avenues.

Yeah, everything is going real well. Even Alice is swept up with all the excitement. She comes and visits the rabbits now and then, and tomorra we’re going to the school sports carnival. It’s maybe tempting fate with the crowd and all, but she’s determined to give it a go …

* * *
Over the months I used to see Ralph in full roar in various parts of the town. Invariably he’d call out to me with news of some progress in his rabbit scheme: ‘I’ve built another dozen hutches’ or ‘We’ve invested in six more does to help things along a bit.’ I even met Alice at a school sports day, and she looked pretty good, and once Ralph showed me a cheque he’d received after sending the first batch of rabbits to the abattoir. Things in the family’s garden were rosy. I just hoped all this energy was being directed in a profitable way.

* * *
We’re up to 100 hutches now. The Bank card’s taking a bit of a battering, but I know we’re onto a good thing. Had to buy a few more does to send the breeding along a bit, but that’s goin’ all right too.

I said to the kids: ‘Look kids it’s better that we’re on baked beans at the moment than give up on the rabbits. This is an enterprise that could save the entire world. You’re makin’ a noble sacrifice.’

They don’t always seem to understand that we’ve been chosen by the Almighty for this work. They want to put tickets to the movies and new clothes before the rabbits. Bugger them! They’ve gotta learn …

I’ve got a real buzz on at the moment. Made another two hutches last night. It took all night, mind you, but I’m on a high, so I may as well get into it. There’s a problem, though. The bloody neighbours are complaining. Old Jack screamed at me about two 2am, yelling about the hammerin and sawin. I just yelled back and kept workin.

If only people would understand. Like the chick at the supermarket checkout … I was in there buying me lettuces when she had to do her till right when it was my turn. Then, after I waited five minutes for er to tie up the little bag of change she said I had too many lettuces. There was a special on, she said, and there was a limit of only half a dozen …

Well! I said how do you think I’m going to make half a dozen lettuces go around forty rabbits? These multinational conglomerations make all the rules, I said. She called the manager and even then I couldn’t win. He stood his ground and I gave mine, and stamped out of their bloody store never to return.

* * *
Next time he comes into this shop I’ll call the police. If they can’t shut him up in a lunatic asylum he’ll have to spend time in a cell. I couldn’t care less. I have my bottom line to think about. Customers walk out of the store because of him, and he’s here so often it’s bound to affect business. It’s the ultimate embarrassment. Why he terrorises us I wouldn’t know. Why not give all the other supermarkets a turn?

* * *
Alice and the kids are startin to feel the stress of all this rabbit stuff, y’know. Alice is hidin’ in her room, in a real dark mood, and the kids go around starin me down and askin me if I’m takin enough lithium.

They can’t recognise an efficient hard workin human being when they see one. They think the rabbit enterprise is gamblin with the family finances. It’s not bein able to afford a computer and new school uniforms is what’s gettin them.

I say: Look kids, you’ve got to take the long view, like the Chinese. They’re the successful ones in this world. Short term pain for long term gain, I tell em. But I can’t seem to make a dint.

All together, things are startin to crowd in on us. I’ve been puttin a fair bit of pressure on God lately, askin Him for help with all these stubborn people around me.

I tried the Lord’s Prayer last night. I needed to get His attention so I have started goin to church three times every day and goin round the house at night. I’ve got a little ritual worked out for Him. I say the prayer to Him, fast and regular, and non-stop, and turn the various lights off and on in the house. He won’t be able to ignore that. I got the message back … to press on regardless.

* * *
G’day. Thought I might see ya here. Wanted to let ya know I’m goin real well. Getting so many things done. Really gettin things done. Goin hell for leather. Been a week since I slept. Since I slept. No need for sleep when there’s so much to do. One hundred rabbits now and 150 hutches. All in a row. Hutches. In rows. And rabbits. And all those lettuces. I get mates to go and buy lettuces. That gets around the conglomerations.

I got the priest to help the other night. I collected all the rabbit crap and all the rancid lettuce leaves out of the hutches. Dumped em on the presbytery doorstep. Asked him to do his bit for the world’s hungry. Help me get rid of it I said. Everyone must take their part. You too. What are you goin’ to do?

Saw yer daughter yesterdee. Down the main drag. I thought to meself: What a lovely person. Just like her dad. I gave er a big hug and a kiss. She understands me rabbits. I told her about em. And she understands. I had to tell her about me rabbits. Feeding the world. With rabbits.

* * *
Maybe a year later I was in the supermarket again, buying milk. As I closed in on the refrigerator my eyes nearly popped. I blinked purposefully, but no, my first impression came through again. There, cringeing in a corner not far from the cream and the margarine were two fluffy white rabbits.

I couldn’t help thinking of Ralph at the time, but put him out of my mind and dutifully reported the rabbits to the store manager who dispatched two underlings to deal with the situation. It was a fun time, watching the staff chase the rabbits down the aisles and finally out the main door.

Fifteen minutes later I was driving home when I noticed three more rabbits in the main town park. I nearly skittled another near the bowling alley and then saw another six or so quietly munching grass in the school playground. It was time to investigate.

* * *
That’s the last straw. It’s him. I know it’s him. The rabbit man. The loony. This company has been the laughing stock for the last time. They say he has a wife and children to feed, but it’s now him or me. He’s a ratbag – completely unhinged. Customers complain and respectable citizens are suffering. Next stop for him – a padded cell.

* * *
I made it to Ralph’s rabbit enterprise, and got out of the car. There had been a sea change since I last visited. Now maybe 150 hutches peppered Ralph’s mate’s land, all sturdy and standing in military style rows. But there the similarity to precision and shiny buttons disintegrated, for the place was a shambles.

There was a horrible smell of filth and rotting vegetation. Matted grass had grown halfway up the walls of the hutches and there was a general air of untidiness. The doors of most of the little houses were wide open and there was not one rabbit in sight.

I walked down the rows in a sort of mourning. So much energy had been expended there. So many dreams and hopes.

Right down the back of the place there was a feed and equipment shed and I put my head in the door. Ralph was sitting on a ricketty chair at the far end of the room, sobbing – his whole body racked with despair.

It was so sad to see this grown man cry.
* * *
G’day. Things aren’t real great are they?

Two weeks ago I blew a gasket, and they wheeled me off to the funny farm. They say I’ve been overdoin it and they’ve been pumpin heaps of drugs into me. Far too many of em … Far too many … They reckoned I was overdoin it. I tried to say to them: If you’re given a task you ave to overdo things to get things done. They don’t seem to understand …

There, in me PJs in the funny farm I said to em what about me rabbits? I’ve got to look after me rabbits. I tried to convince them, but nothin seemed to work. And then after a few days I said to meself: Why worry? Why worry about the rabbits? Why worry about the starvin millions? Me shoulders just aren’t big enough. Not big enough for all that.

The kids came to visit and it was so sad to see their dark little eyes filled with disappointment. They said their mum couldn’t come to visit. They said she spent the night in the walk-in wardrobe, and couldn’t see her way clear at the moment …

I asked them – the kids – about the rabbits. They said they had fed them the last of the lettuces, and what else could they do?

I thought a bit. Yes, what could we do with the rabbits? I couldn’t just let them starve. There in their hutches while I’m locked up in the funny farm. So I said to the kids: Look mates, just go out to the Enterprise and let them out. Let them all out. Open the doors to all of the hutches and shoo them until they get loose. They’ll have to fend for themselves. And so that’s what they did …

Well, as you can see, I’m out of the funny farm and back into me depression blue … It’s a month now since I’ve seen the Enterprise and there’s been a lot a changes … A lot a water has gone under the bridge as they say. The rabbits are all gone. All gone. Along with me dreams of savin the world.

The kids tell me their school friends are talkin about seeing rabbits all over the place. They’ve scattered to the four corners of the compass. I hope they make it. The rabbits. I don’t think they’ll starve. Not with the grass growin like it has since the rain.

But what makes me sadder than anythin is President Mandela. I gotta letter today. He said I was doin a mighty thing for mankind, and must keep it up. How can I break the news to im? How can I tell im what’s happened?


© June Saville 2008 All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without written permission of the author.
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11 comments:

  1. Hi June, Oh that was sooo good - I thoroughly enjoyed it, was laughing at bits and sad at others - you really got me!!! Brilliant ! tell me something though do you know a Ralph and Alice, in a way I would love to know that they were now living a cosy life together - hehe mind you I doubt if it was a quiet one (with Ralph) I will be dreaming about 'rabbits' tonight hehe....
    Cheers, Kate x.

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  2. P.S. The funny thing is while I'm reading your stories I can still hear your voice and Oz accent all throught it.... amazing story !
    Kate x.
    (would live to buy a book of your short stories)...

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  3. Dear Kate
    You are special!
    And you have good taste in fiction!!!!?
    Ralph and Alice were (as Ralph would say) a conglomeration of some people I have known plus elements of some knowledge I have about mental illness.
    For six years I have been the voluntary facilitator of a support group for carers and families of people suffering mental illness, so I have glimpsed the tough times of many people.
    So I can't say what actually happened to Ralph and Alice and their kids, except to say that I like to think the kids would have been reasonably okay, if life was kind to them in general ways. Their parents did all they could to give them a good start.
    For Ralph and Alice though, I think the path would have remained pretty rocky ...
    The Oz accent - yeah, Ralph and Alice have it too. G'day to them.
    In the same way as your experience, I fancied I could hear your Scottish accent right through your comments. But I was leafing through Shambles Manor this morning and discovered an inference that you aren't Scottish at all! I'm shattered. Where WAS your birth place Kate so I can think in the right accent? (By the way you do use a lot of Scottishisms - wee etc - enough to put anyone off the scent - so you may have picked up the accent after all.)
    I'm afraid you can't buy a book of my short stories - although I'd love some publisher to come to my door one day and make an offer. Some of the stories appeared in a couple of uni anthologies when I was doing my degree. I'm afraid I'd rather spend time writing than than using it to jump through all of the hoops necessary to court the book industry in Australia... So you and my legions (?) of fans will have to put up with Journeys in Creative Writing! AND I will remain poor and mainly unremarked.
    Are you thinking more about writing around your father? Looking forward to the first one ...
    Cheers and thanks
    June in Australia

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  4. Hi June, I'm just up and it's just after half seven in the morning this bloody chest infection is driving me doolally - I have been up through the night three times! flippen murder! Hopefully June I won't have to continue with the puffer for too long, I did have to use one for a couple of months a few years ago to get rid of a bad cold etc that I had after I stopped me fags hehe. that was 8years ago 'twit of the first' order that's me. Anyhow, I haven't done anything atm yet about me Dad's story - too much going on at present June - but I will!

    Better shut me gob now and give my voice-box a rest. Oops.. as far as accent is concerned and where I was born, I was born just outside of Glasgow (a wee place called Lennoxtown) but was brought up in the South-side of the city. I do have a kind of gift apart from Art, drawing and yakking - I do catch on to folks accents and languages (in a way). When we lived in Norway for a year I could make myself understood and so on in Norwegian and we spent a year in County Tipperary among the glorious Irish I can pick up an accent and copy quite well(real comedians them - I love visiting English Mum in Ireland so I get me 'fix' there atm). I can hear her Irish coming through no both t'all, so. < which is as Irish as the pig o' Docherty...

    Talk about yakking, what was it I said about resting my voice ?

    Cheers just now June, Speak soon, Kate x. (Cheers from my country to yours). Have a good weekend..

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  5. Kate my girl you must look after yourself! I found I had to take the long term puffer every day in the end - this one is to maintain a clear chest - otherwise the junk just sits there getting infected.
    Hope you do better ... but prevention is better than no cure ...
    A roguish sense of humour is another of your gifts Kate.
    And so you are Scottish - it did shine through. As I said I have a fair bit of haggis in my blood (??!) as well.
    You're lucky you can catch onto languages - useful with Europe so close now eh?
    Cheers
    June

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  6. Congrautlations on your WTBAY feature day June. This is a fantastic story - loved Ralph and Alice.

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  7. I really enjoyed this one. :)

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  8. Thanks for visiting Lilly. You're always a consistent helpful mate. I love Ralph and Alice as well. I think they'd survive because they have each other ...
    June

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  9. Leslie
    Thanks for visiting from WTBAY. Pleased you liked what you found ...
    Cheers
    June

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  10. We used to breed rabbits as a kid, that was a good story.

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  11. Thanks Dee - you'd know what Ralph was up against then.
    J

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Thanks for leaving a comment. Its good to know who's having a peek! I'll certainly send a comment in reply.

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Also, you may like to have a look at my other blog 70 Plus and Still Kicking. http://www.70plusandstillkicking.blogspot.com

Cheers June