Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rabbit Bar

A little grey rabbit hopped into a bar, as it often did.  Per usual, the rabbit ordered a pile of carrots which the bartender delivered raw, unsliced and undiced.  It wasn't a huge pile because the rabbit wasn't very big, but even so the furry creature would spend the better part of an hour most evenings gnawing on those orange roots, quietly crunching them between its little buck teeth.  Once it had finished, the rabbit would typically sit on the bar (not at the bar, because it could not reach the carrots from the bar stool), and watch attentively whatever was playing on ESPN.  The bartenders generally tolerated the rabbit's behavior; keeping freshly-dug carrots in stock was little trouble, and the rabbit was well behaved (even its feet were remarkably clean, which is a tall order from most small mammals).  Moreover, it was a reliable paying customer, and consistently settled its tab and tipped generously.  In any event, after an hour or so of sports the rabbit would usually order one last carrot “for the road,” and hop back out of the bar, presumably to its remarkably tidy burrow.

The bar's regular patrons also tended to tolerate the rabbit's presence, though not as readily as the well-tipped staff.  It was not very sociable and had a reputation for being difficult to approach.  Many were unconvinced that having a rabbit on the bar was a hygienic practice, even when the spot was thoroughly wiped down with Windex after each visit: occasionally, idle threats to contact a health inspector were heard.  But for the most part, the people were content to leave well enough alone, even if they all thought that the rabbit was kind of a jackass.
On this particular evening, a semi-regular called Marley noticed the rabbit as it began munching on its carrots.  He'd seen the little animal there before, sitting in its regular spot (human customers were rarely inclined to take it) at its more-or-less regular time.  On this night, however, the scene struck him as slightly more bizarre, and he questioned whether it fit with the bar's hip, casually masculine image.  Marley was a slightly smallish young man, and ordinarily he did not concern himself with the social lives of rabbits, his mind being fairly well occupied with college, girls, and potato chips (though not necessarily in that order). 
But this night, perhaps due to the influence of an extra-potent gin and tonic, and having nothing better to do, Marley decided to take his seat next to the rabbit.  Looking down over his right shoulder, he could see the animal slowly munching its carrots, its little rabbit nose quivering with every bite.  Moist bits of vegetable clung to its whiskers, but the rabbit fastidiously cleaned them clean with its paws. 
“You know,” said Marley, “they have carrot-flavored drinks.  I'll bet they could even mix it with a little booze.  Would you like to give that a try?”
The rabbit stopped eating and tilted its head slightly (it didn't need to turn its head completely, because rabbits have eyes on the sides of their faces).  It glanced up at Marley with a single beady eye, crinkled its nose once, and after a moment's silence, said very distinctly, “that sounds absolutely disgusting.”
Feeling slightly offended, Marley turned his eyes to the row of tequila bottles on the back shelf.  “Sorry,” he said, “I just thought, you know, this being a bar, you might want to drink something.  Didn't realize you didn't like booze.”
“Who said I don't?”  said the rabbit.  “But have you ever tried alcoholic carrot juice?  It makes you feel like an infant.  A drunken infant.”
“I was only trying to be nice.  Rabbits don't have bars, so...”
“Do me a favor and quit patronizing me, OK?”
Of course, by this time the regulars had taken note of Marley's attempt at reaching out to the reticent bunny.  You might suppose that they would have shown great interest in this, as most had scarcely heard the rabbit utter more than two words in a given day.  However, it happened that the Trailblazers were doing particularly well that night, and it was generally assumed that the rabbit would still come back the next day, so why bother?
Marley was starting to think along similar lines, having met with only contempt for his efforts.  Thinking it best to cut his losses and take off, he put on a brave face and offered a brief apology.
“It's alright,” said the rabbit.  “You didn't know.”
“Good.  I mean, Thank you.”
“Now buy me a drink.”
“I, what?”
“I don't buy my own drinks.”

A moment later, the young man and the rabbit were seated across from each other in a small wooden booth.  This was completely unprecedented and did manage to turn some heads: most patrons could not see a reason to buy a round for an animal with such poor manners.  Some speculated about Marley's ulterior motives, but the generally whispered agreement was that the poor boy had gotten himself into a sticky social situation, one that couldn't have been anticipated or easily escaped.
Marley wondered if he wasn't too drunk already, as the rabbit sipped from a small saucer of scotch whisky (rabbits, lacking thumbs, do not take well to cups or glasses).  How much does it take to get a rabbit drunk?  What would that even look like?
“You're welcome,” sighed Marley.
“I didn't thank you,” said the rabbit.
“You know, rabbit, you're kind of a jackass.”
“That's what I hear.  I've got big ears, you know.”
“And it doesn't bother you, being the biggest jackass in the whole bar?”
“Every bar needs a jackass.”
“No, every bar has one.  They'd all be better off without them.  You're really cool with that?”
“Thanks for the scotch.”
“Ugh.  You're welcome.”  He took a hearty swig.
“Well, for what it's worth,” said the rabbit, pausing a moment to push the saucer away with its nose, “you're probably the nicest guy in the whole bar.”
“I don't think I know what that's worth.”  He really didn't (and neither do I).
“Well I don't usually say things like that.  Guess I'm a little drunk.”
“I'm not surprised: that's a lot of whisky for such a little rabbit.”
“Actually, I'm not drunk at all.  I just figured you couldn't tell the difference.”

Another round went by, and then another, and the hour grew later all the while.  The bartenders noted that the rabbit had never stayed that late before.  It had never drunk or socialized this much, and a few rumors floated around to the effect that this was a different rabbit altogether.  This was ridiculous, of course (the bouncer had checked the rabbit's ID, same as usual), but something did seem very different.  Everyone, staff and patron alike, wondered what Marley could tell them about the animal's change of habit.
“Why don't you ever talk to anyone here?”
“Nobody wants to talk to me.  They just want to know why I'm here.”
“Well, that's a start, right?”
“Not really.  It's like, can't a rabbit spend an evening watching sports and eating carrots without having to fuckin' justify it to everyone?”  The rabbit actually was a little drunk now, but visibly trying to keep its composure.
“People are just a little curious.”
“People are just jerks.  Especially men in bars.  No offense, guy.”
“Uh, none taken.  But hey, some of them are alright guys.  I bet if you'd make friends with them, they'd think you were an alright guy, too.”
“Not likely.  I'm the biggest jackass in the bar, right?”
“Well, yeah.  True.”
“Plus, I'm a doe.”
“A what?”
The rabbit rolled her eyes.  “A female.”
“Wait, really?”
“Yes, really.  I think I would know.”
“Why didn't you say so?”
“You didn't ask!  It's not like I was fuckin' hiding it!  What does it matter, anyway?”
“Well I guess it doesn't...”
“You know, I can hear everything people say around here, and every night it's 'that rabbit's such a jackass.'  It sucks, but at least it's slightly better than being called a bitch all night.”
“So... you are hiding it?”
“Whatever.”  The chill in the air was deadening.
“Fu-uuuck,” sighed Marley.  He ordered up another round of drinks; he had a feeling they were going to need them.

“I don't usually stay out this late,” said Marley.  “I don't usually get this drunk, either.”  It was nearing midnight, but as far as his level of intoxication, it's difficult to say for sure: both speakers were doing their very best to look sober in spite of themselves.  It's fair to say that both were at about a seven out of ten: far enough gone to set foot in the Land of Lush, but not yet far enough to establish permanent residency.  The rabbit called for some water.
“Got things to do in the morning,” she said, “so might as well keep the damage to a minimum.”  Of course, by this point, words like minimum were coming out as a sleepy string of indistinct nasals, but no one made much of that.  After all, it was a victory night for the Trailblazers, and most of the patrons were in much worse shape.
“What've you got to do tomorrow, anyway?”
“Rabbit stuff.  Stuff that rabbits do.”
“Like, hop?  Burrow?  Raise dozens of children?”  Rabbits are proficient breeders.
“Fuck you,” was her sole response, as she stained her nose with scotch again. 
“No, fuck you!” he said, more than a little upset.
“Uhm, and... I bought that drink!”
“You certainly did.”  She paused a moment to rest her eyes a moment, opening them halfway and closing them again.  Her ears were drooping slightly, and she looked like she was tiring out.
“Hey, how're you holding up, anyway?  I didn't know rabbits could drink that much.”
“Me neither.  This has been a learning experience for every... hold on, my nose is wet.”  She stopped to rub her nose with her paw.
“I wonder if it's because you're a talking rabbit.”
“Maybe, but that doesn't make any sense.”
Marley decided not to dwell on the matter of determining which part of his theory failed to make sense; it didn't seem like a worthwhile use of his time.  “Hey, is this sort of like that one story?  That one story where, like, the princess is turned into a rabbit, and she has to like, kiss a prince before midnight if she wants to turn back.  Or whatever?”
She tilted her head a moment and thought about the question.  “No, I don't think so.  I don't really like princes stuff.  Tiaras don't fit on my head; I don't look so good in pink.”
“Oh.  Whatever.”
“What story is that, anyway?”
“Uh, the Rabbit Princess?  Or something.  I think I might have been thinking about something else.”  And he probably was.
“You're silly.”
“Yeah.  Hey, how do you know a crown wouldn't fit on your head, anyway?”
“My head's pretty small, dude.”

The rabbit hopped back slowly from the ladies' restroom, taking care to avoid the careless, stomping feet of the now thoroughly disinterested bar patrons.  Returning to her seat (and then to the tabletop), she found her companion looking considerably droopy about the ears, his composure clearly unsettled.
“You alright?”
“Uh, yeah.  I am,” he said, vainly trying to focus his eyes.  “I should probably go soon.”
“Yeah, you look like you could use some sleep.  Let me give you some money for a taxi, since you bought all those drinks for me.”  She took out about fifteen dollars and pushed them across the table with her nose toward Marley.
“Thanks.  Uh, where did you..?”
“Where did I what?”
“Never mind.”  He really didn't know how to ask such a personal question.
“Well, I should get going too.  Busy day tomorrow, you know how it is.  But hey, tonight was fun!  Nice to have someone to talk to who isn't a total jerk.  Maybe I'll see you around sometime.”
“Yeah, that's cool,” he said distractedly.  Marley clumsily pocketed the grainy bills without looking at anything in particular.  “Hey, what's your name anyway?”
“Bunny,” she said, lapping the last of her scotch from its saucer.
“For real?  That's your real name?”
“No.  God, can you imagine?  My real name's Bernice.  My friends call me Bunny.”
“Oh, OK.  Bye, Bunny.”
“Later, dork.”  Bunny hopped down from the table (it was sort of a crash landing, but no harm done) and returned to the bar.  As usual, she ordered one last carrot “for the road,” and requested to settle her tab.
“Are you going to be alright out there?” asked the bartender.
“I'm fine, I'm not driving.”  The rabbit left a twenty-five percent tip and promptly hopped out the front door just as she always did (not in a perfectly straight line, but nearly close enough).  She did not say goodbye on her way out.
Marley stumbled lightly across the floor to close his own tab, and a daunting tab it was: seven gins and tonics and five saucers of scotch whisky.  The bartender, a blonde woman who looked to be in her late twenties, gave him an ironic (but warm) smile.  He gave an expression in return, one he thought was a smile, and deeply hoped looked halfway-sophisticated.
As she ran his credit card through the machine, a young guy leaned in to ask Marley a question; his breath smelled of Jägermeister and nachos, and Marley was mostly sure that he didn't know him, but maybe they'd taken a class together at some time, maybe.
“Hey,” slurred the possible classmate, “what's the deal with that rabbit?”
“Uhm... he's kind of a jackass.”  Marley took back his card, signed his receipt, and after a bit of careful math, left an approximately fifteen percent tip.
“Yeah, I know, right?”  The young fellow returned his attentions to his friends and his terrible drink, and paid Marley no further mind.
Fortunately for Marley, there was no need to call a taxi: a few cabs were already parked outside, idling in the rain and awaiting a few easy fares.  A Budget Taxi sedan waited a few paces from the doorway, ready to transport weary travelers home from the Land of Lush.  Marley sauntered over to that taxi, deftly commissioned a ride, and took his place in the passenger's seat with a definitive lack of grace.

“Rough night, kid?” the driver chuckled to himself, sliding the clutch into gear.  His vehicle smelled of cinnamon and other gentle spices, but this was the least of anyone's concerns.

“Uh, yeah.  I just spent a couple hours drinking liquor with a rabbit.”

“A rabbit?”

“Yeah, a rabbit.  With ears and stuff.”

“Damn kid, we need to get you home.”  He drove a little faster now.

“Didn't you see it?  It hopped out a few minutes before I did.”

The driver gave Marley a skeptical look (longer than he should have, since he was supposed to be driving a car).  “I think I'd remember seeing something like that.  No, the last thing I saw come out of that door before you was a girl.  A mousy-looking girl, kind of small, kind of bitchy looking.  She had glasses and a denim skirt on.  She was pretty cute , actually.  Are you sure you weren't having drinks with her?”

“Nah, man.  I think... I think that girl was sitting at the bar all night.”

“Oh.  Well, I definitely didn't see a rabbit come hopping out of there.

Marley rolled his eyes in disbelief, becoming momentarily distracted by the bulbous reflections of the streetlights in the window.  In a moment he said, “Maybe you're the one who needs to go home tonight, guy.”

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