From the unforgettable memoir, “Two Decades of Diapers” by Barbara Studham, comes this heart-rending memoir of Sooty. Originally published in Memoirabilia #1.
As a kid, I wasn’t keen on schedules, but every Saturday would see me up and out by 7:00 a.m, cycling like crazy to the local farm to purchase fresh straw for my rabbit.
“Bring a bigger bag, next time,” the farmer would urge, watching me stuff handfuls into my school satchel.
“I will,” I always promised. Then, throwing the bag over my shoulder, I would cycle just as recklessly home, run to the back yard, and begin unloading the straw. “Look, Sooty, this is for you,” I would say excitedly as he backed away.
Sooty had belonged to a neighbour who no longer wanted to bother with his upkeep. “He comes with a hutch,” she explained to my mother, who had sighed and shook her head.
“That’s all I need,” she muttered. Then, nodding toward me, she added, “I have enough trouble with ‘er.”
“But, Mom, he’s so beautiful! Please can I, Mom? I promise to look after him!” I begged.
After several hours of my pleading and empty promises, Mom finally relented and so I raced to the backyard where I knew my neighbour was working in her garden.
“Mrs. Pond! Mrs. Pond,” I yelled, “Mom said Yes! I can have the rabbit!”
Her smile widened. “Here you go then,” she said, picking Sooty up in his cage and handing it to me. “I’ve got a sack of straw in the garage. I’ll get it for you.”
As she passed the hutch over the fence ready to be grasped by my eager hands, I thought I would burst with pride. I looked around for the perfect place to display him, like an award I had received for reaching the age of eight and therefore deserving of a rabbit.
I heard my Mom open the living room window. “He’s your responsibility, now!” she yelled.
Glancing over my shoulder, I nodded; the glare of the sunlight distorting her face. “I know Mom,” I called, having no idea what responsibility meant.
For the next year or so, I groomed and petted and changed Sooty’s straw, and with every opportunity showed him off to the neighbourhood kids who envied my having a rabbit with soft, shiny black fur, a bobbing tail, and sharp appealing eyes. I delighted in their arguing over who would hold him next, feeling much older than my years as I made them line up to take a turn. I truly loved Sooty and without a doubt knew he loved me.
Then, one Saturday, my uncle came to visit. When he arrived, I was in the garden cleaning Sooty’s hutch and feeding him fresh lettuce leaves I had stolen from my Dad’s garden. Suddenly I noticed my Mom standing a way off watching me. She had recently complained over the cost of Sooty’s upkeep so I intuitively sensed my rabbit was in danger.
Once convinced Sooty was clean and well fed, I gave him one last kiss, locked his cage, and headed off to play.
“Be back at one for lunch,” my Mother shrieked from the kitchen window, as I ran by.
“I will Mom!” I yelled back, running as fast as my legs would take me to avoid being grabbed by the yucky brown spiders inhabiting the high, green hedge that surrounded our house. “I promise!”
So at one o’clock I was back home, sitting at the table, innocently swinging my legs, waiting for lunch to be served, when I noticed the table was only set for one. I could hear my mother, sister, and uncle in the kitchen whispering and giggling, so called, “Isn’t anyone else having lunch?”
“Nope, just you,” called Mom, bringing in a large bowl of steaming stew and setting it down before me. “Now, eat up, while it’s hot.”
After my busy morning, I was hungry so I tucked into the stew, but after only a few spoonfuls, I muttered, “It tastes funny.” I looked at my Mom and Uncle who were standing in the kitchen doorway smirking. I knew something was up, but I was too afraid of my Mom to refuse to finish my meal, so I downed the whole bowl and ran back outside to play.
Later that evening, when my uncle had left, and I lay on my bed exhausted from play, my sister came to my room. “I have a secret to tell you,” she murmured enticingly, and leaned in toward me, whispering in my ear.
Startled by her words, I jumped up, raced downstairs and out to my rabbit’s hutch. But Sooty was gone. “Sooty, where are you?” I pleaded. I looked around, and frantically searched the garden, all the time calling his name. “Sooty, Sooty, where are you?!” But there was not a murmur, not a squeak. I began to cry and ran back inside. “Mom! Mom! Sooty’s gone! Do you know where he is?!” I cried, my eyes pleading with her to know.
Mom stood, staring defiantly, arms folded with the same smirk on her lips that I had seen earlier that day, and stated flatly, “In your stomach.”
© Barbara Studham 2014, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada