How to kill a rabbit:
Step One. Put the rabbit on a flat surface and hold it behind the head.
Step Two. Hit the rabbit on the top of the head with a hammer. One sharp blow right between the ears, and the rabbit will convulse and die. There is little blood.
Step Three. Slit the rabbit’s throat.
Step Four. Hold the rabbit upside down by the feet. There is some blood, though nothing on par with a butchered hog. Let the blood drain out onto the ground or into a bucket.
Step Five. Dress the rabbit:
Cut a 2-inch incision along the small of the rabbit’s back, about halfway between the neck and tail.
Insert two fingers from each hand under the skin on both sides of the slit.
Peel the skin open, the same way you pull off a button-down shirt.
Go down the back end first. When you reach the rabbit’s ankles, stop pulling. Cut off the back feet.
Remove the skin over the front legs. Cut off the front feet.
Finish stripping the skin at the neck. Cut off the head. The pelt will be completely detached.
Disembowel the rabbit.
Wash the rabbit.
Cut it up like a chicken.
Thomas Cantrell had known these steps since the age of 12 when his family moved to the country, a small town called Powder Springs outside Atlanta, Georgia, and his father had the idea that Thomas and his brother should raise rabbits for spending money. Thomas was a white-haired 74-year-old now, and he would remember how to kill a rabbit until he died. Nothing could erase the sudden mass of the carcass, the softness of the fur, the drive to do his job.
So he was aware that the egg lady’s husband had skimped on Steps Four and Five. This morning, the egg lady’s husband had gifted Thomas with two frozen rabbits in an attempt to jumpstart his languishing rabbit meat empire. The rabbits were full carcasses, not cut up into fryer pieces. They were wreathed in blood darkened to the color of cranberry sauce by the cold and packed into plastic bags that clung to the curves of their bodies. All in all, if one’s mind were inclined to think that way, the rabbits appeared to be the hapless victims of a serial killer, rolled in clear shower curtains and stuffed in the freezer for future unnamed but nefarious purposes.
Thomas’ wife Ruth was so inclined. He was irked but not shocked when she screamed some minutes after she went into the kitchen and opened the freezer to get lunch ready.
“Thomas!” she shouted. “What are those things doing in my kitchen? Why aren’t they in the chest freezer in the basement?”
Ruth had been an only child and often reverted to singular pronouns in times of stress. Our and ours became my and mine. She came out of the kitchen with her short silver hair askew and her cheeks flushed a deep, painful red like she was suffering from one of her asthma attacks.
“I go in to get corn, and what do I see? Those long bloody bodies stretched out on the shelf,” she said. “You could have warned me.”
Ruth sank down into her leather easy chair next to Thomas.
“I told you I’m not cooking those things,” she said, fanning her face. “You know how I feel about rabbits.”
“Rabbits are meat, like chicken, like lamb,” said Thomas. “You eat lamb. You love it.”
“I wasn’t friends with a lamb,” said Ruth. “If I even think about eating rabbits, I see Sandy’s brown eyes.”
Sandy was their youngest son Ted’s pet rabbit back in the ‘80s, named in honor of the wife of Steve Bartkowski, then the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. One weekend Thomas had built a hutch to house the rabbit in the back yard, but otherwise the rabbit was a tan blob in his memory. Ruth had been Sandy’s primary caregiver, feeding the rabbit and letting it out of the hutch to hop around inside the fenced yard.
“It was a farm animal, not one of those miniature breeds,” said Thomas. “It never should have been a pet.”
“But Sandy was a pet,” said Ruth. “Didn’t you ever get close to the rabbits you raised when you were young?”
“Not after I had to kill one,” said Thomas. “We raised them for food, nothing else.”
“Sandy had a soul,” said Ruth. “I saw it in her eyes. I’m not cooking rabbit.”
“They were free,” said Thomas. “I couldn’t turn them down.”
“You cook them then, out on the grill. I don’t want those corpses in my kitchen.” Seven times out of ten, Ruth deferred to Thomas, but when she went against him, not much could change her mind. Except church.
“I thought we could make rabbit stew for Men’s Club tomorrow night,” said Thomas.
“How can you cook rabbit? You wouldn’t cook Lew.”
“Lew’s family,” said Thomas.
“He’s a cat, a genetic skip and a jump from a rabbit.”
Ruth enjoyed throwing science around to support her arguments, but it just reminded Thomas that she was tougher than she appeared. He’d heard the stories of how she had to dissect a human corpse in anatomy class at Washington University when she’d been studying to become an occupational therapist.
“There’s no comparison, and you know it, Ruth,” said Thomas. “Lew is family, and whatever Sandy was, these rabbits are meat, plain and simple.”
“If you want to make stew, you need to get those things defrosted,” said Ruth.
She closed her eyes, and Thomas knew she was saying a prayer. Somehow Ruth managed to make the biggest fuss when she was silent.
“I’ll put them in the sink,” said Thomas.
“In saltwater,” said Ruth. “There’s no telling what germs are on them.”
With the rabbits soaking, Thomas made a peace offering by taking Ruth out to lunch and to do a little shopping. They returned home and stopped in the kitchen just inside the back door to check on the rabbits. The carcasses were floating, half in and half out of the now pink water.
Thomas walked to the sink and poked a rabbit, just above the water line, with the tip of his finger.
“They’re starting to thaw, but they’re still pretty solid,” he said. “What do you think?”
Ruth didn’t answer.
Thomas wiped his hand on the kitchen towel and moved back toward Ruth. She had stopped at the kitchen island and stood watching the rabbits dip and drift. The one Thomas had touched bumped the side of the sink like it was being pushed in by the tide.
“Ruth, do you think they’re thawing OK? Ruth?” said Thomas.
Ruth plunked her purse on the island. She averted her eyes and studied the refrigerator.
“Bunnies in their baths,” she said.
“What?” said Thomas.
“Bunnies bathing in their baths, blissfully bobbing. That’s all they are.”
“What are you talking about?” said Thomas.
“You need to cut those rabbits up and get them all the way down in the water,” said Ruth, walking out. “I’m going to rest in my chair.”
Thomas got a cutting board from the cabinet and placed it next to the sink. Then he yanked a rabbit from the water and put it on the board.
“Where’s the meat cleaver?” he called.
“In the knife block, where it always is,” Ruth shouted back.
Thomas removed the cleaver from the block and took hold of the rabbit with his free hand. He felt a stare and turned his head. Lew sat on the other counter, looking at him with unblinking green eyes. Green, not brown. It was different.
“Meat, Lew, that’s all they are,” said Thomas. He focused on the rabbit and swung the cleaver in a short, heavy arc. Bones crunched. A tiny piece of rabbit flesh splattered up and stuck on the left lens of his glasses.
“Meat.” The cleaver flew.
Caralyn Davis is a freelance writer and editor based in Asheville, NC. This is her first fiction publication.