Ten of the rabbits are going to die, Dr. Burnham told me: and I’m going to kill them.
They stare up at me from small steel cages, wrinkling their noses and hopping in a way that might be nervous, as I prepare a syringe filled with a cancer-causing cocktail.
The solution is green, the color of radiation and toxic waste in comic books.
These ten rabbits have to die, or no one will accept the results of Dr. Burnham’s experiment, no matter how successful it is.
I was warned this day would come: you can’t be a PhD in biology here and not kill things.
I should feel more guilty about it, I’ve spent so much time trying to avoid this kind of lab work; but I’m getting married in three weeks. A spring wedding. I have a final fitting for my dress tomorrow, and the caterer’s nothing but drama. I can’t get frilly lace and menus out of my mind. I was warned this day would come, too.
I will also inject the next ten rabbits down the line, but I can fight to save them … up to a point. The experiment is a success if they live and their cancers die. I call them the “Roulette Rabbits.” (The first ten, obviously, I call my “Death Bunnies.”) Since I’ll be going on my honeymoon mid-way through the experiment, I might not even see how they turn out. Dr. Burnham objected, strongly: but I told him that if he doesn’t like it, he can always graduate me. He’s been nitpicking my thesis for two years, to keep me here to run his lab. I qualify for science grants aimed at women and minorities. He loses me just as much if I’m fired as if I matriculate, so he agreed to let me go for my wedding. And honestly, I think I’ll like not seeing the outcome better. Poor little Death Bunnies. Poor little Roulette Rabbits. I’ll be the one injecting them, but as long as I’m not watching them die it will feel like I’m less responsible.
These guys, over here, are the ones I don’t have to worry about. The Control Rabbits. As long as they get fed, they’ll be fine. They’re here just so that we can keep track of what ordinary rabbits, non-cancerous rabbits, do. Live and eat and … well, we’re not going to let them screw, but, everything else.
Everybody already knows what ordinary rabbits do. Their imprisonment here is formally necessary, but practically pointless. Still, they shouldn’t complain: better to be a Control Rabbit than a Death Bunny.
I can’t believe I’ll be wearing a veil. That’s so … medieval. And white? White? I’ll be moving into my future by turning myself into a relic of the past. It makes no sense. If I had a daughter, it’s everything I would tell her not to do. Live in the present, love your opportunities.
I tap the glass syringe that holds the deadly green cocktail. Looks all right to me. Is it time to kill bunnies? I should be wearing rubber gloves. I can take a few moments to put on rubber gloves. Don’t want any of this stuff to end up on my hands.
But I fell in love with that dress. I’m nervous about the wedding, I’m nervous about Brad … some kinds of passions make you sure and some make you insecure … but I fell in love with the veil. Astonishing. I never would have thought I’d have it in me: it doesn’t make me proud, but it makes me happy.
The Death Bunnies are nervous. I’m sure of it. They really are. Dr. Burnham warns all of us not to think of them in human terms, but, what else could be going on?
I think of myself, for a moment, in my white gown and veil, walking down the aisle, holding a green syringe.
I turn. Might as well do them all at once: the Death Bunnies, the Roulette Rabbits. I was thinking I’d want to take a break in between, but, I’m supposed to do them all right after the other, and that feels right, somehow. Get it over with.
I walk over to the first Death Bunny cage. It’s small enough that he doesn’t really have any place to run. I reach my arm through the bars, I’m just thin enough to go through, and hold him steady. I look over at the green fluid again, the transparent glass that holds it; at the Roulette Rabbits who will have a fighting chance if our theories are right; at the lucky Control Rabbits. Some people are just destined to sit in cages, I suppose.
I look back at the rabbit I’m holding, and then look up again, catching something in the corner of my eye.
What the hell?
I put the syringe down, carefully. I walk over to the corner of the room where the Control Rabbits live. I look down in their cages.
One of them’s not moving. At all.
I reach into the cage. I stroke it. I pet it. I poke it. I try to feel for a pulse. How do you feel for a bunny’s pulse? It’s not breathing.
I step back. Once. Twice. This isn’t supposed to … how did it …
I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell phone.
His number’s second on my contacts. After Dr. Burnham. On three rings, he picks up the phone.
“Brad,” I say, before he can say speak. “Is everything … all right?”
“Is everything … are you okay?”
“Um, yeah. Yeah. Why?” He starts to get worried. “Did something happen?”
“What? No, no …” I look at the Control Rabbit’s cage. “Not … really.”
“Is it …” his voice gets more serious, and more worried. “Wedding stuff?”
“What?” That had been the furthest thing from my mind, for once. “No. No. It’s not … I just … you’re okay, though.”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Not talking to me on your cell phone in traffic.”
He laughs. “I just got out of a meeting, and was getting some coffee. What’s going on?”
“Really nothing.” I look away from the dead rabbit. Natural causes? Is that possible? Does that even happen?
That’s not supposed to happen. It will throw the whole curve off. We’re supposed to decide who lives and dies.
“Are you there?” Brad asks.
“Yeah. I’m here.” I’m very much here. “I’m sorry: this was a stupid call. I just … I just got worried, all of a sudden. I’m … about to kill some rabbits.”
“Oh!” He thinks he gets it. “Do you want to …”
“No. I’m okay. We’ll talk at home. All right? Bye.”
I don’t give him a chance to try to open me up. I hang up the phone before he can say he loves me.
I slip my cell phone back in my pocket. I lean against a counter. This … what do I do? Technically the rabbit died before the experiment began, maybe if I don’t inject them now Dr. Burnham can get a replacement. One who does what he’s supposed too. His life expectancy was a solid two years. If it’s not that easy, this could throw the whole project off. That rabbit was healthy. He was supposed to live. I wonder if we’ll have to start over after I get back from the honeymoon.
I see myself, in my white dress and veil, walking down the aisle, holding its little white body.
Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.
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