By: S. McManus
One cold morning, Nana woke up to the joyful cries of a child ringing through the sluggish hallways. She blinked slowly and blearily tracing the shapes of the wardrobe and the mantelpiece against the white of the snow-dusted light outside. It was Christmas.
As that thought sprung to her, so did she from the bed, rushing out to find the child which, no doubt, found his stocking a few hours too early. She found the Boy in the living room, sat small beside the armchair with nuts and oranges and holly sprawled around him, and just a wink of his deep green stockings curled around the bend of the chair. In his hands was a spotted stuffed rabbit. It stood out plainly from the still slightly dark scene, it might’ve lost itself in the falling snow or seem bothered with how greyed other things looked in comparison. But it didn’t, it looked almost happy in the Boy’s hands as if made to fill his palms.
But the moment didn’t last very long, and like the countless of other toys the child possessed, it had fallen forgotten in the nursery come boxing day. That’s where she found him the following night as she tidied the rooms, haphazardly thrown on the floor between the trains, clockwork mice and whatever else the Boy had been gifted the day before. Still, its spotted brown and white coat stood out marginally, its sawdust stuffing soft between her fingers. Sparing it a look, she could see the careful thread whiskers and pink sateen that edged around dropping ears. Well-made, but just velveteen, and a tad boring in comparison to the broad ranges of playthings that crowded the nursery. She put it away beside the old balding horse without a second thought.
It was one evening, some moons later, that she saw the rabbit again. It had been there for some time, shying away and dusting in the corners and she thought quickly about how it would look better next to the crying Boy instead. She grabbed it and skidded off to where the child whined for his missing China Dog. It seemed that the stars were in her favor that night, the cries muffled sooner than she expected, and she slept that night with images of small smiles and pale bunnies wrapped in warm embrace.
That was a scene that continued for many more nights, and with each day, the velveteen rabbit seemed a little more cream, a little more ragged lax to the touch, almost melting into the comforters by the firelight. In time, she had forgotten completely about what gave the toy a slightly snobbish air making it look more like a pillow than a rabbit each day. It mattered little to the Boy however, if at all. It could’ve been the most wonderful rabbit in the world, better than any hopping breathing animal that lived outside. She wondered, sometimes, when spotting the rabbit tucked under an arm at sleepy breakfasts, if it was breathing and real in its own sort of way. In the Boy’s heart.
The boy and the rabbit lived on in joy. They were dependent and linked in a make-believe sort of fashion, to the Boy the rabbit was real, and to the rabbit, the Boy was a maestro, a man a magician and any other fantasy the duo had decided to explore that day. Nut, unfortunately, like most golden days, they came to a sudden halt.
The Boy had fallen sick, and fast. The fantasy was surely and sneakily closing in around them from the garden, then binding itself to the house to the nursery and finally, their little stories were just between the rabbit and the Boy themselves, until the doctors said it would be better to leave the rabbit out of it to. They spoke of a sea-side retreat, fresh air to liven up his health and get him strong again. Everyone, even Nana who could be bit grouchy at times, seemed happy with the unexpected holiday. It was when packing the bags, snuggling the velveteen rabbit into the case that her happiness broke.
“That?” the doctor’s voice spoke piercingly, “Why, it’s a mass of scarlet fever germs! - Burn it at once!”
She hesitated, freezing.
“Get him a new one. He mustn’t have that anymore!”
To relief, the doctor quickly stepped out to go sort out the other details of the trip. She looked down at the rabbit and felt pity swell inside. The Boy’s joy, or his health. The choice was obvious but it seemed wrong to see the rabbit among other toys who were nothing more than plastic and coils. It was no longer pretty or cute, but had this knowing glint in its eye that kind of spoke, softly, that he would end up okay.
She watched from afar, at nightfall, as the sack of toys was placed behind the fowl-house to be burned by the gardener. She gave it a regretful look but didn’t feel all that bad, sensing the Boy’s steady excitement at visiting the seaside tomorrow. And in the blink of an eye something fascinating happened.
It was as if a small sun had exploded within the sack, abruptly expanding and contracting as if it had never been warm in the first place. Yet it was unmistakable, the glow still burned behind her eyelids, brighter than any winter morning could ever be. She watched, with bated breath, as something flew out of the bag, teeny and shimmering from its own luminance carrying something vaguely rabbit-shaped that wouldn’t have been more than a blob to anyone else that hadn’t seen it mature for the past few years. It was carried gently, as a mother would nurse her child, the light shining away with love-filled rabbit into the nightly forest as the blaze swept up over the bag. She lost sight of the light between the licks of flame.
Many years later, when the Boy was healthy again and no longer needed stories to entertain his dreams of adulthood, he wandered off to the garden again, thoughtlessly. There he was met with rabbit with strange markings under his fur, as though long ago it had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. Its fur was soft and his whiskers long and careful, a little of pink edging the dropping slopes of his ears. Its round black eyes stared into the Man, but not as if he were trying to convey a message, or a word. Simply staring, as one would after seeing an old friend after so much of their life was lived without them. He sent him one last knowing look, and disappeared into the thicket, for good.
Based off The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, 1922.