He had never quite recovered from the disappointment that animals could not talk. His dear mother had given him a beautifully bound copy of Winnie the Pooh in 1927, and he grew up in the countryside, playing pooh sticks and awaiting capture of heffalumps and woozles. But his finely engineered traps only bagged him one rabbit, and an injured one at that. And this rabbit, despite the boy’s encouragement, never spoke a word, nor did he take elevenses, nor did he have any visiting Friends-and-Relations. This rabbit simply popped his clogs; well, with a little help from papa, who had found his son chatting away to the creature, offering it a carrot in exchange for conversation.
‘The boy is mad,’ thought papa as he dispatched Rabbit with his rifle butt. This was not how it went in the stories, thought the boy, poring over his Winnie the Pooh that night, looking for similarities through his tears. But he found none, and fewer as he grew older.
And so, like Christopher Robin, he left the Hundred Acre Wood behind and put away childish things, and when he was called up in 1939, he watched another Rabbit die. His friend, Lieutenant Charles Embury, was known as Rabbit for his indefatigable nature (and perhaps it also had something to do with his buck teeth). During three years of service they became fast friends, propelled together through shared terror, whisky, cards, and the relief of the days upon which they both returned from duty.
His second Rabbit got caught in a hole too, and although he did not meet papa’s rifle butt, he met the opposite end of an enemy rifle.
He was found two days later, cradling Rabbit in his lap, chatting away to him and offering him a cigarette in exchange for conversation. Alas, Rabbit said no more.
He was discharged and spent the remainder of his days in Claydon Asylum. Here he was known for his menagerie of animals – stuffed toys brought by his friends and relations, and also, real convalescent hedgehogs, shrews and birds found by the groundsman and brought to him for care and repair. They never brought him the injured rabbits though.
He seemed to understand them, these little creatures; more so than he understood his human counterparts. And although he no longer spoke to his fellow man, he chatted away to his convalescent creatures and gradually, they began to trust him. They began to tell him the stories of their lives in the wood. They told him of their adventures and joys. They were kind, gentle and never cruel. He loved them dearly for it.
© 2018 Rosie Escott