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The Gift
Amy Berg Douglas
 
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Sam still expected to see Sundance waiting for him on the other side of the front door when he returned from work, her tail wagging and head bobbing in excitement. Instead he entered a quiet, lonely house. While he rummaged through the refrigerator looking for a beer, the door-bell rang.

He recognized the woman who stood on his porch. They often commuted on the same bus and had chatted from time to time. She held a cage.

"Hi," she said cheerfully. "I wondered if this was your rabbit. I found her yesterday on my way home from work. She was sitting by the side of your house. I knocked, but no one was home."

"A rabbit?" Sam questioned.

"I called Animal Control, but no one has reported a missing rabbit."

"It's not mine," Sam said.

"I didn't think so, and I would have kept her as a companion for my rabbit, but then...," she hesitated. "I remembered that you had to put your dog to sleep a couple of months ago." She kicked at a chip of peeling paint on the step. "I thought maybe you could use a friend right now."

"Here, look," she said, handing Sam the cage. "Don't worry, if it doesn't work out for you, I'll be happy to take her."

"It's not that. I'm not equipped for a rabbit."

"Mine lives indoors. This girl seems to be housetrained, and I'll lend you the cage until you can get your own. I've got it all set up."

"But...," Sam protested as the woman descended his steps.

"If you have any questions, I live in the yellow house across from the park," she called back.

Sam set the cage down on the kitchen floor and looked at the tortoiseshell-colored rabbit. She had large dewy black eyes and a fat paunchy fold on her chest. "I don't believe there's any such thing as a housetrained rabbit," he said, lifting the lid of the cage. The rabbit jumped out onto the kitchen floor, sliding a distance across the linoleum before she came to a stop. Sam noticed several pellets in the litterbox wedged in the corner of the cage where the rabbit had been sitting. "Got any other tricks?" The rabbit twitched her nose. "Yeah, well, that's about what I figured."

That night Sam awoke from a dream he'd had several times before. All he remembered was standing at the edge of a forest. He'd lost something but didn't know what. He tried to go back to sleep, then decided to get up and warm some milk. As soon as he turned on the kitchen light, the rabbit began pushing against the lid.

"Tomorrow you're going back," Sam said, opening the cage. The rabbit jumped out and ran to the open refrigerator as Sam got his milk. He gave the rabbit some carrot, then sat down on the floor beside her while the milk heated. When Sam went back to bed, he fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning he looked for the woman on the bus. He looked for her again during the return commute. Two doors down from the bus stop was a pet store he'd gone to back when Sundance was alive. Sam went in to browse. He checked the price tag on a rabbit cage and bought five pounds of rabbit food.

Now why did I go and do that, Sam wondered, on his way home. He decided he'd give the food to the woman when he returned the rabbit--a gesture of "thanks, but no thanks." After all, he was never home. He wouldn't have kept a dog, except Sundance had been his since he was sixteen.

At home, he opened the cage to let the rabbit out. As she washed her face, one ear pointed straight up, the other due east. Sam laughed. He refilled the water bottle and added fresh food to the dish. "I am going to return you," he warned.

That night Sam's recurring dream awakened him. Sundance was bounding away from him into a thick forest. "Sundance!" he called after her. She reappeared playfully, nosing a rabbit toward him, then shot off into the trees again. Sam knew she was gone forever. In his grief he clutched his stomach and bent over. At his feet sat the rabbit.

"So that's the dream I've been having," Sam said aloud. He pulled the covers around him and took a deep breath. The tightness in his chest eased. He'd seen his dog again, if only in a dream.

On Friday morning he looked for the woman on the bus. He rehearsed what he'd say when he did see her. "A rabbit doesn't fit into my life right now." Then he remembered his dream--Sundance had brought him a rabbit--a gift to fill the space. He realized that was the same dream he'd had the night his dog was put down.

Sam let the rabbit run around his yard while he washed and dried the cage in the early morning sun. The cage was awkward to carry with everything in it, and he wondered how the woman had managed. He knocked at the front door of the yellow house, hoping it wasn't too early on a Saturday morning to come by. The woman answered. "Hi," she said, though her smile quickly disappeared when she noticed what Sam carried in his arms.

"Here's the cage and some extra food. I had to get some things from the pet store anyway." He hesitated. "I hope you and your rabbit will come by and visit us sometime."

"Sounds like a great idea," the woman said, smiling broadly again.

"Thanks for bringing the gift," Sam said, returning her smile.


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