Cats were a new thing to my family, upon moving to Florida. After the death of our half-husky, half-spaniel, all-wily dog Chance, we were a “no pet household.” However, even the staunchest parents can’t hold up to the might of two little girls who root for the gazelles against the lions on all the Discovery documentaries about the sub-Saharan savanna when they beg and plead to keep a stray. This is because such mercy breeds stubbornness. We’d sneak off on our bicycles to the corner store to spend our allowance on illicit cat food. Merciful children, we saw need. There was one caveat: Dad got to name her. Thus, the orange tabby was dubbed Bunny Slayer.
Owning a pool was new, too, and all the little accompanying details: the balancing of the chlorine; the care and cleaning of the marcite; the skimming of the leaves from the surface of the water. Yes, yes, I know. You folk who live in Florida are puzzling about that last one. For those who don’t live here, you need to know that all pools in Florida these days are caged, enclosed in screen tents to keep kids and critters out. When my parents bought their house, it was among a dying breed of domiciles with unfettered pools, ringed only by a white aluminum fence that didn’t even touch the ground except at the posts. In fact, that was how Bunny Slayer came to us, slinking in between the young cabbage palms, under the painted aluminum and onto the pool deck to beg.
All manner of creatures slipped in under that fence and straight into the pool over the years we lived there. Merciful children, my sister and I saw it as our duty to assist them all back out. My sister saved the furry ones, and I rescued everything else. Palmetto rats fell in regularly. Red, black and yellow king snakes were pulled with my own hands from the filter. Even raccoon kits were sometimes retrieved with the skimmer.
One night, after the dinner dishes were done, my sister and I heard a shriek coming from the pool deck like someone had the devil himself by the balls. We dropped everything, barreling toward the French doors, to burst through, and spill light over the scene. We saw this: a tiny rabbit huddled in the corner, Bunny Slayer stalking closer for another attack, and the paw prints of a struggle in the dirt collected by the wall.
My sister seized the cat in her arms, crying out for the bunny. Me? I stood still. When I took a breath, the rabbit bolted straight for the pool. Splash! I called for the skimmer, but my sister had an armful of cat. As I dashed around seeking it, the rabbit began to sink. My tool in hand, I sought the rabbit’s legs, cutting the water underneath her, lifting her on my trampoline of a net. She jumped off, back into the depths, swimming for the deep end.
At last, in a smooth gesture, I flipped the skimmer under her, brought her to the surface, and out the gate before she had time to panic her way back into the water. My sister sequestered Bunny Slayer. I watched our rabbit friend hop off a short ways. Animals like their privacy. I did not intrude further on her escape.
Breakfast the next morning was a lazy affair, sautéed mushrooms and onions, a leftover muffin with jelly. I had recently gotten into the habit of coffee drinking, thanks to a friend. I meandered out to the pool deck, mug in hand to enjoy the morning. As I seated myself on the wicker couch my mother kept out there, something caught my eye. Just beyond the aluminum gate was last night’s little rabbit. I moved closer to take a look.
She was stone cold dead, in the exact spot where I had last seen her. My sister cried. And I… I never cheered the gazelles again.