Peter the Rabbit’s Fate

Eric Mens

My younger brother Joe was our father’s favorite child. Joe was the firstborn child in Papa’s second marriage and occupied a special place in his life. Being of Eurasian descent, our family was heavily influenced by Asian culture, and “firstborn” sons were coveted.

After Joe’s mother and our father divorced, Joe would spend every other weekend with our “new” family. His arrival on Saturdays was always marked with fanfare – usually with a cake and gifts waiting for him when he arrived at our house. Erica and I, offspring from Papa’s first marriage, would often feign pleasure with all the hoopla that marked Joe’s arrival.

One year, Papa decided to surprise Joe, who was eight at the time, with a rabbit for Easter. Papa told the family about his plans and announced that “we” would build a rabbit hutch. I enlisted the aid of my friend Chester who lived on a farm several miles down the road from our farm. We had met at the beginning of the school year. Chester was a year older than me and a high school freshman. Together, we scrounged for materials in our barns.

Relying on pictures in one of Chester’s “Boys Life” magazines, we built a grand structure made of 2 x 4’s, plywood, and chicken wire. One end held a wooden enclosure to protect the rabbit from the elements. We hinged the roof so the hutch could be cleaned and replenished with fresh straw. When it was finished, we placed it in a garden adjacent to the house.

When Easter came, Joe was thrilled with his gift. He named him “Peter” after the rabbit character in his favorite children’s book. When Joe spent the weekend with us, he would spend hours doting on the rabbit, letting it hop around the yard, and feeding it lettuce and carrots. When it was time for Joe to return to his mother’s home, he carefully returned the rabbit to its hutch. I fed and cared for Peter when Joe was not visiting. Spring became summer, and as autumn approached, Peter had matured nicely into a rotund ball of white fur.

One day, Papa announced that we were going to eat Peter for dinner. I protested loudly, but my protestations accomplished nothing. He then told me that I was going to kill and prepare the rabbit for dinner. I had never killed anything in my life! I wanted nothing to do with something I knew would upset Joe. Papa ignored my protestations, and I finally gave up knowing the consequences if I did not obey him.

The next day after school, Chester came to help. It was a windy autumn day with a chill in the air. Grey clouds swirled ominously above us as we set about our work. Without going into the gruesome details of Peter’s demise, suffice it to say that it involved a baseball bat. Peter’s high-pitched squeals are hard to forget. When all was quiet again, Chester simply got on his bike and rode home.

Holding Peter by his feet, I trudged into the house and lifted Peter to present him to Papa. He smirked and told me to finish my job. Retrieving a knife from a kitchen drawer, he handed it to me, opened the basement door, and said simply, “Go!”

I made my way down the familiar, creaking wooden steps. On reaching the earthen floor, I skirted the iron furnace to a dimly lit table in the rear of the basement. Papa had placed a stack of newspapers on the table for me.

I covered the table with newspaper and carefully laid Peter on his back, his legs splayed out. As I examined him in the dim light, I began to cry. Tears flowing freely, I apologized to Peter repeatedly for what I had done and what I was about to do to him.

Almost intuitively, I began making the cuts that would help me best preserve his furry coat. With each step of the process, I quietly cursed my father. Tears streamed down my face, but I continued to handle Peter with care. When I was done, I hung Peter’s white coat from the floor joists to cure.

I carried the carcass upstairs to the kitchen and presented it to my father. Papa seemed quite pleased. I did not eat the stew that evening. My brother has never forgiven me.