Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bunny in a bookstore and other animal encounters

See the turkeys in the trees in our back yard.

These days turkeys outnumber the dogs and cats in our country neighborhood. They sleep in the 100-foot pine trees in our back yard, and flocks stop traffic as they congregate in the street. One brazen fellow recently ambled up the brick path to our front stairs, and I was waiting for the doorbell to ring.

Likewise, at the summer place, we have always been surrounded by a bevy of animals, seabirds and marine life. We took our pets with us, and guests brought theirs along. Families walked Fogland Beach accompanied by prancing dogs, and cats curled up on sunny cottage windowsills. A pesky skunk took up residence under a nearby shed. Seagulls soared overhead while sandpipers danced near the water’s edge. A giant sea turtle washed ashore. 

And the Lord God made them all.

But the most memorable creature was a rabbit.
I used to pass a bookstore on the way to the summer house, and many times I delayed the journey to browse the bookshelves of this delightful, old-fashioned store. A half-hour later, I emerged from the shop with another book tucked under my arm and yet another opportunity to while away the hours at the beach.

In 1983, the old Nonquit Grange in Tiverton was converted to the Mill Pond Shops, an eclectic grouping of five businesses on three levels, including a furniture shop, toy store, pottery workshop, women’s clothing store and my favorite stop, Books From 4 Corners. Weathered shingles and simple wooden signs beckoned the shopper inside.

A frequent customer, I wandered into Books From 4 Corners and was greeted by the gracious lady proprietor, who had retired from a teaching post a few years earlier. Stepping gingerly on the polished wide-plank floorboards, I admired the old cast iron wood stove and antique desk that decorated her shop. The woman told me that she filled the shelves with only those titles that intrigued her, a selection of very different and unusual books.

One sleepy Sunday afternoon I found myself once more searching the shelves of Books From 4 Corners. As usual, it didn’t take long to find a book I longed to read. 

While waiting in line, I felt a furry animal jump on my bare legs. At first I thought it was a white dog, but then I noticed it had big floppy ears. I tried to ignore the excited rabbit, but he really seemed to like me. It was then that I noticed an empty cage on the other side of the room with its door ajar.

As I handed the proprietor a bill, I felt the rabbit’s teeth dig into my flesh. He had bitten me on the back of my leg. The lady was shocked. 

“Eliot’s so gentle,” she told me. “It must be a love nip.”

Dropping my change on the counter, the lady chased the hopping rabbit into a corner, lifted him into her arms like a baby and locked him in the cage. 

She then opened a bottle of peroxide; and with the efficiency of a school nurse, she ordered me to hold still while she lightly dabbed the two bloody teeth marks in my skin. By this time the area surrounding the gashes had turned blue.

I left the store with the sound of her profound apologies ringing in my ears and an unusual throbbing in my leg. I no longer felt like lying on the beach with a good book – I just wanted to lie down.

Back at the summer house I limped over to the nearest chair and surveyed the damage. Swollen and bruised, I bore the imprint of Eliot’s romantic interlude.

Early the next morning before work, I reported to my doctor’s office for a tetanus shot. I explained to the nurse the source of my affliction.

“I know this is silly,” I told her, “but I was bitten by a huge rabbit that hopped on the back of my leg.” 

She howled with laughter. 

“It must be mating season,” I said. 

I returned to the office wearing two Band-aids, one on my arm from the shot and the other covering the bite on my leg.

Many years ago Books From 4 Corners closed its doors forever, and since then an assortment of diverse business ventures have claimed the space. I miss the joy I used to feel when entering the extraordinary little bookstore, the warmth of the knowledgeable proprietor, the strange and wonderful books that I found there – but I don’t miss Eliot. I still get hopping mad when I think about his last embrace.

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