“Mommy! Mommy! Look what I’ve got!”
Johnny came running toward the house, holding something clutched firmly against his chest with both hands. He was so excited that his mother thought he might be hurt when she first heard him. But as she held the door open for him she saw that he held a baby rabbit.
Johnny held the little rabbit so tightly his mother was afraid he might smother it. She could see its heart was beating rapidly, and thought, “Poor little thing. How frightened it must be.”
Johnny’s mother took the rabbit from him, holding it gently, trying to get both of them to calm down a bit. Then, showing Johnny how to hold the little animal, she gave it back to him.
Johnny had caught the bunny in the field behind their house, he said. His mother had seen it out there three or four times herself. Johnny’s father had even called him to “Come see the bunny rabbit” one morning as he was leaving for work, but it had hopped away before Johnny got there.
Today they had surprised each other. Then the rabbit had huddled against a big tree trunk, as if hoping to be invisible. “And I just grabbed it, Mommy. It didn’t bite at all. Can I keep it?” Johnny was still excited, but trying to restrain himself, petting the bunny the way his mother had shown him. “What should we call it?”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to keep it, Johnny. Not a wild rabbit. We’ll have to let it go again. You remember the turtle, last summer. But we can probably keep it for a day or two, I think. We’ll see what Daddy has to say when he comes home. And you caught it all by yourself, didn’t you? That’s really something. Daddy will be so proud of you.”
“Oh, can’t I keep it? I’d take good care of it.” Johnny looked down at the rabbit. “But, anyway, I can give it a name.”
“Why not just call it ‘Bunny’? That’s a cuddly name. And it’s a cuddly little rabbit,” his mother said, taking it from him and cuddling it.
Johnny’s mother helped him fix a cardboard box for the bunny, with grass in the bottom. Johnny tried to feed it a piece of a carrot, and some lettuce, but it didn’t seem to want to eat. Johnny’s mother was pleased to watch the boy and the rabbit mostly just sit and look at each other while she fixed dinner.
When Johnny’s father got home from work, he seemed as excited as Johnny had been. He held the bunny cradled in his two big hands and said that it was just about the most precious thing he had ever seen. It was so soft, and such a helpless little creature. He put it on the rug in the middle of the room. Again, it just sat there, as if it were afraid to do anything but breathe.
Johnny’s father said, “Aw, you don’t need to be frightened of us. Of me and Johnny? You’re such a cute little bunny.” Then he put the bunny back in the box, saying, “But he’s right. He does have a lot of enemies, and some of them are human.”
While they were eating dinner, Johnny’s father kept looking over at the bunny, in its box in the corner. “That name is just right for that little animal, isn’t it?” he asked. “It sounds just like a baby rabbit looks, just like it feels in your hands. ‘Bunny.’ I like to say the word. Don’t you, Johnny?”
Johnny said, “Bunny,” and both he and his father laughed.
“And this one is such a funny bunny,” Johnny’s father said. He looked at Johnny’s mother and smiled. “A funny bunny, Honey.” He liked word games. Having used the word, he picked up the honey bottle from the table and looked at it. Then he asked Johnny, “Do you think your funny little Bunny would like to taste some honey?
Johnny said, “I don’t know, Daddy. Maybe.”
His father said, “Well, should we find out?”
Johnny’s father dipped one end of a piece of lettuce in the honey, as Johnny’s mother frowned and shook her head, and then put it in the box with the bunny.
The bunny did nibble on it a little, but not much.
Johnny knew his father enjoyed such games, especially games with the names of things, and with other words. He was a teacher, and did that with his classes at school. He would sometimes tell Johnny and his mother at dinner some bright thing one of his students had said that day.
Johnny watched his father. He could see that he was thinking of some game, all right.
“Let’s see now. What else rhymes with ‘bunny’? ‘Money.’
I will bet you any money
That you never saw a bunny
That was really fond of honey—
As a special treat.
“What else did we have? ‘Funny.’ Come on. Help me out.”
I suppose you’ll think it’s funny
Johnny caught us such a bunny
(A little male? Let’s call him Sonny)—
And it’s all he’ll eat.
“Daddy, its name is Bunny, not Sonny,” Johnny said. “And it’s not eating very much honey. But I thought of another word. How about ‘runny’?”
Johnny’s mother laughed and said, “That’s not very good for a bunny. It may be all right for the honey . . . at least in the summer time. But how about ‘sunny’? The day was sunny when Johnny caught the bunny.”
“Well, let’s use both. How about this?” said his father.
But he doesn’t like it runny,
So on days when it’s too sunny
He’ll take other things than honey—
If they’re just as sweet.
They went over their “poem” several times, trying to think of other things that rhymed with ‘bunny,’ but couldn’t. Then, after dinner, while Johnny’s mother was washing the dishes, his father had Johnny write the poem down, helping him with the spelling of the words. “You see those others are all ‘nny,’ like ‘Johnny,’ but ‘honey’ and ‘money’ are ‘ney.’”
“Well, I think you’ve taken poetic license with this bunny’s appetite,” said Johnny’s mother, as she lifted the lettuce with the honey on it out of the bunny’s box and threw it away. “I hope it doesn’t make him sick.”
Johnny’s father laughed again, picking the little bunny up and looking at it with affection. “I certainly hope not, too. That wouldn’t be a very good way to treat a guest, would it? Particularly a guest who has provided us with so much enjoyment.”
Later that evening Johnny’s father said, “You’ll have to turn the bunny loose again, Johnny. You know that, don’t you? Maybe not tomorrow, but at least the next day. You remember how we did with the turtle?”
Johnny remembered the turtle. His father and he had spotted it on the road when they were out driving and had brought it home. They had it in a cardboard box, too, like the bunny, for three days. Johnny had wanted to keep it, but his father had said, “Long enough, Johnny. You know some things about turtles now, and that little turtle probably knows more than he wants to know about human beings. We’ve enjoyed having it. But wild things deserve to live in the wild. They’re not like puppies and kitties. They’ll get sick and die if you keep them in a box. I’ll let you turn it loose yourself.”
So they had gone back to where they had found the turtle, and Johnny had turned it loose.
“That’s what you’ll need to do with the little rabbit. Take it back where you caught it and turn it loose . . . in a day or so. I know that, slow as it moved, we never saw that turtle again. But you’ll probably see this bunny every once in a while, as it is growing up right here in our back yard, be able to say, ‘How ya doin’, Bunny?’ And that will give you another friend out there in nature, like the squirrels and the birds. You can’t have too many friends like that. What do you think about it?”
Johnny picked up the bunny and looked at it. Then he agreed. “I guess it likes the food it can find for itself out there in the field better than our lettuce and honey.”
“You can bet your money on that, sonny,” answered his father. “But do you know what? We’ll still have our poem, ‘Our Funny Bunny.’ You wrote it down. There it is . . . forever. We’ll take some pictures, too, as you turn it loose. So you should also have some good memories for your old age. And so should your mother and I.”
Johnny’s father and mother looked at Johnny, still holding the bunny, and then, in response to the serious look on his face, smiled at each other.