Slouching ten paces behind me as ever, I hear Lashes call out with unusual animation (he's very languid at the moment).
"Where?" We look round. He's pointing to one of the scrubby parc du caca "flower"beds. I go closer, squinting.
Sure enough, a gigantic black rabbit is methodically chewing its way around the decrepit herbacious border. It seems entirely indifferent to the fact that it is surrounded by canines that would have been banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the UK and bored teenagers. Indifferent to the certain peril that surely awaits it at the hands of the slavering Great Dane.
"What on earth is it doing there? Has it escaped?"
"Hmm. I wonder if someone abandoned it?" On closer inspection, the gigantic black rabbit does not appear to be in the first flush of youth. Under its gigantic jowls the black fur is greying, and its eyes are slightly rheumy. Not that this seems to bother it in the slightest. It is making an excellent start on the beech hedge, working on the overhanging branches.
"I don't know, really. Maybe they had to move and they couldn't look after it?" I'm trying to put the best possible complexion on things. Maybe he has a HIDEOUS, expensive disease? That seems more likely. He looks a pleasant enough old gentleman, really though, I think. Not sure why I'm assuming it's male. He just seems quite .. blokeish. I could be entirely wrong. Maybe it's just a butch female.
"We can't leave it here! It'll get eaten!"
I'm not wholly convinced that it would be that way round. The rabbit seems to have the eating thing pretty much sewn up around here. Even so, they have a point, regrettably.
"No, I suppose you're right".
We catch the rabbit without difficulty. It doesn't really try to escape, just sort of sits, world-wearily, as I pick it up, scratching me a couple of times just to show me it can, if it wants to. We sit down on the grass and examine it. It is a rabbit, without many distinguishing features, we conclude. It lunges, suddenly for Lashes, and bites him twice.
"Ow!" He's laughing, but also slightly shocked. I'm not shocked. I am recovering memories of my own rabbit, a miserable, bad tempered bastard who spent its life trying to rape the guinea pig, and methodically lopping the heads of all my mother's flowers. My attempts to get it to show jump over garden canes, or walk to the park on a lead, were doomed to failure from the start, since all Big Ears (he was inherited already named. My father's rabbit was called Heraclites). Instead, it just sort of lurked in the back garden, a looming, furious presence, for a ludicrously long time. I am sorry to say that the prevailing emotion in our household when it finally died, aged, what I can only imagine is about 350 in rabbit years, was relief.
The rabbit gives up on its escape attempt and starts to eat my trouser leg.
"Oh god, we're going to have to take it home, aren't we?" I'm not thrilled at the prospect, but it doesn't seem fair to leave an obviously domestic animal to fend for itself on the mean streets of Uccle.
"OUUUUAAAIIIIIS!" The children, however, are thrilled the afternoon has taken a turn for the .. peculiar.
"We'll put up some signs to say we've found it, in case anyone is looking for it". I'm not hopeful.
We carry our prize home, well, I do. He sits in my arms, indifferently, like a medium sized sack of potatoes. He is moulting like fuck, and my entire nose seems to be full of fine, sneeze-inducing hair. I am reminded of the story of my father, then living in the Highlands, giving my mother a rabbit to take home with her on the bus to Glasgow, to the puzzlement of all the (many) drunks on her route to Coatbridge. I am genetically pre-destined to end up with an impromptu rabbit, clearly. Rabbits are the perennial disappointment of the pet kingdom, I think, possibly unfairly. My sister-in-law had a gigantic house rabbit for years. It was sold to her as a dwarf lop-eared. It turned out to be neither.
We put him in the garden, where he hops straight over to the most decorative of all our fairly crappy plants, and starts eating it.
"Ouuuaiiiis! He's happy!"
The children lie rapt in the garden for several hours staring at the rabbit, and offering it things from the kitchen. Carrots, celery, rice cakes, cornflakes. It eats everything, and refuses all gestures of affection, loping just out of reach, dragging the carrots with it. The weepette looks on, appalled. Occasionally, when our backs are turned, he makes a sort of run for the rabbit, as if some vestige of instinct is emerging. When he gets closer, however, he entirely loses track of what he was doing and just sort of stares at it, hopelessly, fearfully. We tell him off and he slinks back into the house to stare out of the window at the interloper. The rabbit reacts to the occasional dog peril by hopping neatly under the bench where it sits, looking superior and not remotely bothered.
"Rabbit don't care!" says Lashes, laughing. He's referencing the honey badger, with whom I feel the rabbit would feel some kind of spiritual kinship. I do quite like its total indifference. It's the anti-dog; self-contained, entitled, with a capybara-esque expression of utter superiority. I don't think it likes us, though it will grudgingly accept the contents of our fridge.
So it continues throughout the weekend. My whole respiratory tract feels like it is full of rabbit hair and I can't stop sneezing. Every, but every, time I look out in the garden, the rabbit is eating. He seems to have an astonishingly dedicated approach to eating: everything that used to have a stem now no longer has one. Everything that had a flower is now trampled down. Bare stalks litter the flower beds as a stark reminder of our new tenant. Even when I look out at nearly midnight, the rabbit is there, sitting in the middle of the grass, chewing methodically. He's so big and black, and implacable, it's a little bit unnerving. I am starting to fear we have adopted some kind of demon pet, who will not give up until the garden is reduced to scorched earth. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and .. Satan. He's probably immortal. I bet he outlives me. And probably eats my corpse.
No one, unsurprisingly, has responded to our appealing notice, devised and written by the children and posted around the neighbourhood.
"Rabbit found. Big. Black. Old" it reads, enticingly. The picture they have taken to accompany it makes the rabbit look piebald, which is also helpful.
We go to the pet shop and buy hay and rabbit food. It is unsurprisingly far dearer than I remember, from my days at the Minster Pet Shop, staring wistfully at the chinchillas and buying hamster after boring hamster. I refuse requests to buy a rabbit leash. Once bitten, twice shy: rabbits do not walk to heel.
"Oh!" says Lashes peering into the pet shop cages. "The baby rabbits looks so cute!" There's a sort of note of regret in his voice, I think, at introducing Kali the dark destroyer into our garden.
"Well you can't have one, I'm afraid". Satan/Kali would probably eat them. "No more animals until you're ten. And not a reticulated python then. I haven't changed my mind".
So. It appears we have a rabbit living under a bench in our back garden. We are not really calling it Satan (or Kali). I'm resisting giving it a name at all, actually, in the faint hope that someone will have second thoughts and reclaim it.
What would you call a gigantic, elderly, ravenous, supercilious rabbit?