You treat me with such care.
When you’re on the stage, you’re nothing short of magical. A miracle worker with a smart suit and astronomic cape. By your side, a bar table and suitcase, caked with assorted gimmicks and uncanny knickknacks. Within your pockets, decks of cards and technicolour handkerchiefs all knotted together into a centipede of fantastical origin.
Atop of you, tucked snugly beneath and within your patented top hat, sits your humble assistant.
I’m quite small. I usually have good balance. I don’t have fingers or claws or whatever gooey, suctioned tendrils octopuses seem to have. Patiently, I sit atop your crown of curls. It’s dark at times, but I’m never all that afraid, even though the ground beneath me ebbs and flows like a bout of persuasion.
You move a great deal in your introduction. Of course you do. You’re a performer in profession, practice, and heart. I can hear your voice (I have very big ears) and feel it too (and very sensitive feet). I’m comfortable with your ecstatic but rehearsed routine. I know you’re there. I know you’re thinking about me. I know that if you ever tilt your head a little too far, you’ll rebound quickly but gracefully with a gloved hand to your head, catching my cylindrical adobe before I slide unceremoniously onto the floor (except that one time many years ago - I forgive you for that, you were still new!).
Bright. It’s always exceedingly bright when you pull me out of the hat. Again, you handle me with such affection. I’ve seen those cartoons with big-nosed men dangling rabbits from their ears (cruel!). You’ve never done that though. I doubt you ever will. I have full faith that you have my best interests at heart, the same way that I want nothing more than to serve by your side - or from your head, I suppose.
As the audience lights up with glee, with grins and cheers and applause throughout, so do you! I wish you could see yourself from my eyes, as low-angled as I am. You look incredible from down here, beaming like the wedge of an orange.
So tell me, why is it you look so different in the confines of your own home?
You spoil me. My playpen is a gorgeous one. Wide and spacious and amenities galore. My feet rest easy against the beige lined flooring, with water and play just a sip away. There’s more hay here than I could ever dream for. Twice a day you rain the plastic, heart-shaped box in the corner with delicious little pellets. I like the purple ones more than the green ones, but you always give me less of those. Maybe that scarcity is why I end up liking them more.
And yours is a wonderful spot too! It’s so much bigger than mine. Though, I suppose you’re bigger than me too so it’s only fair. You’ve got brown shelves and red chairs against brown walls and a red carpet. I love the colour. A checkered sofa that sits two and a coffee table which well, I hardly see you drink anything from it. It has a lot of letters on it. Very white letters with clean, smart-looking prints which I’m afraid I can’t read (you should teach me someday - wouldn’t that make a hilariously incredible performance?). They look very different from the kings, queens, and jokers I often share a hat with.
Your favourite thing is the little box on your dining table. It’s not as loud as my favourite box (I think you’ve called it a ‘television’) but the pictures are definitely clearer. You look at that one more often. I understand, though, I can never really tell what’s on it. It just looks like a lot of words and pictures to me, a lot like the papers on your coffee desk. Every now and then I see you walk back and forth to cross check between them.
Whenever you do, I see someone else. His eyes lost and wandering, his breath worried and uneasy. Hunched and strained and fatigued, as if he were carrying a massive stone on his shoulders.
Sometimes, he catches me staring. He pauses, as if considering something, and then it’s you again! Your expression is mixed like oil and yoghurt. I can’t place my paw on it. I munch against the metal - it’s all I know to pledge my support. Then you leave (how do you do that?), and he returns.
He smiles a glorious smile, but unlike yours, it doesn’t reach his eyes.
He returns to the dining table like a blacksmith to their forge. Even in the dead of night, his eyes are glued towards the blistering blue light. His pupils dart around like that of frightened prey. Is he scared? I don’t understand why he would be. He’s bigger and stronger than the box. Like you, he has two loving arms and ten clever fingers that can perform any trick, pick any lock, and please any crowd.
Still, why does he watch the screen with such fateful vigour? As if your livelihood depended on it?
You’re counting something. I always know when you’re counting something. The arts come easy to you like butter in pan. The sweat and work comes effortlessly. I can watch you for hours and you can do so for hours but when it came to this, whatever this is, I can’t possibly watch another second of it. You stammer. Your elbows rest desperately for a foundation as creases fold against the sides of your furrowed head. The sweat on your brow is as cold and icy as the silence of an unimpressed audience.
Worst of all, your hands tremble. I hate it when your hands tremble, when your fingers worry about their worth. There is no one watching. Perhaps it’s because no one is watching. I think that can be a solution, no? You’re so accustomed to the limelight that perhaps this uncharacteristic solitude is why you’re so daunted and afraid?
You’re not alone. You have me.
I know you know I’m here. You looked at me just a few minutes ago, even offered me that same smile reserved to your wave of delightful, adoring on-watchers. I don’t understand why you put on this graceless facade. Perhaps you’re preparing your next trick? Some kind of juxtaposition that I can’t wrap my teeny, primal brain around?
A ring. It’s from your phone. I know what that is, at least. You use it to talk to the men and women who invite you for a show. Sometimes you speak to your father. It doesn’t happen very often.
“Hi Dad,” you say in nary a whisper. I stand corrected.
I don’t remember my parents. I don’t remember very much before I met you, actually. I imagine they’re still out there, over the western plains where their parents and their parents and their parents roamed and grazed. We’d be foraging for nature’s treats, tussles of grass against our sullied fur. I wish I could bring them here. I think my cage is spacious enough for the three of us, unless I had more brothers and sisters which well, I’m a rabbit, of course I do. I’ve never met them either. I don’t think we’d mind though. Us bunnies can make do.
I’ve met your father before. Burlier shoulders, wide spectacles, a tad more sportive in a blue polo and sandy chinos. I hope he got better glasses from the last time we met - he spent an awful lot of time and effort squinting throughout the house.
He too was counting, but he didn’t have the same dismay on his face as he did it. Counting, I assume, comes easily to him. A difference in skill set and familiarity, I suppose. I’m probably more comfortable fitting in hats than my brethren are.
Right now, with your back against the creaking chair and bare feet stammering against the floorboards, you have the same expression you had when he was over. Tension in your draw. Danger written in a blistering red marker. A downward, droopy gaze, as if you were bored and wanted to sink into slumber. Your body is in this apartment, but both your mind and home are entirely elsewhere.
I don’t like it. This volatility. It stresses me out - seeing you like this. You know how terrible I am with stress.
But when I’m feeling under the weather, you’re always there. You’re an umbrella of hope. A ray of sunshine in the dark. You’re there when I can’t sleep. You’re there when I’m drowning in thought. And when I can’t find the strength in my feet, you’re there with your calloused but practised hands, scooping me out of despair like a dollop of ice cream.
On the best of days, after a phenomenal performance from both our ends, we share a box of strawberries (carrots are overrated).
“Thanks Dad. I’ll… think about it.”
Today is not one of those days. Eyelids, handkerchiefs, the back of your hands - effective tools for fighting back tears. I haven’t seen a tear drop. They’ve accumulated in your eyes like pools of glossy glue. I know you love your father, but if listening to his voice brings you such distress, causes you to view your home with his critical eyes - disapproving, disparaging, grossly disappointed at its abysmal state - then I implore you to stop listening. He doesn’t understand your passions. He doesn’t know you like I do.
You take such good care of me, Mr. Magician. I promise you that if the tables ever turn, if the cards ever get replayed and it is I with proficient hands and a brilliant mind and you with tall ears and an affliction for enclosed spaces - I will repay your kindness tenfold. Until then, all I can do is be your ever-so reliable companion for tomorrow’s show, and the show after that, and countless shows to come.
Now come, put me back in your hat and let’s return to the maroon-curtained stage.