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FICTION / Cottontail / Mike Sweeney

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The train stops and people move without me having to ask. I don’t see what I’m looking for until I’m through the turnstiles. He’s a half-foot shorter than me, but powerfully built and twenty years younger. The tattoos on his neck confirm what I see in his swagger. 

I’m able to line up with his path without being obvious. Once we’re heading straight for one another I make no pretense of what I’m doing. I look him dead in the eyes. He tries to hold my stare but I can tell he’s nervous now. 

By the time his eyes meet mine again, I’m only steps away. I mean to go through him. He moves aside more conspicuously than he wants. I lean to the left so that my shoulder bumps his and it sends him spinning a quarter turn around. He curses at me in Spanish and glares, but when I stop and look back at him, he just spits on the ground. 

It’s a dumb, potentially dangerous game. I only ever play it on the way to her apartment.  

***

The owner of the little liquor store on P Street knows me well enough by now that he doesn’t think I’m there to rob him, my appearance to the contrary. He gives me a nod and reaches behind him for a bottle. It’s bagged and rung up by the time I make my way to the register at the back of the shop. I hand over two twenties, and don’t wait for change. 

I always check the bottle outside to make sure. I have no idea what the fuck a Burrowing Owl is, but it’s the kind she asks for and that’s all that matters. 

I take a right back onto P Street and tuck the bottle into the crook of my arm, digging my hands deep into my field jacket. A half block ahead of me I spot a thick-shouldered man in a Carhartt hoodie. He has a scar on his chin and his cheeks are pocked and pitted. I move a few imperceptible degrees to my left so I’ll be directly in his path within ten strides. I square my shoulders and quicken my pace, my eyes locked on the ground in front of me. He’s only five feet away when I look up. 

“Excuse me,” he says in a Jamaican accent. He sounds like he actually means it. 

***

The old woman thinks I live in Mela’s building. I always run into her the same time each Monday night. We don’t talk; we just do that smile and wave thing that long-time neighbors do. 

I collect Mela’s mail: my first task of the evening. Then I take the stairs up to her third floor apartment. I don’t need small talk in the elevator. I want my privacy. I like the old woman because she just smiles and nods. 

I slip the key into the deadbolt lock. It clicks and what started when I left the subway feels complete: I get to be myself for a while. 

Edgar runs straight for me, his big ears bouncing. He has the body of an oversized rat and the head of something that looks one-degree of evolution removed from a bat. Mela told me once what type of rare breed he was, something like a Chihuahua only better. 

I call him “Batdog” when Mela’s not around and I think he likes it, or at least tolerates it, sort of the way he does me each Monday night. 

I open the bottle of Burrowing Owl and set it on the kitchen table to breathe. 

I sort her mail into three piles: bills, junk, personal. I fan each stack out on the table so that she can see everything at once.

I move to the living room. I like Mela’s décor. The chest in the corner is my favorite. It’s teak and heavily lacquered. I love the smell, love the heft of the lid when I open it. I place my boots inside it first, then the rest of my clothes. 

I pad back to the hallway, to the little bronze side table with the leather tray. 

Mela almost never mentions her father. There are pictures of him, I think, in her bedroom, but I’m not permitted in there. The only thing I know for sure about him is that he bought her the tray in Tuscany. It’s made from leather and hand-sculpted with an inlaid pattern of flowers: lilies and roses, I think. The workmanship is remarkable.

In the tray, rests what looks to the uninitiated like an oversized chess piece attached to a small, white pom-pom. What it really is, of course, is a butt plug, mated at one end to an approximation of a rabbit’s tail.  It waits for me every Monday night, snuggled neatly in the leather tray with a small bottle of astroglide.

I slip the tail inside me tonight and there’s the customary resistance at first, before my muscle relaxes and embraces the plug’s girth, pulling it deeper inside me. 

I check myself in the hallway mirror. 

The white cottontail protrudes perfectly erect from in-between my bare buttocks. 

I look ridiculous.

Edgar barks once in agreement. 

***

Most Monday nights are quiet, serene. 

I kneel in the darkness and wait. I hear her key in the door. Mela turns the lock slowly. She’s in no rush because of me.

I feel the draft from the hallway. I hear the scrape and clap of her pumps. Then she’s turning on the lights. She looks at the bottle of Burrowing Owl breathing on the kitchen table and nods. Her hands slide across her stomach. She looks down at me with the same expression every week: one part surprise that I’m actually there, one part a strong desire to laugh out loud. 

She doesn’t.

Her hand touches my shoulder and it’s my favorite moment of the week. She whispers the word “couch” and I stand and walk into the living room, the tail reverberating with each step I take. I mount the couch, settle on my knees, and hang my arms over the back. 

Behind me, Mela has returned from her bedroom with jeans and a sweater. 

I stare at the wall straight in front of me. We’ve done this eighty, maybe ninety times, and I’ve never once turned my head. Mela strips unseen, leaving her work clothes in puddles on the floor. Each time, I wonder what it would be like to see her the way she sees me. 

She dresses and walks up behind me. Her hand caresses my lower back and moves downward. She rubs and says, “My little cottontail.”

She begins to spank me, with her familiar short, calm slaps. My skin will get red and sting, but there’s no lasting pain, no damage. She knows what she’s doing. 

Sometimes Edgar releases a bark of sympathy. He doesn’t like to see anyone hit. 

Then she’s finished and she’s telling me to pour her a glass of wine. While I’m in the kitchen, she unloads her briefcase: papers to grade, an article to work on. 

If she’s just reading, she’ll have me be her footstool: me on all fours with her feet up on my back. She likes this position too, when she has calls to make: to her mom, sometimes to her girlfriends. Otherwise, I just kneel by her chair, waiting till needed: fetch a new pen, get a stamp, pour another glass of wine if her students’ essays are particularly tiresome. 

And that’s how we pass the night. 

Eventually, she’ll tidy up her papers, make a point of taking my clothes from the chest, and tell me simply, quietly, that she’ll see me next week. She and Edgar disappear into the bedroom and I go home. Satisfied. 

I haven’t slept with anyone in the two years that Mela and I have been seeing each other like this. I’m not sure if that’s healthy. I’m not sure that I care. I don’t miss it really. Too many complications. I like the simplicity of what Mela and I have. 

She sees other people, I think. She sees them, normally, that is. 

There are gaps – pauses – when she’s talking to her mom or one of her girlfriends on the phone. She’s omitting someone for my benefit. 

Most of the time, I really try not to overthink it. But Mela’s late tonight, by over two hours. 

Edgar’s staring straight at the front door. He’s worried too.

I don’t know if what I have with Mela qualifies as love. I do know it makes me happy. 

***

I shift on my knees as the elevator dings.

There are voices. First, Mela’s high and excited, then a man’s. 

I try to make out the words. 

I think I hear, “Over.”

He’s saying, “wait” repeatedly, louder each time. Then there’s a “goddammit”.

Mela shrieks.

I’m standing.  

I hear a thud against the door.

Her key is frantic, scratching.

Mela’s eyes move from Edgar to me. 

She’s genuinely surprised that I’m there. 

Somehow she forgot about me.

Behind her is a man about my age. He’s wearing a suit. A nice one. Gold horn-rimmed glasses. His sandy-colored hair is brushed over the start of a bald spot. His cheeks are flushed.

Mela’s drooped inside the doorframe, crying and clutching her wrist. 

I take two violent steps forward. The sandy-haired man stares at me aghast, like I’m some monster from Mars. A naked monster. 

Beside me, Batdog is angry and menacing. Well, as menacing as anything the size of a plus-sized hamster can be. 

The strange man doesn’t take much notice of Edgar; his eyes are locked on me. I take another step and it happens. Afterwards, I’ll think hard on whether the correct word for what occurred was “squibbed” or “squirted”. Regardless, the point is my tail comes out. Unbidden. 

The sandy-haired man’s terror turns to mirth. He’s starting to laugh.

I keep walking towards him, my eyes fixed on a point on his right cheek, slightly above his mouth but just below his nose.

I can picture my fist mashing his flesh. I feel my knuckles cracking cartilage and bone. I’ll hit him just above the teeth-line, hard enough to fracture the cheek and maybe bloody the nose. But nothing serious, nothing that’ll require a hospital. 

He’s stopped laughing.

My eyes have more to say: about breaking all his ribs. 

He’s already running. 

Then he’s stabbing furiously, almost comically, at the elevator button.

Now he’s turning, looking for the stairs, his glasses askew and his tie twisted in flight.

Her hand, the one that he didn’t mark, is around my arm. 

I scoop her up and carry her sobbing into the apartment.

By the time I get to the living room, she’s screaming at me, slapping my chest.

I set her down as gently as I can. Her mascara is smeared like blood across her face.

She points at the carpet and barks, “Floor.”

I hesitate and her head turns slightly, her eyes accusing me.

I do the only thing I can: I drop to my hands and knees.

She sits and I feel the wonderful heat of her thighs and buttocks. 

Edgar charges to her and she catches him, nestling him tight against her breast.

The three of us stay like that for almost half an hour as she sobs.

Finally, she stands. 

“Get dressed and let yourself out. I’ll see you next week.”

She shuffles barefoot towards her bedroom clutching Edgar over her shoulder. Batdog and I exchange puzzled looks. She closes the door, almost, but not quite, slamming it.

I want to knock. 

But I don’t.

I retrieve my clothes from the chest in the corner. I dress. I see the tail, abandoned and glistening, on the hallway floor. I kick it, harder than I should. It ricochets through the kitchen. 

I make sure to close the front door as gently as I can. 

No slam. 


Mike Sweeney might be a figment of the Internet's imagination.