Val’s challenge: tell the story of Rabbit Woman. This digital painting is just one example of Val Erde’s extraordinary talent. You all know I get weak-kneed about fiction, but here goes. Sorry it got a bit long.
Even as a baby, Juanita was precocious and driven. She walked unassisted at seven months, talked at eighteen months, and by the age of three, Juanita perched on the toilet lid and read the stock market report to her daddy while he shaved. Her parents rewarded Juanita’s straight-A report cards with shiny toys. She was the first kid on the block to have a Pinkalicious Strawberry Patch bike. In high school she was the first to have her own chrome-shiny Miata convertible. After graduation from Harvard, with a double major in Economics and Communications, Juanita’s daddy presented her with a round-the-world adventure package during which she met her smartly dressed, ultra suave, corporate CEO, future husband.
They returned to the states and built a magnificent house overlooking the ocean. The house was filled with art treasures, custom furnishings, and surrounded by electronic surveillance. Their lives were frenetic and Juanita often longed for a free afternoon during which she could lie on one of the plush garden sofas with a mint julep, a fine detective novel, and nothing but the beautiful blue ocean stretched out before her. But there was no time for such frivolity. So Juanita and her husband exchanged hurried embraces between their separate flights to far-flung business negotiations around the world.
One stormy night Juanita returned to the empty house utterly exhausted from another red-eye flight. Her shiny husband was half a world away, leading a group of dairy farmers through China to facilitate trade negotiations. Despite a blinding headache and sore feet, Juanita remembered to arm the alarm system before she passed out on the King-sized bed. The narcotics did their magic and removed all pain and coherence.
When Juanita awoke, she was snuggled into a fetal ball, warm and cozy. It was sublime. She slowly became aware of a delicious smell; it was a scent she couldn’t place: not coffee, not bacon, not any of the normal scents she might wake to. No, this was . . . organic. Clover! Yes, that’s what it was. It smelled so . . . pure!
Next, she cocked open an eye, expecting bright sunshine cascading through the floor-to-ceiling windows. But it was dark . . . and slightly dank. She reached a hand out, feeling for her iPhone. Instead raw dirt greeted her palm. Now her eyes flew open, heart pounding; where was she? She unfurled from her cozy, round nest and yelped when her arm brushed soft warm fur. What the—? The fur moved. A soft, grandmotherly voice filled the space. What was this space? It was certainly not her bedroom!
“Shhhh, be calm,” said the voice. “You’re fine. I found you last night in the storm. Poor dear, you were so wet, so bedraggled. I brought you here to my home so you wouldn’t be swept away.”
“What!? Who are you? Where am I?” Juanita rubbed the sleep from her eyes. As they adjusted she could barely make out a slight shaft of light angling down upon the soft fur form beside her. Then she looked more carefully. The soft fur form was HUGE! There were long bristles sticking sideways out of . . . oh my, that was a nose! A nose with whiskers. And above the nose were a pair of eyes, dark as obsidian pebbles. And, oh no. This is a dream, she thought. Above the eyes were a pair of furry . . . no—yes! EARS! Long, furry . . . rabbit ears! “Where am I?” Juanita panicked now.
“Its okay, dear.” The nose between the whiskers twitched and the ears flopped sideways, one brushing Juanita’s shoulder gently. “It was really a ghastly storm. All those big machines have been removing trees and shrubs, disturbing the landscape. There’s nothing to hold the dirt together anymore. Now a storm like that churns up the dirt and sucks the hillside into the ocean. Your home was crumbling around you and I knew that in a matter of minutes, you’d be swept out into the sea. You looked so small and vulnerable there, just like my little kits before they died. I’ve been lonely, too, you know. It’s hard to lose your babies. My first litter fledged successfully. But each one since then has grown sickly and failed to thrive. It must be something in my milk. I’m heartsick, but what can I do? Anyway, I brought you here. I can’t offer you any milk, but I can bring you some sweet alfalfa seeds. My milk would probably kill you, so it’s just as well. As soon as you’re feeling strong enough, we’ll go out together to forage.”
The gentle voice lulled Juanita, calmed her panic. Now she thought she saw something iridescent sloping down from the rabbit’s shoulders. Yes, the rabbit had . . . wings! What was in those pills I took last night?
“But who are you? Why are you so large?” asked Juanita, eager to understand this new phenomenon.
“It is not I who is large, it is you who is small,” replied the rabbit. “You are so small and fragile. I am just a lonely mother whose babies have all died. I took you in to protect you. Your survival will give my life meaning.”
And so began the lifelong companionship of Juanita and her rabbit angel. Indeed, when Juanita emerged from the cozy den, she blinked her eyes at the transformation. The remaining trees were huge. Even the grass was tall, like a forest. Where she was sure her home had once been, there was nothing but soft red dirt and a cliff, below which, the ocean tide rushed in and out. Most puzzling of all was the transformation in Juanita herself. She was but a fraction of her former self. And her ambition had shrunk to scale. Now all she cared about was a lazy nap in the warming sunshine and a successful morning of foraging among the tall grasses and bushes that provided all she could eat of rich, nutritious vegan delicacies. Oddly, Juanita did not miss her Miata, her man, or her manic previous life.