Pick a color. My soft, nail-bitten finger pointed to blue. Which number? Seven, my favorite. My classmates crowded in as Lisa moved the paper seven times then unfolded a flap. You will have….eleven children. Everyone squealed; our oracle had spoken. Maddie would have five, Rachel would have three, and Sadie would have none. In those days, we thought of children not as people, but as names. Buttercup, that’s what I would name the first of the eleven, Cinnamon the second.
After the bell rang, we went back to math class, trailing in the smell of chalk and wet grass. I watched as Lisa played over and over again under her desk, cupping it around her hands as she looked at the results. She wouldn’t show anybody what she had gotten, and after playing so many times, she must have had varied results. Mother to many and to none; later I would learn about Schrodinger’s cat and think of her. To have no direction, like a ghost ship adrift at sea, would have been unthinkable. Go to college and get a job then get married. I was following a red string into the future, moving paper and picking numbers. Everything was within my grasp, given to needy hands by privilege and circumstance, until it wasn’t.
He couldn’t have known about my aversion to rabbits, yet the gesture seemed infinitely malicious. Even with synthetic fur and a fabric tag sticking out of its rear, the stuffed rabbit held an ominous presence that reminded me of the one from my childhood. I had been visiting a friend at her house when she took her male rabbit out of its cage and let it roam as we sat cross-legged on the carpet. I picked it up and put it in my lap and that’s when it began humping my leg. For a moment I was frozen, trying to figure out what was happening, then I screamed.
Rabbits disgusted me the more I learned about them. They bred endlessly, in a way that reminded me of holding up a mirror to another mirror and watching the display of infinity. Rabbits could outbreed wolves and rifles. They could probably outbreed humans too.
I’d always thought of birth like this: a little piece of the soul gets snipped away to make another soul, like a starfish whose lost arm grows into another starfish. What would be left of the rabbit mother after so many litters and so much has been snipped away? The only explanation is that they are machines, like the male rabbit who hopped robotically towards me even after I shook it off my leg. They have no names, only a genetic combination to identify them as different creatures. When my friend’s rabbit died, her parents bought her a new one that looked identical. She was none the wiser until they jokingly told her the truth years later.
Something about the species was offensive. In a week I would stuff the rabbit down the garbage chute and watch as its colorful pink form disappeared into the abyss.
Taped to the rabbit was a card that said, “Get Well Soon,” with a picture of Winnie the Pooh holding a thermometer in his mouth. I ripped it in half and threw it in the trash. Unless I became a starfish, the hope for that was none.
I began to have dreams of rabbits, ones where they would crowd around me and rub their paws across my legs. I had one dream where a mother rabbit gave birth and I was forced to watch as she unhinged her jaw and her bunnies crawled out, one by one, like spiders out of a sack. Waking up in a cold sweat, I clutched for a body, only to find nobody there.
His departure had made me hyperaware of the emptiness in my stomach. I prodded the flesh with my finger. It was a desert; no flowers would ever grow there. Upon realizing I was a lost cause, he’d picked up his scythe and rake and abandoned his land. All I had been left with after the appointments and tests and treatments was a gas-station gift and Sorry, I can’t do this. I was seconds away from a supernova and that’s when I started folding the cranes.
It came easily. Fold, unfold, fold again, and flatten out the crease. I worked like that for hours, as sunlight sat heavy on my brow and the moon gazed down, a sliver into another world. My hands became robotic, worked by springs interwoven between vein and muscle. I made hundreds of them, hanging them from the ceiling, stuffing them in draws, under the bed, and into boxes. They were birds of agony, folded from anger and pain.
Paper cranes are the opposite of rabbits. They don’t break off into fragments and new arms. One paper folds into a single paper crane, a metamorphosis in place of production. I was a creator, not to eleven but to hundreds. I took pictures of them to post to Instagram, where my origami account had thousands of followers. From cranes, I went to elephants and dragons and tulips that I placed in vases. These flowers would never die.
I think about the rabbit sometimes. Right now, it’s probably sitting in a landfill somewhere, pink fur turned brown with dirt. Maybe one day it will break down into microscopic bits, float down a river and into the ocean to be eaten by a fish. Maybe one day I’ll be sitting in a restaurant poking my fork into a piece of rabbit. For a moment the thought stings, like a too-hot iron, but it soon drifts away with the rest.
It’s three o’clock, and school’s out. I hear children outside in the nearby playground, their shrill screams passing concrete walls and resonating deep within my chest. I feel a tingling in my stomach where the hole used to be, but a long period of healing has sewn it shut. One crane hangs by the window, catching the light, its bent face emotionless. I’ve decided not to be afraid of rabbits anymore. All that’s left of me to take has been carefully folded away and kept safe within the creases of origami paper.