My 9-year-old daughter and I were in the basement feeding the rabbit. It was cool and quiet down there and she was giving him some fresh clover she'd just picked out in the yard. The rabbit, which was dark grey, with beautiful lambent eyes, was liking this a lot, much better than he did the stamped-out organic alfalfa pellets the pet store sold.
"I love it down here," my daughter said.
So did I. It was a more reasonable world than that loud one upstairs, whose television set was even now making noises through the floor. That set was tuned to a political talk show where some serious-faced people had been talking for an hour now on whether John Anderson was going to get enough exposure. This had been intense and upsetting, like being at a party where the pitch and volume of gabbling kept rising until at last you did not hear the words of the person in front of you anymore but just the generalized, hysterical turkey-like sounds, and your own voice as part of that. That was how Washington always was during an election year and I had come to the basement where things made sense.
The rabbit, who was of a beautiful dwarf variety, hearty and inquisitive, had to have clover and water, and needed to be held and petted if he was going to get used to living with us. that was all there was to it and there was nothing to explain, and my daughter and I found it pleasant to be down here in the cool grey light that was soft as fur and bore no resemblance to the other knd of grey light that came out of the television set, spasmodic as a punk rocker on Benzedrine.
Up above us in the kitchen, the phone rang, and I went to answer it. This was unwise, because it was Friday afternoon, and anybody who knows anything about our town does not take calls then. This is because Friday afternoon is when the people who have felt frustrated and powerless all week are determined finally to get what they want out of somebody so as to have a good weekend.
The deep, authoritative voice on the other end of the line belonged to the head of a large national journalistic enterprise, a man I'd never met, who opened the conversation by saying, "I think you are a fool."
He had been obliged to come to that conclusion, he said, because of my obtuseness in refusing to let him distrubte my newspaper column. I was a fool for not being able to appreciate the intangibles. What I really needed, he said, was his "firm guidance." Besides, he was offering me the kind of "exposure" money could not buy.
This was confusing. In Flint Hill, Va., where I came from, a grown man did not call another one a fool unless he did so to his face, nor did he take firm guidance from anybody not carrying a gun. However, that had been out in America, and not in Washington D.C., where it was a hot Friday afternoon during an election year, and where my daughter, even at this instant, was out in the back yard yelling for help.
I ran out there and she was chasing the rabbit around the rose bush and it looked like he was going to get away. She had taken him out there and either he had been confused by the helicopter going over, or was just confused. He would make a dash across the yard and she would go after him and was faster on the straightaway, but this rabbit was very good a dodging and would always come back to the rose bush and get on the other side of it.
So I entered the fray, at considerable cost to my dignity, and with increasingly unsatisfactory results. Because the way with a rabbit is that the narrower his successive escapes as you grab for him, the angrier you get, and the more willng to do just about anything. In other words, you get to be just like everybody else in Washington on a Friday afternoon. And so it wasn't long before I was diving down joltingly into the dirt for that scuttling 6-week-old rabbit that didn't even weight a pound - all the while reflecting to myself that if the wire serivce mogul thought I was a fool when I sat down at the typewriter, he ought to see me out here.
Even so, this Keystone rabbit scene was preferable to sitting in front of TV watching all those serious muscled mouths moving, and my daughter and I, who are formidable when working together, finally managed to nab our quarry -- although not without involving the sleepy, unwitting dog in the fracas as well as the long leash he happened to be wearing, which, tangling around my ankles, caused more dives than just those that were planned, and was the instigator of some outraged canne profanity that could be heard for blocks while the scuffle was going on, as well as some low growls in the aftermath, which, while discursive, left no keen doubt as to their true meaning.
Five minutes later, my daughter and I were back in the basement again, feeding the rabbit as if nothing had happened. We were both a little wiser for what we'd just been through, and silently thinking things over together -- somthing we often do. Through the thick ceiling above us, one could hear the droning machine that was Washington, stamping out organic word pellets for the world.
"Who was that on the phone?" my daughter wanted to know.
"A man who wanted to give me some exposure," I said.
"That's not good for you," she said. "It could even kill you."
"Where did you learn that?"
"In my rabbit book."
"Well, he doesn't know any better," I said.
"You can take up for him all you want to," my daughter said. "But if he knows what is good for him he had better stay away from here."