New Year's Day 2021 - Hoppin' John by Dudgrick Bevins (rated R)

She had said it that morning. She said it aloud, her eyes closed — all the rules followed: “white rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit.” In response, Ernest rolled over and rubbed his wife’s swollen belly: “Are you craving rabbit stew now or worried about the white elephant gift?” In the light of the morning, white light through white gauze curtains falling on white sheets and a tangle of white legs.

“Oh,” she said, “it’s a good luck thing, Ernie. Nothing, really.”

He had laughed at her comment, saying, “I’m not sure you starting the year off with superstitions is all that helpful when you know this white elephant’s trunk always delivers.”

In that moment he had been in her hand. She had squeezed. She had released, smiling into his eyes as she heaved her delicate, yet gravid, body out of their cloud heavy bed. “Don’t lecture me about superstition when we have to get ready for your mother’s new year breakfast.”

With a groan he tucked himself into the waistband of his briefs and launched himself out on his side, saying, “at least you don’t have to go with a hangover.” For a moment, both remembered the previous night: stars, his cocktails, her grape juice, champagne flutes, clinking. Twenty-eight days from the due date: things were coming together — right.

“Every morning is a hangover for me right now,” she had said to him as they met at the end of the bed with an underwear-clad kiss, “thanks to you.”

He had responded with a sly wink of one blue eye, “you were there too, I recall.” This sentence was repeated an hour later as Ernest pulled his red truck into his mother’s driveway. Harmony was naming on each finger the family members she would feel obligated to remember.

“Yes, but that was a year ago, exactly.” Before opening the door, she sighed and saying, “Terry and Terrie, Chrissy and Christopher, Gene and Jean...”

“It’s not that bad,” he had said, kissed by the sun as his mother met them on the porch with gentle hugs.

“What’s not that bad?” slipped out of Ernest’s mother’s mouth.

“Oh, Harm’ here, keepin’ the homonyms straight.” She smacked him gently on the arm when he spoke. It would have been harder if his mother had not been watching, as she hated both that nickname and being embarrassed.

“It’s not her fault everyone married their twin,” the mother teased politely as Harmony nodded with her arms crossed. “And,” she added, “you should bring her around more if you want her to learn names.” At that she slapped even more gently than Harmony had at her son’s arm. “Come in now,” she had said, and they did as Harmony looked around as the brown grass and dried corpses of four-o’clocks and spider flowers in white light of the sun.

She had taken the moment to remember saying “white rabbit” in the darkness of her eyes; and as Jean passed her the cornbread and Gene passed her the collard greens, she chose to remember that remember on the porch, how she had thought the thought of thinking “white rabbit” and the baby inside her kicked just as a real white rabbit hopped through Ernest’s mother’s yard and into the cold blacktop roadway. She had sat both dishes down and chosen to remember the rabbit and the kick and the pristine velvet coat, as Chris and Chrissy quarreled lovingly with the others. She had asked, “what is the cornbread for, again?”

The mother answered in one breath, passing more food to Harmony: “The cornbread is gold, the collards are dollar bills, black-eyed peas are coins, and hog jowl is prosperity —“

“Ma,” he had said, leaning against the pine wood chair, bleak winter in full nakedness glowing through the window, “it’s all about money... money... money...”

“Oh Ernie, it’s about tradition more than money...” she sighed and everyone except Harmony recited in unison, as if singing in church: “it’s about people coming together!”

Harmony had been uncomfortable in the silence she occupied in the family choir. The child, too, felt some unnameable discomfort, Harmony thought as it kicked like a wild hare in the burrow of her body. She spoke through the family laughter: “My people had their traditions too... long histories,” she said starting to slur ever so slightly. “The God of Gateways opened... the door to the coming... darkness.” She felt, in that moment, a distortion: the infant drumming an ancient rhythm, it’s limbs reaching into hers, the faces around the table elongating, everyone’s perfect white outfits glistening in sparks of blue and purple and the iridescent black-green of stained glass dragonfly wings.

She had chosen to speak despite the heaviness of her head and the darkening of the room under the weight of Ernest’s family’s tinny cackles: “and Janus was there when the rabbi circumcised Jesus on this day, when he was named... eight days... after his birth...” She had felt their hands upon her heavy body; opalescent, gentle but forceful, they sparkled as they pulled her up. Drunk, but not drunk, she said, “and... then Janus and Jesus arrived... Catholics to Celts... calendar interrupted... labor of months...”

She had sensed her own heaviness. The weight of each limb, the gravity of her holy womb, each pulled into the earth as the reverse of a seed in doing. Dragged off like brush to a bonfire at autumn’s end, the whiteness of her world, she had felt, was collapsing ever inward; but, like the Earth’s own persistence to spin, she chose to speak.

“...Saints... with their prayers... spells... ran the fairies into the sea... but some hid... in borrows... in downs... in—“ but she had been cut off, tied down, a tube shoved into her mouth. Maw of soil, root-teeth, and loamy lounge: some ancient mother held her in luminous warm darkness, and everything faded slowly with the closing of her eyes.

Before she could open them again, she said “white rabbit” as she reached for her belly and found that her wrists were held tightly in place at her sides. “White rabbit” she had said, silently and deliberately, and she allowed sound — a chanting, harmonious, melodious — to enter her ears. And, “white rabbit” she repeated one last time before opening her eyes to discover she was naked, wrists held down by writhing kudzu that whipped about like the angry severed tentacle of million-armed cephalopod, her legs spread and locked in place with knees bent, naked. She had seen Ernest’s family — the homonyms and his mother — robed in collards with beads of dried black-eyed peas.

When Gene and Jean approached her, she had not flinched. She had not screamed. However, her child wrestled in its burrow. She decided to remember the rabbit from the yard. As the funnel was sent down her throat and Jean held the tool still for Gene to pour the starchy blend of legumes down Harmony’s gullet, she felt a wave of warmth wash over her; it started from the tips of her red hair and pooled in nest of her belly.

She had felt the presence of the rabbit, who was then on the porch, looking in through the sliding glass door. She had felt the homonyms at her ankles, another set at her wrists, the mother-crone sitting between her legs — pelvis to pelvis. And, she had seen the shadow of her lover, Ernest, approaching her stomach, which rose from her abdomen like a mountain in Africa topped with snow, like a series of hills seen from a slow-moving train — a dancing vision of white elephants.

The funnel had been removed. The shadows had moved closer. The mother had touched Harmony’s naked thighs and fruited breasts. Cornbread, in crumbling golden glory had been smashed on her lips. And, then, through the chanting, under the roof that was under the noonday sun, the glass door shattered against a thumping. Footsteps entered her ears as Ernest knelt beside her, chanting, pressing the knife against her belly.

It was then that she had noticed how green the family had become. Mint skin with strawberry lips, and too, their nails had turned black, sharp, like their buzzing dragon-fly eyes. She had not been as afraid as she should have been. She had not fought as one might have expected. She, instead, had waited; and what she had waited for was there, large, heavenly, a shadow of perfect light, and then, it was upon them.

Red had, in that moment, become the color of New Year’s Day — red and white replacing green and gold. Rabbits, she had not needed to remember or note, were fast; and their back claws sharp enough to dig tunnels through roots; their teeth, a pleasure source, enjoyed the resistance of wood or bone; and they eyes, black voids of forever, saw all and all at once. And Harmony had let this happen with glee: each greedy-green scaled leprechaun-dragon gone.

Now, in the peaceful air of a winter harvest, the rabbit — “John,” she said softly — knelt down between her knees, and she opened herself to him and he received their children into this world. One red fur-covered daughter with green eyes and flop ears arrived gently into his paws. “John,” Harmony moaned gently, “is it Holly or—“ he stopped her.

“It’s Holly.” And he handed the kit to her mother who held the red furred child to her white fleshed mother. Then, with a push, a brown-brindled boy awoke in the world, kicking off the after birth; his eyes were as dark as his father’s. John said, “Harmony, the Oak King, too, has arrived.” He handed the boy to his mother.

The family lay together, quiet in the wreckage of prosperity. Fur keeping them warm. Harmony looked into John’s eyes just as the sun feel to the level at which it could pierce the windows with evening light, and said, “white rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit.” John said nothing, but folded his ear across Harmony’s eyes and place one paw under her breast to support their sleeping children.

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