Looking down, I saw the trail of red blood droplets, stark and saturated against white snow. I stood at my usual spot on the subway platform for the morning commute, bundled in layers like my fellow passengers, my head low to ward off the frigid January wind. The rabbit lay on its side not far from the train tracks, a button-black eye open wide in surprise. Its chestnut-brown coat would have otherwise been camouflaged against the decaying leaves and shrubbery, but for the shock of white fur on its underbelly and accompanying splash of crimson.
From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell the cause of its demise: Whether some predator had dealt a fatal bite or puncture and then lost interest, leaving the rabbit mortally wounded but otherwise undisturbed. Or perhaps the rabbit had touched the third rail, just a foot or so away, and been thrown to its final resting place with a zap of electricity. I too felt jolted as I took it in, its blood glistening in the sun, and lifted my face to look away. The briskness of Arctic air, nearly as harsh, assaulted my cheeks and brow, made my eyes sting with tears. If I had been sleepwalking through my commute thus far, I was awake now.
Over the subsequent weeks, by default, the rabbit became part of my morning ritual. I am a creature of habit, always heading to the same spot on the platform to catch the train, and this macabre progress check became routine: Get off the bus. Swipe my monthly pass. Head to the left, down the stairs, toward the three billboards. Check for the rabbit. Get on the train.
The first few days, the rabbit stayed intact, its coat slightly matted, the blood fading to rust. A few weeks in, exposed to subsequent snowstorms, ice, and rain, the rabbit’s coat grew black from perpetual damp, the white of its coat turned gray and sullied with dirt. At some point, it lost its eye completely.
A few more weeks, and the decomposing rabbit started to take up less space. Its skeleton softened; its fur eroded. I could see a faint outline of teeth.
By late March, the ground, shifting to spring, began to absorb the body. Shoots of grass started encircling the space where the rabbit had died.
By June, the earth had swallowed the rabbit entirely. And yet, each morning, I found myself looking to the spot. For the next year or so, I watched the grasses and weeds go through their own life cycle, interrupted at times with the detritus of littering commuters—discarded cigarette butts, crushed soda cans and coffee cups, potato chip wrappers. Those didn’t break down so much as get swept away from passing trains or a good gust of wind, and were always replaced anew.
One recent afternoon, nearly two years since I first encountered the rabbit, I headed down to the subway. Laid off last September, I no longer commute downtown every morning. But while my subway rides have become more sporadic since I’ve been freelancing, I still follow the same habits: I head to the left through the turnstiles, to my usual place on the platform. My eye still darts to the same spot.
And that day, basking in the sun, was a little brown rabbit, very much alive, identical to its predecessor. Nose atwitch, it chewed something unidentifiable—perhaps crumbs from littered snacks, or roughage buried under a layer of leaves. I watched it, rapt, for a few minutes, until the loudspeaker interrupted me: The next Orange Line train to Forest Hills is now approaching.
I looked down the track, could see the front car, stocky and lumbering, growing ever closer. I looked off the platform, where the rabbit stayed still. I held my breath.
Still closer. The next Orange Line train to Forest Hills is now arriving. In response, a gale of wind beat the chugging train down the platform, the breaks squealed as the linked cars slowed. Just before the train pulled in, I forced myself to look at the spot.
Nonchalant, the rabbit turned, its tail a flash of white as it hopped away from the tracks. The car doors opened, releasing a warm front from the heated interior. I got on and headed downtown.
Sarah Pascarella is a Somerville-based writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @PascarellaSarah.
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