BY RUTH NOLAN
Hey, diddle, diddle....
It’s raining hard outside, and I’m helping my daughter get her upstairs closet organized, and I’m thinking of what my mother told me years ago, that on the day I was born, she was crying, and it was raining. She was crying because she was sad, crying because she was only 19 and didn’t know if she wanted kids or not but she was having one anyway, her second baby in less than two years.
The cat and the fiddle….
Something soft falls off a shelf, hits me in the head.
It’s my daughter’s stuffed blue bunny from her childhood, the one with a music box inside of it.
Jumped over the moon.
The song plays every time one of the blue bunny’s paws is squeezed.
I’m in the tight, airless bedroom closet of my daughter’s apartment at the Ft. Lewis, Washington Army Base.
It’s a wet, forested landscape, overseen by Mt. Rainer, a frozen-throated volcano. It’s a rainy June day, but to me, coming from southern California, it feels like the middle of winter, because it’s chilly and raining, and it’s been raining for three days.
I smile and push one of the blue bunny’s tattered paws. First one, then the other. No music. Nothing comes out. No music, no song. Just memories, the visuals, the sharp outlines of other times and life in the dry place where my daughter I used to lived.
We lived deep in the heart of the Mojave Desert.
Pregnant daughter, due in a month, her first baby, a boy.
The blue bunny grins at me with its ridiculous sewn-on smile and fat black button eyes. It’s a little battered, and a dirtier hue of blue than it was twenty years ago, but other than that, and the silent paws, it’s still the same.
The blue bunny has been sharing the closet with my son-in-law’s Army camouflage gear and spare pistol, where he tossed them after he returned from deployment in Afghanistan.
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
I’m remembering too much right now, all because of this blue bunny.
I’m on a dirt road crossing Rabbit Dry lakebed in a rusted 1967 Chevy Truck.
I’m with my boyfriend of one year, and we are both 22 years old.
It’s four months before my boyfriend shoots and kills his best friend on the upstairs balcony of our apartment at the 29 Palms Marine Base apartment and goes to prison for life.
He’s just been discharged from the Marines.
And I’m pregnant with my daughter, which I just found out at the free clinic in Victorville.
My boyfriend and are on our way to San Bernardino.
And he tells me that he’s always wanted a baby girl.
And I tell him that much of the desert was once underwater.
And he tells me that the desert is a fucking wasteland, that Joshua trees are Satan’s spawn.
Then we reach the edge of the desert and penetrate Cajon Pass, a gash in the mountains, and descend into a layer of inland coastal morning fog.
And before we get to the family planning clinic, which is in a strip mall, he pulls off at K-Mart.
The parking lot is full of potholes.
My boyfriend leaves the truck, slamming the door harder than he should.
And I wait in the truck, my head pressed against the dashboard, trying not to think or feel, and longing for another cold beer.
And my boyfriend returns with a cheap blue bunny.
The bunny is the size of a newborn baby. He presses its left paw, and smiles up at me.
Hey, diddle, diddle…
And he plays it over and over, until I think he’s going to crush its paws, or wear out the batteries.
And he puts his 9 MM and AK47 and bullet belt away, under the front seat.
He asks if I’ve made up my mind.
I tell him no, and just stare at the blue bunny.
I smile and press its paws over and over again until he starts the truck and turns around, heading back towards the desert, and I close my eyes and keep playing the song, again and again, the whole way home, and hum along:
Hey, diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed
To see such sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon…..
“Mom, don’t cry,” she says. “What’s wrong? Why are you on the floor in there?”
My daughter, big-bellied, stands over me.
“You found Blue Bunny! I was looking for him.”
I close my eyes, cradle the bunny in my arms, and hum the Cat and the Fiddle song, over and over again, and then my daughter puts her hands on top of her unborn baby, and leaves the room.
“I’m going to go start dinner,” she says, as she walks away. “I love the rain. Don’t you?”
And the rain attacks the bedroom window, harder and more furiously than ever, as if someone is throwing pebbles, trying to break through the glass, or maybe trying to sing along with me.