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EVELYN WALSH

 

 

 

Evelyn Walsh by John Minihan

A native of Philadelphia, Evelyn Walsh has published stories in Narrative; Brain, Child; and The Hamilton Stone Review. Over the years she has had the great good fortune to work with Rick Moody, Danielle McLaughlin, John Hawkes, and Paul Harding. Evelyn is first generation Irish-American, and so the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize means the world to her. She hopes to return to Cork with her four children in tow. In the meantime, she is working on a novel and a short story collection.



Photo © John Minihan

 

 

 

White Rabbit

1st Prize in the 2015 Seán Ó Faoláin Competition

 

 

 

           What if, in the course of a most ordinary task on a most ordinary day, one happens upon a giant talking bunny, yes, a rabbit, an enormous hare, standing upright upon massive, solid paws, a bunny granted not only powers of speech and stature but given to sartorial splendor, wearing over his thick, sparkling coat of plush white fur, a vest and bowler hat, a bunny attired in a manner that recalls the Edwardian era, the vest cut from a lively checked plaid of eggplant and mixed greens dotted with broken lines of yellow, the bowler a complimentary but darker shade that ventures beyond eggplant into black,  a bunny with an urgent yet dignified air,  perambulating with great haste and sense of purpose through one’s neighborhood, a neighborhood not known for visitations by giant talking bunnies, a neighborhood in which supernatural visions are incompatible with the collective sense of how the world works, a place whose collective aesthetic is conveyed through paint colors and landscaping choices, a neighborhood whose streets are flanked by rows of well maintained homes, all containing well heeled families in possession of solid professional credentials, two or three children given to sports and academics, and two cars in the driveway (one of which is most likely a sports utility vehicle or a minivan) a neighborhood whose most pressing concerns are municipal taxes and school ratings and for whom more weighty matters, matters of life and death, are remote to the point of abstraction, something to be read about in the newspaper (that same newspaper which no longer lands on the driveway before dawn with a comforting thud but is instead accessed through the dangerous and cunning magic of the internet) and yet in this setting of convention and order, the bunny’s air of confidence and ease is so utterly convincing that even the dog (whose morning walk is the highlight of his day, and who, to your knowledge, has never before encountered a giant talking bunny, and who, despite many endearing qualities, is given to sudden and unpredictable bursts of bad behavior—lunging occasionally, for example, at other dogs without explanation, or snarling at the regular mail man but not the substitute mail man) is as docile with the giant talking bunny as he would be with some heretofore unknown species of human (he is especially attached to the lady next door, Mrs. Byrd, and it means something to you, to believe your dog has the capacity to love, would in fact adore Mrs. Byrd from the overflowing goodness of his doggy heart, even if Mrs. Byrd did not make a ritual of giving him Liver Snaps) so the dog is utterly relaxed with you and the giant bunny, carrying on as if nothing is out of the ordinary, waiting patiently for you to finish your conversation (hoping, no doubt, with all his doggy heart that this giant bunny might be in possession of some Liver Snaps) and so you feel you have no choice but to carry on as if there was nothing more remarkable about running into a giant talking bunny than running into, oh, the UPS man, or Janie Hart, who lives a few doors down, yet instinct tells you this is all wrong, to continue making small talk, chiming in at appropriate intervals with polite, non-committal phrases (“oh I see,” and “yes, I know what you mean”) when the entire time there’s a reel unwinding in your head, and that reel goes something like this: my God, I’m out here on the sidewalk with a giant talking bunny and what must people think—because it’s like any morning on your street, and so people are out and about—you’ve seen Andi Fox, speed walking her twins in that industrial-strength double stroller, and the Lyons, up the street, and at least two crews of landscaping teams, plus some joggers panting by, and the Fed Ex lady, and the only thing more astonishing than the giant talking bunny is the fact that there’s no sign that any of these people are in the least discomfited at the sight of you and the talking bunny,  although it’s hard to say because you couldn’t get a really good look at these passers-by, just a sidelong glance over your shoulder, because after all you are engaged in a conversation, even if it is with a giant talking bunny, and it’s rude to look over your shoulder while talking to anyone, you know what that’s like, to be talking to someone at a cocktail party, and the whole time you’re talking it’s so obvious they can’t wait to get away, with their eyes scanning the crowd behind you for someone more entertaining, and usually it doesn’t take long, because most people are adept at making excuses, extricating themselves, apparently everyone but you knows how to make a getaway, and this is why you remain on the sidewalk with the giant talking bunny, completely at a loss to assess the situation, let alone formulate some kind of plan, assuming the bunny is an actual and living presence and not proof of some mental breakdown, a possibility that seems increasingly likely as your mind settles further into that auto-narration mode that goes something like this: well, what does one do when talking to a giant talking bunny, does one glance discreetly over one’s shoulders, first the right and then the left, to see how one’s neighbors are reacting to the bunny, or, is the more urgent question to determine the neighbors’ reaction to you speaking to the giant bunny, because you aren’t sure what is the most appropriate way to proceed, having never encountered a bunny of this stature on your block (presuming that the bunny is real and not the heralding avatar of your complete mental and emotional collapse) and it seems crucial to ascertain whether anyone in the vicinity is trying to signal you, something along the lines of hold tight, act normal, help is on the way, or if there is some other explanation that once revealed will clear things up entirely, although it’s hard to believe there could be any plausible explanation for the presence of a giant talking bunny on this otherwise un-remarkable block, which leads you back to the question of the state of your own mind, presuming as you do that in spite of recurring issues with word retrieval and a tendency toward social anxiety and what your therapist calls sticky thoughts, is nevertheless a mind whose lapses are more or less in sync with what’s considered normal for someone of your age and station in life, and so presuming you are in possession of a relatively sound mind, a mind not given to supernatural visions while taking the dog on his morning walk, it’s only natural that in this situation this unremarkable mind goes into overdrive, casting about for other options at the same time you’re talking to the bunny, murmuring “Oh, I see,” and “I know what you mean” at intervals, during pauses in the bunny’s conversation—pauses which, it must be said, are rather infrequent, as the bunny has revealed himself to be something of monologue artist, not unlike Mrs. Byrd (the lady with the Liver Snaps—whose monologue tendencies are so firmly rooted and so difficult to evade that you always look out the window before leaving the house in case she’s out in her garden and thus likely to ambush you en route to the mailbox or your car, oblivious to the idea that you may not have thirty minutes to hear her extended analysis of either the county’s new water restrictions or the Gypsy Moth blight of 1979), but all that notwithstanding you can’t help noting that no matter how this all turns out the mind is a marvel, a true miracle of evolution, because regardless of what you’ve been reading about the perils of multitasking you are in fact multitasking fairly successfully, considering that one task is to converse with a giant bunny and another task is to make sense of this bunny and a third task is to consider the reaction (or lack thereof) on the street, and out of this maelstrom of mental exertion comes revelation – hallelujah! – and you realize there is a plausible candidate in the “logical explanation” category,  the bunny of course must be some kind of children’s entertainment professional, dispatched to your street by an agency catering to parents rendered so desperate by the thought of hosting a ninety minute children’s party that they solicit professional support, call in the cavalry, so to speak, because what other explanation can there be, given that it’s not Easter or even Halloween and so there must be some non-seasonal explanation for the appearance of this life-size talking bunny—who, just now,  has reached into his waistcoat to extract an old-fashioned watch on a chain, a timepiece he regards with some concern as you, sensing that the pause in his conversation might last long enough for you to venture a full sentence, a thought more developed than “Oh, I see,” a thought that, if framed in the appropriate way might allow you, without offending the bunny,  to get to the bottom of this, because it has dawned upon you –  alas and alack – there are factors that cast doubt over this birthday party supposition (the bunny’s perusal of his watch piece having granted a moment to steal a hurried glance around the block, time enough to note the absence of the usual trappings associated with  birthday parties – no one, for example, has festooned a mailbox with balloons, nor is there a particular address with an unwieldy pack of cars spilling out of the driveway and besides, it’s not Saturday but Tuesday morning, an unlikely day for a birthday party – unlikely although not impossible, if the birthday child is homeschooled, or a toddler) and so you bide your time, careful to avoid a remark that might upset the bunny, even as you remain unable to fathom why no one on the street has paused to comment on the remarkable sight of you exchanging pleasantries with a giant talking bunny and so you are loathe to entirely surrender the birthday party theory, regardless of evidence to the contrary (the lack of balloons on some mailbox, etc.) leaving you no choice but to face the increasing likelihood that you’re having some kind of Technicolor hallucinogenic breakdown, right out here on the sidewalk, when the prevailing wisdom dictates that the privacy of your own home is the most appropriate place for a breakdown—although it’s true that even this street has played host to the occasional public breakdown, most memorably the Fourth of July party where Janie Hart threw a gin and tonic at her husband Tiff in the Lyons backyard, and you remember distinctly that Tiff was wearing – without irony – pink shorts embroidered with green whales, shorts he removed along with his shirt and his boxers and even his Topsiders, before capering, stark naked, the two blocks from the Lyons cookout to his own house, naked as the day he was born except for a napkin he swiped from the Lyons party (the napkin, in keeping with the patriotic theme of the party, was red white and blue) and Tiff made use of this napkin not as a fig leaf but as a prop to punctuate his a cappella performance of PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT, expressing his force of feeling with the napkin just as the recording artist Meat Loaf once used a dainty little handkerchief, except unlike Meat Loaf in the video, Tiff was starkers, and less vocally gifted, and Tiff’s interpretation of PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT went into extended play, well over two hours (including a long section in the middle when Tiff decided to embellish his performance by singing the Karla Bonoff part in a most unconvincing falsetto) and while all that may sound funny in theory, it was horribly embarrassing for all parties involved, so that even people who don’t like the Harts very much, pretty much looked the other way, as if one and all had agreed that looking the other way was the most kind and practical response, but the Tiff  incident, however mortifying for the Harts, lacks the supernatural dimension that marks this bunny situation, and so the fact that no one (the landscapers, the joggers huffing past, the fit young Alpha mother speed-walking her young in the double jogging stroller, a contraption whose agile and streamlined design rivals the Space Station in its ingenuity) has turned a hair in your direction, because whether this is a situation where you have taken leave of your senses, or an actual supernatural visitation – a paranormal phenomenon, right here on Provincial Court – you must fend for yourself while your friends and neighbors carry on, pretending that all is as it should be, that nothing extraordinary or  unseemly has occurred, and all at once it seems to you that there is something deeply wrong with your community, that it’s all starting to feel very Kitty Genovese, the neighbors putting their heads down, see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, when you might be in danger, whether at the mercy of an actual giant talking bunny, or your clearly tenuous grip of reality, and what if this bunny were in fact armed and dangerous, a psychotic hiding in plain sight —and yes, a giant bunny costume might be construed as plain sight, because who expects a serial killer to dress up like a giant bunny, complete with waistcoat and bowler hat, and you may well scoff, but the bunny persona does make a clever ruse, in fact, the willingness of everyone on the street to look the other way proves that the plan has a kind of genius, and truth be told you are at a loss, trying to assess how much of this is indifference (a la Kitty Genovese) and how much is a matter of neighborly good intentions, of tolerance and regard for your privacy, as in if you, Deirdre Godot, want to spend the morning with a giant talking bunny, who are we to interfere, and it’s not as if people shun Janie and Tiff Hart for the PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT incident, and yet you must be wired differently from all of your neighbors, because if you spotted any of them in the company of a giant bunny you would absolutely investigate, and then you recall what happened just a few weeks ago when a black man turned up on Provincial Court, asking for work, trudging door to door to ring the bell, and his presence wrought so much consternation and alarm, such a flurry of texts and alerts to the neighborhood email list, with some of the most zealous members of neighborhood watch posting minute-by-minute updates on his whereabouts (the suspect has left Provincial Court, now heading west on Birmingham Way) and by the time the texts and emails and phone calls reached a frenzied peak you felt certain this storm breaking about this man’s person – he was dressed in clean but shabby clothes, so obviously cast-off, culled from  some pitiful church wardrobe – surely, you thought, the hostility in the air must be palpable to him, he must feel it the same way you’d feel the stillness before the weather breaks, he must have known, even before the patrol car pulled up and, according to Janie Hart, who was one of several to call 911,  the police frisked and questioned him and deemed him harmless, but nevertheless called Janie back, commending her as the very model of civic-minded responsibility and initiative and you, old enough to remember the days that streets like this one were the province of door-to-door salesmen plying their various trades (aluminum siding, the Fuller Brush men, the WORLD BOOK Encyclopedia, and knives, for God’s sake, knives!) feel at a loss to reason with your neighbors, so righteous and certain in their objections, although you composed any number of timid emails, attempting to point out that looking for yard work is not, per se, suspicious activity, you finally gave up, because you’ve seen how this plays out in your neighborhood before, and how someone inevitably says I don’t care if you’re red or blue or green, if you’re acting suspicious on my street, I’m going to do something about it—as if walking from door to door, asking for work, qualifies as suspicious, and is even more suspicious if one carries a rake or a shovel, although this particular gentleman did not have a tool of any kind, just a clipboard and a dull pencil, and besides, the guilty truth is that when you opened your door to that man a part of you was relieved to see the fear in his face as he glanced at your dog, the dog you gripped by the collar, apologizing over the barking because you had no work to give him, and that’s when it occurs to you that it’s possible the person inside this bunny costume is that same black man, theorizing that if he must come to this side of town to find work he can do so in a bunny costume and no one will pay him any mind, whereas appearing in his hand-me-down church closet clothes, face and hands naked to the gaze of the entire street, will cause alarm, and even as you know this is ridiculous it somehow makes you feel more calm, because it’s certainly less frightening than the serial killer scenario, and so you continue nodding your head and saying “uh huh” in all the right places, so intent on appearing at ease and saying the right thing that when you look back on this day you won’t even be able to picture anything more than your impression of the bunny, the feeling of standing next to him for an extended time, listening, or rather, simulating the act of listening, nodding your head, and that is what will remain with you, as opposed to the way the bunny actually looked—so that no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to retrieve certain perplexing details, such as how did the bowler hat fit upon the bunny’s narrow head, and whether that dignified headpiece had holes that allowed space for his ears to poke through, or was the bowler so narrow that it could be placed between those ears, and how did the bunny’s mouth move when he talked (presumably his mouth worked in a far more convincing manner than those benighted efforts at computer animation—those children’s movies, or commercials for cat litter and dog biscuits, in which the animal that is supposed to be talking looks utterly unconvincing) and what was it that made it possible for the giant talking bunny to carry himself upright like a human, while standing on hind legs designed to work in concert with front legs, and then there is the matter of the bunny’s private parts, which given his upright posture must have been exposed, and yet all you can recall beneath the bunny’s waistcoat is a plush expanse of fluffy white fur, and these are the thoughts that occupy you, that help you resist the temptation to blurt out the obvious question – what on earth are you doing here, giant talking bunny? – and it’s reassuring to think that if something horrible was about to happen – if this bunny truly meant you harm – surely he would have done so by now, knocking you senseless and dragging you off the sidewalk, taking you behind some shrubbery to do his wicked worst, and so at least for now this is what sustains you, as the bunny keeps talking and you keep nodding your head and making polite, non-committal sounds like “no kidding” and “oh yes, I know what you mean,”  grateful that you’ve found some semblance of comfort, because after all even the most compulsive and oblivious talker must eventually pause long enough to catch her breath.

 

©2016 Evelyn Walsh

 

 

Author Links

 

'Heights' by Evelyn Walsh in The Hamilton Stone Review

'Birthday Girl': story by Evelyn Walsh in Narrative

"Danielle McLaughlin on why Evelyn Walsh Won" (The Irish Times)

Interview with Evelyn Walsh in Irish America on her Seán Ó Faoláin win

 

 

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