And then a hero comes along

Chris Erskine can be reached at

Nothing good ever happened at 4 in the morning. Poems were never written. Songs were never sung. Church bells were never rung. Four in the morning is best left to cat burglars or priests muttering last rites. Even an earthquake will usually wait till at least 5.

“Psst,” I hear from the living room. “Psst, come here. Quick-quick-quick.”

I stir from a raging sleep. Most sleep is angry these days. Demanding bosses. Declining benefits. Presidential candidates who don’t have a clue. You add it all up, and it’s a fitful rest at best.

“Psst, there’s something on the rabbit cage,” my wife pssts.

Next door, the big dog is barking, spooked by something that has pounced upon the wooden rabbit hutch in our backyard. You know how sometimes even a big, husky dog will have fear in his throat? Well, tonight he can barely speak.

“I think it’s a coyote,” my wife says.

She is standing at the back windows looking out toward the ravine, the Serengeti of wild things that borders our backyard. All the back lights are on. From deep in the dark, 100 pairs of eyes are watching us. By God, look at his underwear, they’re probably thinking.


“You have to go out there,” she says.

“It’s 4 in the morning,” I say.

“You have to go out there.”

Notice how girlie they get when death is around? For all the strides they’ve made, women still push us into harm’s way when danger lurks. True equality will never really happen till they at least take turns.

I walk toward the rabbit hutch, wishing I had brought along a brandy. Concrete is never colder than at 4 in the morning. At the edge of the yard, I grab the only legal weapon nearby. A garden hose. Its nozzle has six different settings.

“Oh great, he’s going to water the pumpkins,” I imagine my wife saying as she watches from the window.

I pull the garden hose and take a few steps toward the darkness. I fire toward where the coyote fled. It is an odd choice of weapons, this water. Our wild animals are desperate for it in the dry months of fall. It’s like throwing $50 bills at a stripper. I could scare the critters off better with stories from my childhood.

“Take that,” I hiss, changing settings on the hose.

The creatures, no doubt, are excited to have me out here with them. They are probably aroused by my natural musk, which is more of the animal world than of my own. When I sweat, which is always, it is the scent of dill, grilled salmon and Sam Adams beer. It’s amazing that hungry possums haven’t picked me off while on my morning walk with the dog.

“Come on,” I tell the bunny, and reach into her cage.

I hold her out in front of me like a religious offering. For the first time in her life, the bunny does not kick at me murderously as I carry her. Her little nose twitches and her big eyes go all Meg Ryan blue. Grateful, you know. But who can really be sure with Meg Ryan?

“Bring her in,” my wife whispers from the doorway.

There is barely enough oxygen in the house for the people who live here, yet we’re constantly bringing in other mouths to breathe. Dogs. Frogs. Fish. Felines. Having pets is like having a second set of kids, except that they never go off to college and come home all smarter than you. In a lot of ways, pets are better than kids.

“Put her in the bathroom,” my wife says.

“But she’ll eat all the towels,” I remind her.

“They need washing anyway,” she says.

Yeah, better to eat them than to launder them, I guess. Besides, they’re just towels, purchased with mere money. While outside, I noticed it growing on all the trees.

“How about in the bathtub?” I ask.

“Good idea,” my wife says.

The next day the bath soap is gone, but the bunny is there. She has Ivory bubbles in her little intestinal track, but is still happy in the way bunnies always seem to be. In her smile, there is just the barest hint of recognition and respect. In one little glance, a father’s life.

“How long will this go on?” I ask.

“Oh, another five years,” my wife predicts.

She was talking about our marriage, of course, not the bunny in the bathtub. The bunny will be there forever.