BY RON BURCH
We are going to the Bunny Museum! It is finally here. We don't know for how long but we know we have to go. Some have told us that if we don't go soon enough, it disappears and we'll have to wait months, perhaps years, perhaps never!, for it to return. We put on our long ears, attach our round tails and slip our legs into the furry suits until we are covered. We're ready, excited. Off to the Bunny Museum!
We drive, navigating by our uncertain phone. The Bunny Museum address keeps changing. First, we're directed to West Hollywood, then Culver City, then further east in Los Angeles County. Where the hell we going? we complain but we drive purposefully on. Our GPS has an English accent and we dutifully follow. We understand. The Bunny Museum is not easy to find: it has to be earned.
We pull up in front of a Craftsman house in Pasadena, our 17th house today. This one is blue and we look at each other. You think this is it? we ask one another, both of us already scrambling out of the car. Wait, we say, stopping, what if this is just a fucking joke. We look around. Nothing about the house says Bunny Museum. There's no sign. There are no bunnies. No giant inflatable rabbit floating in the sky with an arrow pointing down at the crinkled blue house accompanied by a flashing neon sign that says "BUNNY MUSEUM HERE."
There is nothing. The house paint is chipped and cracking, shedding itself in large pieces, exposing dull wood and thin, awkward timbers. Dead grass, a pale matted brown, dominates the lawn. A yellow Civic sits propped up in the driveway, one of its wheels missing, axle up on an unstable jack. This doesn't feel like the neighborhood the Bunny Museum would come to, and we've been wrong sixteen times already but we are here now. Hesitantly, we knock on the old wooden door, its face chipped and gouged, beaten by others before us.
The front door slowly pulls away from us and we instinctively back up, turning faces to each other, as if now what? A host, tall, at least 6'5 in all black clothes, arms crossed behind his back, appears. He wears a plastic bunny mask, obscuring his face. It is all hard shell and stiff with long ears and a mouth that will never move. Welcome to the Bunny Museum, he says and we squeal in response. It has been so long for us to finally get here, to finally see it.
From behind his back, he pulls forth his hairy-backed hands and offers us similar masks to his own.
What're these for? we ask.
You have to wear them, he replies. Or else you'll scare the bunnies that are alive. We exchange looks and receive the bunny masks, but we pause before placing them over our faces. We're uncertain.
I understand, he says. You have doubt but all the other visitors in here, he says, pointing inside, are wearing them. Are you sure? we ask. He slightly widens the door and we glance through the narrow gap between the frame and the door, which he holds at a tight angle.
We try to look inside but the masks are tight on our faces, the narrow straps cutting into the backs of our heads. We whisper to each other; we cannot see much; the eyeholes are cut too small and everything is blurry.
Inside, we think, are rows of people in the stiff bunny faces. They are examining bunny items on shelves. I see several signs in capital letters: DO NOT TOUCH! But the people are excited. We can hear them talk and gasp and laugh and share their bunny experiences behind their rigid faces.
See, he says, pulling the door tight against himself, blocking that beautiful vision from us.
One other thing, he says seriously. Do you have treats?
Yes, we exclaim and bring forth two small re-sealable baggies filled with neatly cut and washed carrot sticks.
I'm glad you know the rules, he says, with a smile. So can we go in now? we ask.
No, he replies. We have to wait until some of those inside clear out. Local law says we must maintain a specific number or below in case of fire or a natural disaster.
He begins to disappear inside, the door shutting. We're afraid for him to leave. We worry he won't open that door again to us so we blurt out, What else do you have in there besides bunny memorabilia and a few live bunnies?
Plenty, he replies, sounding pleased. Behind his bunny mask we think we can detect a smile but the hard plastic makes it tough to be sure. We have movies about bunnies, he says, music about bunnies, TV shows about bunnies. We have bunny art, bunny books, everything bunny. Anything bunny you want.
From inside we hear faint music playing: it is mischievous and rollicking and enjoyable. It sounds fun, we say enviously. The host turns to us. It is fun, he replies, the most fun you will ever have. Because people love bunnies. They'll always pay money to see bunnies. Bunnies make everyone happy. He leans down to us: You like bunnies, right?
We love bunnies! we reply. We want to get in now and see them. Now, we say, now.
Be patient, he replies. Your time will come.
But, but, but, we plead, we need to come in. Look, we made up a bunny dance for you because we were so excited. We perform the bunny dance. We sing and hum. We hop, jump, and make our mouths little so we can pretend to nibble. He claps his hands along with us, definitely engaged. When we're done, we lay panting, exhausted on the browning lawn, our costumes sticky to our thin bodies, the sweat cold on our bony backs.
He walks a few steps away from the house and studies the cars in the street, the surrounding dilapidated houses, and the old couple slowly hobble by with their matching walkers. Okay, he whispers to us, I can let you look in one of the rooms, but then you have to go back out. The government can shut us down.
Okay, okay, we eagerly agree and he lets us in.
The corridor is painted white but dark. The light bulb above the front entry is off. We hold hands and make our way in, following him. He leads us further. We hear the muffled voices of other people somewhere else in the house. We clasp our hands tighter, excited and a little scared.
We turn a corner and a sudden light overwhelms everything, us, the room, our barren costumes. We blink our eyes, trying to get our vision to return through these tiny holes.
We maybe get a glimpse: before us hang endless white shelves on white walls. On the shelves are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of bunnies. The bunnies that we were looking for. Here they are.
The host turns to us, buck teeth showing for the first time, maybe costumed maybe not, hard to tell, and smiles, This is just the beginning.
But we can't really see because the holes are small and off-center. We adjust our masks, and finally try to remove them, frantically undoing the straps that cut across our heads.
Our host sees us. He grabs our hands. Come on, he says, his voice slightly angry, you have to go, and we hurry down the hallway, away from the beloved bunnies. I made a mistake, he says. You shouldn't be in here yet. He pulls us forward, now running toward the door. I can feel my soft ears flopping against the mask's hard ones. He throws open the front door and pushes us out, back into the pale cooling air. We turn. You shouldn't have, he says, slamming the door in our faces.
We wait outside. We wait for the door to re-open. We wait to see the bunnies again. We must see them again. They made us happy. They gave us joy. We sit on the cement slab of the porch. The sky darkens as night comes and the air cools. We hold onto each other, falling asleep, jolting awake, huddling for warmth while we stare at the door, willing it to open.
Finally, we can't take it anymore. We go to the door and, with our determined fists, knock and pound. There is no answer so we push and push on the door until it finally, slowly slides open, a creaking as it reveals the inside. But there is nothing there. The bunnies are gone. The shelves are bare. The house is agonizingly empty. We head back to our car and check but our GPS is blank. We get in, hoping there will be another chance, that perhaps we will, one day, step back inside, surrounded by the bunnies, where the light was soft and everyone seemed finally happy for once.
Ron Burch's short stories have been published in Mississippi Review, Cheap Pop, Eleven Eleven, PANK and many others. His first novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. www.ronburch.com