Part One: When Life Was Still Fair
One day, so many years ago that the world has since ended and been reborn, over and over again…in the season of Spring, when the plants suddenly remember to wake up and photosynthesize, when the budding light of day begins to encroach on the territory of night…one day, before She knew any of the Truths about the world She now wishes She could forget, in an aeon of innocence when life was still fair and bad things didn’t happen to good people…one day, She found a baby bunny.
She found a burrow of baby bunnies, to be clear, and their mother as well; but the one She found first was the smallest and the loveliest, and therefore became Her favorite and Her own.
No one can own a bunny, of course. Nature is its own entity, a fellow actor in this theatrical production we call “Existence” in which every single one of us is cast; no one can own nature. But Emotion Mind can be wild and strong – especially for innocents, especially for Her – and empathy is a Darwinian curse. She could not help but consider the bunny Her liability, could not help but make it a part of Her, that delightful childhood projection of unrequited biological instinct. The baby bunny may have still been living outside in a burrow with its mother; but it was actually Hers.
Part Two: Adaptation
The baby bunny knew hunger and satiation and warmth and fear and love; it did not know much else. It did not need to know much else, and thus it was content.
The bunny spent its days sleeping and growing and learning how to be a bunny. Its burrow was nestled against the trunk of a well-manicured tree on the well-manicured lawn of a well-manicured house in a well-manicured little town, because Evolution did not foresee Suburban Sprawl and bunnies do not understand property law. The scope of its world was self-preservation – the scope was adaptation – and it never occurred to the bunny to wonder if life was fair.
Every day, She would leave offerings of clover and dandelions by the maw of the bunny den, peering underground for a glimpse of miniature ears or tails. Morning and evening, leaving the house and returning home again, She would stop by the burrow like a postulant coming to prayer, probing blindly for silken fur to stroke, a calming ritual to which She felt a twice-daily calling. She nurtured the bunny all through its infancy and all through the Spring. She loved it fiercely, as She loved all Her love fiercely, as She felt everything else fiercely, as well.
Part Three: Natural Selection
One day…when the sun was beginning its Western pilgrimage below the horizon, when the palette of the sky was that of an Impressionist painting, as the breeze through the open window whispered of gardenias and rustled Her hair…one day, millennia after the wheels had already been set in motion but before She understood the implications, in the briefest of moments when the Circle of Life and the Will to Survive collided on the ecological battlefield while Darwin sang in the background like a Greek chorus…one day, there was a scream.
It wasn’t a scream, to be clear, because it was too unearthly a sound to be screaming; but She had never before heard such a mix of terror and pain, and Her temporal lobe could only offer “scream” as the closest possible approximation.
No one saw the Owl strike, but everyone heard what it caught.
It was all over in the span of a breath, the swan song of dying prey fading unevenly into the air thanks to the Doppler Effect of flight as the Owl soared past Her window. Then the evening was still, and the stars began to shine, and the Owl had dinner, and the planet continued to turn.
Where there had once been life ensconced in the ground – where there had once been the refuge of family and home – there was now only absence and the shadow of loss. Once, there was safety, and the safety was sacred. But nothing is immune to the laws of Nature, and it turns out nothing at all is actually safe.
She would mourn the baby bunny for an inordinate amount of time.
A slave to emotion, She would curse the Owl and choke on Her grief and rage hysterically at the injustice of it all. It was not fair that the bunny had been killed; it had only been a baby. She had loved it, and it had been Hers, and that should have been enough. Natural Selection, however, has no room for compassion; Natural Selection holds sway over all. Natural Selection favored the other baby bunnies that night, and there was ultimately not a goddamn thing She could do about any of it.
She would learn a great deal about the world the night She lost the bunny…but She still didn’t learn just how bad things in this life can get.
Not then, anyway.
Part Four: The Moral of the Story
“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence.” – Darwin, Charles (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or, the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
“One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely…let the strongest live and the weakest die.” – Ibid.
“Nature shows that with the growth of intelligence comes increased capacity for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelligence that suffering reaches its supreme point.” – Schopenhauer, Arthur (1851). The Wisdom of Life from Parerga und Paralipomena
“Life isn’t fair.” – Greenstein, Shannon Frost (@ShannonFrostGre). March 16, 2022, 8:03 p.m. Tweet.
Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) resides in Philadelphia with her children and soulmate. She is the author of Pray for Us Sinners, a fiction collection with Alien Buddha Press, and An Oral History of One Day in Guyana, a chapbook forthcoming from Bullshit Lit. Shannon is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy and a multi-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, Parentheses Journal, and elsewhere. Follow Shannon at shannonfrostgreenstein.com or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre. Insta: @zarathustra_speaks