Jerome! Jerome! Boy, Am I Tired of Jerome!
I've never considered a rabbit to be my enemy or prey. I mean, when I lived on the streets, I never hunted them down for food. As Raymond Hazelwitz, rodent activist stood before me, his eyes glistening, his whiskers twitching, my feelings for the big, fluffy beasts with the long ears, began to darken. I was developing a strong dislike for Jerome, the town's Easter Rabbit!
"Come on Henri! This poor, poor bunny needs our help again!" pleaded Raymond. "All the apprentice Easter rabbits have deserted him! Jerome can't do this alone. The eggs have to be dyed, the baskets filled with straw, artificial of course, and the completed works of art, delivered to the children of Hamden on Easter morning. Or whenever we manage to deliver them."
"I noticed you used the noun "we", I meowed loudly. "No doubt that means that you expect us cats to dye the eggs, fill the baskets and then deliver them to the minor residents of this fair town."
Raymond smiled that toothy, lethal smile of his, revealing those two very sharp front teeth. "You've got that right, Pussycat!"
At that moment Ashley crashed through the back door. "Raymond Hazelwitz, my very dearest friend, how are you?" she barked loudly. "Before you answer, let me tell you that I, Ashley of Twin Brook, am at your service!"
"Do I have a deal for you, Ashley!" chattered the rodent. "After Easter Sunday, you will be the most famous dog at the dog park! Every mutt will know your name and bow when they hear it!"
Ashley sniffed. "I beg your pardon! Every dog at the dog park already knows my name. I am considered one of the most beautiful canines in Hamden, I'll have you know!" She growled at Raymond Hazelwitz.
"Look dog, don't get your fur all in a ruff," replied Raymond. "I was about to tell you about the great tractor lawn mower I had borrowed on your behalf! It has a big seat which will hold you, Henri and Clarence without any trouble. And the wagon I borrowed to deliver the Easter baskets is much bigger than the rat scouts dinky little red wagon."
Ashley's tail began to wag back and forth at an amazing speed. She pranced and danced around the deck, her ears flapping, her mouth drooling! "I'm going to drive a big, big lawn mower! I am going to be the Easter Rabbit! I will be famous all over the world!" I did not match Ashley's enthusiasm. Nor did my housemate Helen, who glowered at Raymond Hazelwitz from behind the glass partition of the back door.
"I'm so glad you are pleased, Ashley!" chattered Raymond. "You will make a splendid Easter rabbit! And to help you with your charitable work, I have recruited the talents of some really special volunteers! Come on in, fellas!" The back gate creaked open and two really big tom cats marched onto the deck. They were the type of cats I had hung out with during my "on the street days". "Introduce yourselves, boys!"
The big black and white cat stared at me. "My name is Precious and this here cat is Norton. Raymond said if we helped him deliver Easter baskets we could get a good meal out of it."
"Precious is a really nice name for a cat," I remarked. Frankly, I wanted to laugh until my belly hurt but the paws on that cat looked as if they could deliver a good punch. Norton was very quiet although he constantly looked around him as if something evil might spring from behind the holly bushes.
"I don't eat anything but fresh fish!" Norton meowed loudly. "If you don't have fresh fish, I'll take a big bowl of oatmeal with cream and sugar."
Raymond then interrupted our small meow and declared it was time to notify the other volunteers and begin to work on preparing the eggs for the baskets. I went out to the sidewalk, took a deep breath and let out my famous summons to all cats within earshot. "Meeerooow, meroooowr, meeeoowwwrrrrwwww!" I sang into the deepening twilight. "Muooorrruurrreeeowow!!" Within thirty minutes, five cats came racing down the steet toward my house. I could make out the forms of Rumsfeld, Carlyle, Sparky, Penelope and Max. Max had been visiting Rumsfeld and the two came together. "What's up!" they chorused. "You called, oh noble cat Henri and we have answered your summons. What's in for us, by the way?"
"I'll give you all an exciting ride on my new lawn mower!" declared Ashley, happiness oozing from her eyes.
"Get back to me on that, okay?" growled Max, who was reliving the wild ride on the night of Halloween last October. I heard that he had been in the state of shock for weeks after the experience.
Of course, Helen my room mate was up to the occasion. She had been listening at the door and started move big kettles from the cupboards to the counter next to the stove. "Well don't just stand there!" she growled. "Stella and I will get the eggs and water ready for boiling and you boys had better round up enough mugs and cups to handle the dye."
Jerome, big as he is, managed to slip through the opening in the back door and now stood in the middle of the kitchen grinning at Helen. Helen was not overly fond of the rabbit as he had pleaded too many times for help in the past years. She believed that the rabbit should have been better organized if he wanted the position as the town's Easter rabbit. Still, I knew that she and her queen friends would offer their assistance. Helen can be crabby at times but beneath that fur is a heart of gold. Well maybe a heart of bronze or brass....
Nearly twenty-five rat scouts marched through the kitchen door and climbed up onto the table, ready to help with the eggs. Carefully they spread newspapers over the tiled table and arranged the mugs into rows. Helen sighed. "I hope our persons don't come home early and discover Raymond's little helper's sitting on our kitchen table!"
Fortunately, that did not happen. The eggs got cooked and cooled and dried. Then Jerome brought in a large cardboard box. "We don't have to dye the eggs," he announced. "We got these teeny sponges and we just got to dab the colors onto the eggs."
Well, I thought, that would make it much easier than dipping the eggs into mugs of colored water. Oh yeah, sure...
Our newly recruited volunteers, Norton and Precious thought that Max's tail would look so much better covered with green and red splotches of shiny paint. Max did not agree! He smacked Norton on the nose and then covered his ears with blue sprinkles. Before he had the chance to decorate Precious's hide, Carlyle, Rumsfeld and I manage to subdue the irrate cat and tie him up in the living room. Raymond then delivered a fiery speech about fair play and civic duty to the new recruits. His eyes glared, his teeth flashed. I do think it was the rodent's sharp teeth which convinced Norton and Precious that this sort of cat play would not be tolerated.
Things progressed slowly but carefully with Helen, Penelope and Sparky at the helm. Stella was still too young to focus on the chores on paw and had a bad habit of dabbing paint on everything but the hard boiled eggs, including the chairs, the stove and china cabinet. Eventually she was confined in the bedroom with the closed door guarded by ten rat scouts. She meowed and carried on for the better part of an hour the the noble scouts closed their ears to her pleas for freedom. But things did get done and the Easter baskets got filled with artificial straw, chocolate bunnies and colorful jelly beans. Jerome observed everything, his large furry feet dangling over the edge of a kitchen chair, a stack of raw carrots in his lap. He did not stop chewing until all the baskets had been filled and transfered to the large wagon, tethered to an enormous tractor lawn mower which was closely guarded by another group of rat scouts. "Okay! Let's get Ashley and let's be on our way," chattered the rabbit.
Ashley, her eyes covered by a scarf was led from the house onto the deck and out the through the back gate. When Raymond untied the blindfold, Ashley shrieked with delight. "Oh, what a wonderful lawn mover! I'll be the envy of every dog in Hamden! Someone get me the fluffy collar I wore to the Halloween party!" Ashley jumped onto the seat of the lawn mower and within minutes she had found the ignition and turned it on. The motor roared into action. Most lawn mowers go putt, putt, putt. This one, however went varooom! varooom! varooom! The whole world shook at its mighty roar! Ashley's paw put the mower into gear and barked loudly. "Every cat aboard!" I clung tightly to the rear of the seat and Clarence sat in front of the dog and clung tightly to the steering wheel. Raymond Hazelwitz clung tightly to my tail. And we were off!
Penelope, Helen, Stella and Sparky hopped into the wagon among the Easter baskets. They were joined by Rumsfeld, Max, Precious and Norton. The mower was very powerful and we moved along at top speed, filling the early morning air with noise and dust. We sped down the streets stopping at each house which had been posted on the list that Jerome held between his paws. My legs were beginning to ache as well as my tail. I wondered then, where Raymond had obtained the big mower.
I was anxious as were all the other cats, rats and rabbit, were anxious for the ride to end, for all the Easter baskets to be delivered. I wanted more than anything, to be home, sleeping on my persons bed, dreaming of dinner at the Dumpster. Would I live long enough to enjoy those pleasures again? A piercing siren ended my dreams. Lights blazed from the roof of the automobile. I heard the screech of rubber tires on pavement. Raymond released his hold on my tail and leaped to the ground. "Everyone," he shrieked, "grab a basket and run for the bushes!" That is what every cat and rabbit did. But that is not what Ashley did. She stayed, her paws glued to the steering wheel of the great lawn mower.
The policemen approached the lawn mower with caution. One of them remarked loudly, "It's a dog! It's dog running this lawn mower!" Then he lifted Ashley's fluffy polyester collar. "She has no tags! She's not licensed to drive a lawn mower! I don't think any dogs are permitted to drive any vehicle!"
One of the other policemen examined the lawn mower. "This equipment belongs to Parks and Recreation. This dog must have stolen it from their garage. We are going to have to arrest the pooch!"
Raymond sucked in his breath. "Scouts! Follow the policemen and see where they lock up the dog! Do not let them see you. Understand? Use the skills you have learned as rat scouts! Now be off with you!" Raymond wrung his paws. "This is terrible! And it's all my fault! I borrowed the lawn mower from the Parks and Recreation department! I never thought that officers of the law would decide to stop it. After all we are on a mission to save Easter for the kids, doncha know..."
I looked Raymond squarely in the eye. "What do you mean exactly when you say borrowed the lawn mower?"
Raymond puffed up his chest. "I asked one of the cats who name is Lucy whether I could use it for a charitable cause. She lives across the street from the garage where the department's equipment is stored. She said that I could have it because she didn't like to drive it anywway."
Helen, my room mate shook her head in disbelief. "Cats generally don't like to drive tractor type lawn mowers or any other kind of lawn mower for that matter. And who said this Lucy cat had any authority over the equipment anyway?"
"Let's not quibble over semantics, Helen. I needed a big mower which could pull the wagon with cats and baskets. So I took it with the help of a few raccoon friends mine," answered Raymond, rubbing his paws together. "I probably should have left a note or something.. But enough idle conversation! We must go and SPRING THE DOG FROM JAIL!"
Everyone cheered! Meows went up among the cats. "WE MUST SPRING ASHLEY!" Several strange cats from another neigborhood heard our chants and joined our chorus. They also helped us deliver by paw, the remaining Easter baskets.
Thirty minutes later, the rat scouts returned, dragging a long piece of cloth behind them. The piece of cloth was actually a rabbit costume, complete with ears and fluffy tail. One of the scouts stepped forward to explain their plans. "We have borrowed this costume for Ashley. When she puts it on, anyone who sees her will think she is the Easter bunny. No one would dare stop the Easter bunny on this day! And we have located the shelter where Ashley has been imprisoned. Fortunately most of us rat scouts are experts at picking locks. Shall we be off? Dawn is on the horizon and there is much work to be done!"
There were about a hundred rat scouts and thirty cats ready to embark on our mission of salvation. Everyone, cat and rat was excited and a little nervous about the mission. Raymond of course was very proud of his scouts. He beamed like a proud father. Actually he was the rat who picked the lock of the animal shelter. "Years of experience, you know," he chattered. Convincing Ashley to wear the rabbit costume was somewhat more difficult.
"I look stupid!" she growled. The long ears on the hat keep flopping in her eyes. "If any dog sees me in this horrible outfit, I will be the laughing stock of the dog park and maybe even of the entire town!" Unfortunately a dog had been put out of the house for a morning walk. When he saw Ashley, he stopped in his tracks and stared.
"Is that you, Ashley? Aren't you Ashley who thinks she's the queen of the dog park? Wait till I tell the guys! Boy do you look goofy!," he barked. "You're gonna be the laughing stock of the town."
Now I am no judge of dog breeds but this was a sizeable dog! I have never seen Ashley move so fast and with such purpose. She nailed the mutt right in the chest, flipped him over on his back and pinned him to the ground. "One bark from you about what you have seen today and you will be a dead dog!" Then AShley released him. The poor creature picked himself up and with tail between his legs, ran home as if the devil himself were nipping at his heels.
I was glad when dawn finally showed itself and we all about to go our separate ways. Jerome stepped forward, still chomping on a carrot. "You guys did good! My rabbit apprentices will be very proud to have you all as friends. They will be coming home tomorrow."
Raymond sniffed the air. His whiskers twitched. "Where, exactly are the student rabbits?"
The rabbit shrugged his shoulders. "They all took off for Miami Beach for Spring Break you know. I got the dates mixed up and sent them home from school a little too early this year." I have never seen a rat chase a rabbit down the street. I know rabbits can run fast but this one was traveling at the speed of light and so was the rat!
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