Nothing like getting up for sunrise Easter services to make for a long day, Ruth thought. It wasn’t such a problem even a few years ago, but now…
Her niece, Clio, and Clio’s husband and two girls came over to take her to church. As always, the service was beautiful, although Ruth was a little distracted.
They went back to Clio’s home afterward for a big brunch and the children explored the goodies in their Easter baskets. Clio drove her Aunt Ruth home about 1 p.m.
“You’re a little quiet today, Aunt Ruth,” Clio said, keeping her eyes on the street.
“Am I? Well, perhaps.”
“I know; it’s not the same.”
Ruth smiled a little. “Nothing is ever the same, dear. Even in our most carefully practiced traditions, something changes, whether large or small.” She sighed. “This latest change, though, is harder to get used to. The hardest one since Mother and then Father died. I’d had years of small changes, or of exciting changes, like your girls coming along. Losing Esther…” She trailed off.
Clio glanced at her elderly aunt. “The two of you were never apart, were you?”
“Not from the womb until last month,” Ruth said. “How strange that she would get cancer and die. We were always healthy or sick together. This last illness was hers alone. The doctor says I don’t show a trace of it. How very strange.”
Ruth glanced down and gestured at her dress. “This isn’t even a new dress. We always went shopping together for new Easter dresses, even when there wasn’t much money. This year … I didn’t see the point in a new dress.”
She looked sharply over at her niece. “I may have been wrong about that, of course.”
“Easter is about new life. Even at my age, and after losing my twin, I can still see that. I should have pushed myself a little harder. Esther was always the more outgoing of us. I know she’d be impatient with my moping around our house like I do.”
Clio pondered that, thinking about her late Aunt Esther. “Mmm. Impatient, maybe. But forgiving.”
Ruth smiled. “Yes. She’d be forgiving.”
“Gillian and Emily miss her, too,” Clio said. “They had been looking forward to dyeing Easter eggs with her again.”
Ruth chuckled. “Only Esther could dye an egg three colors so neatly and make it look so easy. She tried to teach me, but I could never quite pull it off so well as she did. Hers were always perfect.”
“I’ve never gotten the hang of it, either,” Clio admitted, “much to the girls’ dismay.”
In the driveway, Clio kissed her aunt’s cheek and waited for her to go into her house before she left.
Inside, Ruth set her hat and purse on the coffee table in the living room and walked through the house to her bedroom. A little rest was in order.
She stopped short in the doorway to the bedroom. In the middle of the white bedspread sat a white rabbit with some brown markings here and there. It looked at her, waiting.
Ruth approached the bed slowly. She could scarcely believe what she was about to say.
The rabbit twitched its nose and took a short hop on the bed toward her. She stood at the side of the bed and stared wonderingly. The brown crescent on its back left leg confirmed the rabbit’s identity.
“Arthur. It is you.” She sat on the bed next to the rabbit and tentatively petted him from ears to cottontail. The soft fur felt the same to her hand as it had all those years ago, and she continued to stroke it.
“Arthur, I don’t mean to be unkind, but you passed on almost half a century ago.”
The rabbit neither confirmed nor denied this. It did, though, crawl into Ruth’s lap to be cuddled. Tears filled her eyes. It was so familiar, from so long ago.
Esther had seen, even at a distance, the feral cat that was advancing on the helpless bunny. She had quickly scooped up a stone and hurled it sidearm; the stone had skipped off a much larger rock, just as Esther had aimed it to, and smacked hard into the dust in front of the cat’s face. The cat had quickly forgotten about its intended meal and retreated.
The girls had not seen rabbits in the area and the bunny was not in a nest, as it should have been. This was the explanation they had given their parents for bringing the bunny into the farmhouse rather than leaving it to nature. Their father had been skeptical but had proved quite helpful in caring for the little animal. He had never said a word about the bunny, later an adult rabbit, hopping around the house.
Their mother had been a pushover from the start.
Esther named the bunny Arthur, and Arthur lived to a ripe old age, loved and cosseted by the twins to his last moment.
Now, he was back, decades and miles from home.
“Arthur, where have you come from?” Ruth asked. “How can you be here?”
Arthur declined to answer. He merely permitted Ruth to pet him, occasionally looking up at her face.
Ruth didn’t know how long she had been sitting like that - was it ten minutes? twenty? – when Arthur’s ears went up and he turned his head toward the door. He turned back, as if deciding to ignore something. A moment later, he looked at the door again. He sighed and hopped to the floor. He paused in the doorway and looked back to make certain Ruth would follow him, which she did.
Arthur hopped slowly down the hallway. Just before the bathroom door, he stopped and looked over his shoulder again for a long moment. Ruth had halted a couple of paces behind him and he looked up into her eyes. Then he turned back and made one big, final hop, which he did not complete. He disappeared into thin air in mid hop.
Ruth’s mouth fell open and she stared at where her long-ago pet had been.
“Arthur?” Only the grandfather clock in the living room made a sound. Ruth swallowed, and tears filled her eyes once more. “It was nice to see you again, Arthur.”
Something appeared on the floor and Arthur’s head emerged from wherever he had gone. The rabbit gave the object one more gentle push with its nose and then, with a final fond look at Ruth, pulled back into nothingness.
Ruth bent and picked up the new object. It was an Easter egg, exactingly dyed red, blue, and yellow in equal parts.
Six years later, after her great aunt’s funeral, fourteen-year-old Gillian found the egg where it had always been during those years – in an eggcup on Ruth’s nightstand. It still had not spoiled. Gillian smiled; her mother, Clio, had never believed Ruth’s story about her own personal Easter Bunny.
But Gillian and her little sister, Emily, both did.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Ruth and Aunt Esther,” she whispered into the room. “I’ll take good care of it. And Arthur … I’m looking forward to meeting you someday.”