Last night was the annual holiday party for the Portland Women’s Crisis Line. It has become a festive and energetic event of volunteers, staff, board members, and family members. Also part of the tradition is the get-to-know-you bingo game, where guests are given a bingo card with the squares filled in with “interesting facts” guests have submitted about themselves in advance. Participants must talk to others in the room to learn who said what about themselves. As the game was starting I had been visiting with our board chair, Michael. He studied his bingo sheet for several minutes quietly and finally asked, “Did you once hide a dead rabbit with the help of Bob Packwood’s daughter?” Of course. Who else would do that?
During my first year of undergraduate school one of the women on my floor in the dorms had been given a rabbit as a gift from her boyfriend. Pets were not permitted in the dorm, so to hide it she kept it in a plastic laundry basket instead of a cage, neatly tucked out of the way under the lofted metal bed frame. One weekend in the spring my friend got married, and took the rest of the weekend out of town for a honeymoon. She left her room key with my roommate, Heather, and me so we could take care of her bunny child. This was great news for us since our friend had her own television.
The weekend went fine. The rabbit did what rabbits do when we took it out of its laundry basket to clean it: It flopped around and sniffed a bit, but not much else. We gave it food and water and the evidence suggested it was eating as it should. When Heather and I went back to our own room after Saturday Night Live everything was absolutely normal.
Sunday morning, Heather went up the hall to check in on the rabbit. She returned to our room a few minutes later looking panicked with her mouth half open trying to form words. All she could manage to say was, “Ooohh, oh, no,” shaking her head. Puzzled, I went to our friend’s room to see what had happened. Inside the rabbit’s laundry basket cage the little critter was completely stiff and lifeless. The newspapers lining the bottom of the laundry basket were drenched with the poor kid’s bodily fluids. It was beginning to smell.
Faced with the problem of disposing a body we were not suppose to have when it was alive and well, we decided to enlist the help of someone who had not been surprised by it first thing in the morning, and so might be better attuned to what was rational or irrational. We needed to find someone who knew about the rabbit, but who did not live in the dorms so the events would not get reported back to staff. Shyla Packwood, the senator’s daughter, was a close friend who knew about the rabbit, and had moved off campus at the beginning of the term. So we paid Shyla a visit.
We got into Heather’s dingy-white 1972 Maverick with a faded blue racing stripe up the middle. She had the only car among the three of us. Shyla met us at her door, setting down her own laundry basket full of clothes to answer. Upon hearing the shocking news Shyla put down her errands, locked the house, and we headed back to the dorms.
Since Heather had experienced the biggest shock, Shyla and I committed to doing the gruesome work of handling the corpse. We found a Hefty bag and Shyla said, “Okay, now just reach your hand through and pick it up.” I reached my hand through the bottom of the bag but stopped well short of the rigor mortised rabbit. “Just reach and grab it. You aren’t actually touching it,” Shyla encouraged me.
After contemplating the situation for several minutes I finally said, “You do it.” Shyla took the Hefty bag and we switched positions holding the laundry basket. She reached through the bag and also stopped short. “Wait a minute. I can’t do this.”
We managed to fit the Hefty bag over the entire laundry basket. We turned the laundry basket upside down, and the dead rabbit dropped like a rock with its wet paper lining, into the black plastic bag. “Eeeew!” we said in unison. The poor little tyke had been stretched out like it was trying to run, so it dropped again, this time like a log, into the bottom of the bag as we removed the laundry basket and held the bag upright.
Shyla and I hurried down the fire escape. It had substantially less traffic than the main stairs, and we did not want to leave the tiny body in the dumpster in the front since there are so many dumpster divers at a dorm. Heather went down the main stairs to meet us in the back with the Maverick.
A natural burial for a bunny in the wild would likely leave it hiding in a dark spot in a forested area. Jackson county is supported by a great infrastructure of rural roads and Forest Service and BLM land. But we decided the familiar territory of the local park in the downtown core would be the best option for a bunny burial, instead of venturing into unknown forest roads. It was a domesticated rabbit, so it might have been more comfortable decomposing among the park visitors.
We put the body in the trunk, wrapped in its Hefty bag. Heather, as calmly as she could, drove us through downtown and into the park with the v-8 engine roaring along the way. We looked like Dolly, Jane, and Lily speeding away from the hospital with a body in the trunk in Nine to Five.
We wound our way up the hill, past the more well frequented area, through the park and into the residential area. Heather stopped when we came to a construction site. The whole city is on a hill, and the excavation was still in progress. If we could pitch the decedent far enough down the hill it would get buried in the excavation and construction, possibly without anyone finding it first. It was perfect. We’d all seen it on the movies. The best part was that if we could get enough air on it, gravity would take its course and land the stiff in an unnoticeable place, and hopefully, roll it into something that would provide a little cover.
I do not remember who actually swung the Hefty bag around trying to build momentum. I do remember it did not take flight as well as we’d all assumed it could. The poor little guy died stretched out like it had been running, and was literally elongated, dead, rigor mortised weight along side wet newspapers in a thick, plastic garbage bag. It was not an aerodynamic casket. When the Hefty bag was released it flung out a few yards (I am being generous on my estimate) and dropped to the ground as if we’d fitted the darling with concrete boots. We stood and examined the scene, deciding whether to go down and get it and try it again.
Nope. We high-tailed it out of there knowing full well that when the construction crew arrived Monday morning they would find the memorial site. Some time later the national animal forensics laboratory opened in our little town. Coincidence? It must be. But just to be certain, I have never inquired about the possible unsolved death of a bunny child.