Better This Way

by Christina Dalcher

“No one wants them,” you said, placing five wriggling creatures in a basket. “Better this way.”

Then you climbed the steps to the hall bathroom, and I listened to the tub filling. 

There are so many myths. ‘Father knows best’ is one; ‘all life is precious’ is another. 

You turn toward me now, unable to see my point, gaping as if you have no idea what I mean.

That’s to be expected. The cords and wires and machines keeping you alive tell all. At this point, I’m not sure you can hear me, but if you can, dear Father, listen closely. I’ll spell everything out for you before I leave. 

Even after you gave your reasons, even after I nodded a vague understanding, even after a friend of a friend’s parent who was a teacher explained it all, I still hated you for killing the rabbits. 

Hate, they told us in church, is an evil word. Reverend O’Hara said it makes black spots grow on your soul. I suppose many things do. 

I tried not to hate you, tried to get inside and underneath and around that fifth commandment, tried to love even after you took the bunnies inside, plugged up the tub I soaked in every Sunday morning, ran cold water to the mineral ring that not even Mama’s busy hands could scrub clean. I watched you drown the babies one by one, cradling each blind ball of fur in your fists, your eyes fixed on the nanosecond separating life and death. 

“Better this way,” you said. And there were no more words. 

I saw you drown the rabbits, but I never saw you cry. 

Mama said you were being strong—that’s what fathers are for. I believed her until Punch crawled beneath the old television set and bore her litter of kittens. I believed her until you took them in a basket up to the bath. 

In time, our farm became a gauntlet of traps—the Havahart kind that do no harm. A fox kit one day, a raccoon the next. Moles and groundhogs and mice. All soft things, God’s own creations, life. “For the good of the crops,” you told me. I watched you carry the cages to the bathroom and watched you bleach and bait them afterwards, arranging tempting carrots for the rabbits, a bit of chicken meat for the fox, anything at all for the coons. In between carrying and cleaning, the gurgling of the drain echoed your own giggles. And I knew. 

There must be an enormous feeling of control that comes with killing. A rush, even. They say that when a person takes a life, he changes on the inside. Reverend O’Hara always preached how sin alters the soul. But I know better now; I know about the windows to the soul, and that your eyes gave you away every night you stepped out of the bathroom with an empty trap and a flour sack filled with death. 

I can set traps, too. 

Take, for instance, the woodshed where you keep your tools. The high shelf on the left with the gallon pails of paint that never quite fit, that you have to stretch to reach. Glass jars of turpentine that I uncapped and filled with acid. So easy to tip over, to soak your upturned face in the dark of the shed. 

And now you’re here, as sightless as the baby rabbits you began with. 

The world is full of myths, dear Father. Bad news, alternative facts, fake reporting, those urban legends about waking in an ice bath one phone richer and one kidney poorer. The idea that a mother rabbit will reject her babies if she senses so much as a whiff of human scent in the nest. That we all have the capacity to forgive and forget. That human life is sacred and the parent-child bond unbreakable. 

Here, now. Let me fix your pillow one last time before I go. No, I won’t use it to end your pain, although I see from the heart monitor that you’re anxious for an end. If you should hear me giggle when I walk out of this room, that’s only because I think it’s better this way.

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