When I go down to check my traps, I see the porch lights
at that lady's place are still on, even though it's the morning
now. That's an atrocious waste of power, my dad says when I
tell him. His breath huffs in the air like he's smoking a cigar.
The rabbit carcasses steam when we rip the skin off and it
comes away like a glove.
Skin the rabbit — that's what my mum used to say when
she pulled off my shirt and singlet for a bath. Mr Bailey
gives me $3 for every rabbit to feed his dogs. I take them
down in the wooden box with a picture of an apple on it. In
the butcher's, rabbits are $2.50 but Mr Bailey says he likes
mine better. I've got $58 saved. I want to get a bike.
Dad reckons it's good to save up your money.Th e tourists
who stand around the real-estate agent's window looking
serious, pointing, touching each other on the arm, he
reckons they're loonies. When the lady up the road bought
that house, my dad went over after the sold sign got stuck
on and everybody had gone, and he took one of the palings
off the side of the house and looked under at the stumps
and made a noise like he was holding back a sneeze. Th at
lady's a bloody wacker, my dad said. Those stumps are bloody
He stood there looking at the house and rolled a
cigarette. Throwing good money after bad, he said, and kicked
the paling. I kicked it, too.
After she moved in I didn't set no more snares up there
on the hill. I walked on the tracks round the lake, the tracks
the rabbits make. I made myself small as a rabbit and moved
through them on my soft scrabbly claws. I saw everything
diff erent then. Saw the places they sat and rested, the spots
where they reached up with their soft noses and ate tiny
strips of bark from the bottoms of the river willows. You've
got to set a trap so that it kills the rabbit straight off . On
the leg is no good. All night the rabbit will cry and twist,
then you have to kill them in the morning when their eyes
are looking at you, wondering why you did it. Mr Bailey, he
tells me he can't believe I can catch them so near the town. I
say you just have to watch things and work out where to put
the trap, that's all. He nods so small you can only just see his
chin moving up and down. You've got it there, Billy, he says.
After he gives me the money we look at the dogs and
have a cup of tea. His dogs know me and why I come. Their
eyes get different when they see me.
In the morning, everything is frozen. All up the hill are
the trees, and every time I look at them I think of the time in
school when I was right and Mr Fry was wrong. He showed
us a picture and said trees lose their leaves in autumn and
the other kids started writing it down but I felt the words
come up, and I said they didn't, they lost their bark.
Mr Fry said how typical that the one time I'd opened my
mouth in class I'd come up with a wrong answer. I looked
at the trees standing bare in the mist and thought about
how I'd kept shaking my head when he told me to say I was
wrong, and the other kids sitting smiling, staring down at
their hands, waiting for after school like the dogs wait for
When you smell the leaves, they're like cough lollies, and the
bark goes all colours when it's wet. One day I was looking
up at them and my eyes went funny and I fl ew up high and
looked down at the tops of the trees all bunched together
and they looked like the bumpy green material on the
armchairs at my Aunty Lorna's place. I never told no one
about that, not even my dad. The trees talk loud when it'swindy and soft when it's quiet. I don't know what they talk
about, probably about rain. When they get new gum tips,
they're so full of sap they shiver in the air. Maybe they're
excited. Or frightened.
But now that it's winter, the trees just look dark and
sunken in, as if they're just hanging on by shutting off their
minds, like my grandpop when he had the stroke and Dad
said his body was just closing down slowly like something in
the winter. And on the track, there's ice crystals on the clay,
and when you look real close you can see the crystals are
long, growing into lines, and the more mushy the clay the
tighter the crystals pack in. They do it in the night, in the
cold snap. You can put your foot at the edge of a puddle and
just press real gently, and all these little cracks come into it,
rushing outwards like tiny creeks.
Sometimes there's frost on the rabbits' fur. I brush it
off with my hand. Rabbit fur smells nice, like lichen or dry
moss. My mum left behind some leather gloves with rabbit
fur inside, and when I put them on once I pulled my hot
hands out and smelled her smell. What are you bawling for?
my dad said. I hid the gloves just under my mattress. When
I touch them they feel like a green leaf, just soft and dry and
bendy and not knowing autumn's coming.
I looked up at the lady's porch lights the morning I got my
new hat for my chilblains. Dad made it for me with rabbit
skins. He rubbed my ears hard with his jumper and my
mouth ached with holding it shut then he pulled the rabbitfur flaps down and tied them.
See you back here with the bunnies, he said, squeezing his
hands under his arms before he stoked up the chip heater.
One day a boy at my school who works at the feed supply
told the other kids we were so backward we didn't even have
hot and cold running water at our place. He said, It's like
Deliverance down there with you-know-who. I asked Dad
what deliverance was and he rolled a cigarette and said why.
The next time he wanted chook pellets he asked for them to
be delivered that day and then he stoked up the chip heater
so high that a spray of boiling water gushed up and hit theroof like rain and it sounded like the fancy coffee machine
at the milk bar. When this boy came around with the pellets,
Dad told him to empty them into the bin and then said
would he like to wash the dust off his hands in the kitchen.
The boy went in. I stood looking at the chooks and made
myself small like them and felt the straw under my claws as
I scratched around, and felt how the wheat powdered as I
cracked it in my beak, and then there was a scream and the
boy came running outside holding his hands out in front of
him. And they were bright pink like plastic. As the boy ran
past, my dad called, Don't forget to tell your friends.
I pushed the rabbits into a hessian bag and heard music
coming out of the house with the lights on. It was violin
stuff . I saw the lady who'd bought the house come out onto
her porch as I cut across the ridge. She was wearing King
Gees and you could see the new fold marks in them. She
had hair the colour of a fox. When she saw me her face
went all bright and excited even though she didn't know me,
like the lady doctor who did all those stupid tests on me at
school just saying stupid words and expecting me to make
up more words and say them straight away and not giving
me any time to think it over.
She said, Well, hello there, has the cat got your tongue? She
had lipstick on. I thought maybe she was on her way tochurch.
I said I didn't have a cat and her eyebrows went up.
You're up very early on this wintry morning. What's that
you've got in your bag? she said, like we were going to play
a joke on someone. I showed her the top rabbit's head and
her mouth went funny and she said, Oh dear, oh the poor little
things. What did you want to kill them for?
I said for Mr Bailey. I said they died very quickly and
always got the traps right around their necks. She hugged
herself with her arms and shook her head and said goodness
me, looking at my rabbit-skin hat. I turned my head slowly
round so she could see better.
She asked me suddenly if I lived in the house down the
hill and I said yes. Then she said what a marvellous location
and what a shame the power would cost an arm and a leg
to put through, otherwise she would have made an off er,
and that this little place she'd picked up was such fun and
a goldmine. She said all her friends from the city thought
she was quite mad but she'd be the one laughing when
property values went up and she'd done all the extensions.
I was waiting for her to finish so I could go. I could feel the
rabbits stiffening up inside their bag; I could smell them.
What's your name? she asked me finally and I said Billy.
And do you go to school, Billy?
I looked at her and said you have to. Her eyes went all
crinkly and happy again.
And is it a special school, just for special children?
I couldn't work her out. Maybe she didn't understand
about school. I said not really then my mouth blurted out:
You got hair like a fox.
She laughed like someone in a movie. Good heavens, she
said. You are a character, aren't you?
A man in a red dressing-gown came out onto the
verandah and the lady said, Look darling, some local colour.
Love the hat, said the man to me. I waited for them to
tell me their names, but the man just complained that it
was bloody freezing, and thank Christ they'd got the central
heating in. The lady said yes, the whole place was shaping
up well, then she looked out down the track and said, Th e
only problem is there's no bloody view of the lake. Then she said,
Billy, show Roger your bunnies, darling, and I pulled one out
and Roger said, Good God.
They both laughed and laughed and Roger said, Well
it looks like the light's on but there's no one home. Which was
wrong. They were both there and they'd turned the light offby now.
When I walked down the track past the sharp turn and
through the cutting my boots cracked on the black ice. You
can easy go for a sixer on that. People say it's invisible but it's
not really. You have to get down real close to see where the
water's froze then melted a bit then froze again, all through
the night, till it's like a piece of glass from an old bottle.
Dad had had his shower by the time I got home. Th e
rabbits were harder to skin because more time had passed.
The skins ripped off with the sound of a bandaid like they
put on your knees in the school sickroom. Get them off, mydad said when I came home one time with the bandaids on.
He was watching me so I pulled both of them off fast and
they bled again. Call that fi rst aid? That's bloody atrocious, said
my dad. Get some air onto them. I looked at my knees. Th ey
felt like the hinges inside had got stiff and rusty, like the oil
in them had leaked out.
Every day for the next few weeks, people drove up the hill
to fix things in the house. You could hear banging and
machines and then a pointy bit of new roof pushed up over
the trees. The lady's friends, the ones who thought she was
quite mad, came up a lot at first but then it got colder and
they stopped. The lake froze over at the edges and the ducks
had frost on their feathers. One day I crept up and saw the
lady standing with her arms folded on the new verandah,
which was covered in pink paint, just staring out at the trees.
All around her garden were piles of rocks and I saw a duck
standing still as anything under a tree. I went closer and she
Well, Billy, she called, and I went over and saw the duck
was a pretend one.
Look at all these bloody trees, she said, sighing. I'm sick of
the sight of them.
She had on the overalls again but they didn't look so new
now. The digger had left big piles of dirt everywhere.
What are those trees anyway, Billy? she said suddenly, and
I said they were gum trees and she laughed and said she
might have guessed that would be my answer, even though
I hadn't fi nished and was only sorting out what I was going
to say next.
I said it was going to be another cold snap that night
and more hard weather. And she said how did I know and
I started explaining but she wasn't really listening, she was
still looking down the gully towards the lake, turning her
head like the ladies in the shop when they're buying dresses
and looking at themselves in the mirror, deciding.
Three weeks after that time I was up in the trees, just
listening to them and looking for good spots for snares,
when I found the first sick one. When I touched its leaves I
knew it was dying, like when I touched my grandpop's hand.
It was a big old tree and used to have a big voice but now it
was just breathing out. And it was bleeding. All around the
trunk there was a circle somebody had cut and sap dripped
out which is the tree's blood, my dad says. It was a rough
chopping job and the person had used a little saw then a
hatchet and I could see how they didn't know how to use
the saw properly and had scratched all up and down around
the cut. There was nothing I could do for that tree. I wanted
to kill it properly so it wouldn't just stand there looking at
me trying its hardest to stay alive.
The week after that one I found another tree that was
the same and then it just kept on happening, seven of the
biggest trees got cut. When I looked real hard I fl ew up
again and saw them from the top and the dying ones made
a kind of line down to the lake all the way from the lady'shouse on the hill to the shore. Then I came back down onto
the ground, and I saw how it was.
You've done it again, Billy, said Mr Bailey when I came
past. I don't know what I'd do without you, two big fat ones
I got my money and walked up the hill towards the lady'shouse and I saw her through the trees planting something
in the garden. Dad said she kept the whole nursery in
Now I got quite close to her and the pretend duck before
she saw me and she jumped backwards.
Jesus, kid, just give it a break, will you? she said in an angry
voice. I stood there holding the empty box from the rabbits.
Just don't creep around so much, Billy, okay? she said, getting
up. I saw she had a special little cushion for kneeling on and
I was looking at that cushion when she said something else.
Where did you get that box, Billy?
I said out of the shed. She laughed and looked up at the
sky. I looked down at the box with the picture of the apple
Out of your shed? That's a finger-joint colonial box, Billy. Do
you know how much some of them are worth?
Her voice was all excited, like that lady at the school who
pretended boring things were interesting on that test.
What about selling it to me, she said.
I said it was my rabbit box and she said did I have any
others in the shed. I said I would have a look. She was a
loony. My dad sometimes split up old boxes for the chip
heater. He kept nails and bolts in them.
I know where there'll be a lot, I said. At the Franklin's garage
Her eyes looked a little bit like Mr Bailey's dogs' eyes
inside the netting.
When is it? she asked.
On Sunday. They got lots of stuff.
Like what? she said, and then said a whole list of
things like fire pokers? ironwork? cupboards? and I just kept nodding.
Lots of that kind of thing, I said. Lots of these little boxes
with writing and maps of Australia and animals like emus.
She folded her arms and looked at me harder. Boxes with
emus and kangaroos on them? With joints like this one?
Yep, I said, but you got to get there real early in the morning.
Like 6.30 or something. 'Cos other people come up from the city.
She asked me where Franklin's was, and I told her.
I can get there earlier than the dealers, she said, looking
down the hill at the row of trees, all secretly dying.
On Saturday I set a snare just inside a little tunnel of grass
by the lake. Dad says it's bad to kill something without a
good reason but I knew the rabbit wouldn't mind. Th e trees
were very quiet now. It was going to be a black frost. When
the moon came up there was a yellow ring around it like
around a Tilley lamp when you take it out on a frosty night.
I couldn't hardly get to sleep with thinking. I thought
of her going out there with her new saw from the hardware
shop and cutting open their skin. In the night, while the
rabbits nosed around with their soft whiskery mouths and
Mr Bailey's dogs cried and choked on their chains over
When I got up it was still dark, as dark as the steel on the monkey bars, cold metal that hurts your chest. I felt a
still, cold rabbit's body in the trap and I felt sorry for it. I
knew she would, too. Because in the lady's head you can feel
sorry and worried for rabbits but not for trees.
It looked like it was sitting up there by itself on the track,
alive. All the crystals had grown in the night and now the
black ice was smooth as glass all round that turn.
I got back into bed when I was finished. I felt my mum's gloves.
My dad knew I'd got up early when he came to wake me up
again. I don't know how.
You'd better go out and check your traps, he said as he split
Up the road Farrelly's tractor was pulling her car out of
the ditch. It had crumpled into one of the big gums, and
leaves and sticks had been shaken all over it. Mr Farrelly said
the ambulance blokes had nearly skidded over themselves
on the bloody ice, trying to get in to help. What's a sheila like
her doing getting up in the bloody dark on a Sunday morning
anyway, Mr Farrelly said as he put the hooks on. Bloody
Under the front wheel I saw white fur, turned inside
out like a glove, like my hat. I went down through the
trees, touching the sick ones. On the way I stepped in a big
patch of nettles. No use crying if you weren't looking out
for yourself, my dad says. I looked around and found some
dock and rubbed it on and it stopped hurting like magic.
That's what nature's like, for everything poisonous there's
something nearby to cure it if you just look around. That's what my dad says.
I made a little fire and smoked my traps. Five more
weeks and I can get a mountain bike.