One of the rabbits was dying. The expression in its eyes had disappeared, its black pupils were nebulous and it was breathing heavily, its colourless mouth on the ground.
Only the ears of the other rabbit were visible from behind the bush. From quivering of its ears, one could understand that it was “grinding” something again without taking a breath, its thoughtless eyes fixed on one point.
…Stooping, he drew the feeble head of the rabbit nearer to the water bowl in case it would like to drink. Gulping the water down, the rabbit suddenly choked, lost its breath, its eyes stood still like glass buttons.
- What shall we do now?.. - Her husband turned to her with his face wizened in agony. He looked as if it was he who had killed the rabbit.
...Isa killed his cigarette butt pressing his sole hard against the soft sand with his foot.
- …A buck and doe shouldn’t be kept together. Always one is sure to die.
- Which one dies?..
- Most often a male one.
- Why a male?..
Her husband got angry at this irrelevant question of hers. As if not heard it, Old Isa put his hands into the pockets of his trousers worn out and faded in the sun, with his head on his breast he walked to the gate where he lingered for a moment:
- …Dove is safer… - he said and left.
After Isa had left, to check whether the rabbit was dead or not, her husband raised the animal’s small white pad with his two fingers and dropped it down, rose, put his hands on his hips and said in a hoarse voice:
- It will sure die…
The rabbit was still gasping for breath, its pupils were bulging and popping out of their sockets and its tiny warm body was quivering weakly.
…By the twilight the rabbit breathed its last.
Her husband dug a small pit in the farthest end of the garden and buried the rabbit there.
The whole night she dreamed about the rabbit in agony. It was bigger than the dead one and white, while agonizing suddenly he revived, rose to its hind feet, put its pads on her shoulders, opened its mouth wide and yawned showing its throat. The rabbit yawned as if it would suck her down into its big cavelike mouth like a vacuum-cleaner… …At breakfast, the other rabbit was sitting in front of the veranda, chewing something in its small mouth; it was staring at them with a timid look as if listening to their chat.
- I wonder which of them died – the buck or doe…
Her husband screwed up his eyes and looked at the rabbit.
- Does it make any difference?
- It looks like a male.
Her husband made a face as if the sunlight dazzled him.
- What makes it look like?..
- Its whiskers…
- What do the whiskers have to do with it? As if Does don’t have whiskers.
Accurately spreading butter on a slice of bread, she said:
- What if you buy another one?!..
- Which one shall I buy?..
- Just like this.
- I say how we can guess whether it’s a doe or buck…
The breakfast was left on the table untouched. No matter how fast the husband and wife ran after the rabbit among the vines, they failed to catch the rabbit.
- It’s strange…- a little later, her husband said while turning his car with speed now left, now right in the narrow streets of Mardakan. - So strange…
- What’s strange? …
- The death of the rabbit… It is for the first time I hear that a buck and a doe shouldn’t be kept together.
Saying these things, her husband fixed his sunken eyes at the point very close.
His countenance had fairly changed since yesterday. There were dark shades under his eyes, his face had become pale. …In the evening hardly the children got to the garden when they began to cry over the rabbit’s death. They kept pestering their father for a long time to find out the place where the rabbit had been buried. Then they went to the same place, and made a small grave from tiny stones, shingle and vine leaves.
…The supper passed in a melancholy mood. The children, with their pale faces, chilled off the meal reluctantly fumbling with their long forks in vermicelli.
While her husband was swallowing the meal unchewed quickly in big pieces, his swarthy face was becoming darker and darker, and the knot of his eyebrows turning bluish. Being very thoughtful, her husband’s eyes were fixed on something very close. As if the rabbit was dying again in front of his eyes, right under his nose. - Didn’t I tell you that I was doubtful of those strawberries?
- Which strawberries?.. - Her husband startled.
- Those you fed the rabbits with…
- I’ve also tried some of those strawberries.
- Is your body the same as that of a rabbit?..
- Poison doesn’t bare direct relation to the body whether it is small or big.
- Yes, it does.
- No, it doesn’t! - Her husband suddenly raised his voice and banged his fist on the table and everything came clanging.
- Old Isa explained to you very clearly: a doe or a buck shouldn’t be kept together… Usually one of them dies… - Which one dies?..
Her husband didn’t answer her and nervously pushing his plate aside stood up.
- Oh, my God! You are giving me a great deal of trouble! You wouldn’t care even if I happened to die… - he said and cursing the rabbit, went at a good pace toward the depth of the garden, disappeared in the thickness of the grove and didn’t come out of it until the late hours of the night.
…The other rabbit was watching them the whole night from behind either this or that bush and now and then shaking its pink ears.
…At midnight they were woken by her younger daughter’s noise. The child had woken up, sat up on her bed and was crying rubbing her eyes.
- What’d you want?..
The girl didn’t answer. She didn’t stop crying either.
- You want water?..
She said “no” crying and shaking her head.
- Maybe you want to pee?..
Again the girl shook her head.
- Maybe you are hot?..
- Why are you crying then?
For a long time, the girl shook her head to all questions crying.
Her husband, his face angry, with blank look in his eyes reddened with sleeplessness shouted nervously:
- What on earth do you want then?..
Startled, the child ceased crying and said humbly:
- I’m itching all over…
…As the next day was day-off, the weather seemed gloomy. Since the death of the rabbit, it seemed as if the greenness of the garden had faded, the leaves had shriveled and turned grey. The rabbit peeping from inside the faded grass looked as miserable as an orphan.
A heap of dirty clothes piled up in the corner of the yard within the week was waiting for her with the challenge of to be washed. The dirty clothes were so crumpled and faded that when thinking of that they had been worn a couple of days ago, one could get mad.
…Her husband, with the cigarette in his mouth, was probably digging the bed of the tree nervously at the far end of the garden. Now and then he stuck the spade into the ground as a knife and looked at the sky with his face expressing sickness and tiredness.
After a while throwing the cigarette away, he sat on the sand, his shirt around his head.
- What if you cook kufta for dinner?.. - he asked.
- Go and sit in the shadow rather than wrapping that shirt around your head.
- I like it here.
- You’ll have a sun-stroke.
As his shirt was on his head, her husband’s face wasn’t seen.
- It’s great, isn’t it?..
- What is great?..
The sound of Isa’s radio was heard as there was silence for a while. Mugham was on.
- There are three things in the world that I dislike… - she said. - …Heat, mugham, and kufta…
From underneath his shirt, her husband said again with his face invisible.
- Now it’s great!..
She came and sat face to face with her husband. Her husband’s face wasn’t seen from here either. That’s why, raising the edge of his shirt, she said:
- …At least, find a hedgehog…
- What do you need the hedgehog for?..
- For the rabbit not to miss.
Her husband stood up and shook his clothes.
- What else shall I find?!. Don’t you need a belly-dancer?..
She couldn’t catch her husband’s last words as she was lost in thought.
- Why do we need a belly-dancer?
- To belly-dance for the rabbit.
…Bozbash¨ was as salty as poison. Putting the spoon into his mouth, her husband smiled with difficulty for courtesy.
The children didn’t touch bozbash, cooked a pan of scrambled eggs splashing the oil on the floor and ceiling of the kitchen, then quarreled and turned the frying pan over.
Her husband’s voice was heard from the bedroom:
- What shall we have for supper?..
…For supper as usual, they went to the café near their summer-house in the evening.
…The sumptuous table was laid for them.
She sat face to face with her husband as usual.
- Would you have caviar?..
- What about beans?..
She shrugged her shoulders.
Her husband rushed the bean plate, which he had extended towards her, impatiently to its place among the meals closely set against each other.
The elder daughter’s hand touched the goblet full of lemonade and spilt the green lemonade which dyed the snow white table-cloth into blue.
Her husband looked at the girl so sourly that the child pursed her lips and ran out on the pretext of washing her face in order not to cry.
- Why did you look at her like that? ...But she didn’t do that on purpose… Her husband bending his head over the dish was busy with eating the salad calmly
with a hungry countenance on his face as if not hearing her.
All four of them ate silently for a while…
- Why aren’t you eating? - Holding the fork in his hand, her husband suddenly looked at her empty plate with a downcast face, narrowing his eyes and swallowing a big slice stuck to his throat.
- I’m eating.
- What are you eating?..
- What about fish? Don’t you feel sorry for it?..
She looked at her husband’s sunken eyes, and face which got thinner and longer within a day.
- What do you want from me?.. - She asked and felt her voice tremble.
Her husband shrugged his shoulders nervously.
- Me?! Nothing… - he said. - You do want something…But for anybody’s reproach, you’d cry mourning over the rabbit for 40 days and nights.
While her husband was talking, she felt that her tears were trickling down her chin, then her chest.
While she was crying, her husband’s brown pupils became so wide and black that it nearly covered the white of his eyes.
- Maybe you would say that you’re crying for the rabbit?.. - He asked.
She shook her head saying “no”.
- Then tell me why you are crying… What if we find a hedgehog for you not to miss any more?..
No matter how she put herself together, she couldn’t restrain herself from crying.
- Why don’t you speak? Do speak. Share your sorrow! Say you can’t live, you are bored, rotting, dying… Everything makes you sick. You can’t stand to see me, the children are in your way, they impede you…
Her husband was talking quietly and fluently as a doctor. As if he had practiced saying these words for hours.
- Just leave me alone. I have no desire to talk.
- Of course, you don’t have…So who are we to have an honour to hear your words?
- I want to sleep…
It was her younger daughter who said it and looked now at her and now at her father with sly eyes.
…Till after midnight, sitting on the veranda, she looked at the dark grove and starless sky, listened to the sound of rain. She didn’t want to sleep. The sound of the rain was so sad that it reminded her of some familiar sorrowful song. She hummed the song and felt pain in her heart. She cried placing her head on her arm. No matter how long she thought over why she was crying, she couldn’t understand it.
Her husband’s guilty voice was heard from inside.
- …Come and sleep…You’ll catch cold. It’s raining.
A little later, her husband went onto the veranda, sat next to her and put his head on her shoulder. He seemed to be sorry for her again.
- Why don’t you sleep?..
- Aren’t you cold?..
- What if I make coffee and drink it together?..
- Shall I switch on the light?..
- Then what on earth do you want? - Her husband shrieked and his voice echoed.
- I want a hedgehog… - she said and turned her face to the window in order not to show off her crying.
Translated by the members of the Literary Translation Circle held by the UNESCO Chair in Translation Studies and Intercultural Communication (Azerbaijan University of Languages) and “Sonmaz Mashal” Cultural Relations Social Unity Chinara Ahmadova, Fatma Babayeva, Zamire Veliyeva, Afaq Aslanova