Chapter 4: Red Rabbit
ometimes quiet is the best conversation of all. It was several minutes again before anyone said anything; and – truth be told – the first sound to break the silence was a groan. The groan of a rabbit.
“Uuuuuuuuaaaarghh…” Rua croaked. “Dear god,” he moaned, his ears drooping completely, “Was t’ere an explosion? Bi samhach! Did somebody get the license number o’ t’at truck? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwrgh…”
His head lifted from the table, one ear bent completely in half and the other lilted down. He smacked his split rabbit lips, his nose twitching slowly in disgust.
“Aoife, you sick bitch,” he slurred. “Go dtachta an diabhal tu! Did you drop a shite in my mouth, then? ” With one paw he pulled at his tongue and shook his head. “Whoa. T’at was a mistake.”
Aoife with unmasked disgust said, “Just business as usual. Drunk bastard.”
Rua objected. “Drunk bastard, am I?” Then, with resignation, “You’re right. You always are.”
The cat turned away from him and grumbled, “Aye. I am.”
He looked at me in an apologetic rabbit way and then nodded toward Jeff and Steve. “I always seem to overindulge a mite when t’ese lads are playin’. I do love ‘em so.”
Jeff reached over and scratched Rua behind the ears, which were just beginning to perk up a little.
“Careful, lad,” the rabbit said. “My noggin’s a tad painful.”
“I’ll bet,” Jeff said softly.
Russell the goose had waddled up to the table with a small glass of something clear and effervescent. He handed it to Rua who accepted it with a guilty expression; Rua mumbled “Tapadh leat” then drained the glass off in one swift quaff.
“Bblllmmpptt!!” he quivered with horror, shaking his head violently and twisting his mouth with disgust. “T’at is far-and-away the most horrid tastin’ bilge in t’e whole world!” He slammed the little tumbler to the table and shook his head slowly.
“What is it?” I laughed aloud.
Steve giggled, “Beverly, The Destroyer of Hangovers. Bottled in Italy. Tastes like distilled earwax!”
“Ummmmpth!” Rua cried again. “Aye, but it does do t’e job.”
After the laughter had died out, I asked Jeff, “So, what happened after that first show?”
“After that show the band was completely energized,” he said. “We felt a unity of purpose like we’d never felt before...a confidence in our own power to make the music we’d always wanted. We played three more nights and after that last night the energy from the crowd made us feel invincible. We went back to the cottage in Doora the next day, put our things in order, and made arrangements to get ourselves and all the equipment back to the States.
“The whole experience with Aoife and Rua and The Uaimh Bhinn changed us forever. We didn’t hear music the same anymore; we certainly didn’t make music the same anymore. Now the music was all that mattered: we made music for the sake of the music itself. And whether it was just the three of us in rehearsal or playing at a club or in front of a huge audience, it didn’t matter: the music reigned supreme.”
Gentle, green-tinted light rays were beginning to glow at the cave’s entrance. Night was slowly, softly giving way to the Irish dawn.
“We came back to Ireland late that same summer to play in Ennis at the Sojourner’s Blues Festival,” Jeff said, “a by-invitation-only three day affair. Rua made the arrangements for us. Our set went well enough, despite the fact that I was suffering from a bit of food poisoning. It really didn’t matter. Steve and Randy were just killing it. They were all over it. The crowd was great.”
“There are even recordings of it,” Steve added. “Someday we’re going to have to dig those out. I haven’t heard them in years.”
“I’d love to hear them,” I said, yawning, beginning to feel the lateness – or the earliness – of the hour.
“T’at was t’e first time t’e b’ys played under t’eir new name,” Rua piped up.
“New name?” I asked.
“Red Rabbit!” Rua proclaimed. And in the strange angles of the morning’s first light, his glow seemed to be particularly deep and vivid.
“That’s right,” Jeff said. “Named for our good friend and patron!” Rua’s loinnir seemed to increase with his pride.
Curious, even as I felt increasingly tired, I asked, “What did you call yourselves before that?”
Steve smiled a bit and Randy stirred; without opening his eyes, he answered, “Doesn’t matter.” And he meant it.
Jeff said in a far-away voice, “After the festival we played a few shows in London and Amsterdam, then went back home. And the music just kept getting better and better, more and more personal, more like how we’d all learned to hear it in Ireland. And while none of us will ever hope to hear it the same way Aoife does, we’d all learned to hear it better, clearer, more like the music that began at that first flash of creation, so long ago, so long ago, so long ago…”
Jeff’s voice, echoing around The Uaimh Bhinn and mixing with its gentle fragrance in the pastel morning light just became too much for me and I shut my eyes…just for a moment.
When I woke up the cave was empty. Empty. I was propped up against one wall near the entrance and the stage, the tables and chairs, the bar…everything was gone. I was completely alone. The light coming through the entrance was almost blinding, now at the sharp angles of afternoon.
I rubbed my eyes and pushed myself up from the rough ground and stretched the cramped muscles in my back and neck. I was confused, but not panicky. I made a couple of steps toward the entrance and looked outside. The little path that led to the cave was still there, and maybe forty feet down the way a white rabbit was hunched down, ears straight up and twitching its nose rapidly.
“Rua?” I said, and it leaped off into the woods. I ran after it, off the path, and I was able to follow it briefly; but it wasn’t long before I lost it altogether. “Now what?” I asked of no one in particular. I had no idea where I was or how to get back to Doora. I stood alone in the warm Irish afternoon, thinking about everything that had transpired since I’d left The Middle House.
And then I heard a distinct sound. A car. I listened closely and heard another one. I made my way through the woods in the direction of the sound and soon found myself at the edge of a well-paved two-lane Irish highway. Within minutes I’d flagged a ride and was heading back toward town.
All of that seems so long ago. So much has happened since; and there has been much that hasn’t happened: notably, no animal has ever spoken to me again. And it’s not because I haven’t given them the opportunity. To this day when I meet a creature, wild or domesticated, I always speak, thinking maybe they’ll speak back. It’s become something of a notoriety among my family and friends. My children do it now, too; but to the best of my knowledge, none of us have ever gotten a response; but maybe one of them has and I just don’t know it.
Ireland’s gone through many a change, economically-speaking…boom, then bust. I go back every few years, usually trips mixing business with pleasure. My position as managing editor for Digital Now! keeps me mostly at home; and now, like so many other publications, we publish on-line only, so I can do my job from anywhere on the planet. Ireland still benefits from the high-tech boom of the 90’s, but its economy – like all of Europe – has most certainly suffered.
Still, there’s the music. And, if anything at all, it’s grown more poignant and beautiful than ever. The Irish, above any other people, have learned to channel their struggles and suffering into their music. Whenever I can I stay in Ennis; I’ve been able to attend the Sojourner’s Festival and I’ve dropped in to The Middle House on occasion as well. The music still has the same hypnotic effect on me; still, I’ve never had another conversation with a rabbit or cat or so much as a goat. And I’m sad about that.
I’ve never tried to find The Uaimh Bhinn again. Frankly, despite Aoife’s stated confidence in me, I doubt that I could. The Irish countryside is wild and alive and full of infinite treasures, some of which you may come upon only once.
But – sometimes – once is enough to change your whole life.
(Dale Marchand is managing editor for Digital Now!, an online publication from Ferdinand Publishing that caters to high-tech professionals. He and his wife of eighteen years have three children and they reside on a thirty-acre farm in Vermont where he spends much of his leisure time trying to teach a variety of pets to speak. He remains to this day an avid fan of Red Rabbit, and they wish to thank him for his years of support, including his willingness to contribute this article.)
Illustrations by Peggy Purvis