Like Rabbits

‘No bleeding again this month,’ she thought. It added to the joy of it, though there wasn’t the slightest swelling to show. She felt like busting out singing but it seemed silly really, alone in the little weatherboard house. Anyway, you could hear right through the thin walls.
        Bill was hard at it with his schoolkids only a hundred yards away. They were doing their ‘times tables’ it seemed, by the sing-song chorus coming faintly across the red dirt of the playground.  She folded the ‘Western Mail’ where she’d been reading another story about motherhood. Somehow, she had to work off her high spirits. Idly wandering from room to room she rubbed a duster on mantelpiece and bookcase. The oil mop was still there so she gave the passage lino another once over. You really needed an electrolux to get this dust off properly. But you had to have the electricity connected for that. Even a carpetsweeper would be better than brooms with all this red dust. Anyway, it would have to wait now with so many expenses coming up.
        Quite a change from their first few months here. At the start they’d almost been like a couple on a camping holiday, settling in with their mostly borrowed furniture. They had the clothes they stood up in, the little collection of wedding presents but not much else.  Yet she’d never had such a luxury of doting on one person alone, day after day. Not even with girl friends at school or the odd crush for a teacher. She went to put the oil mop back in the cupboard and then she saw the gun.
        Funny how she always responded to a gun. It gave her a sort of rush of pleasure. No, more a twinge. Like a sudden wicked feeling, yes. It was just a decrepit old 0.22 that her father had given Bill when her husband had received the surprise news of his transfer to Samphire Lakes. It was while they were starting to pack for the journey and father had said he was going to get a new one anyway. This rifle was all wired up around the butt, although it could shoot straight enough. Bill had showed her in those first days at the Lakes how to take pot shots at rabbits and crested pigeons. At first he helped her to hold the gun, letting her pull the trigger when she was ready. Then she could do it by herself, while he looked on saying how proud he was of his little Aussie mate.
        Come to think of it, her mother had been terribly upset to hear that her only daughter was going to be nearly three hundred miles away straight after the wedding. For herself, the separation was a blessing in most respects. She tried to imagine even now how she possibly could have faced the family so soon after her wedding night. How were you supposed to compose yourself if you didn’t want look like the cat that got the cream? Or worse.
        She picked up the gun by its cool barrel and went to the kitchen drawer where they kept the shells. Lifting a corner of the curtain, she could see across the schoolyard past the swings and the tankstands to the school verandah. There was no sign of the kids coming out for morning playtime. She went back down the passage and out on to the front verandah. From here she could see across the bush track that went on from the school to some of the new farm settlements. There was quite a bit of thick scrub here, leading down to the saltlake. Among the mallees and wodjil the rabbits fairly seethed in the late afternoon. Just now there was nothing. She stood for a while with the rifle in one hand, peering into the strong sunlight. The old cat came and rubbed itself against her legs. ‘You poor old bugger,’ she said. ‘You’re past running down a bunny!’ She looked out again to the bush, smoothing her dress against her stomach. Then she loaded a shell into the breech and closed the bolt. Usually she would just rest the barrel of the rifle on the verandah rail but there was nothing showing over in the bush. ‘’Maybe if I get a bit closer,’ she said to herself and the cat turned away and started sniffing at the front steps, looking to find a good position for sunning itself.
        There was a grassy knoll just through the wire fence on the other side of the road so she headed for that, carefully holding the rifle away from herself as she squeezed through the taut wires. ‘What am I thinking of?’ she almost laughed at herself, ‘I’m going to get myself coated in red dirt if I lie down to take a shot.’ But there was more grass than she expected and a mat of pigface that would keep her relatively clean. She comforted herself with the thought that she was going to wash the dress anyway. There was a fallen mallee trunk she could rest the barrel on to get a proper sight of a rabbit if any were going to show themselves.
        First she put the gun down on the ground, as she had been taught by Bill, then with a grunt flopped on the grass. The warmth of the hard ground came up through the grass and she felt strangely contented lying there. Imagine if my girl friends could see me now, she was thinking. The pigface was slightly prickly and she shifted a little. Was there already swelling? She rolled on one side and felt around below her stomach but realised it must have been something on the ground after all. With an effort she raised herself on her elbows and sighted the gun across the fallen tree.
        At first there was nothing. A crow flew crookedly like a shadow over the end of the salt lake. But suddenly she saw movement near one of the burrow mouths. Instinctively she squeezed the trigger. There was a thump at her shoulder and the sudden pungency of the charge going off. Something leapt in the air and fell back. She heaved herself to her feet and ran heavily toward the warren, brushing sticks and leaves off her dress as she went.
        ‘Two!’ she gasped as she came upon the bloodied bodies. She bent to look more closely and rolled one over with the rifle barrel. It was a doe, the bulbous eye already glazed, the grey-brown fur matted with blood from a body wound. She was just thinking to herself that it would be a good roast for Bill and herself for the weekend when she saw the other bundle of fur was just a baby, a kitten in fact. But it was wet with blood and what appeared to be mucous.
        ‘I made her give birth! I made her lose it!’ she howled.
        Back at the house, she cleaned herself up and changed her dress. The children were spilling out of the school for their playtime break, bawling their heads off with the glee of being released from forced labour of their lessons. She dragged herself to the stove and shifted the kettle from the hob to the hotplate. Bill would be over in a minute for his morning tea. But something was going terribly wrong.
        By the time he came she was lying on the bed with an old towel.
        ‘What’s up, love?’ he said huskily, panic starting to tighten his jaw.
        ‘Oh, Bill,’ she was inconsolable, ‘I’m losing it. I’m losing our baby.’
        ‘I’ll run you into town as soon as I can get the car started. Some of the big girls can look after you. The others will have to go home for the day. Don’t worry, old thing, we can start again any time after you’re well again.’
        ‘I killed it, I killed the baby,’ she was muttering.
        ‘It’s not you’re fault. These things happen naturally. Doctor Wilson will see you through this. You’ll be in the best of hands.’
        ‘Bill, it shouldn’t have been like this,’ she continued to moan.