A Place In The World

It doesn’t shock you. You never flinch, even as the crowd around him backs away—those young, upscale men and women covering their mouths to stifle gasps or screams. It’s as though for the first time tonight, they see him there at the bar. He’s drawn attention as if waving a pistol in the air or shouting an angry rant about thigh-high leather boots or the closing door of a taxi. Yes, they see him, if only for a moment. It’s as if he has just appeared from a puff of smoke. You know that will pass, and soon they won’t see him anymore as the tiny white bunny stutter-steps in and around their reckless feet.

For now, there’s just that faint glow—milky, opaque—that says the change is coming. That’s what frightens the ones who see. Not you, though. You’ve witnessed this before. How could you not? You’ve stood at the door for a thousand years, checking IDs and stamping the backs of hands. You’ve seen it all: the pretend tramps only there to dance, the suited pricks wearing their gold like the colorful plumage of a lusty bird, the lovers mourning the back end of a break, the hollow eyes of predators. Yes, but also you’ve seen those rare men and women who change into rabbits. White rabbits. Never long-limbed, aggressive jacks. It’s always a bunny, snowy and soft, like a young girl’s pet so easily forgotten when the child grows up.

So, you lean on a wooden pillar and watch, as you have in the past. It’s part of your job—the one you’ve worked since the day you were released from parole. You’re still wearing your first tee shirt with the bar’s name—Ritzy’s—imprinted on it over the silhouette of a girl in a martini glass. Of course, the sleeves are long gone, baring your muscular brown arms. You like that, partly because it intimidates troublemakers, and partly because it shows off the deep-blue prison tats you picked up during your two hard years at Huttonsville: praying hands on your right bicep, and the hanged man from a tarot card on your left wrist.

What did you do, anyway? Or maybe that’s the wrong question. What did they catch you doing? Wasn’t it the malicious-wounding charge—a two to ten—you picked up that night outside another bar when you were the troublemaker and you sent the bouncer to the E.R. with a six-inch gash in his arm? Certainly you were brutal then. You could see the dried blood underneath your fingernails for weeks.

No, you’re not afraid of these people. Any of them. Especially not the occasional loner becoming, perhaps, what he was meant to be all along. At least the rabbits don’t have knives.

You can tell which ones they are. They stand out to you now. That’s not to say you know it’s going to happen. But, if someone had told you there’d be a change tonight, you could’ve guessed which guest had the honor.

Like this guy. Mid-thirties, dully dressed, a crescent of gray-blond hair framing the pale lagoon of his scalp—he was a nobody, a nothing, standing at the bar in silence while folks on all sides enjoyed one another’s company, the fruity cocktails, the loud rap and techno beats bleating from speakers overhead. You don’t believe he’s said a word since he came through the door. You didn’t even card him. You took his money, stamped the back of his hand—as if that balding head weren’t stamp enough—then watched him go on his way without so much as a “Hey, bro, how’s it going?” Now, an hour or two later, he’s halfway on his road to bunnyhood. 

You’re distracted for a moment when customers come through the door: three girls of undetermined age—maybe eighteen, maybe thirty. You think you’ve seen them before, especially the blonde with the low-cut honeydew blouse and a tattoo of a serpent on her left shoulder. As if to confirm this, she says, “Good to see you, Detroit,” using your prison nickname, the one only your close friends call you now. She doesn’t strike you as a close friend. She must have overhead that name somewhere. “Looks busy tonight.”

“Sure,” you say, just to say something. “Fridays.”

One of the two brunettes, the one in the black bodysuit, says, “You guys got a deejay tonight?”

“Later,” you tell her.  “Around midnight.”


Pleasantries over, they go away with their purses lightened and hands stamped. You watch them leave. Why wouldn’t you? No matter how long you’ve been here, you still aren’t numb to all those packages tightly gift wrapped for some lucky bastard to open.

That reminds you of the unlucky bastard at the bar. When you look for him now, he’s on the floor on his hands and knees. He almost appears to be weeping.

It won’t be long now. The unnerving part of the change has passed for this guy, and the other patrons have gone back to ignoring him. They chat each other up, flirting and joking, reaching out an occasional hand to touch an earlobe or the pit of a back. It’s as if nothing happened. Their world goes on and will, while the stranger who caught their attention once dissolves into little more than fluff and paws.

Why’d he come in here in the first place? you wonder. But you know the answer. He was dragged here once by a colleague from work, or maybe his brother. For that man, the evening went as planned. He took off with someone, leaving bunny boy to walk or call a cab. Such a horrible evening. Yet, the guy came back … again and again. Perhaps it was too much hope: to meet someone, to get laid or fall in love, to go beyond himself for an instant. Or, maybe some sickness in him caused him to savor his misery as if his suffering made him a better man.

It happens like that. You know it for a fact. It’s what your suffering did for you: why you haven’t drank while you’ve worked here, why you haven’t grabbed a stray butt cheek or picked up a woman and held her off the ground until she cried out, why you haven’t started fights, and why you’ve shown restraint in that discouraging hour when a fight comes to you. Two years of your life was enough, wasn’t it? The buzz of your cell door opening, the pat-downs and strip-searches, the German Shepherds stinking of shit and menace—how grateful you are to have put that life behind you.

Anyone can change, you think. Thank you, Lord.

You wonder if this guy’s thankful for his transformation. Somehow, you doubt it. Meekness is one thing, but who wants to be a fucking bunny?

It’s always bunnies. You wish just once someone would turn into a kangaroo or rhinoceros. That would bring some excitement. 

Hadn’t anyone ever heard of a werewolf? 

No such luck. It’s just bunnies. 

One time, you thought you saw the twisting, segmented arms of an insect. No one else noticed, although you saw Chandler the barman scratching furiously at his arms and scalp, his long brown curls bouncing around on his knuckles before collapsing again over his forehead and eyes. He looked as if he were being eaten alive by fleas, but you knew he was probably just high on those pills that make the skin itch worse than poison ivy. Of course, when your eyes refocused on the patron, they saw no giant bug there sitting on a barstool. It was only a creepy guy wearing a studded leather jacket and holding a motorcycle helmet under one arm.

“Hey, Detroit.”

You turn, and Chandler’s standing next to you. You were so distracted, you didn’t see him approach. “Yeah,” you say.

“There was a guy in here earlier with a weird hairline.” He uses his middle finger to draw an arc around the back of his head. 


“You saw him?”

“Sure,” you reply, keeping it short. That’s the way you learned to talk in the pen, where it’s best to say as little as possible because everyone’s listening and everyone snitches to somebody.

“Well, if you see him again, he split without paying for his last beer. No big deal. Just a cheap tap. Still, if he comes back, don’t let him in until he makes good.”

“No problem,” you answer.

Chandler doesn’t say anything else. He fades back into the crowd of grooving bodies, moving adeptly between them like some other kind of animal—a squirrel, perhaps.

I guess that beer was on the house, you think as you scan the room, searching the floor between all those moving, gyrating legs. 

There he is: a cotton ball with flecks of blood for eyes. His ears hang back like safety belts. His nose twitches as if about to sneeze. He doesn’t move unless a foot comes close.

It’s time, you think. Leaving your post, you bull your way through the crowd, not stealthy like Chandler but tall and straight. Nobody wants to bump into you, so a lane opens up. When you reach the customer, you squat down and grab him in your two wide hands. He glows against their darkness like a light bulb in a cave.

Now you stand, lifting him up and holding him at arm’s length. As you carry him toward the door, you fight the urge to pet him or scratch behind an ear, concerned that that little bit of attention might be enough to bring him back. Then you’d be standing in the middle of the bar, holding a grown man in your arms. That’d be too much, even for you. So, you treat him like the rest, escorting him out the front door, past the smokers huddled in their circle of hipness and anger, through the parking lot with its mix of fake sports cars and genuine SUVs, then across the road to the tree line. After all, you wouldn’t want him to get hit by a coal truck.

As you sit him down behind a sapling, you imagine all the others watching you from their various hideouts among the brush. Looking around, you picture rows of sad, pink eyes spotting the woods. But none of the others come forward, if they’re out there at all.

You look down. The bunny sits immobile on a pile of damp leaves. You know he won’t move until you’re gone. None of them do. Even so, you stand there a moment, watching. “Go on now,” you say softly—a tone you also learned from prison, or at least from being away from it. “Go on. Run along. It’s a big, big world. If I can find a place in it, so can you.” Then you turn to go, stopping at the roadside as a sleek, silver Camaro races by, its stereo cranked, bass booming through the closed windows like an anguished heartbeat in the night.

Copyright © 2016, Otis Nebula Press. All rights reserved.


Ace Boggess is the author of two books of poetry: The Prisoners (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014) and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled (Highwire Press, 2003). He is an ex-con, ex-husband, ex-reporter, and completely exhausted by all the things he isn't anymore. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, River Styx, and other journals, with recent fiction in Tulane Review, Coe Review, and Soundings Review. He currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia.