Seth Sawyers


Seth Sawyers has had essays appear in The Baltimore Sun, online at The Morning News, and in the literary journals River Teeth, Fourth Genre, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Quarterly West, Fugue, and elsewhere. He has recently completed a memoir, about growing up in the hills of western Maryland, and is at work on a novel about a ten-foot-tall temporary office worker. He lives in Baltimore and teaches writing classes at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has an MFA from Old Dominion University.

Lettuce and Rabbits

At the Cresaptown house, we had a garden as big as a basketball court. Jake was thirteen. I was eight, and Ryan was seven. In the winter, we rode sleds down the big hill, past the crabapple tree. When it was warm, we hurled a baseball until our skinny forearms throbbed. But in the spring, Dad planted. We watched as tomato seedlings shot up, as the cucumbers and zucchini spread, as the banana peppers came in as tiny and hard as Christmas lights.

But before all that, it was the lettuce that came up first. Dad sprinkled the seeds along the edges. I watched the lettuce. We all watched it. It was the first green we’d seen in months, since the snows, and it came up like little explosions, two leaves, then four, each set so green as to be almost illuminated from within. For weeks, we watched the leaves widening, thickening, that early green deepening.

The rabbits came. They sat in our front yard, serene, scattering when startled by headlights. At first, they nibbled only the white-green strawberries, but they were still too bitter. Then they found the lettuce and after that, rabbits were a different thing. We shouted at them from the garage, waved our arms from the big picture window, threw baseballs and clumps of brown that I thought were dirt but which turned out to be petrified dog turds. The rabbits shot off like scared rockets, and it felt good to see them run. But there were many of them, and they were skinny, and the green of the lettuce was very green. In the mornings, before school, I’d check on the garden. Some leaves were nibbled, some were chewed down to the tough stalks, some were gone.

“Might have to make a trip to the A&P after all,” Mom said.

I began to think of rabbits as having sharp, yellow teeth, hooked dagger-claws, inflamed eyes. We watched their soft brownness from the breakfast table, us eating our cereal, the rabbits eating our lettuce. One morning, dressed for work, Dad came into the kitchen holding a coffee mug in one hand and his bow and a single arrow in the other. The bow, a simple recurve, was taller than me. I could not draw it, though I’d tried many times. We followed him onto the porch. A rabbit, a young one, nibbled at the lettuce, chewed, nibbled and chewed. We grew quiet. We held our breath. Dad drew on the bow, held it like that for five, six seconds. I thought he couldn’t hold it any longer, but then he let fly. The arrow flew straight but fell, harmlessly, among the tomatoes. The rabbit froze, darted toward the Orndorfs’ back yard, and vanished.

“Bastard,” Dad said.

For a week, every morning, he shot off a single arrow. “Bastard,” he said, every time.

The sun was high and strong on the seventh day, the kind of April day that finally turns everything green, that makes your forehead sweat, that fills your skinny muscles with warm honey. Dad got home from work and found us in the living room, watching cartoons. He was still wearing his corduroys and striped button-down shirt, but he held the bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. We followed. The sun was low in the sky, the warm afternoon light turning the garden green-golden-brown. A scrawny, nervous rabbit sat just on the edge of the garden, chewing. Dad drew back, said, “Hold it, you bastard,” and let go.

That night, there was no lettuce for a salad. But we had Caporale’s white bread with butter. We had some rice. And we had rabbit, which was chewy and dark, and of which there was just enough.

Last spring, some friends and I planted a garden. We had high hopes, but in the end all we got out of it were some peppers, some tomatoes, and, to our delight, lots and lots of lettuce. The lettuce came up first, and seeing those tiny sprouts of green in the cold, gray end of March felt like a victory. It got me thinking about my dad's garden behind the Cresaptown house, and the lettuce he grew there, and when I remembered the rabbit, I knew I had a story.