While visiting my grandparents’ grave earlier this month, we came across a funny headstone with a beer mug and bunny on it. I thought this was unusual, so I took a picture. The following is a short story I wrote in which I imagined the reasons for having a rabbit and a beer mug on a headstone.
Margaret loved rabbits and Robert loved beer. Having grown up on a farm, Margaret had raised rabbits as long as she could remember. As a child, she often had more than a dozen of the furry creatures running around the yard. Margaret never caged the rabbits; they came when she called them and never got into the garden. She had a way with most animals, but her connection with rabbits was uncanny.
Similar to Margaret’s rabbit affinity, Robert had loved beer for as long as he could remember. Robert’s attraction to the drink began well before high school, and by the time he graduated he had become a true connoisseur of beer. Robert was a hard-drinking man who could hold his liquor, no matter the sort, but his true love affair was with beer. Given his background, it was almost inevitable that he would go into the business. Robert started a small but successful micro-brewery in his home town, distributing about a dozen varieties of ales, lagers, and Robert’s special dark beer. The dark beer was Robert’s pride and joy, and was particularly popular in the local bars and pubs.
Robert and Margaret dated off and on through high school, but they always knew they would get married some day. Robert always thought Margaret’s obsession with rabbits was a little strange, but he assumed that she would grow out of it by the time they got married. Ironically, Margaret thought much of the same with respect to Robert’s taste for beer. However, two years into their marriage, Robert had resigned himself to put up with the rabbits and Margaret had given up nagging Robert about the beer. The only concessions they made were a result of Robert spraining his ankle on an underfoot rabbit one night as he came home late from the bar. From that day on the rabbits were mostly confined to hutches in the backyard and Robert was home from the bar by a reasonable hour.
Despite their differences, theirs was a happy marriage. Robert and Margaret married young, and they were parents of two young boys before they turned twenty-five. Margaret taught the boys how to care for animals, and most of the rabbits would obey the boys commands. No rabbit ever did what Robert told it to do. The boys also received an education from Robert in the kinds of beers and the art of brewing. Robert proudly showed them his special dark beer, and repeatedly stated that he wanted a glass poured over his grave when he died. Margaret always protested, saying she didn’t want any such thing, to which Robert would teasingly reply, “So what do you want on your grave? Rabbits?”
The boys grew up and went off to school. One morning, not long after the youngest had started his freshman year at college, Margaret found a lump in her breast. She immediately underwent surgery and chemotherapy, with Robert by her side all the while. The cancer went into remission for about a year, but came back more aggressively than ever. Robert stood by his wife the whole time in quiet support, but they both knew that Margaret’s days were drawing to a close. “Promise me we’ll be buried together in the old cemetery near my parents,” begged Margaret in her last days. The lump in Robert’s throat only allowed him to nod. With a twinkle in her eye, Margaret added, “And don’t you go pouring your silly beer on my grave, you hear?” Robert laughed and cried at the same time, responding as he always did, “I suppose you want rabbits, then?”
The funeral was a small grave-side service. The boys came home from school, and Robert stood shivering with about two dozen other family and friends around the grave. Before she died, Margaret had insisted on helping Robert pick out the headstone. It had yet to be made, but Margaret’s side would have a rabbit and Robert’s would have a stein of beer. The boys thought this was fitting for both of their parents.
Before long the boys went back to school and Robert was alone with the rabbits. There were about ten of them, and like the many rabbits that preceded them, not a single one paid any attention to Robert. Robert kept them fed and put water in their hutches, but they didn’t seem very happy in the cages. Margaret had always let them out to play during the day, but Robert could never get them back in the cages. For him, the rabbits were just one more reminder of the void in his life.
One night a couple weeks after the funeral, Robert decided to make a presence at the bar. He hadn’t been back since Margaret went into the hospital for the last time, and he knew Margaret wouldn’t want him moping about for the rest of his life. As he put on his hat and jacket, Robert thought of the rabbits. He walked out back to the hutches and looked at the creatures. They all looked back, attentive, as if expecting something. Without a word, Robert went to each cage and undid the latch, leaving the doors open. He stepped back and looked at the rabbits again, nodding in encouragement. One by one, the rabbits hopped down from their cages and gathered together. The looked at him intently, the way they had looked at Margaret. Then they all bobbed their heads, and loped off into the winter night. Despite the cold, Robert had a feeling that letting them go was the right thing to do.
Robert’s friends at the bar were glad to see him. They gathered around him and assured him they were going to be there for him. After staying a while and having a couple glasses of his special dark beer, Robert made his way home. Despite the cold, Robert had walked, as was his custom. It had begun to snow while Robert was at the bar, and an inch of snow dampened all the night sounds. As he passed the cemetery, he decided to walk through and spend a moment at Margaret’s grave. The headstone had just been delivered and he wanted to see it.
As he approached the plot, Robert could see that the dark grey headstone. He could see the engraved rabbit and beer stein by the faint light of a distant street light. And then, as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he noticed something more. There, in the snow around Margaret’s, were dozens of rabbit tracks.