She brought him here to tell him about the bunnies. She did not know how to tell him about the bunnies, even though it seemed only fair to let him know about the bunnies. She never spoke about them to Charlie, not so much from lack of truthfulness as much as she could not explain to everyone in her life that instead of having a menstrual cycle, she produced a bunny each month. Each month was a bunny, a bunny that she was unable to take care of and could not call her child.

"Why are we stopped here?" he asked.

She opened the car door, and the winter wind pricked her cheeks. "I have to show you something. It's just a few feet away."

Her sneakers had no traction on the snow, and her toes went numb from the cold. Fresh snow did not cover the large imprint she left last night. It contorted like a sharply white womb.

"I need to tell you about the bunnies."

Clouds shifted so the womb now sparkled under the moonlight. The city below dimmed in comparison, and she saw his face more clearly. He stood quietly, waiting for her to explain why they had stopped on the side of the road when he was supposed to just give her a ride home.

"The spot in the snow there," she indicated, and lay down just as she had the night before, with her legs spread toward the road. "I was here last night. I had . . . I can't control the bunnies."

He crouched to be near her. His eyebrows furrowed, but he did not say anything.

"They come every month. I don't know why—I've been to so many doctors I couldn't tell you." She brushed away the fresh powder between her legs, revealing bloodstained snow beneath. "It happened here yesterday. It came early." She laughed coldly. "And then it ran away. It happens sometimes, if I'm not at home. I try to put them up for adoption if I can. But sometimes I just release them." She choked on her laugh. "It's not like they're my children, right?"

It was an odd phenomenon: they appeared in her womb entirely healthy, content, and very normal—only that she never had a reason to be pregnant. She often woke up nauseous on the day it would happen; by now she knew that meant to cancel any plans. Sometimes, though, they came suddenly, and she had to excuse herself from dinner and get in the tub, or pull over on the side of the road. One time it happened on the beach, and she had to cover herself with a towel. In all, it wasn't as terrible now that she'd accepted the unvarying cycle.

His eyes narrowed, comprehending the red snow.

"Right here?" he asked.

"Yes."

He nodded. "For how long?"

She remembered the first time it happened, when she was thirteen: she'd woken up on a fall morning and thrown up in the toilet. By the end of the day her nausea had increased, and she left her house at night to get fresh air. In the woods, only a few feet from the stream, she'd given birth to a dead bunny. She'd never even had her period. She screamed and ran to wake up her parents. Her mom believed she'd found the bunny, disgusted by her hysterical lying. Then it happened again the next month, and they went to see a doctor.

"And then at fifteen," she told him, "my father suggested we get my ovaries removed. It caused an uproar—my mom wanted me someday to have kids. But I told her that I was infertile. The doctor agreed. Apparently my uterus was too short for a baby. So we went through with it."

"And what happened?"

"The bunnies tricked me. It made no difference, except they started coming out alive." She shook her head and smiled. "Or maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe I had grown big enough so they were more comfortable in my womb. I don't know."

And now she knew that on the mornings when her heart raced and her stomach cramps prevented her from leaving the house, it meant her womb was freshly fertilized. Her body expected something to be done with these bunnies; they could not stay inside her, and they would not stop coming. She looked at the ground.

"But sometimes, well, I drink too much."

"Yeah," he nodded.

"And sometimes... I do it on purpose." The wind brushed her hair forward.

A car passed, honking at them.

"Let's get back."

He helped her up, and they walked to the car; the cold air had already penetrated inside.

She found herself shaking in the passenger seat. "I still think I can beat them." She was crying now. "I still think that maybe there's a way to get rid of them, to kill them, to get them to come out dead again. Because when they come out alive they expect me to take care of them. The bunny last night... I left it to die here. I didn't want to take it home. How could I? What am I supposed to do with all of them? And why is it that each month they turn and they look at me and they don't leave unless I abandon them somewhere? They know I'm their mother; they are not my children."

She wiped her tears. "I'm sorry. I just thought you should know."

When she jumped out of the car last night, the bare trees had turned to dark monsters before she nearly blacked out from the pain. They were twisted and demanded to be looked at, contrasted against the light-polluted night sky. The snow offered solace below the trees, despite being ice to the touch; it reflected the glow of the moon. Until the bunny came out, she thought only of how it hurt her to have entered a space where everything was arranged like a visible affirmation of nature's volatility.

It was over in a few minutes. She was covered in sweat, and the bunny shivered between her legs. It was brown that night. They always came out a different color. She wiped her vagina clean with the snow and walked back to her car. The bunny followed. She drove away.

"Before I shut the door to leave, it got really windy," her voice spoke with a kind of perplexity. "And—and I thought I heard screaming."

"That wasn't your fault," Charlie said.

She nodded; she did her best to make sure the bunnies did not ruin anything in her life, but they tended to nibble away at unpredictable things.

They sat in silence. The branches outside swayed as though ready to collapse. With a voice so small the wind could have carried it away, she told him: "There's one I've kept, though. It's been in my room for a few months, the only one I did not abandon."She met his eyes for the first time. " I don't want it. I know now. I guess I didn't before."

"I'll take it, if you will give it up."

She paused. "Why?"

"I don't mind, really. I guess I just want to help out."

"You don't owe me anything."

"It's not that, I just..."

He opened the door and peed in the snow, where anyone could have seen him if it had not been so dark. She scratched at the seat lining as she waited. When he got back inside, he started the car and turned to her, his mouth parted, ready to speak but unable to find the words.

"You love them, right? Even though they're not your kids."

She bit her lip. "In a way, yes."

"Then why don't you keep them? You don't have to, and I'm not asking you to, but why not?"

She imagined her favorites in turn, went through a plethora of images in her head of small blankets, empty food dishes, and twitching noses with variations of the color pink.

"Because they remind me of everything I've had to sacrifice. I give them life. That's enough."

He nodded, and they made eye contact for the second time, and in the silence between them she knew he expected her to say something more before they left. She had brought him here to tell him about the bunnies, but as she met his gaze, she accepted that if there were more truths to speak, she did not know how to say them yet.

"Look, thanks again," she said instead. "I can come by with it tomorrow. Help you get set up."

He started the car and backed out into the road. Behind them remained the shocking spot of red, which would be pointed out by passersby in the morning, each thinking a coyote had made a kill. Only a few feet away, hidden in the bushes, lay a frozen rabbit that would go unnoticed.


Title image "Encumbrance" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2020.