Cossima had just finished sorting out the washing Claudio had sorted out earlier that day when she heard a scream and, seconds later, a small distraught figure rushed at her shrieking wildly.
'He's dead, He's dead. I went down there to give him his carrot and he's dead.'
'Who is dead?' Cossima asked automatically even though she had a fair idea.
'Benny,' the child sobbed. Cossima went to hug her, but Janey was not a child who took to being comforted.
'Oh dear,' Cossima said, kneeling down so she was Janey's height instead, 'that's dreadful, darling. We'll have to give him a state funeral.'
Personally she was rather relieved. Benny the bunny was a malevolent creature who had kicked her , bitten her and peed on her. Cossima had never given in to her children's demands for guinea pigs, rabbits, rats or ferrets. But Benny had come with the blended family and Cossima had done her best by him, saving him vegie scraps and attempting to make friends with him.
They trooped down to a viewing of the corpse. Benny was stretched out as though sunbathing.
'I tried to lift him up,' Janey hiccuped and pointed at the dead rabbit, 'but he wouldn't move and he wasn't breathing. He's all cold and stiff, Cossie.'
Cossima moved closer to the cage and stepped on a toasting fork.
'Ow' she said, 'Goddamn thing!' The fork had gone right through her Birkenstock clogs and already beads of blood were forming on her heel.
'You swore,' Janey sniggered, 'you said a bad word. I'm going to tell my mum on you.'
'You can tell whoever you like,' Cossima snapped, 'come on. Benny's dead. We can't do anything for him. We'll wait for your father to come home to help organise the state funeral. It can't possibly take place without him.'
'You don't care about my rabbit,' Janey said, 'you're a meanie.'
'You don't care about my foot,' Cossima said sniffing. It was beginning to throb. When had she last had a tetanus shot?
'I don't care about you,' Janey corrected, and then as tears rolled down Cossima's face, she corrected herself, 'well, not much, anyway.'
'At least you're honest,' Cossima said, 'do you think hot chocolate would make us feel better?'
'It'll make you feel better if you add brandy to it,' Janey said, slipping her hand into Cossima's, 'I know, that's what mum does. But you need rather a lot of brandy.'
'Your mother exhibits sound common sense on occassion,' Cossima said, limping into the kitchen, where she followed Janey's mother's instructions to the letter.
By the time Claudio came home Cossima was giggling in front of the television with the girls, all of them slurping down hot chocolates (although to be fair, Cossima's was the only one with the added ingredient).
'What's for dinner?' he asked as soon as he got through the door, plonking his briefcase down, 'hello everyone. Cossie, what's for dinner?'
'I don't know,' Cossima hiccuped, 'suit yourself. We could have rabbit stew,' and she dissolved into laughter.
'We couldn't,' Janey shrieked at full volume, 'we could not. We're not eating Benny. Daddy, I don't like her. I don't like Cossima one little bit. She wants to eat Benny.'
'I'm sure she's joking. Cossima?'
Cossima bit her lip, 'Of course I was joking,' she said, 'I'm sorry but we've had a tragedy here today. Benny's dead and I stepped on that damned toasting fork. I've been taking some pain relief,' she waved the half empty brandy bottle at him, 'and I told the girls you'd organise the funeral. Maybe take-away pizzas would be a good thing?'
Claudio shook his head. A man worked hard all day and just wanted to come home to some peace and quiet. All day he'd added columns of figures, argued with his colleagues over the state of the nation, discussed political and economic strategy with anyone who would listen, ranted to his boss about changes in the legislation which made his job impossible and now this; a tipsy wife, an hysterical child and a dead rabbit. Sometimes he thought back to his bachelor days with something guiltily resembling nostalgia.