Be warned–this is the saddest story in the world.
It might put you in mind of the rabbit you had once, the one who got run over, back when you weren’t exactly still young but not yet what anyone would call an adult. You remember.
He was a nice fat white rabbit–not a bunny; he was full-grown and mature, as rabbits go–with long ears and pink eyes and you’d had him for years. Every so often you might even have smoked pot with him, on nights when your parents went to visit your older brother and his wife at their apartment in Bangor and you wouldn’t go along because you’d tell them you had to work late at the movie store, which wasn’t true, was just an excuse to have a night to yourself, staying up late to sit on the back porch of the house you’d lived in your entire life (pretty depressing in itself, when you let yourself think about it, which was often), blowing smoke into the rabbit’s cage and staring at your own pinkly bloodshot eyes in the little mirror you kept in there for him because you thought he liked to admire his reflection, just like you thought he liked to get high with you, sometimes.
Even if this was a story about that rabbit (who was, after all, yours) and it getting tragically run over by a guy driving a Buick built like a Gothic cathedral who’d only taken his attention from the road for a Christly second so he could reach down to the floorboards to rescue his daughter’s posterboard project of mounted butterfly wings, the one she’d worked on for almost four months, including over the summer, which made him (the driver, her father) feel a warm stirring in his chest that reminded him somehow of the times he’d notice the ghosts of her fingerprints left smeared in the fog of the bathroom mirror or on the slick hardcover jackets of the books he would lend her after devouring them himself in a single sitting and which she read with as great a hunger as her old man, having inherited his passion for reading, and he was racing to get to her school in time because she’d managed to forget the project on the day it was supposed to be due–though it had only been marked on the goddamn kitchen calendar for three weeks–and there was a moment of panic when it slid to the floorboards so he reached down quick into the well beneath the empty passenger seat and, while he was down there, he felt a small thump under the front left wheel but didn’t think much about it because the shocks felt every little bump and, as he set the poster back safely on the seat beside him, he was too busy inspecting it to see if any of the brightly-colored gemfacets of wings decorating its surface (beneath the heading, in his daughter’s lovely ornate cursive, “Prismatic Lepidoptera”) had been shattered by the fall but none of them seemed any the worse for wear–and although he knew he’d be a few minutes late to work on account of his daughter’s forgetfulness and had been getting a little pissed about it, to tell the truth, he now found himself momentarily captivated by the brilliant stained glass of a wing belonging to an incredible specimen labeled Parnassius Mnemosyne, just before hearing the frantic bellowing horn of the oncoming truck, too late, and went suddenly flying (without wings of his own) through the smashed windshield, having neglected in his hurry to put on his seatbelt, his last mental image the bright fractal colors of a dead butterfly….
No, this one is sadder. Much more sad.
The saddest story ever.
When you finish reading it, the pages will be wet with your helpless tears.
You will bury your head in your sleeve and cry, your voice choked, despondent: “Oh, why–why did Raoul have to go off to that stupid war and get killed by a Fascist bullet and leave poor Maria alone with their unborn child and that funny pet goat?”
And when you use the sopping pages as tissues you will break down again and cry some more, wailing, “And when he lay dying on the mountainside beside the smoldering wreck of the bridge, about to be run down by the advancing tanks, thinking how he’d left his child unnamed when he went off to the war and now he’ll never be able to name it, that Maria must do it alone, without him.”
You’ll remember how Raoul kept repeating the name he wished he could have told his wife, whispering it to himself through bloodied lips, before he finally died and the story was over.
Sadder still, because when you’re done reading it you’ll wonder what might have happened to Maria afterwards, with her fatherless baby and the funny goat. How one day perhaps the goat ate a tin can and cut the inside of its mouth and got tetanus and died.
You’ll be reminded of the earlier part of the story when Maria’s father got sick from mercury poisoning (he was a struggling milliner) and died and how one day soon after Raoul came home from work (he was an ostler, and you wondered what an “ostler” was, anyway–weren’t too sure what a “milliner” did either, as a matter of fact, except you didn’t think it was work at a mill) to find Maria in the copper bathtub with an empty bottle of the big white pills left over from when he had broken his leg falling from a beestung palomino and how he’d to spend their entire meager savings for the weary and grizzled village doctor to purge her system and make her well again–and you’ll realize that losing Raoul (and, quite possibly, the funny goat as well) might drive Maria to another, more successful attempt at suicide, before or after the unnamed child’s birth, leaving it either dead or an orphan.
Or perhaps she might have died in the delivery itself, she and the baby too, medicine being what it was in 1937 in the hills of Spain.
It will positively reek of sorrow.
Even the jokes in it will be sad, will be tragic and touched with melancholy. Like the joke that cultural primatologists must tell each other when their simian charges get measles or poliomyelitis and start dying: “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Answer–because it had polio.”
Or the one which the villagers below Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD must have told one another when the great volcano started rumbling away: “The mountain has indigestion–let us hope it does not vomit.”
The only laughter in this story will be self-deprecating; the only smiles will be wry.
It is sadder than a story about a woman who leaves her husband because she realizes she doesn’t love him anymore, may never have really loved him to begin with, might only have been trying to put herself in the eye of the storm of loneliness which surrounded her, surrounds us all, because she feared it more than being with someone she didn’t truly love–but then that illusion became no less unbearable than the loneliness itself, and you’ll realize (as she did) that love is a rare thing in the world, that it isn’t often we find the one person who fits the unique shape of our hearts, despite years of searching.
Even sadder–much more sad.
It’s sadder than a friend moving away when you’re in third grade and have known them your entire brief life–the one who helped invent a private language known only to the two of you and that you used to talk in secret about the important things in your lives, the girls you thought were dumber than dirt and the ones who maybe you liked a little and how Mr. Warren never managed to wear a pair of matching socks and how stupid long division was and the galaxy of things that went through your heads on a child’s daily basis that needed a private code to speak them–but which now will never be spoken by anyone again.
Sadder than the death of Latin.
More tragic than the story of the woman you thought of as “The Sunshine Lady,” who used to ride your bus to work and had the most beautiful and curliest red hair you’d ever seen, the color of new pennies, of rubbed gold, who even though she was a perfect stranger was like a ray of much-needed sun on a cloudy day, something to be counted on, more vital a morning ritual for you to see and smile hello to her than coffee could ever be, and then that awful day when she got on the bus with a bright-colored scarf wrapped around her naked scalp like a turban, nowhere near as glorious as her golden red hair had been and she wasn’t able to grow it back because the chemo didn’t get rid of all her cancer and it spread from her ovaries to her spine and stomach and finally just about everywhere and one day she didn’t get on the bus and you realized you’d never see hair that would make you feel as warm and hopeful as hers did ever again, and you never even knew what her name was.
Sadder than the missed chance of saying, “Hello. I love you.”
It’s sadder than going through life without ever telling anyone your hopes or dreams out of fear that you’ll be laughed at or despised, going silently through the world and keeping your words to yourself for so long that eventually you lose the ability to speak at all and drown in your own shadow without even being able to cry for help.
Sadder than the words, “What I have to say is not important,” which are among the saddest that exist.
Even worse than having that dream where you realize–or remember–that you have the power to fly and before you know it you’re soaring high under a full silver moon and no one sees you because being people they never think to look up and you burst almost with the wonder of your secret talent and the incredible delight of flight as you teach yourself all the tricks of catching breezes and riding updrafts and you learn what clouds taste like and how it feels to drift on nothing but air beneath the floating eye of the moon but when the alarm goes off your own bloodshot eye cracks open and you forget it all in an instant as you’re shocked fully back into brittle wakefulness and stumble out of bed with your feet like lead bricks on the unforgivingly frigid floor and your mouth tastes like you’d chewed on your pillow all night.
Sadder than the waking reality of gravity.
A world-wide day of mourning will be held in honor and recognition of the people who suffer in the tragic pages of this story, and everyone will stop their normal routines to pay their respects to the characters who endured its terrible misfortunes.
No one will be allowed to get married on this day and any birthday parties will be postponed until the following afternoon, but even then only a few people will come because they’ll be hungover with sorrow and won’t want to eat cake or sing any joyful songs, and watching someone open presents will seem disrespectful and wrong.
It might even have to be two days.
Counseling services and support groups will be available across the country for those who find themselves unable to function after reading the story, whose daily lives will be derailed by its debilitating sadness.
People will meet and drink coffee from styrofoam cups to discuss where they were when they first read the story and how they soon lost interest in their hobbies and marriages and started showing up late for work, listless, unproductive, unmotivated, until finally they were let go by sympathetic but hand-tied employers, who knew exactly what the poor disheveled wretches were going through, having read the story themselves, and who before long will be let go in turn by their higher-ups until all of them, from the mailroom to the boardroom, mutually destitute, unemployed and newly-divorced, will gather together in high school gymnasiums and public library basements to comfort one another in empathy and solidarity, trying their best to remember a time when they were happy, content in blissful ignorance and in life’s little pleasures–before the awful advent of the story into their lives.
The government has told me that they can’t allow me to tell this story, because it is so sad, so cripplingly sorrowful. I can see their point–what if one of our enemies were to get ahold of it and broadcast it through loudspeakers out on the battlefield?
I can see all the brave soldiers curled into helpless fetal positions as they hear its mournful plot unfurl amid the riflefire and explosions, crying piteously, plaintively, sucking their thumbs, begging for their mothers…. They’d be slaughtered. And I can’t be complicit in the demise of so
many–I already know the awful gravity of the story itself, and knowing it is more than enough sorrow for one person to bear in his lifetime.
So they’ve taken me to a secure, undisclosed location, an underground safehouse with spacious rooms painted in warm colors and filled with some of the world’s most comfortable furniture, protected from any terrorists who would force the story out of me for their own nefarious ends.
And this is where I’ll spend the rest of my life, the only one who knows, safe from harm–but all the hot cocoa and massaging chairs in the world can do nothing to stop the terrible sadness I feel from knowing it.
There is one thing that buoys my heart, however
slightly, makes it all bearable, if only just–that at least you will be spared the burden of such desperate knowledge.
But I promise that it’s so much sadder than the one about the rabbit–which was yours, after all–even if it’s you who finds it in the road in front of your house, and it takes a few awful seconds even to realize what you’re looking at, the minute flattened pile of red that was once handsome white fur, and all you can think is–What the hell was the stupid fat thing doing in the middle of the road, anyway?
How did he get out of his cage in the first place?
Did you leave the door open by accident?
Maybe he’d gotten tired of having only himself and some stoned kid for company all the time, so one morning he combed his ears in the little mirror, washed his eyes in the water bowl till they sparkled like pink gems, fluffed the flag of his tail till it burnished white, then rabbit-kicked the shit out of the small wired door of the cramped cage and skedaddled, beat out for Albuquerque or Kookamonga, frantic and careless with the drunkenness of sudden freedom, and the last thought that went through his lapine brain before getting creamed (and creamed he got–he did not suffer) was “Big. Big. Big,” even as he heard the unaccustomed roar of something quickly bearing down which made him stop for a moment to prick his long, handsome ears back, anxiously preparing for some new surprise and wonder in this wide open, cageless world….
But you’ll never know for sure, and you’ll always carry a heart full of blame for the tragedy of it.
Until you forget about it. Which, one day, you’re (sadly) bound to.