Nel had been in charge of the dogs for only an hour when one of the Weimaraners appeared with an Angora rabbit in its mouth. Like the dogs, the rabbit belonged to Nel’s boyfriend’s moms, Porsche and Rebecca, who had converted an entire city block into an urban farm. They hosted mini markets and fermentation workshops and goat yoga in the spring. It wasn’t Nel’s thing. Just because she liked eating eggs didn’t mean she wanted to interact with chickens. But she hadn’t minded watching the Weimaraners—Lord and King—until this moment, when Lord showed up with the Angora.
It was the Fourth of July, and Nel was dog-sitting while Porsche and Rebecca ran a few final errands in preparation for their annual party. Although the dogs had received expensive training, they were still deranged and couldn’t be left unattended. The rest of Porsche and Rebecca’s staff was busy preparing the property—vacuuming chicken shit out of the coops, planting last-minute edible landscapes, squirting Windex and various bleach solutions on windows and countertops. A famous author would be among the guests this evening—a man who wrote about food, consumer responsibility, and “agri-communities.”
Nel’s boyfriend, O, was also working. A boutique dealer, he sold organic Colorado cannabis—nothing hard, obviously, nothing dangerous—to Austin elites like his moms and peyote smoothies to UT students. Even in summer, there was a high demand for mind-altering substances around the campus. These concoctions came in three “flavors”—Ginger, Licorice, and Melatonin—and they all made you vomit.
Your mind is like an Etch A Sketch, Nel had heard O explain. Every now and then, it needs a good shake.
He was so full of shit, Nel thought. But she loved him.
She loved him even though he was not here to help her deal with the rabbit. Nel chased Lord around the modern-rustic house, commanding, “Drop it!” The dogs rarely responded to these orders, even with their shock collars, but when she found the remote and pressed the button, Lord, now in the living room, stiffened, deposited the rabbit onto the hardwood, and bolted.
Nel squatted and nudged it. The rabbit was definitely dead. None of the staff seemed to have seen Lord with the animal, which was lucky, because there were a lot of staff. They kept their distance, yielding only neutral smiles if Nel spoke to them, whether in Spanish or English. It isn’t my job, they seemed to be saying, to understand you. They were all Central American, all wearing colorful, matching T-shirts that made them look like summer camp volunteers. Their presence irked Nel in a way she couldn’t quite explain—not to O, anyway. On the one hand, she was glad that these people had found this strange, peaceful way to make a living; on the other, she didn’t understand why Porsche and Rebecca couldn’t milk their own goats or feed the chickens.
When a staff member entered the room, her face blocked by a poppy bouquet, Nel pinched the rabbit by the scruff and fled down a hallway. She could take the animal out with the trash, she thought. Or she could put it in somebody else’s garbage can, though that seemed mean, and maybe illegal, and definitely creepy.
To buy time, Nel took the rabbit into the bathroom. How much was the thing worth? she wondered. She knew O’s moms had heritage breeds, and that many were considered endangered. Or threatened, at least. Now, seeing the animal in better light, she determined that it had been white. Blue eyes. Ears oddly stiff and upright. It looked more like a duster than a once-living creature.
Still, Nel was afraid to fuck up. It had only been nine months since she and O had met, eight months since they’d first had sex, and six since they’d graduated and moved in together. Nel, Mexican by birth, had been on a student visa at the University of Texas. Sixty days after graduating, she’d managed to get a visa extension. But that, too, would soon run out.
Not that she wanted to marry O or anything. This was just the first time Nel had been given some amount of responsibility, had been treated like a member of O’s family. It thrilled her a little bit, to glimpse this world of famous authors and catered parties. She couldn’t help but imagine that this was her path, that O was her destiny. Or at least part of it. Her parents, still living in Oaxaca, would never go so far as to say that she shouldn’t return home. Their town had always felt peaceful and safe until this time last year when her little brother’s best friend—just turned seventeen—was shot and killed.
O called as Nel was washing the rabbit.