1. When you skin a rabbit by hand, you start by holding it upside
down by the back legs. You feel the thin bones and delicate sinew
stretch downward, as gravity wants to bury the dead rabbit
for you. Don’t let the earth bury the rabbit, but feel how thin it
is. How breakable. Marvel at how such thin stalks of osteocytes,
holding hands like so many desperately clinging roots, could have
spent so long carrying a living thing around without letting go or
giving up. Even now, they don’t give up. Don’t give up.
2. Tear the skin just behind the rabbit’s ankles. It won’t be too
hard—it’s like ripping a wet piece of cloth. Pinch and pull. Rabbit
skin is thin, delicate, and it will not be too difficult for your hands
to work the meat away from the hide. You will realize, once again,
how fragile life is. Try to ignore the ugly thrill of power, wet and
clinging to the underside of your ribs. You have taken this life. You
have broken this skin. If you do nothing else in your life, you will
still have done this. Let that be enough.
3. Work your fingers between the hide and the muscle sliding
beneath it. It should be warm and wet, and it will smell like iron
and dirt. You will not be prepared for the smell, but try not to let
it show on your face. Try to breath through your mouth. If the bile
rises to meet your lips, swallow vigorously. Concentrate on the
way the birds have stopped screaming in the trees to watch you
work. Apologize over and over in your head to the rabbit and to
god and to the birds who have been made to stand witness to this
act. Some people leave the skin on the feet until later, like socks to
keep it warm, but you shouldn’t do this. Work as much of the leg
out through your tear as you can. It will be too hard for you to go
back and clean this part up later. Don’t look into the rabbit’s eyes,
wide and round with fear, even now when there is no light behind
them. It will get easier.
4. Tear the first strips of hide away. The meat underneath it will be
pink and white and red and purple and it will look like a chicken
leg from the supermarket, if you look at it without looking at the
rest of the rabbit. Worry that the small rocks and clumps of dirt
on the table are hurting the rabbit. Like gravel in a skinned knee.
Remember that the rabbit is dead. Remember that the rabbit is
beyond pain and pleasure, at least as far as you know. Damnation
waits for you like a red door as punishment for what you have
done; for killing and ripping at an animal like this. Don’t pay any
mind to this—just keep working.
5. Now that you have the start of the leg free, it shouldn’t be too
hard to take care of the rest. Pull the hide down towards the rabbit’s head.
It will feel like pulling on a pair of pants, or taking off
a pair of gloves. Pretend that you are undressing a doll for some
game. Imagine that you are a child and this is not about death and
skin. Repeat on the other leg.
6. Grab the rabbit by the slick pink ankles and pull the skin down
along its back. It will be hard to work the flesh over the tail because
the tail wants to be a tail, and not a stub of tissue, which is
what it will become. Do your best, and if you tear the skin, do not
cry. You cannot hurt the rabbit, no matter how many mistakes you
make. It will sound like hair ripping out into a hairbrush and it
will feel like the fur on the backs of the little animal figurines you
can buy at gas stations along the highways filled with empty lanes
and the smell of stale cigarettes. Be brave, you are almost done.
7. Pull the skin off like a sweater, expose the long line of purple
muscle; pale ribs like delicate bracelets will bend back to meet
you. Use both hands. The rabbit is a cat arching its spine up toward
your hands. Pull hard and fast. When the shaking of your hands
causes the hide to come apart, still them by imagining that you
are a scientist. Name what you know and assign constellations
for what you don’t. Lumbar vertebrae, thoracic vertebrae, scapula,
you’ve always been shit at muscles, Cassiopeia, Andromeda,
Cetus. Don’t think about Orion or Perseus or Hercules. Do not
think about the moments that led you to undressing a rabbit. Think
about the stars. Think about a small, lonely speck of dust hurtling
through space, and how small that makes this death. It is so small,
my darling. Don’t worry.
8. There is a thin patch of skin between the rabbit’s arms and its
head. You’re going to have to break this with your fingers. It won’t
be too difficult. By now, your hands will know how to run gently
along smooth skin, and the motion will be easy, if clumsy. By now
you will be tired and you will just want to stop. Keep going. Pull
9. When the skin is pulled clean up to the rabbit’s head, turn it
sideways, feel it in your hands. By now it will be cold and sticky.
You will have dirt and fur stuck under your nails. Marvel at how
small the rabbit is underneath all that skin and fur. It is so still. It
is bare and laid before you and you are closer to the rabbit than
its own flesh. It will be lighter than it was when you started, and
gravity will ask very politely for the honor of claiming the rabbit.
Do not give in to it. This is your rabbit now—more yours than any
lover you will ever take and more yours than even any child you
might someday have. You have taken the rabbit, seen the secrets of
its skin, the small words it had kept hidden between its shoulder
blades like prayers or constellations. You have beheld its ugliness
and its greatness and you have offered neither forgiveness nor salvation in return.
In this moment, you have become god. You have
written your name on the red door and it is now your home, so
walk into it and hold your rabbit like a newborn bride against your
chest. Mourn its loss. Mourn who you were before you knew the
snick snap of skin coming away into your hands. You have done it.
You have won. Wash your hands.