RABBIT FUTT'S HEALTH CRISIS

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: DOWN-HOME

Bob wasn't a good marble player, but did love to run and play soccer in high school. Along the way he began two bad habits, smoking and drinking, which cost him a chance to excel at soccer and get a college scholarship. At a point the bad habits almost caused him his life, a second chance totally rehabilitating him.

 

RABBIT FUTT’S HEALTH CRISIS

Story & Painting by Virgil Dubé – Copyright 2020

 

The gathering had become a custom during summer months. On a Saturday morning 1951 with no school studies to hamper them, six boys huddled together near the intersection of Eaton Avenue and Lamson Street, located in Oakwood Villa on Jacksonville, Florida’s Eastside. Side streets from Lamson hadn’t been paved yet, it just recent. Just off the main intersection level packed dirt relatively sand-free offered perfect surface for the boys to get on hands and knees and play marbles. 

Jimmy Fray a black kid and straight-A student stepped to one side and found a suitable stick from the weedy roadside. Using the pointed end, he drew a near-perfect six-foot diameter circle in the dirt. Next, he picked ten long weed stalks and bit them into different lengths. Clutching the bundle in his fist, Jimmy held them outward for each of his white companions to draw a stalk. Tom Drake drew first. Jimmy closing his eyes drew second. Following, brothers David, Arnold, and Jock Smith drew. Bob Futt drew the last of five stalks remaining. The shortest stalk drawn shot his marble first, each succeeding shorter stalk shot in order. 

Individually, the six boys enjoyed the game called ‘ringzies’, preferring it to ‘chaises’, whereby two players shot his marble forward one-after-the-other in a walking manner until one made a mistake to be too close to the next shooter and his marble be struck and forfeited to the winner. Commonly, kids played chaises during school months walking early morning to the school bus stop. Every boy assembled this Saturday were fair shooters at either game. Yet some were better than others were. Nevertheless, any one on the right day and with luck could defeat the others. 

As other boys and girls from the Oakwood Villa neighborhood gathered to watch the games, each of the six boys pitched four marbles into the ring center along with Jimmy positioning the cat-eye peewee marble in the middle. Each player strove to knock the peewee from the ring with his ‘special shooter’ to win the jackpot. The shooter kept each successive marble struck knocked from the ring, as long as his marble striking another wasn’t projected from the ring, but ‘stuck’ allowing him to keep shooting from his marbles’ new position. If he missed a shot, or his shooter struck another and ricocheted outside the ring, he relinquished his turn to the next player. If a shot involved several marbles exiting the ring and the shooter remained within the ring, all ejected marbles were pocket by the shooter. Any player at any time knocking the peewee from the ring won all remaining marbles. 

Bob Futt had drawn the longest stalk and was last to shoot, a sure looser to follow his companion sharpshooters. Several games played in succession told the same old story; Tom Drake pocketed most marbles, followed in order by Jimmy a respectable quantity, brothers’ David, Arnold, and Jock Smith next most, and he Bob losing fifteen marbles. Bob had won the stalk draw for two games, each time his lead shot struck a marble but didn’t stick within the ring to enable him to continue shooting. He did strike the peewee his second shot but the marble didn’t leave the ring, he losing his turn. Tom Drake a master, stuck almost every shot, and cleaned house if marbles hadn’t been too scattered within the ring. 

Fifteen minutes later and after four games, Bob Futt stood amidst kids gathered, and looked down at the single marble resting in the palm of his hand, his special shooter. He placed his valued possession in his empty pants’ pocket, which was full when he had begun playing with neighborhood kids, the boys around his age of ten. Each kid was justly proud his performance, some more than others, except for Bob. Sportsmanlike, each patted him sympathetically on a shoulder, and commented, ‘too bad, Rabbit’, see you around, maybe here next Saturday’. Practice more and you’ll get better before school restarts.”

Downcast, Bob started to leave and stroll the four blocks on the country road to his home there to lick his wounds until and even after lunch. Later in the day and recovered his disappointment, he planned to practice shooting marbles determined to improve before next Saturday. 

Not yet walking away, he watched the three Smith brothers stroll toward Galveston Avenue, and knew among the group he had played they headed elsewhere to coax other kids into playing, some of them quite testy characters. Often, Tom Drake or the Smith brothers shooting expertise provoked jealousy and a clash with the Kenner brothers. The close nit brothers lived in the rough backside of the neighborhood, all horribly bad marbles shooters, and with hot tempers to boot when losing. Pushed to far, they resorted to fisticuffs to release their frustrations. Sometimes marbles weren’t the only trophies the winners received. Black eyes displayed the following days told much of Grasshopper, Willie-Bee, and Gobbler Kenner’s’ rowdy physicality and poor sportsmanship. 

Satisfied to reside in his own neighborhood and avoid unnecessary trouble, Rabbit set off on his way home licking his wounds. He reconciled there existed another day when better chances materialize to excel and win, and swore to better his shooting skill, practice diligently better to stick his prized shooter. 

But his regular marble playing companions already sharpshooters, were honing in on further conquests today. The local marble champions were just getting started to rack up game after game, each with pant pockets bulging at the close of the day to store marbles in their bedrooms’ chest of drawer, as if they’d deposited money in a bank. Deposits made, oftentimes before bedtime their mothers would have to place raw steak over eyes blackened by Kenner fists.

Before Bob had taken ten steps, Dusty Hargrove a kid observing the games, stepped close to intercept him, “Hey, Rabbit, how about puffing my cigarette … make you feel better. You’re welcome to sample mine.”

Rabbit, Bob’s nickname tagged him by his father admiring him a pre-toddler crawling about the house and reminding him of bunnies he raised as a hobby as a boy, responded, “What the heck, thanks Dusty,” and he reached for the partially smoked cigarette Dusty offered. 

Dusty age nine and a scrawny rather friendly kid, chain-smoked. His lazy parents living in a formally nice home a block from the rough neighborhood section allowed their wood frame house and property to decompose: house unpainted and wood rotting in places, shingles missing and roof leaking, junk collecting in a weedy front yard where dogs roamed and fleas abound, the conditions mirroring lack of responsibility for their carefree son. Edna a homemaker who cleaned house only on impulse when the notion struck her maybe once a month, and Charlie Hargrove a second-rate car mechanic preferring television over home and yard duties when off work, heard but didn’t care the neighborhood gossip surrounding their kid heading down the wrong path along with the cranky Kenner kids. The slothful couple ignored Dusty’s indulgence, not really supplying but allowing him weekly access to opened packs of Velvet Smoothie Cigarettes. Befriending Rabbit Futt, Dusty had found a trustworthy friend, and confidant, and usually supplied him cigarettes and even booze he began to heist from his parent’s cupboard collection. This friendship, bad habit indulgences and its consequences, persisted years - into their teens and beyond as men.

***

During grade and then high school, Rabbit discovered soccer. He excelled at the game more than when he had played marbles year’s earlier, soccer a sport he was good at because he loved to run like the wind. Despite his athleticism, a gift, he continued furtively to smoke cigarettes, and drink what he called to his friends, ‘tonic’, beer most often but whiskey on occasion. 

Never drunk to full intoxication, Rabbit excelled during the beginning of soccer games, but his stamina waned toward the end and thus he fell short of his true potential and any chance to stand out and win an athletic scholarship to college. A senior and graduating, his father a general contractor referred him to an old friend, Jules Albright, a supervisor at Direct Current General Contractor Electricians. Jules hired Rabbit and he began work immediately, no break following high school graduation. 

Starting out as helper and wirepuller, Rabbit applied for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers journeyman’s school out of the local IBEW union. Accepted, he attended nightly classes twice weekly for five years, August thru May. In the meantime, the company contracted jobs within the First Coast General Hospital. Upon IBEW graduation as an Electrical Journeyman at age 23, he worked for Direct Current contracted within the hospital. After six months, the hospitals’ Maintenance Department Manager offered Rabbit a full-time job within the hospital complex, which he accepted, quitting the electric company. 

***

Living on his own in an apartment, Rabbits’ smoking and drinking addiction worsened forthcoming years. Primarily over weekends of heavier than usual indulgence, he often met his pal Dusty Hargrove at a Riverside bar, Dusty newly hired at a local bank just down the street from the hospital. 

Dusty showed up at the bar one day and shocked him, “Rabbit, I hate to forsake an old friend and tradition, but I gotta quit smoking and drinking. My girl has given me an ultimatum, and I don’t want to lose her. We can pal around like always, but it’s gotta be cola or orange juice for me … and no more cigarettes.”

Shortly thereafter wheezing and coughing as Rabbit waited the elevator, hospital respiratory therapist Doctor Livingston exited the doors and began earnestly to head for his destination in ICU. Advanced several feet, the elderly doctor with silvery hair and full mustache stopped in his tracks. He spun around and approached Rabbit before the elevator doors closed. Grabbing hold and keeping the doors from shutting, double-checking the elevator empty except for Rabbit, he said, “Bob, I’ve noticed that hacking cough some time as you’ve worked about the hospital. It doesn’t sound good, seems worse recently. It’s your business … but if I were you I’d either cut down on the cigarettes I see you smoke in the outside garden patio on break, even better to toss them straightaway.”

Shamefaced, Rabbit nodded, admitting by that gesture the truth, warming to free advice the Doc offered. He had known but denied his deteriorating health for years, his morning jogs increasingly labored, the hacking cough more persistent.

“Bob, if you don’t mind, and as a courtesy extended by me to a fellow employee of this hospital, I’d like to examine you.” 

“Fine Doc Livingston, but smoking is a hard habit to stop.”

“Better to stop than to suffer the consequences. Believe me, I see misery daily that leads to death from bad habits out of control, and it isn’t pretty a patient’s last months of life. Now, I’ve another concerning question … not meaning to be too personal, of course.”

“Okay, what’s your question, Doc?”

“Do you drink alcoholic beverages, or take drugs?”

“Never drugs, sir. But yes, I drink. It’s beginning to get the best of me, too. I drink mostly during the weekends, have slacked off since my old friend Dusty quit smoking and drinking cold turkey because his girlfriend put her foot down. I suppose if he stopped both habits at once, I could also.”

“My friend, the two aren’t good mixed together, and I’m pleased you don’t take drugs. You might adhere your friend’s example. See me ASAP, will work you into an appointment.”

Subsequent tests revealed ominous signs. A week later Doctor Livingston entered the exam room and sat on a stool near Rabbit. Demeanor serious, he presented Rabbit the findings, “Bob, you have moderate lung congestion, yet there’s no sign of lung cancer, yet. Additionally, drinking has affected your liver. Though fatty, it isn’t critical yet but is headed in that direction … possibly to cirrhosis. Not too damaged, the liver can heal.”

“I gather this isn’t a death sentence.”

Doctor Livingston looked to one side, frowned, and shortly returned to gaze sternly at Rabbit, “Look, Bob, I’m giving you a stark warning that the prospect of lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver is great unless you stop smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. You have many friends here at the hospital, including me. We don’t wish to witness what inevitably will happen to you.”

Shrugging, Rabbit replied, “Okay, Doctor Livingston, I’ll try.”

“You’d better take this diagnosis serious, my friend. It’s no death sentence … yet, but this is a personal health matter you must address … sooner, better not later, or else.” 

Consequently, Rabbit joined a gym. Encouragement from concerned friends, including Dusty Hargrove, Doctor Livingston and hospital associate workers, he engaged in an earnest effort to get his health back. 

However, his efforts lasted a short duration. One day an old school buddy Fred Devers working as an accountant at a local law firm joined him at lunch. Fred offered him a cigarette and he accepted, Rabbit considering it a harmless breech of his better health constitution. From that betrayal of his commitment, Rabbit deviated from his health quest and fell back into old bad habits worse than before, opportunistic smoking and drinking. The shackles of addiction had gripped him tighter than ever.

In addition, his boyhood marble companions for whom he kept close contact didn’t help, beginning recently to play poker Friday nights weekly, and continuing to play marbles on Sundays. All but two smoked and drank, except Jimmy Fray having never partaken in either, and Dusty Hargrove rehabilitated and his health improving steadily, as did his relationship with his girl.

One shinning light, the close nit marble group had pledged as kids never to take or push drugs, and had held to that pact for which not one had dared to break.

***

Rabbit’s hospital job had proved more prosperous than when he was initially hired. Thrifty, he saved much of his paycheck, which allowed him to purchase by down payment, refurbish, and a clear path ultimately to pay off an 1859 Georgian style home on Park Street in traditional Riverside neighborhood. All needed was a partner to share his good fortune. Though he dated several women over the years following high school graduation, he hadn’t found that special person to settle with permanently, as he aspired, knowing she was out there somewhere. 

Lonely, Rabbit rescued a long eared dog from the Humane Society Shelter located on Beach Boulevard and named him Flapper. For the time being, Flapper filled his companionship void, and, he stayed in close contact with his old-time card-playing friends. This happy-go-lucky lifestyle persisted a couple of years before one day his friends invited him to accompany them to Utah country near the Ute Tribe reservation to camp and hike, Flapper also invited. The group: Jimmy Fray now a lawyer, Tom Drake manager of a new Winn-Dixie store, brothers: David, Arnold, and Jock Smith jointly operating a Toyota dealership off Blanding Boulevard, and banking executive Dusty Hargrove, and he, stayed at the Utah Mesa Valley Resort Hotel, third floor rooms with broad windows and panoramic views of the sprawling beautiful Mesa Valley scenery. 

Running alongside a ridge one day and reading ‘Our Health Matters’ by health activist author Candy Sweettooth; article ‘Strive to be Healthy’, a man from a group of jogging hikers Rabbit approached, advised him in passing, “Friend, might be watchful for rattlesnakes, saw a big one a ways back up the trail, and, there’s a buzzard that looks mighty hungry.” 

Rabbit waved and thanked the man. He flipped a page in the book and continued onward.

The warning didn’t soak in, nor did he pay attention to where he was running perilously close to the cliffs’ edge. Up the trail clearly marked, he should have veered left on the commonly used path as he approached a sign warning hikers of imminent drop-off straight-ahead - ‘Deadman’s Drop’. Instead, Rabbit remained on the rugged, rock-strewn, cactus laden ground, unaware his trajectory, and he failed to see the buzzard perched atop the sign; the vulture’s eye raised in anticipation dinner was about to be served. 

“Opps!” a slithering rattlesnake close by symbolically exclaimed via a hissing utterance, the serpent too dumbfounded at the man’s inattention to sound his rattlers.

“Woff! Woff!” anxious Flapper hot on his heels sounded his warning. 

The cautions: jogger, snake, terrain, sign, and buzzard, might as well have been non-existent. Rabbit was too absorbed reading his health book while smoking his cigarette and flipping its ashes … oblivious his imminent horrific demise. 

“Yummy”, the aged buzzard perched on the warning sign squawked an instant before the man plunged excited suddenly after waiting so long for such an incident to manifest, stomach growling and licking his beak and smacking his chops.

Luckily, Flapper skidded to a stop inches from the rim’s edge. His action stirred a dust cloud and propelled rock and soil material over the cliff s’ edge in the wake of Rabbit plummeting. The dogs’ last view of his master was flailing arms, hearing his terrifying screams, out of the corner of his eye seeing the buzzard spring off the sign and take flight. The loyal dog waited; whined, anticipated the splat sound to resonate from far down on the valley floor. It did not happen. Instead, he heard an instantaneous crash, further cracking, and rustling of foliage, additional cries penetrating the elements moments later, his masters’ compelling plea, ‘help me – somebody, please help me’!

Thirty feet down, Rabbit, his arms thrashing and legs kicking, had plunged into a jutting cliff-side tree. Branches had split, broken off, and debris bellowed outward and fell toward the Mesa Valley floor. Stuff pelted the cliff wall upon his impact, and chunks of rock and tree material tumbled likewise downward. 

Rabbit’s body had wedged between two sturdy forked limbs. Stunned, briefly blacked out, he awakened clinging to the larger of the limbs, looked straight down into at least two hundred feet of empty space. Terror beseeched him. Pained, battered and bloody, teeth chattering, he backed his quivering body along the smooth surface of the limb to a safer place tightly against the cliff wall, where he sat straddling the massive trunk with roots deeply seated between rock and into the wall’s soil, which he recognized would adequately hold his weight, and recognized little danger it capsizing despite his continued shaking like a spinning washing machine. 

Rabbit watched as the buzzard descended down from a lofty air current and glided close to the tree to inspect his potential quarry, squeak his disappointment, and then swoop outward to seek other opportunity, maybe return if dinner had succumbed and was ripe and ready. Looking the buzzard dead in the eye jolted Rabbit to his senses, he convinced he was actually alive, not delusional, and fortunate not to be the scavenger's meal. He yelled, “Help … somebody please help me.” However, his pleas went unheeded, his only means of rescue Flapper above to seek aid. 

Rabbit couldn’t have known that his trusty pet had raced back to the resort, and that his speedy appearance and excited behavior alarmed Rabbit’s friends that something was terribly wrong. What seemed hours to him dangling alongside a cliff and terrified, resort volunteers and State Park Rangers appeared and positioned a boom and cabled cage to pull him to safety. Though Rabbit in the duration had his tonic should thirst overwhelm him, he refrained from drinking the hard liquor, water finally lowered to him in a canteen via rope. The first refreshing swallows proved the beginning of his transformation.

***

Bob ‘Rabbit’ Futt tossed the health book; he didn’t need it anymore. What Doctor Livingston tried to convey to him, and had limited success, his narrow escape with death in a most terrifying manner had struck home with stark reality. Coming so close to his splattered remains consumed and digested by a homely old buzzard, convinced him he must change his health habits, otherwise suffer further and die miserably. He pledged to quit smoking immediately. Moreover, he emptied the tonic bottle on the barren soil after he exited the rescue cage and paramedics helped him to a waiting stretcher. 

Rendered first aid on the spot, paramedics thought it best to rush Rabbit to a reservation medical clinic in case of brain concussion, or internal bleeding, especially had his spleen ruptured since he suffered expansive bruises to his torso. From the emergency room, Doctor Steven Big Hawk admitted him for observation, cared for by a nurse he soon fancied to, and she to him. 

Three days later accompanying his old neighborhood friends at a late afternoon supper in the resort lodge restaurant, his many cuts and bruises and abrasions medicated and bandaged, left wrist sprained and wrapped with a bandage, he announced, “My friends, I’ve decided to eat salads with Italian dressing, will drink tea or water rather than wine, and have fruit rather than a high-carb desert … no more cigarettes. Now, after supper and with an hour before sunset, I propose we draw a big circle in the soil. After Jimmy Fray gathers twigs from nearby sagebrush, breaks them in lengths and we pick, we’ll play ringzies, a game we’ve continued from our youths to play on many Sundays. I brought the marbles along; they’re in my sports bag.”

“Right on,” the group responded in unison. 

Minutes later Rabbit forced himself through pain to kneel into position to shoot a couple games before pain overcame him … six marbles bagged and he still the worse shot. Standing apart from his friends on hands and knees like kids of old and playing marbles, he announced, “Now is a good time to inform you gents that I met a nice nurse at the reservation medical clinic, her ancestry Ute. She and I have hit it off. My primary care nurse there, she is intelligent, tall, has black hair and deep brown eyes, gorgeous skin and features. Cannot say why exactly, but I feel strongly she may be the one. Her name is Clair Night Eagle. And she prefers my nickname Rabbit to Bob, actually began to call me her Lucky Rabbit Foot before I left. Anybody plunging over a cliff and surviving as I did deserved the name, she professed.”

Rabbit’s friends stopped play. They looked at him wide-eyed with their mouths agape. 

Their attention totally transfixed, he nodded, grinned, and added, “I informed Clair of my electrical job within First Coast General Hospital and that it’s a prestigious hospital in Northeast Florida region. This greatly interested Clair. She said she was looking to transfer somewhere to better her nursing skills and up her income. Prior to my discharge she told me she talked it over with her Indian family on the Ute reservation, got their best wishes, and is considering visiting Jacksonville within a couple months. She’ll apply for a job in the hospital for which I told her I would give her a first-hand reference, and then she commented if all goes well she would move permanently. How do you like them bananas?”

Rabbit’s friends stood, replied, “We like them bananas.” Then each shook his bruised but good hand, gently, congratulated him, wished him and Clair’s relationship to move forward and they are happy. 

Rabbit retreated to sit beside the swimming pool to rest. The game continued playing with everyone abuzz the news, thankful between them their old marble-playing friend within inches of being killed and eaten by a buzzard had found good fortune consequently.

Sometime later that evening Dusty Hargrove, a successful businessman having overcome his parent’s disregard for him, approached Rabbit in the hotel lobby, “Man, I’m so tickled you found that girl sounding like a real knockout. And, I want you to know I feel mighty bad I gave you that first cigarette long ago.”

Rabbit smiled. He placed his good hand on Dusty’s shoulder and squeezed it affectionately, thought a moment, and then replied, “Dusty, thanks a bunch. There’s no need blaming yourself my discretions sorely mine to bear. All of us make choices in our lives, most for the good but sometimes we slip having chosen badly. Hey, the moral of my story, is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when a cliff and buzzard are involved. Second chances happen when we have to endure the hard knocks, and learn … maybe, if we are so inclined or fortunate, for which I was by remaining close to you and my old neighborhood buddies. You know, if long ago I had cleaned bad habits I may never have met Clair … something to ponder my misfortune turned to fortune, pal.”

Dusty chuckled, “Right-on, I’m testimony to tolerating hard knocks also, my sour upbringing that would have destroyed many a kid. I think both of us have learned some tough lessons in close proximity, my friend. Try to rest well tonight; we’re headed home early tomorrow.”

“I’ll do. Good night, partner.”

“Good night, Rabbit.”

Dusty and Rabbit strolled toward the elevator. Pressing the third floor button, Dusty commented, “Rabbit, I can’t wait for Jane and me to meet your girl, Clair.”

“Thanks. Well, Dusty, Clair may be around for a long, long time, and nobody is going anywhere. A radiant lady, she will love my family that includes you, Jane, and the whole gang of us marble players.”

THE END


Submitted: June 11, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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