By Eliza Master
“We both got the Butterfly Tea,” he says in an accent Maddie can’t identify.
She looks over her laptop and sees that he is handsome. She focuses on his downy beard so as to avoid eye contact.
“Can I join you?” he says. There aren’t any empty tables left, and hers is a big one that seats four normally.
“Sure, of course.” She nods at the chair that is diagonal from her.
“I’m Zaid,” he says, reaching a hand out.
“Maddie,” she says, shaking it awkwardly. She returns her gaze to her screen, but the assignment on eco architecture doesn’t hold her attention. Instead she sneaks glances at Zaid. She watches him settle in and open his laptop. His dark eyes stare at his own screen.
“Homework?” asks Maddie.
“Yep. Psychology. You?” says Zaid.
“Urban planning,” replies Maddie. She sips her Butterfly Tea, now room temperature. The clock on the wall is ticking loudly. She wants him to like her. Her attention is drawn to Zaid’s hair. It’s sandy brown. She wonders what it would feel like to run her fingers through it.
“Hey,” says Zaid. He meets her gaze as if he was waiting for it. “Are you free for dinner tonight?” Maddie’s cheeks flush.
She bites her lip, and says, “I am,” with as much confidence as she can muster.
“Can I have your number?” Zaid takes his phone out of his pocket and offers it to her. It is warm from his body heat. The case has an anime rabbit jumping toward a star. Maddie taps in her number. “See you soon,” says Zaid. He downs the last of the Butterfly Tea and packs away his laptop.
Just as Maddie settles back into homework, her phone bings. It’s Zaid; 6- at the YouKai Sushi?
She has passed the restaurant several times. It’s a few blocks from campus, next to a dry-cleaning shop. Ok see you then J, she texts back.
It’s already dark when Maddie arrives at YouKai Sushi. The entrance to the restaurant is down a grimy hallway and through another door. There are just five tables, all of them empty except for one where Zaid sits.
He stands, and pulls out the chair opposite him saying, “Maddie.” Somehow this makes her blush. She is glad the place is dark. Zaid orders warm sake, which tastes like cleaning fluid to her, but relaxes Maddie’s brain. She tells him a brief history of her nineteen years in just a few sentences. Zaid says that he was born and raised in Morocco, and that he got a scholarship to university.
No one else shows up for dinner. They drink miso soup and eat sashimi. Maddie is happily surprised that she likes the raw fish.
“This is awkward.” Zaid clears his throat. She thinks he is going to say something important. Maddie tries to look at both of his eyes at once but ends up focusing on a small crease between his eyebrows. “Well, you see. I’m a Lagomorph.”
“Huh?” He must be joking, thinks Maddie. She knows that Lagomorphs are animals. Had she heard there is one in a zoo somewhere, or that they are extinct? She can’t remember. “Are you serious?” she asks.
“Yeah, I’m serious.” Zaid looks deep into her eyes. Now she gazes at each eye in turn. Maddie sees herself reflected in his dark pupils. “Are you ok with that?” Zaid interrupts.
Maddie runs her tongue around the top of her mouth in a circle. Zaid’s lips are pursed waiting for a response. “What do you mean by Lagomorph?” she asks quietly.
“I’ll show you.” Zaid turns around in his chair and lifts his shirt. “I have a tail.” On his back she sees a ball of fur the same sandy color as his hair.
“Oh weird,” Maddie says without thinking. Zaid turns back and picks up the bill, “I’m sorry.” He puts on his jacket.
“No, your fine. Really,” says Maddie. She stands and impulsively presses a kiss onto his lips. He presses back. She likes the taste of him and decides to not think about the weird tail.
The following evening Maddie goes to Zaid’s apartment. He has a camera on the ceiling. It’s strapped and anchored by metal hooks.
“You film bed stuff?” she asks.
“Yeah, that way I can watch myself sleep. It’s for studying insomnia. I’m writing a paper on it.
He lights a candle and shuts off the lights.
“Condom?” she asks.
“I’m clean, and neither of us can get pregnant from each other,” says Zaid. “Only another male Lagomorph could knock me up.” He smiles and pats his belly. Maddie notices that it has a feminine curve.
She frowns into the darkness and a sigh escapes. Maddie has an IUD, so pregnancy doesn’t worry her, but diseases do.
“Have you been tested?” It is her rule to ask first. Unfortunately, the question is always a buzzkill. Her romantic feelings are dissipating, and she’s worried they won’t return.
“Look,” Zaid whispers. He pulls out a sheet of paper from the night table. It’s from the student health center. The top reads; Patient, Zaid Alami. The results are from three days ago. Maddie’s gaze roves down the column of diseases, she notes that everything is marked negative.
Zaid leans in and places his forehead against hers. Maddie’s heart swells. She breaths into his chest as he encloses her in his arms. Then she wraps her legs around him and lets herself get lost in his response. She feels like she is flying. Is she falling in love? she asks herself. Afterwards she sleeps soundly against his back, with the soft tail between them.
The next day Maddie stops by YouKai sushi and gets some miso soup for Zaid. She knocks politely on his door but turns the knob without waiting. The door opens, and she sees that Zaid is at his laptop with the camera plugged in to it.
“Hi, I brought soup.” Maddie prances across the room toward him. He closes his computer as she approaches. Zaid’s eyebrow hairs are standing on end, but smooth down right away.
“Oh, hi,” says Zaid tiredly. He doesn’t get up, so Maddie stops on the other side of the desk.
“Whatcha up to?” She asks.
“Homework. Kind of busy actually.” She holds out the soup. “Not hungry right now, but thanks,” says Zaid.
Maddie is frozen, and then she gets it. Last night was a hook up. Her chest contracts but she manages to say, “Totally,” as if he doesn’t matter to her either. She rushes out the door and back to her apartment. Immediately she looks Zaid up on her computer. She should have stalked him the minute he left the coffee shop, she thinks angrily.
Zaid’s Facebook profile is on the top of the search, but there isn’t much there. Further down the search are other Zaid Alamis, mostly men from the Middle East. Maddie is surprised the name is so common. Halfway down is video called Zaid Gets Laid.
Of course, she clicks on it. But the video is on a site called RealPorn. It’s $19.95 to join. They want her credit card and verification that she is over 21, which she isn’t. Impulsively she types in her information and clicks the Over 21 bar.
She is surprised to see that it’s her Zaid talking from the screen. He says, “Do you think rabbits are sexy? Take a look at my tail, it’s real.” The camera moves behind him and Maddie sees Zaid tugging at his tail for the audience. “And this is the rest of me.” The view shows him from the front and Maddie recognizes his manhood from the night before. The introduction runs right into the action.
There is a guy with an elaborate tattoo on his back, screwing Zaid from behind. The camera zooms in and Maddie can see a scar on the man’s back in same spot as Zaid’s tail. He is slapping Zaid’s legs while he gets off. The camera stays away from both faces, but she sees Zaid’s thigh flinch at every spank.
Maddie watches the video twice more, remembering the camera above his bed. She makes fists above the keyboard. Her heartbeat pounds in her ears. Does he have her on video too?
She texts; Did you film us last night??? Zaid doesn’t respond, so she texts again; Answer me! But still, there is no response.
Maddie marches back to his place and pounds on the door. It’s quiet inside, but she yells, “Open the door!” Nothing happens. Pulling out her phone, she texts; I am not for public viewing! and then; You are a f**king liar- I HATE YOU!
Weeks pass, and still there is no word from Zaid. His apartment stays quiet. Did he leave town, she wonders? Maddie checks RealPorn and there is nothing new. She studies hard and does better on finals than she expects. Then it’s summer break, which ends way too quickly.
When she returns to school, Maddie checks Zaid’s apartment again. Junk mail litters the floor in front of the door, and there is a For Rent sign in the window. Her eyes smart with tears, but a deep breath soothes them. From her room she checks RealPorn again, but all traces of Zaid and his video are gone.
On the first day of class, she gets a text from him:
Maddie, I’m so sorry L about everything and that you saw the porn vid. I made that to pay for school, the scholarship wasn’t real. I deleted the film of us, but I have not forgotten how you made me feel. I really like you. I need some help, could you please reply?
Maddie’s heart softens, but she doesn’t respond. She makes a pledge to herself to stay away from men, especially him. That night she lies awake in bed worrying, and gives in.
What’s wrong? She texts Zaid.
Could you come over? Zaid texts an address that is only a few blocks away.
OK. See you soon, Maddie texts back.
She throws on a sweatshirt and jeans and drives over. Zaid looks much heavier than he did when they met.
“Yeah, I’m pregnant,” he says, before Maddie says anything.
“Ugh,” says Maddie, sucking air between her lips.
“Thanks for coming by,” says Zaid. Tears are running down his cheeks. He throws his arms around Maddie. At first, she stiffens, but then hugs back. “I really don’t know what to do,” Zaid pleads.
“What about your family?”
“There’s no one,” he says, weeping.
“You could get an abortion,” suggests Maddie.
“But I’m a Lagomorph; we're not people.”
Maddie mulls over his statement.
“Think I have to barf,” says Zaid, running to the bathroom. Maddie hears him gag, and it sounds like he is panting.
“Are you ok?” Maddie pushes open the door. Zaid is sitting on the floor naked. There’s blood on the tiles. “Crap!” shouts Maddie. Then she sees something furry beneath his thigh. It is the same sandy color as Zaid’s hair.
Zaid gazes up at Maddie without reserve. His eyes are teary, and his nose is twitching. Part of his beard is compressed like matted wool.
“Take her.” Zaid hands the birth to Maddie and forces himself up. The baby is covered with short fur and has long rabbit ears. It’s umbilical cord dangles from in between Zaid’s legs. Suddenly, the placenta shoots out and splats at on the floor. It looks like a murdered octopus. Maddie watches Zaid bite the cord. Her stomach turns as its bloody mucus stains his lips. He tosses the offal into the trashcan unceremoniously. “Got to shower,” he says, disappearing behind the curtain.
Maddie wraps the bunny in a clean towel and sits on Zaid’s bed. She rocks the infant as if it is a human baby. Her onyx eyes stare at Maddie intently.
“Hi,” says Maddie. Then again, “Hi baby.” The bunny is twitching her nose just as Zaid did. She squeaks softly, puckering her lips like she wants to nurse. “You hungry, baby?” Maddie coos.
“Hey,” says Zaid marching out of the bathroom. He puts on a clean T-shirt and boxers.
“You had the baby!” Maddie announces. Her words hit the wall and bounce away.
“Guess I did.” Zaid lays on the bed facing the wall and pulls up the covers.
“She yours, your daughter,” says Maddie tapping him on the shoulder, but Zaid ignores her. Gently she places the baby under his arm and tucks the blanket around them.
“I’ll be right back. She needs food,” she tells Zaid. Maddie drives to a convenience store and buys baby bottles and formula.
When she returns Zaid is snoring heavily, despite the baby wriggling and squeaking. Carefully she fishes out the child and puts the bottle in her mouth. Her brown lips sip greedily, sucking the formula down. The baby sends affectionate glances at Maddie. Then she burps and closes her eyes.
Maddie crawls into the bed with the newborn next to her. It smells like rich soil. She strokes the soft fur and the child sighs in her sleep. Zaid flips over, and peeks at Maddie.
He moves in and brings his daughter close. She squeaks but doesn’t awaken. With a stretch her ears straighten and relax onto Zaid’s cheek. Maddie sees that he has fallen asleep. She lets her eyes close.
About the author
Eliza Master is a fiction author and a member of Wordos Workshop. Several magazines have published her stories and Wayzgoose Press will publish her three novels; The Scarlet Cord, The Twisted Rope and The Shibari Knot in 2018.Eliza is also a potter and builds stoves in Guatemala. When she is home she enjoys long walks in the Oregon rain with her Labradoodle, Samantha