Cher’s fur was spotted black and white and she had a nose that was slick like ice.
When Yvonne went to treatment, she would place Cher on the carpet, close the windows, sprinkle some food in the corner of her cage, and spray some air freshener. These were basic tasks, but Yvonne found solace in them. She’d come to respect routine—it was like the reverence one has for a strict but attentive parent.
Little Bunny Cher squatted on the carpet by the foot of the bed and her nose wiggled imperceptibly like mosquito wings.
The glass on the windows was thick, so thick that it’d be impossible to hurl oneself through them. The freshest patients at The Hope House found it shocking that someone would do that, but they were young and this was only their first time in treatment.
5 weeks since entering the facility, Yvonne only had to attend program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Hope House’s program was well structured, much more so than Yvonne’s previous drug rehabilitation experiences. Group therapy through the morning, 45 minutes of individual therapy in the afternoon, one last group at the end of the day—smoke breaks in between.
The patients had to read through a list of questions in the last group of the day. The counselors said they did it to practice honesty, as if honesty were a muscle they could strengthen.
Yvonne sat beside Angela, a heavy woman in her late thirties with a black and green oversized Celtics sweatshirt on. “Where have I been fearful, selfish, dishonest?” Angela read from a sheet of paper. “I was afraid to come to group—I was. Didn’t wanna see any of your faces. I’m not like all of you—” Angela patted her pocket but couldn’t find what she was looking for, “not better—I don’t want to say better—but different. It’s tough to explain. You guys, you know—I never shot dope, didn’t smoke crack, still have my husband—we’re different. I didn’t even go to prison. I never even been to work drunk.”
“Read the next question.” Maureen, the counselor, said.
Angela had strands of russet hair that she kept tucking behind her ears after they’d slipped off. “Did I pray today?” she asked with a garish hand held over her heart. “Every morning. And, where could I do better? Sleep more, that’s for sure. Call my kids. That’d be nice—that’d be a way to do better.”
Angela blindly handed Yvonne the paper. Yvonne took it, hunched over, and read the questions to herself: Where have I been fearful, selfish, dishonest? Did I pray today? Where could I do better? The questions were written in all caps, listed one to three down the side, large enough that they filled the entirety of the page. Those big black letters—they looked like a different language. Not her language; rather, one of man’s dominion over himself, an indefinable one like Egyptian hieroglyphics. The recorded calculations of a life, as if emotions could be charted and analyzed like cellular reproduction rates.
She handed the paper to the woman next to her, Deborah.
“Yvonne?” Maureen asked.
Yvonne looked at her questioningly, interrogatively.
“Deborah, could you show Yvonne the questions?”
Deborah held the paper above Yvonne’s lap.
“I know the questions.” Yvonne said.
“Then answer them.”
“Where was I fearful, selfish, dishonest.” Yvonne flatly recited.
“Yes?” Maureen replied.
“Today was a good day.” She gestured towards Deborah to take the questions away from her. Deborah continued to hold them in front of Yvonne, looking up to Maureen for support.
“It’s your turn, Yvonne. Take your time with them.” Maureen encouraged.
Yvonne grabbed the list out of Deborah’s hand. “Where was I fearful, selfish, dishonest? Fearful—Cher jumped out of the doorway when I left this morning and hopped to a corner of the stairwell outside where there wasn’t any light. I picked her up and she was shrieking on the way back inside. I locked her in her cage—that scared me”.
“Did I pray today?—I tried to. This morning I got on my knees like I’ve been told and I said, ‘God,’ and Cher was looking right at me.”
“How’d it feel?”
“Stupid,” Yvonne said. “It was like I was a witch trying to conjure up a spirit with no cauldron.”
Maureen hesitated, raised a hand to chest-level. She held her breath, unsure whether to move forward. “What were your intentions?” she asked.
“When praying to Cher?”
Maureen nodded. Her chin was cupped in an open palm, her elbow propped up by the arm of her chair—ostensibly trying to look interested, but instead, she looked like a puppet, animatronic.
“Cher isn’t God.”
“Why can’t Cher be God?” Maureen asked politely, coyly.
Yvonne slouched in her chair. Her thin strawberry blonde hair draped down her back. She scratched her scalp, searching for an answer rather than a sarcastic retort. “Cause Cher doesn’t know anything. She sits and she looks and she eats and sometimes she rubs up against me when she knows I want her to. But she’s just as helpless as the next rabbit out there—jumping in and out of the fences on Comm Ave like they were The Gates of Heaven. ”
“What if God’s like that?” Maureen prodded. “What if God can only sit there, watch, and show you love?”
“God can’t be a rabbit” Angela interjected.
“He can be whoever we want Him to be,” Deborah countered. “That’s the whole point of the second step: we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It’s just a power.” Deborah had been at The Hope House for three months and she considered herself to be on the same plane as the counselors. Maybe that’s why they’ve kept her here so long, Yvonne wondered.
“But a rabbit’s got no power,” Angela said. “Yvonne’s right—God needs to be able to do things or else how could He have made the world?”
“Angela,” Maureen said, “Deborah. This is Yvonne’s turn to check-in. Give her the floor,” she looked to Yvonne, “What if God isn’t what you think God should be?”
“It doesn’t matter what we think, stupid,” Angela persisted. “God’s gonna do whatever God’s gonna do.”
“Our relationship with God does matter—” Deborah retorted.
“Ladies, please.” Maureen pleaded.
“—and if we don’t notice God, then we can’t reap the benefits of what He does.”
“But that’s whack,” Angela said. “why should knowing God mean I get God?”
“O’ mah God,” Grace, a Hope House veteran, grumbled from across the room.
“God can be a she, too.” Yvonne said facetiously.
“Everyone.” Maureen commanded.
“Shut up, Yvonne,” Deborah said. “because, Angela, He”—she shot a look at Yvonne—“demands our reverence. He wants respect just like people do.”
“I don’t want no human God,” Angela said.
“You want a rabbit one?” Deborah yelled.
“At least I’d be able to see a rabbit one.”
An mhmmm came from a few unidentifiable throats.
“Y’all can expect your damnation real soon. I promise you that.” Deborah said.
“That’s it,” Maureen said. “Out, Deborah. Take a walk, use the bathroom—come back in five.”
“I’m in trouble?”
“You can’t threaten anyone. That’s a group rule.”
“It’s God who’s threatening them!”
“That’s the whole problem.” Angela mumbled.
Deborah got up and twisted around her chair, letting it fall and clang against the ground as she walked out of the room.
Angela and Maureen retired into their seats. They looked crossly at one another.
“Yvonne, you still have to answer the question.” Maureen said.
“Which question?” she asked snidely.
Grace laughed and so did Yvonne, but Maureen was quiet. She sat patiently with her hands on top of one another in her lap, letting Yvonne’s juvenile aside die.
Once the group settled and the humor was sucked out of the room, Maureen asked, “Where can you do better?”
“You make it sound like a threat.” Yvonne said.
“It’s telling that that’s how you perceive it.” Maureen added.
Yvonne rolled her eyes, “I’m already doing my best.”
“Is that what Cher would say?”
“Cher’d say what?”
Maureen spoke slowly, “We’re most ourselves when we’re alone. And unlike anyone else in your life, Cher gets to see you when you’re alone. What does she notice? Use your senses.”
Yvonne took the bottom of her sweatshirt and zipped it up, taking hold of the strings that dangled from her hood. “She’d see—if she’s even watching—me on the floor leaning against the frame of my bed. Sitting there, minutes, sometimes an hour, listening to the roar of my broke refrigerator. Empty diet coke cans. The dead light bulb in the bathroom that I still haven’t replaced. The white walls and the bars on the window—light coming in if it’s morning or else it’s pretty dark.”
She paused, bereft, like a meadow without a fawn.
“She’d see the sweat—the sweat. The catatonic weekends, the rage. The pictures of my mom. My dad. Sitting on the counter of my dresser, once propped up. The burnt-out candles. The unopened letters. Unwashed sheets. Stains on the carpet. Day-old lasagna.”
Maureen’s hands were now splayed flat on her quads. She laughed openly, bitterly, her head bent forward and her hair fallen over her face like Spanish moss. She flicked her head back up and revealed a victorious smile.
Maureen said, to Yvonne and the rest of the group, “And you said Cher isn’t God.”
Benjamin Selesnick is a student Northeastern University and a reader at Memoir Mixtapes, an online literary magazine that promotes poetry and creative nonfiction about music. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bitter Oleander, Ofi Press Mexico, Parhelion Literary Magazine, and others. In 2017, he was the runner-up for the Stony Brook Short Fiction Prize.