TAMPA — About a year ago, a little brown bunny moved into a green bungalow on W Lambright Street in Old Seminole Heights, down by the Hillsborough River. She stayed inside at first, safe from growling dogs and taunting raccoons and the 8-foot gators the river deposits on its banks.
But one day she began to venture out. The bunny was scared at first of her neighbors, friendly though they were. A flinch would send her running, a blur of ears and dust, but soon she began to settle in and eventually she developed a daily routine.
Around dusk, she'd hop across the street to 326, where Linda Martinez, 63, offered "Buckwheat" a small pile of fresh spinach. She'd bounce next door, to 324, where Lisa Ranney, 44, fed "Bunny" carrots. She'd then make for 320, where Patricia Fisher, 71, gave "Freedom" pieces of romaine lettuce. Then she'd hop across to 325, where Lyn Blair, 70, gave "Little Fella" apples.
Her owner, Zach Corral, told his neighbors that the bunny belonged to the world.
"Zach had this thing about letting her live, really live," said Ranney, who lives across the street. "It's natural. It's normal. So he didn't keep her caged up."
She had quite the bunny life, and as the months slid by, the little rabbit grew and grew, until she wasn't so little anymore.
"She weighed a good 25, 30 pounds," Ranney said.
"At least," Lyn Blair said.
Others along Lambright Street began to notice how friendly the bunny had become. Children came from blocks away to feed the bunny snacks and pet her floppy ears. A nanny pushed a baby down the street every day to coo.
"She was special to all of us in our own way," said Ranney, who suffers from agoraphobia and panic disorder. "You could be having the worst day and she'd come plopping along."
So friendly was the bunny that she began to follow people home. Some assumed she was lost. So Zach Corral got the bunny a collar with a tag, just in case. Her new tag said: OUTSIDE BUNNY.
• • •
At 8:03 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2, Lisa Ranney was on a ladder painting the trim on her house when a car came around the corner. She didn't think much of it.
Then she heard a noise she had never heard before. A scream, but not human. She raced toward the noise. Then she saw fur, and she knew.
Patricia Fisher hurried outside as Ranney's husband arrived. They wrapped the bunny in a towel to get her to the vet, but before they could leave, she sucked her last breath.
They put her in a box and waited for Corral to get home.
"He cried like a baby," Ranney said.
Corral put OUTSIDE BUNNY's collar around his wrist and dug a hole just before midnight. Ranney and her husband stood beside the street as Corral said a few words. Fisher made a poster-board sign and taped to it photos of Freedom.
IN MEMORY OF
KILLED BY SPEEDING CAR
• • •
The people of W Lambright have spent a week trying to cope, comforting each other, wrestling with the dichotomy of freedom, the joy and pain of sending something we love out into a mean world.
"Everything happens for a reason," Ranney said. "That bunny lived for a short amount of time, but she brought happiness to so many people."
Of course, we all want some bunny to love. But this bunny was more than that. The folks here met strangers and struck up conversations with people they wouldn't have met were it not for the brown ball of fur at their feet.
"It sure brought a lot of people to this immediate area," Blair said. "It made people friendlier, brought people together more."
That was Freedom's gift.
"We became a better neighborhood," Blair said. "It's amazing. We're better, because of some little bunny."
Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.