pages The Need for Character

by Richard Weems

Published in Issue No. 16 ~ September, 1998

The virtue of hope, in Enoch, was made of two parts suspicion and one part
lust…He wanted, some day, to see a line of people waiting to shake his hand.
– Flannery O’Connor, “Enoch and the Gorilla”

Until this morning, my story was the same as any other yokel leaning on the brass rail at 9 a.m. Until this morning, there was no reason to tell my story to anyone but the tenderer of the booze and every-goddamn-one else like me: hiding in the dark in broad daylight, feeling safe with those who suffered alike and also knew a kind of safety in anonymity.

But this Bunny sitting next to me had ears and great rayon paws that folded all the way around his rocks glass. He beamed pink in this place that had not seen such color in a long time. He had a tail that exploded from his ass like nuclear activity. This Bunny had a genuine beef to make and a pile of money, and he was buying for me as long as I was listening. His face was beet red even through the white and pink make-up, and it got redder still with each double splash of Wild Turkey straight up, his grease paint whiskers getting more and more ethereal by the minute. Graying human whiskers were starting to show from beneath.

“Damn them,” the Bunny screamed, “and their parents too, unable to teach them a thing or two about piddling.”

Back we were to the kids climbing onto his lap, their seats wet with unbridled excitement.

“All I’m supposed to do,” the Bunny told me, looking at me over his empty granny glassframes, “is smile and wave and tell them, ‘What good little children, oh what happy and good little boys and girls we have here.’ Pah!” His face pulled in around his constricted mouth. “A pox! A hail of brimstone and kitty litter upon their heads! I’m the one who has to go home with myself after letting these kids climb all over my lap. You should see how my legs smell at the end of a day. The bastards!”

The Bunny slapped the bar with his pink, heavy paw, this time harder. A glass shook somewhere out there amongst the others, hard to see them in this artificial dark. The Bunny’s ears flopped with the effort.

What I admired most in this Bunny was his courage to stand out. In a crowded mall, kids could see him from a hundred yards off. These kids probably came screaming at him.

All this character, all this distinguishment and unique quality, and these kids with their puddled pants didn’t even know his name.

“‘Mr. Bunny, Mr. Bunny,’ they call me” (his ears waved in a fury now, bending against the rigidity of their wire frames). He threw back another hit, motioned to his pile of money for more. “What do they care? My name could be Henry. My name could be Oscar, Mersault, Bradley. My name could even be goddamn Jill. Who cares? They don’t goddamn know it, and I don’t goddamn know it, but how am I supposed to goddamn know it? All I get is a suit. I get a chart on how to paint my face. I’m told to call them good little girls and boys and I’m told to put them on my lap and smile and take a few pictures. No script, no motivation, no context on the nature of being the Easter Bunny in today’s society, nothing.”

Shining through was the thespian in him, the need for soul, a part with history and needs and wants and desires and sub-text. I was agreeing with this man, this Bunny, because he was the one with the money and I had a tab that could make the strongest man wince-but still, it was obvious. Even I could have been the Bunny if the need for character was all it took.

“I could be a Nathan,” the Bunny continued, “a Ross. I could be Jonathan Nathaniel Zimmerman, I could be Edwin Arlington Robinson even, for all those fuckers care.” He looked at the clock. It was ten minutes until the mall opened.

“Oh, jeez,” said the Bunny, sliding from his stool, his large feet making nary a sound as they met the floor. The Bunny was on his way out, the remnants of his money clutched in a paw.

What I’m trying to tell you is this: in that instant I knew it:

I could have been the Bunny. The suit was big enough to fit anyone.

I could have been the Bunny. I’d know my name.

“Hold up, hold up,” I called, but he was nearly out the door already. I left behind my drink and was out after his rolling, exaggerated hips. I could have grabbed him right there, by the puff of his tail maybe. It was a good chance to catch him unawares and give me the element of surprise and the first swing at him, but I had to wait until we were out of sight of the others (I didn’t want them to think the Bunny and me were lovers or anything like that) who were still hiding in the dark and were never going to get the chance to find their names this easily and weren’t going to find their names in a long, long time.

account_box More About

Richard K. Weems ( is the author of Anything He Wants, winner of the Spire Fiction Award and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and The Need for Character. His short story publications include North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Mississippi Review, Other Voices, Crescent Review, The Florida Review and The Beloit Fiction Journal. He will be teaching once again this MLK weekend at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway in Cape May, New Jersey.