‘You don’t know what love is!’ the father spat at his daughter, Marianne, across the dinner table.
So the next day, Marianne tucked her white rabbit into her pocket and set out to find out what love was.
First, the heat of her father’s anger still hot in her cheeks, she walked to the jungle, where snakes hung like ropes of liquid emerald and overripe mangoes swayed heavily in the breeze. A sleek black panther padded up to her, and goosebumps rippled down her spine. It swung its muzzle into her chest and pressed her to the ground with sharp claws. ‘This is love,’ it purred through its teeth.
Marianne stood up shakily and brushed off her dress. ‘You are not love for me,’ she said.
She walked home quickly. ‘Where were you?’ her father shouted from the doorway. She hung her head in shame. That night, as her father’s slaps burned into her skin, she felt tears there too. ‘Your mother knew what love was. She would never have left me alone.’
So Marianne got up the next day, and she walked to the mountain. The craggy redbrown rock towered over her, a tangle of trees clinging to its sides. Mosquitos buzzed in her ears as she grabbed onto a knobbled root and began climbing upwards. As she neared the sky, she came upon a nest of four white eggs. Suddenly, she felt talons biting into her shoulder and wings beating either side of her head. She lost her footing and slid down the rock in a scrabble of shale. Looking back, she saw the eagle diving down after her, shrieking ‘I am love!’ Marianne ran as fast as she could, panting as her feet beat the ground, ‘You are not love for me!’
Marianne ran and ran until her lungs burned and the sun went down and she was farther from home than she had ever been. And then suddenly, stretching out in front of her, she saw the still, dark sea, and she heard a slow, gravelly voice by her side. ‘I am love,’ it said. She looked down and saw a great sea turtle, waiting for her in the shallows. Marianne climbed carefully onto its back and, by the light of the moon, she cried until her rabbit’s fur was damp. They paddled slowly out into the deep, lonely sea. ‘Where are we?’ she asked the turtle quietly, ‘Are you taking me home?’ But the turtle did not answer and soon, lulled by the sound of the lapping waves, Marianne fell asleep.
She woke with her head on the dark, wet sand of a beach near her home. Her rabbit was still asleep. She picked him up and walked slowly to the house. ‘Marianne!’ Her father was running towards her, and she saw his face was red and streaked with tears. She looked up, shrinking in fear, but her father only opened his arms and carefully wrapped them around his daughter. ‘You look so much like your mother,’ he said gently.