In the Shape of the Rabbit by Amita Rao

Illustration by Divyakshi Kedia

There was no one at the drive-through window, so they sat simply and looked at each other. The fluorescent lights from inside cast a bright yellow triangle through the glass, past Darren’s own window, into the car, and spilled all over his lap. She watched the light carefully until a shrouded figure appeared at the window with their bag and set new patterns rolling all over him. 

Darren placed the bag in her lap and began to drive; she went through and arranged their orders on the left and right side, sauces on top, for whenever he’d ask for his. They had been dating for 9 months and they were having one of those nights where they really liked each other. Both of them, in the moment, aware of how fond they were of the other. That was rare for Shruthi —  she usually hated him when she was with him, despised his mannerisms, how callous he could be, and only ever realized upon arriving at her apartment, alone, that she missed him. That she found his mannerisms endearing, and yet somehow always distorted him into the villain preemptively. Then she’d look forward achingly to the next day they’d spend together and then he’d say something careless or stand too long in the hallway to respond to a text and she’d hate him all over again. 

Today was not one of those days. Today, Shruthi finished all of her homework early, and drove over after her last class.

I’m coming ur way, she had texted him. 

What? Right now? he responded immediately. 

yes!!!! prepare urself!!!! 

Shruthi didn’t often drive over. Darren picked her up because he lived in the suburbs and had an actual parking spot. But today was a day she wanted to see him, was so fond of him all day that she wanted to prove that she loved him immediately. 

After she got there, they did things that she usually said she didn’t have time for. She played a deck-building game that Darren adored, he knew every card by heart. She liked the game too but sometimes Darren would try to help her strategize while they were playing and that made her want to stop playing altogether. This time, he didn’t try to help her, so she didn’t get angry and afterward they decided to drive around aimlessly until a new whim struck them. 

There was restless contentment to everything tonight. There is a limited amount of time to a good day, so there’s an awareness that looms in the corner to squeeze more into it, to stretch it out over the edges into a new good day. But on the best good days, you often just drift on the shoreline, hoping to seep into the next day, the next moment, mindlessly. Shruthi floated in the car and Darren played his favorite Radiohead album for her. She had never heard it before, but according to Darren, this was their magnum opus. It blended into Modest Mouse and then LCD Soundsystem, and Darren looked over at her. 

“Wait, this next part is funny.” 

So here we go

Like a sales force into the night
He laughed, hitting the wheel with his hand. 

Shruthi smiled, “What’s a sales force?”

“I don’t know, just the idea of like, a group of salesmen going around is funny to me.”

“Like mormons, or something? Yeah, that is funny,” she said and settled her hand on his thigh.

After they had gotten Cook Out, they wandered some more. The streets were empty in the suburbs, silent and still and private. The only sound other than their own engine came from the main road a mile away, and it was faint like from another world. Darren kept turning on narrow side streets that were curtained by deep swaths of green. Large oaks enveloped everything here, a natural sound barrier to the city. That’s probably why there were so many animals — foxes popped out from under Darren’s deck, squirrels hailed acorns down from the trees like bombs, and whole families of rabbits nibbled on his roommate’s small garden. 

Some of the oaks had been cut to prevent any accidents during a storm, and those sat stark and flat near the ground like abandoned frisbees. The canopy of leaves created a strange tunnel effect that made it feel like they were driving on a single street, not turning at all, and the mottled streetlight left the dark road looking blurry and wet. 

“Oh, look,” Darren said, slowing the car down. He pointed outside his window. 

“What?” She leaned forward to see past his head: in the middle of the road, two small bunnies sat facing each other. “Oh my god!” 

She took out her phone to take a picture. Fortunately, this road was more lit than others. She zoomed in until the shape of each bunny became legible. 

“Oh my god. Wow. Can you lower your window?”

She took another picture. 

“We can get closer if you want,” he whispered. 

“No, no it’s okay.” Shruthi talked like a baby, “I don’t wanna scare them.” 

She took another picture. 

“If only there were three. Then it’d be like rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.” he said. “It’d be good luck.” 

“Rabbit rabbit. I didn’t even think of that!” she exclaimed. “I remember this girl in my 2nd grade class would say it on the first of every month. And she’d get everyone else to say it too, like before the pledge and stuff, so we’d have a good month.”

The rabbits turned away from each other. They looked like little porcelain figurines in the picture, like someone had placed them there with their hands.

 “I’m pretty sure people say it three times,” he added after a second.

“Well, she definitely said it twice.” 

“I don’t personally partake in it, but the phrase is rabbit rabbit rabbit.”

“That sounds clunky. The girl was this weird super Christian. So, I feel like she’d know — it’s a Christian thing, right? I’ll look it up.”

“I don’t think it is.”

“Wait, gimme a second.”  

She leaned over his lap to take a better picture.

“Let me just get a little closer,” he said, pushing her gently off of him.

“Okay. You have to be really quiet.” 

Darren turned and inched the car forward. The bunnies were facing the same direction now, looking off at something beyond the trees. The bright lights made the leaves look yellow, and Shruthi wondered absently if bunnies could see color. If they knew the leaves were going to fall soon. Shruthi looked past her phone, tapping the shutter blindly, when she realized she could see one of the rabbit’s eyes reflecting in the light. 

Rabbit rabbit, I would like to wish, she thought.

Then it all happened very quickly: spooked by a sound, or the impending object in their periphery, one of the rabbits sprinted to the left, under a car and beyond their vision. The other rabbit darted the opposite way, under another car, leaving her behind. And then, perhaps realizing that, darted right back to find her, only to emerge next to the wheel of Darren’s car. Shruthi tried to scream when she saw the rabbit reemerge but it ran under too fast. There was this horrible thunk and wheeze as the wheel rolled forward. Then, a soft give.

The car stopped. 

Shruthi still held her phone up, frozen. Her finger flinched belatedly and took another photo of the empty street. Nothing moved. The cars that lined the street had never looked more inanimate. If someone had told her they were capable of moving in that moment, if someone had tried to drive one away, Shruthi would’ve started screaming in shock. She supposed she would have a similar reaction to giants emerging out of the ground or her whole family exploding suddenly in front of her. How else could she respond to something so fundamentally wrong? 

The road stretched down to some distant darkness, some vague hollow of trees and leaves. Darren looked ahead, he murmured something. He didn’t see the rabbit, it was an accident. The rabbit had to sprint directly under the wheel, with how slow he was going, to have been run over. The chances of that happening were insane. It was crazy. People run over animals, they run over rabbits, it happens. The rabbit was trying to kill itself, he said, was it trying to die? 

She stepped out and shut him inside. Then she let her head fall and appraise the pink-brown mash underneath the tire. She stared at it for too long. It likely got caught by an ear first, head following, because she couldn’t see the eyes anymore — just an expulsion of fur and blood around where a skull would be. In her head, she tried to piece the mush back together, like some children’s toy, in the general shape of a rabbit, but each time she got to the ears she found that they would burst out of its stomach like tongues.

Shruthi had read in some book in elementary school that rabbits’ heart rates could get up to 350 beats per minute when stressed. Five beats per second. She imagined the tire rotating in slow motion over the course of ten distinct beats. She imagined lowering her head into a meat grinder. When did the rabbit decide on its end? Was it in beat one or much later when it realized it could no longer turn back? Did it think it was going to reunite with the other rabbit in the middle? Was it following a promise?

Shruthi glanced back at him. He looked at his lap as if he were about to cry. She got back inside and they drove away, and she tried to imagine the next good day. A warm one with full and billowing trees where Darren was not so pathetic. She imagined kissing each one of his knuckles. She had always loved to do that. 

Amita Rao is a mostly-comedic writer who gets sad sometimes and writes about things like dead moms, bugs, and sex. You would think the subject matter would extend beyond that, but honestly, that’s most of it. 

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