Dark Horse

By Leah Browning

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She is a rabbit herself now, escaping from the hat.

She grew up in New Brunswick, in a small house a few streets down from the thrift store and The Painted Pony Bar and Grill. Her dad was dead, but she had his old record player and a life-sized poster of Jim Morrison hanging on the wall above her bed, and she used to lie on her back and listen to Jimi Hendrix and The Doors and think about William Blake, and the known and the unknown.

The house. While she’d been gone, her mother had hung a sign with the word Family on the living room wall, above a series of framed photos. Outside the kitchen window, there was a red barn. Three black cats lived in the hayloft, emerging to eat scraps that her mother left in a bowl by the back door. When the weather was nice, they sat in the setting sun and licked their paws.  

She watched them from the window. It was early enough still. She was used to having a cigarette before dinner, and she was trying anything she could to keep her mind elsewhere. She sat in the window seat. She wore a tank top with a long silver chain and a silver cross that touched the top of her cleavage. She had a tattoo arching above her left breast that said Always in my ♥ in a beautiful script. Sumptuous, her ex had said the first time he saw it, the first time she took her shirt off in front of him.

She had dressed more conservatively then. She’d worked two jobs to put him through school, and then he left her, and what did she have to show for it? They had never even gotten married. Cow/milk, as her grandmother would have said. Shorthand for what they were all thinking. Her mother had worked two jobs, too, but she’d put herself through school instead.   

There was a jigsaw puzzle, half-finished on the coffee table. Multicolored rabbits, lined up in a row. She glanced at the picture on the front of the box. The grass in the background would be the killer.  

As soon as her mother had left that morning, she’d gone through the cabinets, but her mother had cleaned the place out. There was only, in one of the highest cabinets, a small bottle of ice wine—something she must have received as a gift. They’d always been beer-drinkers, themselves.

Outside, a car pulled up, and she would have expected the cats to scatter, but they held their ground, just as bold as you please. If she hurried, she could get to Moncton and back before her mother got home from work. Through the window, you can see her open the car door and slide into the passenger seat.

She is 27 years old. She’s supposed to be waiting around until her uncle gets back from a meeting in Ottawa in a few days so she can ask him for a job at one of his gas stations. She’s already been fired twice in the past six months, once for being short with a customer and once for snorting coke in the washroom. That was just for fun, though: something to break up the monotony. She was living in Ontario at the time, and she was cutting the lines with her health card.

The car backs out of the driveway. She is a rabbit herself now, escaping from the hat.  

Earlier in the day, she stood at the kitchen sink, filling a glass of water. As she stepped back, for some reason, she dropped the glass. Maybe her hands were wet, or maybe she just forgot that she was holding it. Who knew? She spent a long time on her knees, wiping up the water, picking chips of glass up off the floor.  

In the evening, her mother picks her son up from daycare and drives home. It’s Friday night, dusk. The mother drives past the thrift store and the Painted Pony. Cars are pulling in and out of the parking lot. Behind her, in the back seat, the little boy is talking. That weekend, she wants to make him a good meal, with fruit and a piece of chicken and a big bowl of strawberry shortcake for dessert.

It isn’t clear, from the street, whether anyone is inside the house. There is no light from the front window. 

The known, the unknown.

Her mother opens the door. From the back bedroom, she can hear “Moonlight Drive” on the record player. Jim Morrison is singing, “Let’s swim out tonight, love; it’s our time to try.”

When you reach into a hat, sometimes a rabbit will appear.

The next day, her mother will drop a strawberry on the floor. When she bends down, she will find a chunk of glass under the kitchen counter, and she will turn it over and over in her hand.

Now, though, the mother closes the door and locks it. In the living room, she switches on a lamp. She is hungry. The little boy is running down the hall toward his room. The music goes on playing. Outside, it is dark. Ever so slowly the moon rises. Three black cats float down from the hayloft.



Leah BrowningLeah Browning is the author of two mini-books of flash fiction published by Silent Station Press: Loud Snow (2022) and Two Good Ears (2021). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Harpur Palate, Flock, Four Way Review, Necessary Fiction, The Westchester Review, and elsewhere. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, including Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence from White Pine Press. Find her online at

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