The Substitute

Ken Poyner

Ken Poyner

When I decided on a pet, I decided on a rabbit. A rabbit does not need much attention. It does not look up to you, like a dog would. It does not try to convince you that you are no more than incidental scenery, like a cat would. A rabbit eats, excretes pellets, hops about only seldom in its cage, twitches its nose, and is typically terrified of everything.

A rabbit could be my perfect pet. I would feed it, water it, change its papers. It would twitch its nose and be terrified. I would have a manageable routine.

So I bought a rabbit. A white, curled in upon itself, rabbit: like are condemned each Easter to be tormented by young children.

It went well for quite some time. I had a schedule for every chore, and I watched my clocks methodically. Every day: feeding, watering, changing the paper in the cage, precisely at each task’s best time. I had order. I rose at the same sliver of day each morning, and plotted my waking hours around the intervals I had meticulously set up for rabbit maintenance.

I did not even name the rabbit. I wanted nothing to come between me and the tasks that kept me grounded in a luxurious sense of self-worth.

Apparently, rabbits thrive on routine. Over time, the object that had become the center of my clockwork world began to put on weight. It did not grow simply fat. It began to lengthen as well. The head grew larger. The legs responded. The nostrils spread further apart. The eyes each set out on its own mission.

Eventually, I had to commission a new cage. And, since I could see that this growth was likely to go on unabated, I incorporated the procurement of ever larger cages into my magnificent schedule. Smaller routines bonded into larger routines, in concentric orders. The complexity spun like an orrery. I was getting my money’s worth.

Soon, the cage was a shed. And the shed then a barn. I had to plan delightfully ahead. I scheduled workmen and deliveries with the precision of surgery. I was having my rabbit food delivered by a punctual wholesaler. To keep trends documented, I worked first from written accounts, and then spreadsheets, and finally from a customized computer program that I cannibalized from an application on airline tracking.

The barn quickly rose to two stories, and food went in on a pulley system, and I bought a small plow to handled the excreted pellets.

As you might expect, the neighbors became curious. They had not seen me so happy in years. I ran about my work smiling and with a lilt and I think at times I sang, to myself, or at least I hummed.

One day, the neighbor two doors over came by, leaning on the chest high fence I had put up to enclose the outer perimeter of rabbit’s warren. He had some spare time and wanted to stop in his wanton course to see what plans I might have for my rabbit, now that the rabbit was well over three thousand pounds, had its own two story barn, yet still twitched when terrified. To this neighbor, there had to be a purpose to my industry: a reason, if only emotional, for my results.

“Hey, what do you call that rabbit?” His words fell out in a drawl, with no truly hard edges, each word pandering to the word before and the word after.

I explained to him as kindly as I could that the rabbit had no name. Rabbitting is a process.

“Well,” he said, “I think I will call him Fred.”

Shattered, I thought: why would anyone, especially a neighbor, do this to me?


Ken Poyner often acts as tawdry and well-worn eye-candy at his wife’s powerlifting meets. His latest collection of brief fictions, Constant Animals, can be located through links on his website, He has had recent work out in Corium, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Poet Lore, Sein und Werden and a few dozen other places. Now that the powerlifting season is over for a few months, he is overdosing on cookies and beer, and acting as a place for any number of his four cats to inelegantly lie.


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