A cat-astrophe

A violent death on a sunny afternoon in May is a terrible thing to witness. Death should come, slow and lingering, when autumn shadows lengthen and the nights draw in. Or it should come in winter, with a cold finality. It should not happen when life is sprouting fresh from the earth.

They say that the time when you least expect an accident is the time when one is most likely to happen. Apparently, it is a statistical truth that many accidents happen close to home, where people feel most safe. Today, one happened shortly after the children got off the bus outside school.

A risk assessment can't cover every eventuality. For example, on a visit to York I failed to anticipate that Sophie (in a desperate attempt to escape a wasp that was equally desperate to investigate her strawberry yogurt) would throw herself over a wall. Thankfully, on that occasion the sticky red puddle seeping out from beneath her head was only dessert.

It is the narrative of horror rather than physics that best explains how time slows down in the instant when something outrageous turns the ordinary world upside down. The speed of events means that time has to stretch to fit the dialogue in.

The children lined up the requisite distance from the verge. They listened to the instructions of the teacher in charge. The adults took up their positions and waited for a gap in the traffic. A red car went by, followed by a black one. Although the white van was some distance away, it was clearly approaching too quickly for us to risk crossing. The children were warned to wait.

Unfortunately, no one warned the cat. One moment it wasn't there, the next moment it ran into the road and under the van's front wheel. The thud was disproportionate to the animal's size. It was catapulted across the tarmac and came to rest at Lily's feet.

We braced ourselves for tears and hysterics but what we got was philosophy and optimism. "It's still alive! Look, it's trying to get up," Lily said. We didn't have the heart to tell her that it was probably a reflex action and that anything that mangled had to be dead already.

Thinking quickly and displaying the sort of tact I am not normally noted for, I said: "I think you're right, Lily. Let's hurry into school and ring the vet and he'll come and make it better."

"It'll need an operation, won't it, Sir?" Lily said, as we walked back into class. "My granny had an operation and she got better. Only, she couldn't go to bingo for three weeks."

"My grandad didn't get better," Sam said. "He had operations but he still died. Anyway, he couldn't get better because he had one of them funerals where they set fire to you."

"Yes, but animals are different from people. Animals can get better even if they're dead," Amy declared. Facing a sudden barrage of disagreement, she eventually turned to me for support. "Dead animals can get better, can't they, Mr Eddison?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, my rabbit died after Ashley's dog bit its neck, right? My dad took it to have an operation, right? And the next day it got better," Amy said.

"It can't have got better if it was dead, can it, Mr Eddison?" Sam said.

"It did," Amy insisted. "It got a lot better. It was even a better colour."

Steve Eddison teaches children aged 7-11 at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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