“What about zombies?” says Rogan. “Zombies are dead and they come back to life, don’t they, Mr Eddison?”
I’m not entirely sure how this discussion lurched in the direction of the undead. We were supposed to be helping James. He is upset after his Uncle Ben died at the wheel in the early hours of this morning.
It takes me a while to work out that Uncle Ben is (or rather was) a golden hamster. “The death of a much loved family pet can be traumatic,” I tell his mum. “But we’ll start the day with a special circle time to help him come to terms with the loss. Lots of children have had pets that have died. I’ll get them to talk about their experiences to show he’s not alone.”
Our class conversation proceeds as smoothly as a funeral cortege until Bradley describes the events surrounding the death of Captain Nemo. One morning he discovered the bloated body of his beloved goldfish floating upside down in his bowl. A funeral service was rejected, presumably on the grounds that it might prove too harrowing. Instead, his stepdad fished Captain Nemo out with an egg slice and flushed him unceremoniously to his final resting place in the sewers of Sheffield.
For some reason Bradley’s story leaves James more upset than ever. It isn’t until Lucy tells us how her cat, Sooty, had to be put to sleep that he finally stops sobbing and becomes interested in the discussion. The term put to sleep is causing some confusion. Rogan and Nathan soon engage in an intense philosophical debate about it. This in turn raises the spectre of the undead.
“Sleep is the same as being dead, isn’t it, Mr Eddison?” says Rogan.
“No it’s not, ’cos when you’re dead you don’t wake up,” argues Nathan. “I don’t mean that dead,” snaps Rogan. The argument is increasingly acrimonious until Amelia says: “My rabbit died and he woke up again.”
Now everyone is listening. Amelia does not enter class discussions lightly. Nor does she tell whoppers. “A dog jumped into his run. And when my dad got it out he was dead. So we put him in a box in the garage and we were going to bury him the next day. And when my dad opened the garage he heard a noise. And when he looked in the box my rabbit was alive again.”
I smile and tell Amelia that her rabbit only appeared to be dead. He was temporarily paralysed by fear. During the night he must have woken up.
“So could Uncle Ben wake up?” asks James. His voice trembles with hope and I want to say yes. But you can’t shield children for ever.
The truth hurts and James is inconsolable until home time. That’s when a newly resurrected and oddly shrunken Uncle Ben arrives to meet him. His mum gives me a huge wink.
“Turns out he wasn’t dead after all, Mr Eddison. He was just asleep.”
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield