Barreling down the road in her station wagon, Bet ignored the dirty look from the old man but then she passed the dour-faced woman walking the basset hound, and the jogger. She felt their eyes on her. Their disapproving stares.
The preschool charged a dollar for every minute parents arrived later than 4PM. She'd heard from other parents that they followed through. Since she had two kids attending she wondered if they'd charge her double.
Bet had never run over anything except the rocks at the end of her driveway; even so, the thud was unmistakable. She'd hit an animal.
She pulled over. The street was deserted. Where had everyone gone? She wasn't sure if she was relieved or desperately in need of a confidant.
She released her sweaty palms from the steering wheel and got out of the car. The afternoon sun cast a dreamlike-ink blot pattern across the road. She felt shaky. Like she was walking to the podium to deliver her senior thesis. She hated to speak in front of crowds.
The animal lay in a heap near a storm drain. Had she seen it? It was white. She remembered a white streak, what she thought was a patch of sunlight.
It was dead. She'd seen enough episodes of CSI to recognize the fixed glaze, even on an animal. It was a cat. There was no collar but it had to be someone's pet, it was too robust to be feral. Even dead it had the contented look of a house pet.
Now what? Should she leave it? She was already late, she wasn't about to go door-to-door with a dead cat. No, it would be cruel to leave it. What if a child found it. One the same age as Kelsey or Amanda.
She decided to take it home. Let the owner think it ran away. She could bury it or ask Jack to. He always got rid of the mice they trapped in the attic.
She rummaged around for something with which to pick it up. Thankfully she never cleaned out the car so the ice scraper was there, even in mid-May. She used it to deftly push the cat onto a plastic bag. She picked the bag up by the corners; gingerly put it in the back of the car and closed the door. As it slammed shut she heard footsteps. She turned and saw the long shadow of someone walking towards the car, they were still around the corner and hadn't seen her yet. It was the lady with the basset hound. Did she need to explain why she was stopped here - in the middle of the road? No, she decided that being too eager to talk would look suspicious.
Quickly Bet got in the car. She started the ignition and looked at the clock, only eight minutes had passed. It wasn't possible.
"I'm so sorry," she stammered lamely to Michelle, the assistant teacher, a perky brunette, ten years younger than Bet. Perky described every assistant preschool teacher she'd ever met. High school cheerleading must be a prerequisite for the job. If Michelle ever ran over an animal Bet imagined she could just coax it back to life.
"There you go now, you can do it, just get yourself up, that's right, good girl, just look at you!"
"That's okay," said Michelle, snapping Bet out of her haze.
"The girls were so engrossed with playing house they didn't want to leave anyway.
"Oh," she said. "Well just let me know what I owe you."
"Owe the school. You know, for being late."
"Oh that," laughed Michelle. "We always give parents at least three warnings. Don't you worry about that."
"Besides," she went on, "Miss Arnold isn't here to dock you," she said with a wink. "She's down the road somewhere. Looking for her cat. A white Persian."
Bet felt her mouth go dry. "Oh," she managed. It came out sounding like "ug."
The girls appeared on the steps of the school, Kelsy was holding a toy vacuum cleaner.
"Kelsy and Mandy have been having such fun with this I told them they could borrow it overnight," Michelle explained. "Here, let me put it in the back of the car for you," said added.
"No!" said Bet, trying not to sound hysterical, "it's just that, well, you know how it is, the car's a mess and all. Here let me."
Martha looked startled, as if the other team had just scored a touchdown despite her best cheering efforts, but she quickly recovered."
Bet opened the back of the car, and without looking down, placed the vacuum on top of the cat. It looked like she was cleaning an exotic animal rug.
The girls were already fighting over the radio station. She wondered how Ms. Arnold did it. The girls adored her and she seemed to return their affection. Teacher's pet she thought grimly. Bet turned the wheel, squinted in the afternoon sun, and navigated the wagon out of the school's driveway