I stared at the body, my eyes frantically searching for some sign of movement. “Come on, come on,” I murmured to myself, needing to see some tiny little sign of life. Was the chest rising and falling? A little twitch of a leg, I prayed. That’s all I needed.
I spun around, dashing over to the stairs, trying to spread my arms wide. “Timmy, wait,” I said, hoping to catch him before he came around the corner and saw the body.
He stopped, bouncing up and down on the step. His eyes looked bright, filled with an eight-year-old’s happiness. “What, daddy?” he asked, already trying to look past me. He already wanted to play with her, go see her.
I felt my heart ache as I realized that, at some point today, I’d need to tell him. As bad as I felt, I knew it would be a hundred times worse for him.
“Um… listen, please go back upstairs for a few minutes,” I said, stalling for time. Did I need to call someone? What should I do with the body? Move it? Leave it? “Just play with your toys for a bit.”
Timothy frowned. I could see the little gears in his head turning; he was a smart kid, and he’d soon figure out that something was wrong. But I needed to buy time.
“Okay,” he said, less excited now. He turned and headed back upstairs, glancing back at me. I made sure to watch until he turned the corner into his room.
As soon as he’d retreated, I hurried back to the living room, my heart rate increasing once again. “Shit, shit,” I muttered to myself, running my hand through my thinning hair. What in the world could have happened?
I’d last seen her before I went to bed last night, and she’d looked just fine. Exercising, I recalled. Not a care in the world.
Now, she lay by her water bottle, and I could tell clearly now that she was dead.
A hundred thoughts fought inside my head. I’d have to call the school, contact Timothy’s teacher. I considered that maybe I could find a replacement, but I didn’t think any of the kids would buy that.
I’d just have to be honest, I realized. Timothy would need to learn about death at some point. It would break my heart a little to see some of the childlike innocence fade from his eyes, but I just couldn’t see any other option.
Before I called Timothy back downstairs, however, I ducked into the kitchen to grab a brown paper bag out of the cabinet. Once he’d seen the body, I would stick her in the bag, and then put the whole thing in the freezer. That would at least buy me some time to dispose of the thing.
God dammit, I cursed to myself one last time as I headed upstairs to bring down my son. Why did Harriet the hamster have to die during my shift to watch her?