I grew up in a place where hunting was not only for sport, where it was not uncommon to hand-raise the animals that would later be featured on your dinner plate, where you might choose to keep the body of the moose that just crushed the front end of your pick-up truck.
As a consequence, when it comes to the death of a four-legged creature, I am a bit more hardy than your average suburbanite.
This is not to say that I don’t feel bad when I run over a squirrel, hit a bird, or squish a frog with my car. (Alright, I confess: minivan. There. I’ve said it. No judging. It’s a practicality that I will be thrilled to discard when the time comes. Let’s move on.)
We were driving to camp late one night. I had Medium and Large with me; my husband was transporting Small separately. I was tired but I couldn’t wait to get to our rented cabin.
I had hoped the kids would sleep on the three hour drive from home but they were equally excited and had kept themselves awake by singing Viva La Vida in rounds at the top of their lungs. I was driving slightly faster than was legally permissible.
By the time I noticed it crouched by the side of the road, it was too late. It scuttled. I swerved. And then that sickly sweet smell permeated everything.
“What was THAT?” called Liam from the way-back.
“Oh, honey, it was…” I felt awful. Poor little thing hadn’t had a chance when my hulking vehicle bore down on it.
“Was it a SKUNK?” he cried. “I know it was a skunk because I saw the white stripe and then I felt the bump and now it smells bad and…” The current of his stream of consciousness carried him to the inevitable conclusion: “YOU KILLED IT!”
“I’m sorry, Liam! Obviously, I didn’t mean to hit him. It’s dark and he ran right out into the road.”
“There he was, minding his own business and then YOU came along and killed him!” He accused me like a prosecutor in front of an attentive jury.
Nora’s softer voice queried, “Is the skunk dead?”
“Oh yeah, he’s dead!” Liam responded.
“Mommy killed the skunk!” The jury had bought it. Everyone but the defendant burst into tears.
I rolled my eyes at all the drama.
“Liam! Nora! Stop it. I didn’t mean to do it. Sometimes, things like this happen. It was an accident.” I paused. The smell was overwhelming. “Ugh. It stinks!”
Liam sniffed and made choking noises. “You know what that smell is?”
I was weary of this conversation. “It’s the skunk’s spray.”
“You know what that smell is?”
His repeating himself was not a good sign. The van reeked to high heaven, we were miles from our destination, and Liam was running along the ridge-line of hysteria.
Nora took the bait. “What is it?”
His voice rang with reproach. “It’s the Smell of Sadness.”