By Deborah Thompson
The red stoplight hangs over the clogged intersection while my car radio relays names of the lost. It’s another April the 20th. Not the one in 1995, when, during my father’s funeral one day after the Oklahoma City bombing, the death toll grew by the hour. Not the April 20th of 1999, when two boys arbitrarily massacred classmates and teachers in Columbine High School. Radio voices, as I sit at this intersection, broadcast remembrances of these past April atrocities, pronouncing name after name. All of these death tolls have acquired the inevitability of history, which is not quite the same as acceptance. But today is not those April 20ths; it’s just another April 20th. Outside my windows, cars stare each other down, gunning for green. I breathe in their hot exhaust.
That’s when the gray kitten trots across the four-lane-both-ways intersection, and that’s when a car turns a hard right into its path, making the kitten’s death, on this day of predestined deaths, as certain as those enumerating on the radio. My stomach crunches, shrinking me into my car seat to witness today’s foregone micro-atrocity. This is real. The asphalt-hued kitten, all ears and paws, lingers mid-street, while the names of the deceased fill the airwaves. I can’t look I have to look. I smell burning rubber as the car frantically brakes inches from the kitten. Stops.
The kitten turns its wobble-head to look over its shoulder at the near auto-da-fe behind it. Then it turns from this engine of history and trots on. Amidst all this human carnage, a single feline is spared.
We humans in our cars all sit through the cycle of lights, our brief greens returning to reds, as we wait for the kitten to amble curb-ward in its own time. So shaken are we by this world of untimely, arbitrary grace that for a brief moment no one even honks.
DEBORAH THOMPSON is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University, where she helped to develop the master’s degree in Creative Nonfiction. She has published creative essays in venues such as Briar Cliff, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, and Upstreet, and was awarded a Pushcart Prize for her piece “Mishti Kukur.” She is currently working on a book about human-dog relationships.