[from 1998. I have no idea why I was so cranky.]
Spunky announced that she wanted to attend the library’s story time. The last time we did it, she freaked out immediately and we left before the first story was over. I can’t really blame her. All the little ones sit in little rows on the floor of a little room. They listen raptly to a repulsive, cooing volunteer who otherwise looks as if she’s suffering from a bad life that has finally led her to be irrevocably glued into an itty-bitty chair, while holding a book so that she must read it upside down.
This time Spunky made it to story number four. By story number three, she was rolling around under a table, so I had already started to rebundle Bo for the outdoors. She hardly needs all that fleece to keep her warm, what with her impressive blubber layer, but it immobilizes her too, which is useful.
When story number four started, the other volunteer was signaling me viciously, using every shooing gesture in her repertoire, short of an actual finger across the neck.
Driving home from the library, I was busy congratulating Spunky on her increasing civilization, when we saw a cluster of cars in the roadway. I slowed down to scan the action and could see that at least two of the cars were dented.
There were no flares or sirens, but there were a lot of women milling around. When I passed, I looked back and was surprised to see two women in the road. One was squatting and clutching something and the other was semi-squatting and hugging the clutcher.
I pulled over and barked at Spunky to stay! before I hopped out of the van.
On closer inspection, I could see that it was only a two-car accident. Only one of the damaged cars was still in the street, but two of the witnesses had stopped suddenly and blocked the lane, forgetting their hazard lights before they wandered in to contribute to the chaos. The source of the rest of crowd became clear as at regular intervals women were jogging out of the corner house toward the gaggle at the curb. There were so many of them, and they were so carefully casually coiffed that it just had to be a sales party.
None of these latecomers seemed to notice the women in the road, so I took it upon myself to take charge of them. The squatting woman was holding a cellphone and muttering. She didn’t seem hurt, but was quite shocky-looking.
I marched up to her and her hugging buddy and said, “Y’all have to get out of the road,” and they complied immediately.
The hugger started to wander off while the victim tried to explain herself to me. I realized that she thought I was a cop, possibly because I was wearing blue and giving orders. She said that the other woman had cut her off and that she had just dropped her son at preschool. She said both of these things over and over again. All I said to her was, “That’s awful…That’s good…That’s awful…”
I reeled the hugger back over to us, and asked her if the undamaged van at the curb was hers. She said that it was. I told her to put the clutching woman in her car. “Keep her warm and keep her out of the street,” I said. She complied immediately.
Once she was in the passenger’s seat, the clutching woman shuddered violently and started trying to dial her husband’s phone number, since she noticed again that she still had her cellphone. I couldn’t help her remember the number, so I left.
When I got back to our van, Spunky was still buckled up and had not decided to teach herself the fundamentals of releasing the emergency brake. She hadn’t fed any coins to Bo or even changed the radio. That was a relief.
Still I was disturbed: how could so many people be so collectively stuporous that not one of them herded those two out of the street? How could they just stand there and chat and stare at the growing puddle of antifreeze? I would bet that they represented at least twelve college degrees and twelve professional careers on hold.
And here all this time I thought that this would be a good town in which to have an accident.
My imaginary safety bubble sustained a bit of damage, too.
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