Paco was a good rabbit. A ball of thick, black fur – he was as obedient as the family dog. He was the perfect class pet. We’d leave his cage door open and he’d come and go as he pleased. Most mornings he’d spend lounging on his belly in the hallway, next to the bust of Abraham Lincoln, waiting for the kids. After the first bell, he’d flop back to his cage for breakfast.
Paco was everyone’s favorite, but no one loved him as much as Kevin Billy Sheldon. Billy was one of those kids who spent his life attending to everything but what he should have been doing. I couldn’t get more than a minute or two of his attention at a time. His conversation went into wild circles, never focused, just whatever flashed across his mind. Paco became the center of his scholastic universe, though. The other kids realized this and abdicated feeding duties to him. I rationalized; I felt the added responsibilities might develop better mental habits for Billy, and after awhile I noted that he was following through with his responsibilities, although overdoing it a bit.
“Billy,” I’d say, “Paco shouldn’t eat the whole box in one day.”
“Yea, Mr. Tim, but he gobbled it all up. He just ate it all up.”
“Sure, Billy, but he should only have one bowl every day, not a whole box.”
“Yea, but he ate it all up, didn’t he?” – he’d say with a satisfied grin.
It was hard to reason with the boy.
One afternoon Billy’s mom came to the classroom. She wore leather pants and a halter top. I couldn’t tell her age, although she dressed young.
“I come to pick up the rabbit,” she said.
I put down the map I was showing the kids and walked toward the door.
“Pick up the rabbit? Why?”
“Billy said you’d let him take the rabbit home this weekend. I come to take him home.”
“Take him home? Um, O.K.” I was a first year teacher. I wasn’t about to challenge her.
While the kids stared at Mrs. Sheldon with mouths agape, Billy and I gathered the food, wood shavings, water bottle, cage and our beloved rabbit and set off for the car. There was more than enough room in Mrs. Sheldon’s 76’ Pontiac for Paco and all his belongings. I remember Paco driving away, his nose wiggling frantically as Billy shouted out the window – “I’ll take good care of Paco, Mr. Tim. You’ll see. Don’t worry, Mr. Tim.” He must have read my face.
A week went by. The kids kept at me, “When’s Paco coming back? When’s Paco coming back?”
I felt like telling them to go ask Billy, but I was afraid of what he might say. Sure enough, during independent reading, I overheard Billy talking in an excited voice. He used the same tone of voice he’d used when relating an exciting episode of a neighborhood feud, or a real cool explosion. I heard the words “fur,” and “flying” and saw Billy’s arms waving as if demonstrating the flight of an injured bird. It caught my attention. Instinctively I did a word association: fur, flying, Paco. Paco doesn’t fly. Dang.
“Billy, come here!”
“Yes, Mr. Tim.” He came to me as if nothing was out of the norm, processing only what was happening that very second.
“Where’s Paco, Billy?” I asked, my forehead turning red.
“Well, Mr. Tim,” he began, turning his gaze from the floor, to the wall, up to the ceiling, down to my shoes, anywhere but at me. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
“You know my pitbull Sammy?”
“No, I don’t know your pitbull Sammy. What about Sammy?”
“Well, I went down to feed Paco. I feed Paco, you know.
“Yea, I know. Where’s Paco, Billy?” By this time I had both hands on Billy’s shoulders.
“Well, I went downstairs, and there was fur all over the place. Sammy bit his head right off!” he said, eyes wide, as if relating something cool that happened at recess that day.
Still holding Billy, I scanned the room without moving my head, just rolled my eyes back and forth to see if anyone heard Billy. Sure enough, the same kids who didn’t pay any mind to me thrashing about and shouting when our egg incubator caught fire were frozen in place, eyes glued on Billy and me. You’d think I was a master teacher, having all those kids’ attention at the same time.
I released Billy from my grip. He casually walked over to the block area, sat down, and lost himself in play. The rest of the kids stood in place, apparently waiting to see what I’d do or say. I stood with them, thinking, “Why wasn’t there a class-pet methods class in teacher training? Yeah, with a section on violent death.’
Intuition kicked in.
“O.K., everyone, recess!”
The kids unfroze and filed out of the room into the cool hallway, past the bust of Abraham Lincoln, Billy taggin along well behind everyone.