It was just three days later that Feela didn’t come to wake me up. By now our routines were so settled that I immediately sensed something was wrong. I went downstairs and found her still asleep on top of the freezer. The food we’d put down for her hadn’t been touched.
I raised her chin gently on my finger. Her eyes half opened.
“You alright, kitten?”
I lifted her down, carried her through to the front room, and set her beside the sofa. She loved to sharpen her claws on the arm, no matter how much we told her off. Today, however, she barely sniffed at it, jumped weakly onto the cushion, tucked her paws beneath her breast and closed her eyes.
Just before I was about to leave for school, Feela began making an unearthly crying sound. Then she stretched out her neck and was sick twice. Almost immediately she was asleep again, but now her breath was becoming laboured. Mum and I began to fear the worst.
“We should have expected this” said Mum.
I tried to look calm and responsible but within me was flat panic. Not just for Feela, but for myself. If it was that deadly disease. . .
“We’ve got to do something” I pleaded.
Feela, meanwhile, had got herself up onto the food prep area, eyes glazed forward.
“Come on, lovely” I said. “You know you’re not supposed to be up there”
I reached up to take Feela down, as I’d done many times before. But this time she reacted differently. I don’t know if it was because she felt vulnerable, but she hissed like a snake and swiped at me with her paw. To my horror, I looked down to see three scratch lines across the back of my hand. As the thin lines of blood began to fill them, so I began to panic.
“Mum!” I cried. “She’s cut me!”
Mum purified some water and made me wash the wound. As usual she was full of sureness and commonsense, but I could see the anxiety in her eyes. She’d always been more scared than me that Feela could be carrying HN51. And if this was it. . .
“You’ve got to get it checked out” she said.
“But they’ll ask questions” I protested.
“You can say it was someone else”s”
“They might need to see the cat”
“Jade, you could die !”
All Mum’s hidden fears were suddenly bursting into the light. Five children had already died at our school since New Year. Not that their deaths had anything to do with cats.
“O.k., o.k.!” I assured her. “I’ll go and see the medic”
I didn’t. I went to school. But I couldn’t concentrate for a second, and as the hours ticked by, so my fears grew until my veins were awash with adrenaline and the panic inside me was unbearable. I felt ill – really ill. My skin felt sore and my forehead burned. Was this it? Was this the disease which could kill within a day?
I made an excuse and went down the clinic. My heart thumped in that waiting room, and by the time I got to see Dr Amso, I was so nervous it was unreal.
“I think I need a blood test” I told him.
“I see” he replied. “And why’s that?”
I listed all the symptoms I’d read about, all the symptoms I was convinced I’d now got. I didn’t mention cat flu, because I was hoping he’d give me the test without trying to diagnose what I’d got. But his suspicions were obviously aroused, and when he caught sight of the scratches on my arm, his manner became urgent.
“How did you get these?” he asked.
My heart began to race. “Off the roses” I replied.
Dr Amso shook his head. “This is an animal scratch” he declared.
I flushed a little. “It must have been my rabbit” I blurted.
“Not the roses then” replied Dr Amso.
“I was trying ot get it off the garden” I gabbled. “I felt a scratch, and I thought it must have been the rose, but maybe – “
“What’s your rabbit’s name?” asked Dr Amso.
“Bunny” I replied.
“What colour is it?” asked Dr Amso.
“Grey” I replied. “Why are you asking all these questions?”
“I don’t think this scratch was caused by a rabbit” said Dr Amso. “Do you have a cat?”
“No” I replied, unconvicingly.
“You’ll have to be tested” continued Dr Amso. “I need to know if this is a cat scratch. Cat scratches are notifiable”
“What does ‘notifiable’ mean?” I asked.
“Is it a cat scratch?” asked Dr Amso.
By now my face was hot as a fire. “My rabbit did it!” I gabbled. “And if you don’t believe me I’ll find another doctor that does!”
I stormed from the doctor’s office and out through the waiting room, ignoring the receptionist’s demands for me to pay the checkup fee. Dr Amso actually pursued me, right out into the street, but by then I was running. Passers-by looked on, astonished. But I wasn’t stopping for anyone.