The time the white cat got in was idiotic.
You picked it up – what did you know about cats?
Nothing, obviously, as it arched its back into twenty separate pieces and flexed, claws out, scratching at your thighs and arms as if you were the intruder.
It was summer – you were wearing something light, maybe shorts and a tank top.
You knew, as soon as you made it to the door, you were in deep shit.
Now, what was done was done.
You should never have picked it up.
You looked at the cat, crouching on the sidewalk where it had landed; it was thinking about coming back in. The construction had scared it, the scraping sound of enormous metal claws along the concrete.
You slammed the door quickly before the cat became yours and swore. And swore, and swore.
You swore because your virus-obsessed mind had clicked into gear.
It snuck into your blood as you thought the thought, a tiny mutant ready to melt your brain and leave you babbling, foaming at the mouth and finally, after weeks of agony, dead. You grabbed the big bottle of disinfectant that you over-used on a regular basis and doused the scratches for the next hour while on the phone to relatives and friends who owned cats. They wore years of expertise like white lab coats; they had seen it all. They reassured you, told you that you were overreacting. You laughed a normal laugh and agreed, but later, after your boyfriend had gone to bed, the laugh froze in your throat, choking you. You called the twenty-four hour health line at three in the morning to cement your panic into place.
Rabies shots are a necessary precaution, said the nurse on-call, unless you can find the cat.
They took information; your doctor’s name, your phone number. They opened a case file.
The next day, you walked around the neighborhood looking for the white cat. You knocked on doors, indulged your dysfunction under the ruse of a government plan. No one knew of it or had seen it. When your boyfriend said you were fine over dinner, you laughed like a normal person, reassured. But alone with your brain, rabies flourished unchecked.
You couldn’t sleep for the next two days, you paced and worried; the doctor’s office left a message that they had received the vaccine. You did not call them back to schedule an appointment. Work passed in a haze.
You were still hoping to find the cat.
You took a tally; you found out a surprising number of people had experienced rabies shots; the mother of a friend’s boyfriend who was bitten by a bat, the young woman you worked with who was bitten by a mouse as a child.
They seemed okay.
When you went to the doctor’s office, you were almost out of time. It had been six days and the incubation period was nearly over, the shots were due.
You were terrified.
You could not make a decision. If you had rabies, you would die. If you didn’t, you would inject dead rabies into your (healthy?) body and maybe you would die, or simply go crazy.
A lose-lose situation.
The doctor finally got angry, your uncertainty infringing on her caseload piling up in the office waiting room.
You’re wasting my time, she said. These are expensive shots; are you taking them or not?
Her lips formed a thin line of frustration.
Your temper came to your rescue.
There’s something wrong with me, can’t you tell? I haven’t slept for a week. I think I have some kind of anxiety problem.
You burst into tears.
The doctor’s face was surprised, her lips parted to form an oval. She typed on her computer for a moment while you wiped your eyes. She wrote something on her notepad and handed you the paper.
This is a psychologist I know, she deals with anxiety disorders. I think you should make an appointment.
The doctor gave you an encouraging smile and you folded the paper into your hand like a rosary bead.
You left after receiving the first round of shots; two in the buttocks and one in the left arm, a walking Petri dish, incubating an unknown universe under sterile bandages. Your mind was a nebula of worry as you clutched a prescription for clonazepam, the psychologist’s name tucked deep in your bag.
You were on your way to the drug store, even though you knew better.