It was around nine O'clock, Sunday night. Liam had slumped fully on the sofa, catching the highlights of Match of the Day 2, occasionally sitting upright, shouting and throwing his arms in the air every time there was a foul, handball or goal he didn't like. I was tidying the bedroom, ironing clothes for tomorrow and occasionally reminding him that they couldn't hear him - as I always do.
Then we heard the most almighty racket.
A screaming howl which stopped my ironing dead in its tracks, loud enough even, to cause Liam to switch the telly off - yes, Match of the Day. We looked at each other, both thinking the same thing.
That sounded like our cat.
Our cat, but if someone had poked her eyes out, pulled her tail and swung her three times around their head.
Liam leapt off the sofa and rushed outside, forgetting he had no shoes on, to see what the commotion was about.
'There's a bloody great cat out here, and no Bess!' He called from the open corridor, outside.
We live on the fourth floor of a large 1930's block of flats, and there are hundreds of doors lined one after the other along rows of open corridors. If you stand outside our flat, and are brave enough to look down over the metal handrail, there's a pretty courtyard, and padding about the courtyard, you almost always see at least ten cats, hiding amongst the ferns, on the roofs of the garages, and sleeping behind the tyres of the parked up cars.
There's the little black boy cat, who's longer than Bess and just as small, and walks like he's a fully grown tiger. I like to think that he's her boyfriend, as they'd make really cute, fluffy black babies. Sometimes they sit on the second floor corridor, side by side, as if either one of them is huddled up to a mirror, the only thing distinguishing them is his luminous yellow, manly collar.
'Is is her boyfriend?' I replied.
'No. He's a fucking great orange thing.'
'She's not out here. I'm going to go look for her.' I heard him stomp down the four flights of stairs, muttering something about him being on her territory and how dare he start a fight.
When Liam came back with no Bess, I put it down to her being scared, and thought she must be hiding in a bush somewhere in the courtyard, a little bashful after a fight.
But an hour later, I heard the door creak a little on its hinges, and I heard a frantic Liam call me into the living room.
She wasn't crying, and eyes were still bright, but as she limped around the living room, her back leg dangled uselessly behind her.
'It's probably dislocated.' I said, instinctively denying there was anything seriously wrong, and wanting so much to believe I was right.
'But it looks broken... ' Liam snapped back at me, whispering 'oh my God' under his breath, over and over, and shaking his head.
I stroked her beautiful, silky fur, and she mewed at me, looking grumpy, then hopped to the darkest corner underneath our bed and curled into a ball, carefully balancing so as not to put weight on the wobbly foot.
I thought back to September, when I'd got her micro-chipped, and how I'd picked up that leaflet on cat insurance. I remembered how I'd placed it on the fridge, in my 'to do' pile, 'to do' when I was earning just a little bit more. As I picked up the phone to dial the 24 hour vets, late on a Sunday night, I watched Liam bending on his hands and knees by the side of the bed, worrying.
I knew we had a problem.
Monday 4th March
As I sleepily rolled out of bed at the usual 6:00am, my first thought was Bess. Poking my head into the living room, I noticed she hadn't shifted one inch off the sheepskin blanket I'd left her on late last night. But at the sight of my bedraggled hair and pale, gormless face (which would have frightened most) her eyes lit up and she lifted her head to look at me. The vet had said to leave her until morning before bringing her in, and Liam was going to take her as soon as they opened - but I had to go to work. I felt awful, but at such late notice on Sunday night, I was unable to get the cover. I hurriedly had a shower, and pulled my clothes on, hardly caring what I looked like, and rushed out the door feeling like the bad, working mother I was.
The morning raced past, as I got coffees for numerous meetings, and spent the morning stopping people on their way past reception, to talk about how worried I was. I picked up the phone in automatic mode all morning, just waiting for Liam's call.
I imagined, with no insurance, I'd be looking at a £300 bill - tops, and had started to prepare myself for what I might be about to hear... A bad cat bite from the fight? A dislocated hip? A fracture?
The phone rang, and I grabbed for it. It was Liam.
"Hi darling, I've left her at the vets. They needed to x-ray her, because they are pretty sure it's broken. For the anaesthetic, a bandage and a couple of x-rays it's going to be a ball-park figure of £500...and that's before they've even worked out what it is that's wrong - before the treatment."
I was speechless. Sick with worry about where we were supposed to find £500. With no savings between us, both still deep into our overdrafts, and a few huge bills outstanding, it looked near-on impossible. I thought back to when I'd got Bess, how I'd begged Liam to let me have her. I'd found her advertised on Gumtree, given away because they didn't want her anymore. Everyone had said what an enormous responsibility she would be, and it was only my Mum who had said, 'Get her. If you can love her, and give her a good home, get her.' Mum had always taken in waifs and strays, and if something needed love, be it human, animal or plant, she would do anything she could to take care of it. When I'd gone round to visit Bess at her old family's home, she had straight away prppped and wound her way around my legs, staring at me intently as I stood waiting for them to answer the front door. After the visit, I just knew I had to get her, and sat in a non-descript bus stop for a while, picking at the loose thread on my cardigan, whilst Liam sat on the hard yellow seat next to me, and went through all the valid reasons why I shouldn't get her. The space. The cost. The restrictions. The vets bills...
But I knew she needed a home, and I knew she'd picked me.
'We'd like you and your partner to come in to discuss Bess' x-rays.' The receptionist said later that afternoon, after I had already called them three times that day to find out how she was. 'Can you make it in around 6:45pm to see the vet?'
'We'll be there.' I replied, quietly.
Liam gripped my hand tightly in the waiting room. My heart was in my mouth, my chest fluttering with worry, and I noticed my breathing had quickened. A sure sign of a panic attack -not the time or place. So I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths. Some irritating woman dressed in cycling shorts and the most unattractive luminous cycling helmet I had ever seen, was quibbling over paying an extra £5.00 for her dog's medication. I realised she was arguing with the vet that we were supposed to seeing, and it didn't look as if she was going to let the matter slide. The clock read 6:54pm, and I stared with an uncharacteristic venom at that luminous helmet, wishing she would just vanish so we could cut to the chase about how my girl was.
The vet had a kind face, and it surprised me to see that she was only a couple of years older than me. It felt as if we should be chatting over a glass of wine, rather than over the bright light box on the wall used to view x-rays.
'Now, Bess is okay, although her hind leg is quite badly broken. We gave her an anaesthetic this afternoon to administer the x-rays, and although she hasn't eaten much, she is bandaged up and quite alright....' The vet smiled at us, particularly me, since I must have looked as if I was about to faint, because she chose her next words carefully.
'There are three options. The first thing one is - and this is probably what we would prefer to do - an operation on her leg.'
I gasped, involuntarily. Liam shot me a look.
'Not to worry, it's fairly routine. We'd put a plate on her leg, then fix it with screws into the bone...'
I hung on her every word. Nodding like a little nodding dog whenever she mentioned a serious word, like bone or plate.
'The second option, is to bandage her each week for the next eight weeks, and to hope that it fuses back together well enough for her to walk. This, unfortunately, does not always work, and may cause her problems later in life; like arthritis, or even another break..."
'I don't like that option.' I blurted.
What was wrong with me? I couldn't speak properly. I felt like I had been muted.
'Okay. Then there's the third option, which is amputation of the leg.'
Oh, God. I'm going to have to make a horrible decision.
Wild images of legs, no legs and operations flashed through my mind. Poor Bess. Then I had a thought.
Why isn't she telling me the prices of what these three options cost? And then I wondered. Am I terrible for thinking of the money?
I am usually the bossy, questioning one. I annoy strangers to get answers, quite regularly. I am unafraid to ask. But nothing came out of my mouth standing in this little sparse room at the vets. The man in the ticket office at the station gets my questions, the waitress in the restaurant and also the doctor at the surgery... I am, in short, the difficult one, the questioner. But Liam, suddenly took charge, and began asking all the questions I would have thought of, starting with the price.
The vet looked uneasy. I sort of felt sorry for her. She was clearly reluctant to tell us the amount. I had stressed on the phone, when I'd spoken to her that morning, that we didn't have insurance, and could she please keep that in mind. I had remembered from Mum's hundreds of bad vet experiences, that vets do tend to tot up the price of treatment quite quickly, often without a second thought.
'Well, for the metal plate operation, which will leave her leg in tact and perfect within a few weeks, you are looking at a ball-park figure of £1,400. Then, for the bandages... that's £50 a bandage... every four days for six weeks... including painkillers and vet appointments to change the bandage... around £900.'
'And to amputate?' Liam asked cooly.
'You're looking at around £1,000. But, I'm afraid -' She added quietly. 'that these figures are not including the £500 bill for today...'
I'm sure the look on my face said it all.
She left the room for a moment to get Bess from one of the back rooms. As soon as she left, I turned to look at Liam. We stood there, in the little consultation room, in silence.
The swinging door opened a few minutes later - although it might have only been seconds - and my sluggish little black cat was carried through the door slumped in my cat carrier. She was hardly recognisable as my Bess. Her fur was dusty, her eyes had been glooped with some sort of liquid to stop them sticking together, and she had lost her sparkle. Then there was the gigantic blue leg she had that took up most of the carrier, bandaged so big it looked like they'd stuck two of her legs in there together, not just the one.
'Have a think; we aren't expecting you to decide right away. I realise it's an awful lot of money.' The vet said as she put away the x-rays, in the large brown envelope. 'Ideally we need to operate Wednesday, so you have tomorrow to have a think about what you want to do.'
I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. I wanted to tell the vet there was no money. Not even the measly £500 that she wanted for today. I had absolutely no idea what we wanted to do for Bess apart from make her feel better. I looked at the vet; she really did only look a few years older than me, which is why I probably was able to pluck up the courage to ask a really mean question.
'Can I ask you something?' I said quietly.
'Of course!' She responded lightly, knowing full well that I would be asking it anyway.
'If she was your cat, and you were in our predicament, what would you do?'
It was a mean question, and she tried to avoid it, claiming it wasn't professional to have a personal opinion - which I agreed with. But after a moment, she looked at me straight and said:
'I've been a student for seven years, I know how tough it would be for me to find that sort of money. To be honest, I would go for the plate operation to keep her leg, and I think I'd ask my parents.'
I held the cat, quiet in her basket in the one hand, and grasped hold of her medication in the other - the dosage of which had been described to me in great detail just before we'd left the vets. Liam carried the monstrosity of a metal cage, which was on loan from the vets. It was designed to keep her still and out of pain for the next day while we decided what to do. As we walked home along the main road, in the quiet of our own thoughts, I turned to Liam, and very determinedly said;
'I'm going to raise this money. I want her to keep her leg. I don't have a clue how I'm going to find an amount like that, but there has got to be a way.'
And I meant it.
|Bess and her bandage|