Fluffy

“Puss puss puss puss!”

Ruby stopped yelling and sighed. Fluffy had obviously decided to stay out again tonight. She’d shaken the dry food box, banged a tin with a spoon, called him on and off for an hour – nothing. Fluffy was nowhere to be seen.

“Silly thing!” she muttered at the absent cat, “Just don’t come back with dead wildlife, you horror!”

She shut the back door, bolted it carefully, and wandered into the kitchen to make dinner.

****

A high-pitched yowling woke Ruby from a deep sleep. She sat up, rubbing grit from her eyes.

“Fluffy!” she grumbled under her breath, “Fighting? At this hour?”

She made her way out into the hall and opened the back door. A shrill hissing noise mingled with the feline yowling and spitting.

“Oh, Fluffy! A possum? Aren’t you old enough to have more sense?” she lectured into the darkness. The noises stopped. She flicked on the back floodlight and peered into her yard. Nothing moved.

“Fluffy darling, come on, let’s see if you’re hurt!”

Nothing.

Ruby sighed again, and walked inside. She was too tired to go looking for a cat who didn’t want to be found.

****

Ruby got out of bed and made herself a cup of tea, turning on the morning news as she sat down at the kitchen table.

“Three local residents have been hospitalised with a mystery virus which has landed all three in intensive care. They are all reported to be in stable conditions.”

The television switches to a greying, authorative man in a suit.

“These three cases are all connected to animal attacks. This virus is not considered contagious, or dangerous. I would like to make this absolutely clear – we are not in danger of an epidemic. There is no cause for general concern. However, be wary of approaching unfamiliar animals, native and feral, as bites may spread the virus, and we’re unsure of how many animals may be infected.

Ruby shook her head and got up to pour some cereal. She could remember when Ross River Fever had been a ‘mystery virus’.

****

Ruby cleared away the breakfast dishes and put a small load of laundry into the washing machine, then sat down at the table to read the newspaper. Same rubbish as the morning news, she thought wryly, with more stress on the fact that this was a mystery virus, and might be destined to kill us all.

“PAH!” she muttered and turned over to the sport. Florid over-exaggeration worked better with the footy results.

The washing machine beeped to let her know that it had finished its cycle, and she startedd. Had she really been reading the rag that long?

“Everything takes longer when you’re older,” she said out loud.

She heaped wet clothes into a basket, heaved it onto her hip, and walked down the back ramp to the clothesline. She stared at the mound of white and brown fur under the Hills Hoist, not quite comprehending what she saw. Then she did, and she screamed.

****

“I’m sorry, Ruby, he was just too hurt, we’ve lost him,” the vet said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “What happened, do you know?”

“Possum fight,” she said, her voice high and shaky. “But – something bit huge chunks out of him, can’t have been a dog, they can’t get into the yard, what… could have eaten him like that?”

The vet frowned.

“I’m sorry, Ruby – he was a beautiful boy, wasn’t he? These – stupid things happen sometimes, I don’t think dwelling on it will help.”

Ruby sobbed.

“I’ll bury him in the backyard, under his tree,” she said, tears running down her face.

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