The summons comes at 3:30pm on Friday 24th April 2020 from Serafina Pekkala. Named rather aptly after the queen of a clan of witches, Serafina considers herself the kingpin in our group of neighbourhood cats and today she has called an emergency meeting to discuss our Pandemic Plan. Neither Ron, Squeak nor I have the first idea what she’s on about but we dutifully go along at the designated time to hear what she has to say.
We sit down and Serafina at once becomes business-like and addresses the group. She has even brought along notes. I look for a lectern and am relieved to find there isn’t one to be found amongst the collection of half-used bags of potting mix and assorted plastic plant containers scattered around the potting shed which we use as our meeting place.
“Tēnā koutou katoa,” begins Serafina, and I glance at Ron and Squeak who both seem every bit as flabbergasted as I am.
“I have learned today (through a reputable source) that two pet cats in New York have tested positive for COVID-19. This brings the total confirmed cases amongst cats to three. A cat in Belgium tested positive for the disease on March 24 and a probable case was detected in a 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong. The cats displayed only mild symptoms, however the dog, who repeatedly tested as “weakly positive” for coronavirus in March, has now died. I can confirm that the dog had an underlying condition.
Although the virus would appear to be relatively harmless to felines, responsible cats will be understandably worried about the possibility of passing on the virus to their human owners. It is for this reason that I am urging cats to quarantine themselves in small groups away from humans for a period of two weeks.”
Ron, Squeak and I were about to protest this proposal in the strongest possible terms but Serafina calmly held up a paw to silence us and continued:
“I have taken the unprecedented step of approaching a family friend who has offered us a furnished holiday home which we are welcome to use throughout the two-week isolation period which is to commence from 5:00pm this evening.
I will hand out a list of items that you or your owner will need to bring to the isolation flat and directions as to how to get there. Please commit this to memory as we don’t want anyone getting lost and having to be rescued, thus putting further lives at risk.
I cannot stress enough the need for every cat to follow the advice I have laid out today. None of us can do this alone and the decision to go hard and go fast was not made lightly. Failure to play your part in the coming days will put the lives of your human owners at risk. Be strong and be kind. We’re in this together and must unite against COVID-19.
“Now I’m happy to take your questions.”
This whole “address” thing seemed a little odd and it occurred to me that Serafina might be simply parroting something she’d seen on television. Regardless of that, I had to admit that there was a grain of good sense behind what she was saying. Everyone starts bombarding her with questions. Squeak seemed particularly concerned about the food arrangements and Ron wanted to know if he was allowed to go kayaking. I doubt if Ron has ever been kayaking in his life but I keep quiet and study the list Serafina has given me.
My name, Weasley Morley Brown, was carefully printed at the top along with the address and directions to the isolation flat. I make sure to memorize this thoroughly. The last thing I want is to be the one to get lost in the middle of a crisis. Listed underneath are the items we need to bring:
- Enough food to last for the full two weeks. Biscuits or canned/pouched food is preferable although fresh Jimbo’s or similar can be consumed within the first three to four days.
- Paws must be cleaned thoroughly before entering the house and before preparing food.
- Bring filtered water, milk or any special drinks that you usually have at home.
- There is a fridge at the isolation flat. Please ensure that all food and personal items are named and dated.
- Toys and comforters
- There are beds at the isolation flat, however you may want to bring your own bed if this is where you usually sleep.
- IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO PANIC BUY OR STOCKPILE FOOD OR TOILET PAPER
At 5:00pm we all arrive at what we now refer to as The Isolation Flat. It’s a nice little cottage situated not too far from my home which I find comforting. It had been hard leaving home but it’s probably best not to dwell too much on what I’ve left behind. If anything, I should dwell on the fact that I’m saving lives and being a responsible pet.
I’m certain I’ve brought far too much stuff. I’m pretty comfortable with the amount of food I’ve brought, but I packed almost every toy I own even though I hardly ever play with them and I’ve never even slept on the cat bed I’ve brought.
Squeak seems to have brought enough food to last him until the end of next year but Ron on the other hand looks as if he’s planning to spend the next two weeks eating Party Mix treats and catnip. No danger of him stockpiling food! I thought of my own food, named and dated in the fridge. Ron is a notorious food thief and would need to be watched.
Serafina had promised to give us a COVID-19 update at 1:00pm every day, but she lost her sense of urgency once we were settled into the isolation flat. She even brought along some gin which surprised me somewhat, but it might be because the gin came with a small bottle of hand sanitizer which she insists we all use before we enter the flat. Hardly necessary for a cat I would’ve thought!
Serafina refers to the isolation flat as our “bubble” and says that we cannot have contact with anyone outside our bubble or allow them to enter the house. It’s okay for our humans to drop off food and supplies, but they need to leave these at the door and avoid contact with the cats in our bubble.
All things considered, our first couple of “Bubble Days” go fairly smoothly with the only minor niggles being what to watch on television. Squeak for example would want to watch music videos or reality cooking shows while Serafina favoured the News and current affairs. Ron wanted to watch porn, whatever that is. As for me, I have always been partial to science and nature documentaries. We opt for a roster system but Ron tends to talk through it all. When my turn arrives I choose the Black Hole Apocalypse and Ron interrupts with:
“So you like apocalyptic black holes?” He has a peculiar glint in his eyes as though it’s a euphemism for something I’m not sure I want to know about.
Everyone waits for me to answer this ridiculous question and I yearn to be at home on my owner’s lap listening to David Attenborough’s dulcet tones as we follow the plight of a pride of lions journeying across the Serengeti.
Yesterday it was Serafina’s turn and of course, we watched The News. The moment the Television One News music started up Squeak leapt to his feet, ran to his room and came back with his brush. Evidently his owner brushes him every evening at 6:00pm. This made me feel so sorry for him that I nearly cried. I wanted to offer to brush him myself, but cats aren’t generally very good at holding things like hairbrushes in their paws. Ron says it’s because we don’t have opposable thumbs.
Serafina has some peculiar habits that I didn’t know about before. She goes out every evening at the same time to do number twos and after she’s sanitized her paws she stands on the doorstep and says: “front left, front right, rear right, rear left, INSIDE!” and then walks through the door using her paws in that exact order. The isolation flat doesn’t have a cat door and I ask her if this is the reason she does the weird paw configuration thing but she says that she must do it to prevent her owner from getting COVID-19.
I’ve developed a strange habit too during our lockdown. I don’t seem to be able to control the urge to organise my toys. If I line them all up in my bedroom in chronological order of when they were given to me, this means that everything is going to be alright. And if I organise them in size order this stops really bad things happening. I can’t explain why I do this but at least the toys are getting some use at last.
I guess all of us are displaying some sort of compulsive behaviour in the face of this crisis. Even Ron seems to be continually washing his paws, although to be fair he could be making a genuine effort to stop the virus spreading, although I have my doubts. I secretly suspect that he’s trying to lick all the alcohol from the hand sanitizer off his paws.
It’s on Day Five (which might be officially classified as Day Four), that everything goes pear-shaped. It starts off with an argument over breakfast when Ron makes the observation that dogs are going out walking with their owners and why are they not saving lives like we are and forming their own bubbles?
“That’s typical of dogs,” remarks Squeak, short of breath after inhaling his breakfast. “You see them panting and slobbering everywhere. They clearly think they’re entitled to do whatever they like!”
“Arrogant entitlement,” says Ron shaking his head incredulously.
“Not to mention downright dangerous,” I nod in agreement.
Serafina, who lives with a dog, is quick to jump to their defence. “I think we need to curb our judgement lest we become a community of omnipotent moral busybodies.”
“What does omnipotent mean?” I ask.
“It means you can’t have sex,” says Squeak.
“Well that’s pretty much all of us isn’t it? Although I suppose our bodies would be busier if we were able to have sex.”
“That’s impotent,” says Serafina
“Speak for yourself!” grunts Ron, always quick to point out the fact that he isn’t neutered. Even though I’m not entirely sure I believe this, I’m keen to change the subject.
“I was reading an article on the internet that said that there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19 to humans,” I quickly say before Ron is able to launch into a raunchy monologue centred around his sexual exploits. “Which makes me wonder if all of this is really necessary.”
“YOU READ IT ON THE INTERNET?!” screams Serafina, overreacting somewhat in my opinion. “Was it backed by scientific evidence? Peer reviewed?”
“I don’t know,” I say truthfully. “I just thought it was interesting – “
“You just thought,” she screeches and makes me feel like a fool. “You just thought that at Alert Level Three, when the whole country is in lockdown, that you could go and read something willy nilly on the internet –“
“I don’t think it was willy nilly exactly.”
“Don’t worry mate, she’s just pissed off that the newspaper isn’t being delivered anymore,” says Ron.
“I am NOT!” and she flounces out of the room before her voice gets so high pitched that only bats would be able to hear it.
Serafina is usually able to use her infamous flounce to great effect but while we’re all locked up in the same house it’s lost its impact somewhat. It means that she can’t disappear for any length of time and has to sidle back into the same room, by which time none of us knows where we stand and the whole thing gets horribly awkward. I’m surprised she’s still bothering with the flounce to be honest.
By the time she comes back we’re all sitting outside on the deck and starting to think about dinner. We are always thinking about dinner since there is little else to think about. No-one wants to watch television or read willy nilly articles on the internet today so Ron suggests to Squeak that he might like to try putting some of his fresh food on the barbecue. I’ve never had a barbecue before and am warming to this idea when a post-flounce Serafina appears with Madeline.
Madeline is Serafina’s sister of sorts. I say “of sorts” because Madeline is a dog. Worse still, Madeline has brought a couple of her doggy friends round, Riley and Stuart who are very interested in the barbecue idea.
“Where did they come from?” I say indignantly. “I’m not sure I approve of having a cross species bubble.”
I look to Ron and Squeak for support but they’re too busy putting about a week’s worth of Squeak’s food on the barbecue. Serafina ignores this and goes and gets a roll of zip-lock bags from the kitchen.
“They’re to put the dog poo in,” she says before I can ask.
“Why don’t they just dig a hole and bury it like we do?“ I start to say but I’m cut short because flames are now leaping from the barbecue and Ron and Squeak scream and run off somewhere, presumably to get help. Serafina must have disappeared with the zip-lock bags and the dogs because I can’t see her or the dogs anywhere so it’s just me and the inferno. I have to do something so I pick up Squeak’s water bowl and throw it over the flames. Thankfully there’s enough water in it to douse the fire which is out by the time Serafina and the dogs return with the now filled zip-lock bags. How disgusting!
Moments later Squeak arrives with the fire brigade – a group of highly trained cats who know how to deal with things like barbecue fires that get out of hand. They are impressed with my quick-thinking and one of them suggests that I might like to think about becoming a volunteer member. I’ll give this some serious thought because I’ve heard that these guys are very highly thought of in the community.
Ron hands round large amounts of catnip and Serafina gets the gin bottle with the hand sanitizer out. The fire brigade and the dogs seem to be making themselves quite at home. Since most of the food has gone up in flames I wonder if I should hand round some of Ron’s party mix? They all seem happy with the catnip though, apart from the dogs, although Stuart is giving it his best shot.
Darkness falls and more cats start arriving. There’s one that looks a lot like Gingah, a cat that I used to hang out with as a kitten but I can’t tell if it’s him or not because he’s wearing VR goggles. He doesn’t say much because he’s too engrossed in the VR action. I wonder what he’s watching? Ron thinks it’s either porn or he’s tuned into a gripping COVID-19 update with really good graphics.
Meghan, my ex has turned up too. I suppose it would be more accurate to call her my potential ex since our relationship never really got off the ground as she was on heat and things were moving a bit too fast for my liking. This doesn’t deter Ron however who is losing no time making a move and I’m sure I can hear him repeating one of Serafina’s phrases: “go hard and go fast”. I wonder if she is still on heat?
I start to worry that no-one has eaten. Someone needs to be a responsible host what with the amount of gin and catnip going down and I wonder about firing up the barbecue again. I’m thinking this is safe given that the entire fire brigade are in attendance, when I see Serafina on the doorstep saying “front left, rear right, no wait it’s rear left, rear right” and before she gets to say “INSIDE!” her legs get all tied up in a horrendous knot and she sort of rolls into the kitchen over one of the zip-lock bags which expels its revolting contents onto the linoleum.
Our isolation flat has become less of a bubble and more like out-of-control froth. I eat a handful of Party Mix and head to my bedroom thinking I might even sleep in my unused cat bed. I‘m pleased I organised my toys before the party. Were they in the “everything is going to be alright” formation or the one that stops really bad things happening? Obviously not the latter because the first thing I see is Ron asleep in my brand-new cat bed while Meghan is vomiting all over it. She has quite long fur and I wonder for a moment if should offer to hold her fur out of the line of fire, but surely that’s not the job of a potential ex. Strictly speaking Ron should be doing this rather than sleeping.
I tiptoe out of the house and head home. Away from the dysfunction of the isolation flat to my real home with my owner on the couch in her dressing gown and David Attenborough documentaries and unorganized toys that I never play with. I breathe a sigh of relief as the cat door flaps behind me. I’m home. Nothing bad is going to happen. Everything is going to be alright.