I didn't know I was allergic to rabbits. The inside corner of my right eye felt as if it was on fire. It was just about possible to avoid reaching up to scratch it if I concentrated the whole of my willpower on resisting, but if I was distracted for a moment, as inevitably happened with all the commotion going on around me, my hand would sneak up to my eye involuntarily. Then there would be a moment of ecstatic relief followed by an explosion of sneezing that carried on for about five minutes. It was not so much sneezing as being sneezed, and once it was over I hardly knew where I was any more.
'Bless you,' someone said for the seventh or eighth time that evening.
I was sitting on one of the square cushions;I remembered now that it had fallen vacant just as I was making my way past it, the previous occupant getting up to refill her glass, and I had sunk on to it, glad of the chance to stop my aimless wandering from room to room. I had not seen the rabbit till too late, or the lanky girl who was inseparable from it, even though I had been trying to get away from them all evening.
'Have you got a cold?' she said,and there was something in her voice that made it sound like an accusation.
'It's your rabbit.'
'My birthday present,' she said. 'Her name's Rosa. Unless she's a boy, in which case her name's Leon. They - waving her curly head in a circular motion to indicate her surroundings - 'wanted to dye her blue, but I wasn't having it.' Rosa looked blue anyway in the submarine light, but there was a luminous brilliance to her blueness that suggested her fur was really blue. Or not really, I remembered. There was no really, especially, for some reason, where colours were concerned. She was turning round and round in the girl's lap, snuffling at it as if trying to make a nest for herself in the unyielding denim. There were damp snippets of a blue-green material all round her, which I recognized as half-chewed lettuce. 'You don't like rabbits,' the girl said, accusingly again. 'They've got a right to exist, same as anyone else.'
'I've got nothing against them. They just make me sneeze. Or this one does, anyway. It must be an allergy.'
'You're not sneezing now.'
'That's because I have nothing left to sneeze with.'
'That's OK then. There are no allergies anyway. They're all in the mind.'
'You can't sneeze in the mind.'
'Oh, you can, though. You can do anything in the mind. That's where most things happen, after all.'
I looked at her: very thin, her sweatshirt, which was probably red in normal circumstances, hanging loose from the points of her shoulders. A small, pale face. She looked like an overgrown child.'What birthday?' I asked.
Twenty! I felt sick suddenly. She was a baby. Probably a baby Marxist, judging by the names she chose for her rabbit, but still a baby. And to think I had been thinking... never mind.