Content Warnings: ableism towards main character
"Bubastion" by Zanne Nilsson | 2,297 words | Short Fiction | Content Warnings: ableism towards main character
Oh shit. Putting in a prescription never takes this long. Is there a problem with the insurance? Oh no, please don’t let it be my insurance. This is the only place in town that takes it.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Winters” the pharmacy assistant says, “but it looks like we don’t have any Bubastion in stock.”
“We’ll have to put in a special order for it. It’ll get here in about…” Rapid typing, a few clicks, and the punchline: “One week.”
“Ah,” is what I say out loud in my bright work-voice, now with a bit of an edge. “Is it possible — I mean, do any of your chain’s nearby locations have it in stock? Can you transfer it there?”
The assistant hums and says she’ll check; clicking ensues. Behind me, the next person in the drop-off line sighs loudly. Screw them.
My grip on the edge of the counter tightens. Please, please say yes.
“No, sorry,” she says instead. “It looks like it’s back-ordered at every location within a 50-mile radius.”
My hands release and fall to my sides. “Okay. Thanks for looking.”
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” she says in a sympathetic tone. “We’ll get it to you as soon as possible, I promise.”
I thank her and turn away; the next five people in line sigh in relief.
My feet shuffle over the scratched linoleum floor, but my mind is racing. I struggle to remember how I managed my condition back in college, before I finally got treatment. Well, “managed” isn’t the right word. Back then my condition managed me.
Before Bubastion I missed classes all the time — the bad days outnumbered the good ones. So I kept failing, and failing, and failing. I was smart, they said, but didn’t apply myself. Of the seven off-and-on years I spent in college, only the last one was with medication. Suddenly I aced everything. Things were so easy that I was downright angry, because it could have been like that the whole time.
Shit, I’m going off track — is it starting already?
Focus. I used some kind of home remedy to help keep myself together. Think. I start snapping my fingers to help me think. A taste comes to mind and I struggle to place it. Wait…
“CATNIP TEA!” I shout. Nine people in this crowded pharmacy turn to stare at me. I smile apologetically.
I stroll towards the herbal supplements aisle and grab the last two boxes of catnip tea. Hm. I need something else to explain why I look nervous. My free hand snaps its fingers: condoms and lube. God bless the sex aisle.
At home I leave the tea to steep and check myself in the mirror for any signs of change. Things look good — no sign of whiskers, excess hair, tongue roughness, or anything else inhuman. So far.
No, stop it. Deep breaths. Getting anxious only makes it worse.
The kitchen timer dings and I pull the teabag out of the cup — can’t let it steep too long. Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice, or maybe add a touch of mint, and bam: a damn fine cup of catnip tea. It isn’t as tasty as spiced chai, and it doesn’t handle my symptoms as well as Bubastion does, but it’s the best I can do right now. So: bottoms up.
Another cup follows, and another. I start planning ahead, making a few gallons of iced catnip tea to put in my work thermos in the coming days. Excessive? Yeah, but necessary. There is no way in hell I can let my coworkers know I’m an ailuranthrope.
Yes, I know ailuranthropy isn’t that uncommon anymore. And save me the speech about how the stigma will never go away unless people affected by it talk about it, okay? I know. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s not my fault and I know.
But I mean, spontaneously changing into a cat-person isn’t the kind of thing you can bring up in normal conversations, let alone work conversations. “Sorry, I need to take a personal day today. I can’t get out of the house — it’s raining, and I’m having one of my cat days. You understand.”
Yeah, like hell they will.
My coworkers absolutely wouldn’t get it — not even my manager, as lovely a person as she is. I hear the jokes they all make whenever somebody’s being “catty” at the office: “Did you forget to take your meds or something?” They throw it out without thinking, but I notice it. Every. Single. Time.
So for the next week I decide to keep my head down, stay at my desk, and get so much work done that nobody will think anything’s wrong. The fewer people I see and the fewer people I talk to, the less I’ll have to worry about anyone noticing. I count down the days until I can get my Bubastion again.
Five days. David, the office gossip, refuses to leave me alone. He sets his coffee on my desk, which means he plans to stay a few minutes. Great.
“Hey, Freya. Did you hear about Amy in H.R.?”
I haven’t, and I don’t care. I hum neutrally and he continues.
“She went all werecat right in the middle of a meeting. Apparently she ran to the bathroom and tried to splash water on her face to make it go away but, like, you can’t wash off being a cat.”
I hum again and keep my eyes on my computer screen. My typing intensifies.
David shakes his head, smiling. “Crazy, right? I would have never suspected her – she doesn’t seem like the type.”
There isn’t a “type,” asshole. “Crazy,” I echo.
Only now do I realize how close his coffee cup is to my right elbow. Perfect.
I look up at David and fake a laugh. “Oh man, that reminds me of this one time at my last job.” I turn towards him, keeping eye contact. My elbow hits the cup and sends it flying off the desk and onto the floor, splattering coffee all over David’s new shoes. He yelps.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry,” I say, grabbing a tissue out of my desk drawer. “Here, I’ll clean it up.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he mutters. “I’ll take care of it.”
Four days. My arms are definitely getting furry now, but thankfully it hasn’t spread to my hands yet. Ginger tabby fur is hard to explain away, even if it matches my normal hair color. Long sleeves will take care of it.
“Aren’t you hot?” David asks during his morning coffee break. He’s wearing his old shoes.
“Hm?” I say, looking back to my computer.
“You’re wearing long sleeves and it’s 90 degrees outside.”
Well I’m not outside, am I? “I’m always cold in here. They turn the AC up too high.”
“Seriously? If anything, it’s not high enough.”
I make a neutral noise, and eventually he leaves. The truth, of course, is that between the fur and the sleeves I’m hot as hell. Soon I won’t even be able to sweat anymore, except through my paws — I mean hands. Hands.
Three days. My tongue is getting rough now and I keep getting the urge to groom myself. I guess that’s understandable; with all the fur I can’t really shower anymore unless I want to take thirty minutes blow-drying everything.
At home I brew more tea, even though I’m sick to death of it. How the hell did I do this through most of college?
While the tea steeps I call the pharmacy hoping the Bubastion came in earlier than they expected. It hasn’t. After hanging up I let out a long, complaining whine. Well, not exactly a whine; more like a meow.
Two days. And I’m starting to think I’ve developed a cat allergy sometime since my last transformation. Is it even possible to be allergic to yourself? Guess I’ll find out.
My eyes are too noticeably catlike now to get away with at work. Sunglasses? No, wait, then they’ll think I’m hungover or stoned. Do I still have…?
Digging through my bin of assorted junk under the bathroom sink, I finally find my old cosmetic contacts. Probably gonna get an infection or some shit, but what else can I do?
I keep rubbing my eyes all through the workday. Stop touching it, dumbass, you’ll make it worse.
When David wanders over for his daily chat and opens his mouth, I immediately excuse myself.
“Gotta put in some eyedrops, be back in a minute.”
He seems a little offended but doesn’t say anything, which is exactly what I wanted. Not even remotely sorry. My patience will be back once the Bubastion comes in.
Last day. I don’t have hands or feet anymore. They’re full-on paws now. Sure, they’re polydactyl paws so I can theoretically keep doing the thumb thing, but this isn’t something I can easily hide. Gotta call out sick.
Have you ever tried to operate a phone with cat paws? Even with pseudo-thumbs it’s goddamn impossible. I dig out an old stylus and use it to pull up my manager’s contact on my phone.
In my best sick-voice I answer her greeting with: “Can you all handle things without me today? I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’ve got some kind of stomach bug — it kept me up all night. If you need me to, I can come in, but if not, I think it might be best if I don’t spread this around the office, you know?”
She agrees and tells me to stay home. As soon as I hang up, a knot of guilt forms in my stomach. I hate lying to her. Hell, I hate using sick days even when I genuinely need to. But I can’t function like this. What work can I even do when I can’t type?
Long naps eat up most of the day until I get the call I’ve been waiting for; the Bubastion finally arrived. Tomorrow morning can’t come soon enough.
Refill day. Finally.
But I’m a full-on cat now. Sure, a human-like one that stands upright and all, but a cat in every other way.
In the front hallway, I look from my paws to the door and back. I struggled my way into real outside-world clothes for this but I just can’t seem to get out the door.
It’s not the driving to the pharmacy that’s the problem — I’ve already learned how to manage that on a cat day. It’s the being out in public part that has me sweating through my paw-pads.
I can do this. I’ve done it before. Come on. Just open the door.
But when I do, I’m frozen with indecision. Do I go out and face the stares and judgments and laughter, all for a medication that some people say I don’t really need?
I try to snap my fingers to help me think, but I don’t have fingers anymore. Dammit.
Do I put up with the people treating me like I’m infectious or unpredictable, that I’ll scratch them and they’ll get this too? It doesn’t matter how many doctors say that’s not how you get ailuranthropy. Some people still believe the cat-scratch “truthers” who perpetuate a myth that was used to drown people like me for centuries.
Maybe it would be better to stay inside where I know I’ll be safe. Maybe this will go away on its own. Maybe the Bubastion isn’t worth it.
Wait. I know these thoughts — they followed me all through college. They prevented me from getting treatment for years. I spent those years struggling and hating myself. They were never really saying the treatment wasn’t worth it; they were saying my life wasn’t worth it.
I step outside and slam the door behind me. I’m not going to let anyone’s ridiculous thoughts — including my own — stop me from doing what I know will help me.
Ten minutes later, I stomp through the door of the pharmacy. Or try to at least; stomping isn’t really possible with cat feet. I walk straight back to the pickup counter through the center aisle, disregarding the whispers of the people I pass. I patiently wait my turn in the pickup line.
“I can help the next…” the pharmacy assistant’s voice trails off when he sees me, and it takes him a moment to remember to smile as I approach.
Smacking my front paws down on the counter, I look the assistant dead in the eye and tell him who I’m picking up for and what my birthdate is. He goes back and fumbles through a few bags before returning with mine.
“We have one prescription for you, it’s the -”
“Bubastion. Thanks, I know, I’ve been waiting for it.”
“Ah,” he replies and quickly looks away to finish processing it.
When he asks for a signature on the touchscreen, I leave a paw-print. He hands over the bag and mumbles something about having a nice day.
“Thanks, you too!” I reply in my work-voice and turn to leave. When I do, I bump into the next customer behind me: David.
“Sorry, David, I didn’t see you.” I’m not surprised he’s here; like I said, this is the only place in town that takes my employer’s health insurance. I smile at him.
“How do you — wait.” His eyes widen. “Holy shit. Freya? You’re… you’re a…?”
He looks me up and down as the shock on his face morphs into disgust. “And you didn’t tell me? What if I’d caught it from you or something?”
“Well, David, I’ll put it like this.” And while he waits for my explanation, I lean towards him and hiss directly in his face.
As he stands there stunned, I walk by and pat him on the shoulder. “See you Monday!”
Zanne Nilsson is a queer punk librarian and genderfluid writer who wants you to know you’re not broken. When not shelving books or playing video games, they’re most often found writing about genderfluidity, punks, cats, and supernatural bullshit. Their work is dedicated to their late fiancé Scott Nilsson, who always believed in Zanne’s writing even when it was terrible. Their less-terrible work can be found on Medium. You can follow them on Twitter and Facebook too.