The service manager stepped though a door and forced a smile as he approached the customer desk. “I have good news,” he said to the woman on the opposite side of the counter, “it should only be another hour. They just dropped off the parts!”
He flinched as her ears pinned back and whiskers bristled. “I’ve been here for six hours already…” she said through clenched teeth.
Calliope watched the manager raise a shaking hand to adjust his tie, and felt ashamed. Her lapse in body language had frightened him.
“I’m sorry,” she said relaxing her features, “I’m tired, and you didn’t deserve that.”
The manager, a big man much taller than the petite Calliope, was visibly relieved with the apology. “No, it’s our bad, Ms. Fenmore, I’m sorry for the wait,” he said looking straight into her emerald eyes for the first time. “Just have a seat, and I’ll come and get you when it’s ready.”
“Thanks,” she said looking up at him. She made sure to tip her chin back and squint slightly at the man before she walked away.
That was her “pretty” face: A gesture she used to show anyone who wasn’t ailurophobic that she was friendly or happy. It was one of the thousands of things that she had needed to learn and relearn in the two years since her transformation. Just like smiling in a way that didn’t freak people out.
Calliope walked past the waiting room of the Volkswagen dealership and immediately felt the eyes of the other customers on her. She ignored them and grabbed a K cup of green tea for the Keurig. With only a handful of exers living in Maine, she rightfully assumed that they had never seen anyone like her before.
Her ears perked above the long auburn hair that fell straight past her shoulders when a man got in line behind her. Waiting for the tea, a quick glance at his reflection in the window caught him poorly palming his smartphone at her tail from where it emerged from under her red pea coat. His video captured it swishing in annoyance before Calliope snapped the plastic lid over her cup and turned to leave.
“Excuse me,” she said to the man who stood there obtusely looking at her feline face with its short muzzle and tabby patterning. Calliope flashed him the slightly parted lips of her practiced smile that didn’t look like a mouth of sharp fangs. She then gave him her pretty face for good measure, before she maneuvered around him.
Calliope walked through the waiting room, cup in hand. She noticed several other customers with varying levels of discretion pointing cellphones at her. Sighing at her exer celebrity, she ignored them as she exited the doorway on the opposite end of the room.
The man at the Keurig excitedly tapped out his status update and posted the video before grabbing a K cup for himself. He stopped short of loading the machine however, hesitating as he remembered where Calliope’s hands had been. The container of hazelnut coffee was tossed into the trash.
Calliope sat warming her hands around the paper cup until the tea within was no longer scalding. She was in the same little corner where she had spent most of the last six hours; a small table and chair against a floor to ceiling window in the showroom. It wasn’t a busy day for sales in the dealership. It was raining outside, and in the large empty showroom Calliope was alone with her thoughts between shiny new Passats and Jettas. Looking at the cars on the floor, she still felt satisfied with her 2008 Beetle despite the grief it had given her today.
“Is it Halloween?” a small voice echoed in the cavernous room.
Calliope turned to find a small, redheaded girl no older than five who grinned in her pink jacket when Calliope’s ears shot straight up and forward.
She put her cup down on the table and looked at the child, “Well, every day is Halloween for me now, sweetie,” Calliope said with a smile. A genuine smile.
“You’re so pretty!” the child said reaching out to touch her.
“Oh, thank you,” she said reaching down to let the girl’s small hand touch her own. The child brushed the smooth black and brownish grey hairs of Calliope’s wrist and fingers.
“You’re soft like our kitty,” the little girl said as her inspection continued down to Calliope’s fingertips. “Do you have claws?”
Calliope tensed her free hand to unsheathe her sharp, thin nails that evoked a giggle of excitement from the child. “I’m not Wolverine,” Calliope said with a laugh, “but bad-guys beware!”
“Can… you purr?” the girl said smiling.
The feline woman in the red pea coat gently withdrew her hand and leaned in over the child. She didn’t know how she managed a purr so much as what caused one to happen. So Calliope remembered her father’s reassuring arms around her shoulders from the day Antoine had abandoned her at the airport. Never had she needed her father more than she did on that day.
“Do you like being a kitty?” the child asked as she listened to the rasping purr.
Calliope looked down at the little girl, but a second later a woman appeared seemingly out of nowhere and scooped the child up into her arms.
“I’m so sorry!” the woman said, “She is such a curious little thing! I’m really sorry if she offended you! She didn’t mean any harm!” The child’s mother turned and walked away from her with conspicuous haste before Calliope could say anything. Before she could say that it was okay.
“Emma! You can’t make them feel like that!” the woman scolded. “You can’t make them feel so different! They can’t help it!”
The mother and child slipped through the doorway leading to the waiting area and were gone, leaving Calliope alone in the empty showroom.
(c) Jason H. Abbott – February 7, 2015