|This story is set in the Tales From the Blind Pig universe, in which an extraterrestrial disease called Martian
Flu has unusual effects on a significant number of its victims
-- Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome, SCABS for
short. Even so, people do have to earn a living...
Go here for more information on the setting.
First Day Jitters
by Phil Geusz
©2003 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved
Very carefully I sprayed the desktop one last time with cleaner, then wiped it streak-free. I'd brought a little clutch of yellow roses with me, fresh-cut from Mother's bushes. The arrangement served as a very effective distraction from the cracked linoleum of the Visitor Center counter, I thought. Plus, the blooms coordinated well with my hair ribbons. I placed the sunny little things on the counter, arranging their vase just so under the flickering fluorescent lights. The flowers introduced a pleasant splash of color to the otherwise drab government facility, and their scent helped to drown out the Diesel fumes from the constantly passing trucks. I was going to bring flowers to work every day, I decided, preferably flowers that matched my hair ribbons, even if I had to make a special stop at the florist. The roses did so much to brighten up my workplace; it would be well worth the added expense and trouble. Very carefully I rose up on my tiptoes to sniff the blossoms one last time, then I climbed down from my footstool, making a goodly effort not to scuff my shoes or put a run in my nice new tights. The last thing I wanted was to look bad on my very first day! Then I sat down in the little chair that the nice rabbit back at the Shelter had arranged for the Highway Department to provide, and waited for my first customer to come in.
It didn't take long.
"Hey!" growled an angry-looking woman as she strode up to my counter. "Hey! Is there anyone here?"
"Hello, Ma'am," I greeted her politely, smiling.
She looked down, seeing me for the first time. "Oh," she said, the woman's voice growing softer as her gaze ran up and down my slight physique. I was physically only about seven years old nowadays, even if I was still fifty-three mentally. In time her eyes encountered the little silver pin that many of us chronomorphs wore to identify ourselves as Flu victims. "Oh."
"Can I help you?" I prompted.
She blinked. "Yes, hon. Or I sure hope so. My car's overheated."
I smiled again, this time allowing my lips to part slightly. The upper-right front incisor was only half grown in, I knew, and would never proceed any further. "Oh!" I said. "That's terrible!" With the last word, I widened my eyes slightly.
"It sure is, honey!" the woman agreed. Now she was smiling too, despite her troubles. "I'm late to pick up my grandson at school. His name is Albert, and he's just about seven, too."
My red curls bobbed up and down energetically with my head. Albert was seven, a part of my mind protested, but he was supposed to be seven. And he was still a boy, at least. What a lucky human being!
"Well," I answered sweetly, despite the sudden flood of bitterness sweeping through my soul. It had taken months of therapy, but I was finally getting used to being treated socially as a girl-child. Even more importantly, I'd begun to absorb the essential truth of SCABS: You couldn't accomplish much in life if you denied reality at every turn. "I have an emergency phone here. I can call you a tow-truck, if you'd like."
"That would be so sweet!" the older woman gushed. "You're very smart."
I curtsied a little, still smiling and refusing to be offended. It was easier not to fight it, I reminded myself once more. Easier for everyone, including me. "Thank you," I answered, picking up the phone and pressing a button. "This is Station Three," I said clearly and distinctly. "Hello?"
"Hello, Ssssstation Three!" the operator answered in a liquidy sort of voice. It was Roberto. He was a Scab too, I knew, and my bunny rabbit friend had also helped him find work, just like me. But Roberto was much too hideous to be seen in public. I was terribly lucky, compared to him. "How are you, Chrissssssy? Is everything okay?" He sounded worried.
I sighed to myself; why was everyone so worried about me? Even my employment counselor had been concerned, I knew. I could tell by the way his nose had never stopped wriggling, and how he'd offered to find me something else for sure if I could just give him a little more time. But I liked the idea of working at the rest stop; it would give me a chance to learn how to relate to people again. Besides, what was there to worry about? "Just fine!" I replied, trying to put a smile into my voice, for Roberto's sake. Not too many people smiled at him, I knew already, even though we hadn't ever actually physically worked together. It was the sort of thing that one could simply tell. "We have a disabled car here, is all. Can you send an emergency truck?"
"Ssssure," he answered, the relief evident in his voice. "We can have him there in half an hour."
"That's so wonderful!" I answered. "Thank you!"
In fact it took a little less than a half-hour for the tow to arrive; the older woman and I spent the time admiring the cut roses and discussing the finer points of the African Violet hobby; I'd picked up a little of it from my mother. Then she was gone, smiling and waving, and other customers began to walk up to my desk.
"Hello, sweetie! How far is the next gas station?"
"Are there any good hiking trails around here?"
"Isn't there a great big SCABS-friendly bowling alley here in town somewhere? Why don't you have any brochures for it?"
It was simple work, really, simple and richly rewarding in terms of meeting and helping people if not in rate of pay. I sat and kicked my patent-leather clad feet back and forth, answering questions from travelers and smiling a lot. It made me feel all warm and fluffy inside. In truth, I didn't quite understand why the idea of my working at this particular rest stop scared other people so much. Sure, things were more broken down and dirtier here than where I'd trained, though in time my spray bottle and I would go a long way towards remedying the latter. But dirt and wear and tear weren't problems, not really. And everyone was so nice to me!
It wasn't too long after dark when things suddenly grew more interesting. I was just coming back from a little trip to the lady's room, still smoothing my dress, when I saw the man with the knife. He was just outside the Center's door, holding it to a woman's throat.
The man's zipper was open, and the woman's dress was up.
My body went into motion instantly, without conscious thought. In an instant I'd hit the red panic button on my phone, and then I was out the door, staring up at the rapist. "You quit that!" I demanded. "Now!"
He barely turned his head, then returned to what he'd been doing. It wasn't too late, I could see. Not quite yet.
I stamped my foot angrily. "You stop that!" I demanded again. "It's not nice!"
"Run!" the woman screamed. "For god's sake, child! Run!"
"Yeah!" the rapist added. "Listen to the bitch! Run! Get the fuck out of here! Scram!"
I pressed my lips together angrily. "I'm not going anywhere!" I declared, stamping my foot once more for emphasis. "Let her go! Now!"
"Eat shit," the rapist mumbled, dismissing me from his world.
And that was what made me really mad! I hated being ignored by adults, being treated as a lesser being. It was humiliating. In fact, I hated it with a passion! Instantly my hand was in my purse, gripping a long, hard object. "You let her alone!" I screamed one last time.
Then, seeing there was no reaction and that therefore I had no choice, I stepped up close, selected a position that would not endanger the innocent woman, and then sprayed a heavy stream of the purest pepper spray on the market directly into the rapist's face. He screamed really loud, and then fell writhing in agony onto the ground as the woman whom he'd been assaulting fled off into the bushes.
The police arrived just about exactly when I expected; the standby unit must have been chasing speeders back at exit thirteen. That was the best spot to write tickets on that whole stretch of interstate, I knew, and it was only about ten minutes out. What I didn't expect, however, was for two Scab-rabbits to show up in the middle of all the fuss, one of them white and the other brown with lop ears, riding in an antique sports car. They pulled up next to where I was still sitting astride the perp as my once-brother officers slapped the cuffs on him. "My God!" exclaimed the brown one. "My God!"
"Hi, Phil!" I said, waving at the white rabbit and smiling. "How are you? It's so very nice to see you!"
"I..." he said, stammering a little. "I... We were just checking to make sure that you were all right." He blinked, then stared down at my collar, who was still choking and blubbering from the pepper. "I mean..."
Even as Phil spoke, the perp was secured and I was free to get up. Damned if I hadn't gotten a run in my tights after all, I realized. And the fashion designers called these playclothes? What did they know? Had any of them actually tried doing any roughhousing in tights lately? "I'm fine," I replied sweetly. "This man was trying to hurt someone." Once again I let my eyes widen slightly on the last word; that seemed to help a lot when other people were upset for no good reason.
The white rabbit blinked again, then turned away and gulped. Steve Gunderson, a cop I'd once helped train, started to tell the bunnies to go away, but I waved him back. I owed Phil, I knew, and if letting him stick around a little would help make him feel better about me being on this particular work-station, then that would be a good thing. He couldn't help being the nervous sort; it wasn't his fault at all. "It's really all right, sir," I explained. "Really and truly. I can handle this job. In fact, I like it. I like it a lot. Someday, I hope to return to the Force."
"Yes," the rabbit said after a long, long time. "I do believe you'll make it. I wasn't very optimistic before, I'll admit. But now..." For just a fraction of a second Phil's face spasmed in an ugly way, as he couldn't quite control it, and then he displayed a very attractive rabbity sort of smile of his own. "Good luck, Chrissy."
Then the bunnies were gone, and not too long after that the cops were gone too. Soon business picked up again, and I answered questions about gas stations, factory tours, and even one about state vehicle registration laws. Then it was time to leave, and I took my still-fresh roses with me. They smelled very nice in my mother's car as she drove me home. Perhaps tomorrow I'd pick some violets, and wear the purple dress with the white shoes?
"How pretty!" Mother commented, looking in the rear-view mirror.
"Yes," I answered, feeling very satisfied inside. "They are very pretty." For the first time since SCABS I'd helped people get through their day, and I knew it. That was the part of being a cop that I'd always loved most. Being helpful felt wonderful, almost like wearing the uniform again! "You do a good job raising roses, Mother. A very good job indeed."
She turned half around to face me where I sat in my car-seat. Then, smiling, she reached out and tweaked my big toe. "I don't do such a bad job on Chrissies, either. Do I?"
"No," I agreed with a giggle, feeling better than I had in months. "I guess you don't."