Felicia: the Bad Brains and the Cure
Track 1: Androgynous
Soft jazz whispered from the speaker behind the counter at the small little bookstore. The skittering hi hats provide energy to a relaxed saxophone solo. Cool, effortless, and lively.
Everything Felicia was not.
It’s not like she wants to be a different person. It’s been a month since she cracked… And also transition simultaneously. This entire time Felicia has been exploring herself. Stuff like; sorting out what she actually likes rather than what she thought she was supposed to like, the little social rules women are supposed to know, and learning to lead and take care of her pack of kittens at home.
Though she feels a little guilty about slacking on learning about makeup, or clothes. Though she’ll reveal her ignorance about fashion; lest she become a living Barbie for her ‘Trans Mom’.
In this moment though, her attention is split between restocking leather-bound notebooks, and her plan to grow out her hair. ‘Perhaps a braided ponytail would look nice… But would it make me look too childish?’
An empty store, like this morning, makes it incredibly easy to fill it with absentminded questions, fantasies, and little anxieties. Not that it should be empty of course, Sylvia was supposed to be there an hour ago. But that is why Felicia always scheduled her on slow Wednesdays like this.
DING! Ding, ding, ding…
‘A customer! The first one of the day!’ Instinctively, Felicia turned to greet them.
“Welcome to Barlow’s!” She smiles automatically, until her eyes caught up with her. She found a tall and intimidating punk coming through the doorway; only a few inches shorter than the door frame and built large enough to nearly eclipse the opening. But equally arresting was their androgynous looks, with a lazy and messy— and bright neon green —mohawk and dramatic makeup that had more in common with glam metal than glamorous magazines. All of it wrapped in a requisite ragged vest covered in dozens and dozens of patches and pins.
It took some willpower to keep herself from gawking. But she managed to quickly regain her composure and meekly add on, “…uh let me know if there is anything I can help you with.”
The Punk waves back with an uneasy and relaxed, “sure, will do.”
Felicia quickly turns around, trying to force herself to finish stocking the notebooks. However, her attention is cleaved between her job and the person who just walked in. Barlow’s attracts its own cadre of queer— meaning odd rather than LGBTQ —regulars, though usually eccentrics and aging hipsters who’ve haunted the neighborhood for decades. Punks tended to stay away from the are; quaint tea shops, upscale pâtisseries, and hole-in-the wall bookshops seemed to repel anarchists and angry youths.
But to Felicia, that just made them all the more interesting. She couldn’t help herself from trying to follow the tapping of combat boots on the aging hardwood floors. Out of the corner of her eye, she followed the fuzzy silhouette that seemed to be hovering around the art section. A closer look, and she can see they’re scanning the shelves book-by-book, facing away.
‘The notebooks can wait another moment,’ she thought. It’s a slow day, and she can at least break the tedium by playing Where’s Waldo with the patches on the jacket. A small bit of mischief and play wouldn’t hurt anybody…
The mischievous cat girl tried to cover for her snooping by pretending to face and organize the books. Poorly. At first she’s spending more time earnestly organizing than inspecting at the only other person in the store. It took some effort, but she manages to find the right balance of ‘looking busy’ without actually being busy.
With a good look at the punk, the first thing she notices is some kind of pride flag stretched across their back. Embarrassment wells up as she realizes that her knowledge of pride flags begins with the Rainbow Flag and ends with the Trans Flag…
Which she only knew about after Sylvia taught her which one was the Trans Pride Flag. Much to her shame.
‘That’s the Asexual Flag… I think. Seems kinda odd to advertise yourself as asexual though…’
Another bookshelf closer, and a few more books organized; now Felicia can make out pins and patches with crossed out Nazi swastikas. Some of them with the words “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” embroidered underneath. To her, it honestly seems a bit performative. After all, Nazis don’t seem like that much of a problem to her; aren’t they mostly a thing of the past?
Another bookshelf, and she can see an inverted cross. Once again, a bit performative to her. ‘Who is offended by an inverted cross these days?’
The punk walks over to the next shelf, and Felicia stealthily follows. She’s finally close enough to clearly read the band patches. ‘Cannibal Corpse’, ‘NOFX’, and ‘the Misfits’. All of them are names she vaguely remembers, but again she becomes self-conscious when she realizes that she knows absolutely nothing about those bands. Other names, like ‘Bad Brains’, ‘Minor Threat’, and ‘the Cramps’ accompany the patches as well. All of them new to her. There are also a handful of other patches that are literally unintelligible; they look more like tree branches than words…
One more bookshelf, but before Felicia could take a look, the punk turns towards her. ‘Oh no. I hope they didn’t notice.’ She swiftly tries to cover for herself with customer service skills, “Oh hi! Is there anything I can help you find?”
They take the bait, replying, “uh, I’m actually looking for your books about music. Where do y’all keep them?”
Felicia finally takes a good look at their front now. She notices pins featuring amalgams of Mars and Venus symbols. Asking herself, ‘Is that a punk thing or a queer thing?’
She replies after a moment of thought, “Oh, uh, are you looking for musician biographies?”“
“Kinda yeah, it should be with books about bands and stuff.” She notices a few more patches with ‘Black Lives Matter’ and other progressive slogans mixed in.
“They should be right over here!” Felicia chirps with her most well practiced fake smile; happily guiding the punk towards the musician biographies.
As her customer-service brain goes on autopilot, she gains enough brain space to start dwelling on her self-conscious feelings. If she was looking at the punk like somebody to be read and understood, judged, then the punk must be doing the same to her. Her pleated skirt, navy cardigan, and smart little Mary Janes must be giving them some kind of impression of her. ‘Oh god, they must think I’m a lame nerd…’
She barely realizes that she’s at the shelf before a part of her goes, “so, which book are you looking for?”
The punk starts scanning, while mumbling out “um, it’s called ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’.” A pregnant pause lingers as Felicia waits for a bit more information.
“Oh, so who is it about?” She hopes that information might help pin down its location.
The punk shuffles on the spot, turning back to Felicia and rubbing the back of their neck, “um, well actually, it’s about the history of alt-rock in the 80s.”
She tries to search her knowledge of music to remember even a single alternative 80s band. “Oh, so like the Talking Heads?” and that was the best she could come up with.
She feels a bit stupid when the punk grimaces in response. “Not really. More stuff like Black Flag and Sonic Youth.” Once again, names she recognizes, but doesn’t know anything about them.
“Ah! Okay,” she nervously laughs, “to be honest I was never very much into music.”
“Oh, not even Jazz?” The punk questions.
A soulful trumpet solo comes into sharp relief at that moment. A wash of shame and embarrassment spreads across her face as she admits, “um, not really, to be honest I just put it on because people expect jazz and acoustic guitar from a small book store.” On that cue, an ad erupts from the speaker playing the music before; now preaching about a music subscription service.
The customer relaxes with a small laugh, “so wait, what do you listen to then?”
“I, uh, I don’t really listen to music to be honest.”
They look surprised, as if she said something as impossible as turning into a cat.
Felicia leans back onto customer service mode to disarm the awkwardness she’s creating. “So, do you know who wrote that book?”
The punk returns to their earlier stiffness and mumbles. “Not offhand… but I can look it up quick,” pulling out a phone from their vest, and after a few moments of searching they show a picture of the cover of the book, “this guy.”
“Michael Azerrad,” Felicia reads out loud. Her autopilot re-engages, and she crouches down— remembering to hold her legs together this time —and starts scanning the shelves from the bottom without a word, the punk does likewise from the top. Book by book. Shelf by shelf. She tries her best to avoid speaking up again, lest she become embarrassed by her lack of musical IQ again.
Soon enough, despite the two of them working together, they both come up empty. “Hmm, well I could check our inventory system to see if it’s hiding somewhere else.”
She nods and walks to the front counter, and grabs an ancient and well-worn laptop hidden away from view. It’s playing “Relaxing Jazz Piano Radio - Slow Jazz Music - 24/7 Live Stream - Music For Work & Study”; which she promptly closes out of embarrassment.
Instead, Felicia opens up an Excel spreadsheet containing the inventory for the entire store. At first, she looks up the name of the book. Nothing. Then the author. Nothing either.
“I’m sorry, it doesn’t look like we have it.” Felicia says with a disappointed tenor. She looks up apologetically, and finally takes a proper look at the punk in front of her. Her eyes land on another patch sewn to their chest, another pride flag, the very same as sewn across their back. Felicia looks past the facade of a punk, and finally looks at them as another queer customer who should be welcome at their store. Not gawked and judged at.
She finally looks up at their face; and past the makeup she sees tired eyes, tired yet filled with fire. Pockmarked skin covered in foundation, and the barest impression of laugh lines surrounding a permanent smirk. She witnesses a sigh escape their lips, and Felicia decides to try and rectify the situation.
“…But I can do a special order for you. Let me take a look at the publisher.”
The suggestion turns the customer’s smirk into a bit of a smile of relief, “sure, when do you think it’ll be in?”
“Well, it depends, let me see who printed it first.” She says as she does some more detective work. It’s going to take a bit to finish, so she tries to make small talk again. First thought is to ask about the flag, but… ‘I’ll just look stupid again if I ask what that flag is supposed to be.’
DING! Ding, ding, ding…
“WHEEEERE’S MY BESTIE?” Announced Sylvia as she prances in, well over an hour late.
The two at the front desk snap in her direction. Sylvia looks back, connecting the dots before cheekily greeting the customer. “Oh! Hi! Welcome to Barlow’s, lemme know if you need something!” Then carelessly gliding directly towards the back office.
Felicia intercepted, suddenly aware of her earlier responsibilities, “Oh, Sylvia, I was stocking those notebooks. Can you take over and finish them up for me?” Margaret had been trying to teach her to delegate responsibilities, and now would be a good opportunity to do so.
“Okay!” Sylvia replied happily, obliging her boss by stocking the shelves. It will be done poorly, but it’ll still be faster for Felicia to face than restock herself afterwards.
She turned back to the customer, and gave an embarrassed little smile. “Sorry about that… Where were we again?” Felicia stalled for a moment before coming up with a topic, “oh yeah! So, what music would you recommend to somebody who doesn’t listen to music?”
Immediately the Punk perks up, though clearly caught off guard. “Oh! Well, you look kinda smart,” the shopkeep blushes at the unexpected compliment, “so I guess you’d maybe like Bad Religion. Their lyrics are complex. Though nerds like you tend to like the Descendents too. Maybe give them a try.”
“Oh, thank you!” Felicia beams, “I’ll take a look at them later!”
A quick peek over at Sylvia saw her haphazardly placing the notebooks without concern to colour or size. ‘Oh dear, that will take longer than I thought’
After a few more quiet moments of quiet searching, Felicia finally finds the publisher, “Okay, so according to the publisher, the last printing was in 2012.” The punk releases a disappointed sigh once more, “but all that means is that I might need to call around to find somebody who still has some stock. But worse case scenario, would a used copy be okay?”
The punk is caught off guard once again, answering, “oh, sure! Honestly, I thought this was a used book store. Wasn’t expecting to find it new anyways.”
“Oh, well we technically do sell used books…” the store owner cringed internally, she always meant to start taking in used books. But between all the responsibilities as the owner, and her admitted mismanagement, that initiative never got past conception. “… But we never got too many folks trading in books. So we don’t really advertise it.” ‘Smooth, nice save.’
Sylvia shouted across the store, “Oh? This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Felicia panicked, “Uh… well, it’s just a sign of how unpopular used books are around here, I guess.” ‘Sylvia, please focus on your work,’ she thought, hypocritically.
“So…” the punk interrupted, “how long is it going to take to get here?” replied the punk.
“Well, it’s hard to say exactly for something out of print, but usually within two week; assuming it’s not rare. But we’ll let you know when it arrives.” She said with a reassuring smile, and pulling out a slip for their special orders. “So to confirm, you want us to order you ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ by Michael Azerrad? And a used copy is okay?”
The punk nodded affirmatively. “Yep.”
“Alright, I’ll just need your name and phone number right here.” Passing the special order slip to them. They handed the slip back wordlessly, she looked quickly at it. Their name is scrawled somewhat intelligibly, for the first name they clearly wrote down ‘Fang’; but their last name looks like it says ‘Cxelxerj’?
Not one to question names, she continued, “Alright, Fang, we’ll call you back as soon as we get the book! Is there anything else we can help you with?”
They smile with the little human touch, “Not really, that’s all I was looking for.”
“Alright, and uh, also what were those bands you recommended again? Bad Religion and the Decemberists?”
The punk chuckled at the cute mistake that the small girl made, “Almost, Bad Religion and the Descendents.” Felicia glowed red at embarrassing herself yet again, “let me know what you think of them when I pick up the book.”
That last comment surprised Felicia; why would a cool punk like them care about what she thinks? “Oh, will do! And have a nice day!”
They walk towards the door and give a small casual wave, “will do, later.”
And Felicia stood there for a moment, only at that moment did she realize that her heart was pumping. She underestimated how string her mortification was.
“Wow, I didn’t think that we were in a bookshop AU.” Giggled the currently-human vixen, sauntering over from the still-unfinished notebooks.
Felicia jumped, somehow forgetting about Sylvia’s presence in the last few moments. All currently-human catgiel could manage in response is, “AU?”
“Y’know, alternate universe fanfics where the characters meet and fall in love and junk?”
“Um, okay,” Felicia never really understood stuff like memes and fandom stuff. The crash course that her ‘Trans Mom’ is putting her through just seems to make things more confusing. Weirdly enough, it felt more like having a trans little sister. Showing her zoomer memes that she didn’t get at all, despite both of them being millennials.
Sylvia stared for a second, then intuiting, “… You don’t get it do you?”
“Not really,” Felicia admitted in tired confusion. She felt like she barely knew anything after this morning.
Sylvia proudly exclaimed, “you were totally flirting with that enby!”
“Enby?” Felicia spouted, even more confused, “Flirting???”
Sylvia smirked, “yeah, they’re super non-binary.”
“H-how could you tell? Didn’t you tell me it was rude to speculate on somebody’s gender?”
“Well, there was the nuclear green undercut, the butchy New Rock boots, and also the non-binary flag on their back.
Felicia sat in confusion. Is that what was across their back?
Sylvia judged the baby trans girl in silence.
“I thought it was the asexual flag,” Felicia admitted in shame.
“Okay, so your trans mom has to teach you the flags, doesn’t she?”
Felicia ignored the question, instead asking, “well, actually if you know about non-binaries; do they usually have weird names?”
The smirk Sylvia was wearing morphed into a genuine smile at the chance to actually be a mentor for once. “Oh! Absolutely! Brick, Leaf, Onyx. A lotta enbies name themselves after things. I even dated one named Sigil!”
“Oh, well, I guess that explains Fang then…” Felicia pulls up the special order slip, showing it to Sylvia. “But I don’t really know about their last name.”
Sylvia, too, giggles at the Felicia before cooing “you’re an adorable little egg Fifi, you know that?” Felicia tilts her head in confusion. “Those are xer pronouns!”
Felicia nearly turns her head sideways, “xer?”
“Oh, you poor baby,” Sylvia looks at her with pity, “so you know how we use she and her?” Felicia nods. “Well xe uses neopronouns, like new ones made for folks who don’t fit into she/her or he/him.”
Felicia takes a closer look at the slip and realizes that instead of ‘Cxelxerj’ it is indeed actually ‘(xe/xer)’. The confused cat girm collapses her head into her hands, overwhelmed by how little she feels like she actually knows.