fiction: buying time

A young woman with red hair and too much makeup blinked at me from across the counter. “How can I help you today?”

“My cat’s dying. I need to buy him some more time,” I said.

She rolled her bottom lip through her teeth. “I see. Unfortunately a human cannot procure time for a cat. If you read through Section 42A in our terms and conditions, it states that cross species time transferral is not possible.”

I had not read the terms and conditions. Who reads terms and conditions? The Department of Time webpage stated that time could be bought in increments from five minutes to ten years and all time transactions must be done in person. That’s why I was here. That’s why I had lined up with twenty other people on broken plastic chairs for over two hours. I took a breath and tried not to get angry. “Why is that?” I said.

“Because there is a maximum and minimum time unit amount allowed by the International Committee for Time Regulation for each species,” she said. “It would lead to unfair species disadvantage, and perhaps even extinction, were we to take too much time from one species.”

“But the cat and the human are nowhere near extinct.”

“The rules are in place for the protection of all species. If we make exceptions, there is no point in having rules.”

“I take it then, that a cat could procure time for a cat.”

“Yes that would be possible,” she said.

“So all I need to do is find a cat and bring it in?”

She shook her head. “We don’t allow animals into the Department of Time, except, of course, service animals. You would need to fill in form W869B ‘Proof of Consent from a Non-Literate Animal’ and have that notarised.”

I rubbed my face. “And how do I prove consent from a non-literate animal?”

“The accepted consent conditions are listed on the form: brain scan indicating consent; official translation of verbal consent; or written consent prior to transmutation. Most people find the last option to be the easiest,” she said.

woman cat face“Are you suggesting that I turn myself into a cat?”

“The wait times are usually less for transmutation. It all depends on how quickly you need the time. The Department of Transmutation is right across the street.”

“Couldn’t I turn my cat into a human instead?” I said.

“Oh no. Turning a non-human animal into a human is against the ‘International Convention for the Right to be Human’.”

“Then if I become a cat, I’m stuck as a cat?”

“There is a clause in the Convention that allows reversal of human to non-human transmutation within the first 48 hours.”

I looked at the people lined up at the other counters and wondered what sort of conversations they were having. “Right, so I could sign a pre-transmutation consent now and then later come back with proof that I was a cat at some point?” I said.

“No, the time procurement application would need to be submitted during the time in which you were a cat.”

“And I would have two days to do that before the cat-change became irreversible?”

“That’s right.”

“Ok. Can I book a new appointment with you now?”

“Normally that is done using our 1-800 number but let me have a quick look.” She waved her hands, watching a feed I couldn’t see. “Our next available appointment is 10:15am on March 22nd. Shall I book you in?”

“That’s too late, the vet said my cat only has two months to live.”

“Well you can pay extra for an expedited appointment. Let me see,” she waved some more, “the first available is January 2nd at 4:00pm. Does that work?”

“That’s still more than two months away.”

She shrugged and bit her lip. “I’m sorry, that’s all I’ve got.”

My ears and face felt hot. I wanted to reach over the counter and pull the stupid hourglass pendant off her neck, but I knew that wouldn’t help. I would just get a fine for assaulting a government employee. So I said nothing and turned to leave.

She called after me. “That will be $49.50.”

I turned back and said very quietly, “But you didn’t help me.”

“That is the appointment fee. The fee applies regardless of the outcome of the appointment,” she said.

I unclenched my fists and pressed a finger to the ePay machine.

“This was a waste of time,” I said.

Thanks so much for reading this story. Would you buy time if you could? What would you do with it?

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