One morning Tiffany Samsa awoke from troubled dreams about Unalik O'Toole, the handsome half-Inuit Harvard-educated bush pilot whose wolfish grin made her weak in the knees, to find she had become a giant Kodiak bear. Lying on her back, she lifted her head to see her tummy, formerly as flat and taut as 100 sit-ups a day could make it, was now rounded and covered by a smooth carpet of golden-brown fur.
"Unalik's not going to like this one little bit," was her first thought. It was no dream. She was in her own room in the Anchorage condo she shared with Brandy, a petite red-headed flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, whom she suspected had a secret soft spot for Unalik as well. There was her backpack, waiting in readiness -- for Tiffany was a wilderness guide. On the mirror above the bureau, where she had stuck it just last night, was her favorite Polaroid of Unalik and herself, the one of the two of them in the hot tub after last year's Iditarod.
Tiffany's gaze then turned toward the window, and the dismal weather -- snow was still falling thickly outside -- really bummed her out. She wanted to snuggle back under the covers, but try as she might, she couldn't get the flimsy blanket to stretch from her hind legs all the way to her powerful forepaws.
"Don't be silly," she told herself. Maybe this was just a really bad case of PMS, nothing a Midol or two couldn't handle. In any case, she had to get up, she must have overslept and a party of tourists was already waiting for her to take them to the interior for some salmon fishing. Besides, she didn't really feel that bad at all, only a little sleepy and unusually hungry.
Tiffany had just succeeded in raising her massive bulk to a crouching position -- the bedroom ceiling was too low for her to stand upright -- when there was a ring at the door of the condo. It was Unalik, who had evidently come in search of her when she and her tour group failed to arrive at the appointed hour on the seaplane dock.
Meanwhile, through her bedroom door Tiffany could hear Brandy invite Unalik in and offer him a latte, for all the world as if he were her boyfriend. Tiffany struggled to turn the doorknob but her claws kept slipping. She let out an involuntary growl of frustration.
"That was an animal's voice, " said Unalik, with his customary savvy of the ways of the wild.
"Oonie, I'll be there in a jif," Tiffany said, trying to enunciate each word as clearly as possible, even though she knew she didn't sound as perky as usual and possibly couldn't be understood at all. "I'm just putting my face on."
"Tiff, are you okay?" Brandy sang out from the kitchenette. "Can I get you a lowfat yogurt?"
Although formerly it had been her favorite food and as hungry as she was, Tiffany strangely found herself recoiling from the very thought of yogurt and wishing that she could have some raw fish instead. Maybe on the way to the seaplane she and Unalik could pick up some sushi.
More determined than ever to reach her beloved Oonie, who would surely clasp her in his arms, cover her upturned muzzle with passionate kisses and make everything right again, Tiffany seized the resistant doorknob in her mouth and turned with all her considerable might. She could feel one of her long front incisors snap as she did so, but she paid no heed to her bruised and bloody jaw as the door sprang open.
Absorbed in maneuvering her bulk around it, she heard Unalik utter a loud "Oh!" -- it sounded like the wind howling over the Arctic tundra. He had been standing close to the door; now, pressing his hand against his open mouth, he stepped slowly backward as if driven by some invisible force.
Brandy -- still in her shortie sleep set from the previous night -- looked imploringly at Unalik and then collapsed to the floor.
Unalik didn't stand still for a minute, but, keeping his eyes locked on Tiffany, he retreated toward the front door very gradually, as if under a secret prohibition against leaving the room.
Tiffany's only thought was to stop him from leaving until she could explain herself. She reared up on her hind legs, bumping her head against the chandelier as she did so, and gave chase.
Brandy, who had seemed lost to the world, suddenly revived and
began shrieking hysterically, upsetting the latte she had been making all over the wall-to-wall.
But Tiffany had no time for her; Unalik was already on the staircase. Tiffany felt her heart sink within her as the man she loved began to flee, perhaps forever. She put on a spurt of energy, to be sure of catching up to him; but he jumped down several steps at once and disappeared, still shouting "Aaaah!" The sound filled the whole stairwell.
"Commitment-phobe!" muttered Tiffany to herself.