Office Hours: The Trojan Horse

“Is that your interpretation of a Trojan horse?”

My back curves as I peer over Fat’s shoulder; she’s very involved in something open in the Paper app on the iPad. It looks like a kindergarten drawing of a horse-like animal on wheels.

The grey feline scrambles to smother the digital sketch with her gelatinous obesity. The hair down her spine stands rigid.

“Don’t look at this. My eyes only, thank you!” There’s an edge to her voice when she shouts.

I go into defense mode and lift my hands to shield my face in case an angry kitty claw swipe comes my way. Knowing that she doesn’t want me to pry only feeds my curiosity. Now I have to know what she’s hiding.

“So, it’s not a Trojan horse?” I speak slowly and lean backward, still wary. Rightfully so.

Fat’s tiny scowling face twists around as though The Exorcist was a movie based on her unbalanced nature. My muscles tense, not sure what’s going to happen next. I think to cover my eyes, but I’m captivated by her frenzy.

“For your information, boss, this is going to make us a fortune. That’s why it’s so hush hush.” If her boiling blood were a city, what happens next is the equivalent of an ice age in the Sahara. “Okay, I’ll tell you.” It’s a good thing she can’t keep a secret or I’d be going crazy. It’ s like gossip is stress relief for the feline; the more she divulges, the more she calms down. Her fur reveals the horribly drawn picture on the tablet. “It’s a Zampony.”

I play along as though fully informed on the subject at hand. “Yes.” I nod. “A Zampony, of course. I was just looking at it from the wrong angle.”

Fat’s face contorts with disgust. “Don’t do that. Don’t pretend you know what I’m talking about in order to spare yourself from stupidity.”

One sentence and I’ve turned from the boss into an idiot sidekick. Fat can really make me feel insignificant if she tries.

The cat sighs, patience deflates from her chest like a balloon pierced by a bullet. “It’s a Zamboni with a horse head. This is Canada. Every arena will want one. Just you wait.”

“I don’t…” my face scrunches and I squint at the iPad as if distorting it with my vision will help me see how amazing Fat’s idea is. I lose my train of thought and my sentence runs itself off a metaphorical cliff. When Fat stares at me, waiting for me to finish the thought, all I can do is shrug… and then yawn.

“I’m sorry, boss. Do my dreams bore you?” Fat turns in a semicircle and places her paws on top of the iPad. “What are you doing here anyways?”

“Didn’t we,” I shoot a quick glance to the time on the PVR, “have a session today?”

“Oh damn. We did – we do.” The good doctor quickly corrects herself. “I’ve made an observation as of recent, boss: you critique my dreams when you keep yours neatly written and folded up in a small square in your wallet. Tell me which is better, which garners results.”

“You snooped through my wallet?”

Her little grey head bobs up and down with confirmation.“Every Tuesday since you brought me home from the SPCA. Helps you discover a lot about a person. Why do you keep them itemized on a list?”

It never occurred to me that it was strange. “Just as a reminder, I guess. I don’t want to forget what’s on my bucket list.” My memory is akin to a sieve.

“And yet, you hide your dreams away and judge me for what I would like to achieve in this lifetime.” The kitty is ruffled. “I just don’t get how leaping out of a plane doesn’t phase you, but actually trying to accomplish something petrifies you.” Fat sneers, “Pathetic.”

“Are you saying that I should have my ambition on display?”

“Breakthrough.” Her tone is curt and Fat turns her attention back to the iPad. She doesn’t look up with her dismissal, “We’re done for today. Please see yourself out.”

How to Acquire Technicolour Bruises

“Get off your lazy ass out of bed and go get some water.”

I sigh after I utter the sentence to myself. It provides laughable motivation, but it sort of works. It almost scares me how much like Fat I can sound sometimes. She can’t ever find out that she motivates my subconscious; she’d never let me live it down. I let my internal voice take over so I don’t have to tolerate my own death breath – gangrene would offer a better aroma.

What’s worse? Getting up now or hurting with hangover pain in the morning?
Yes. It sucks. You can’t bounce back like you used to.
Get up. You can do it. Get up. You can do it.

I’m a sucker for a good rhythmic chant; my brain cranks up the volume on my last thought and puts it on repeat. My head bobs along, making me feel like I’m shouting the words and dancing around a fire. Get up. You can do it. I push up to sitting, and with the grace of a mummified corpse, my feet eventually find their way to the floor.

It is at this point I realize that I’ve been sleeping on the couch. I don’t even remember getting home. However, any time I don’t pass out on the coolness of the bathroom floor after a night out is a win. No matter; I’ll shuffle off to bed after hydrating and kick Fat off my pillow; tonight she must love all the extra room for her bulky posterior.

My hip makes a popping sound as I stand up and snatch my empty wine glass off the coffee table. I sidle through the dark toward the kitchen. I don’t flick the lights on. I’ve got this; If I ever lose my sight, I could totally get by as a blind person.

Immediately after that last thought courses through my brain, karma happens. The top of my foot snags the bottom of my loitering broomstick and instinctively my hands brace the counter before I can lunge face-first and eat it. I breathe a sigh of relief that my crooked teeth didn’t take a bite out of the kitchen floor. Suck it, gravity, you missed.

The fridge opens, and I expect the scurry of feline feet, but they never arrive. I grab the water jug and fill my wine glass. I chug the whole glass and fill it again so I can take it with me to bed and avoid a second episode of forcing my body to stop being comfortable and make another trek to the kitchen. The jug gets put away and as I turn to go to bed, the drunken spins catch up with me.

I knowingly pause, hoping to wait it out, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, the hand clutching the glass stops working and the full glass crashes to the floor. It doesn’t just crash, it obliterates itself. I hear the crash echo in the dark apartment and I know I’ve just caught myself in a trap. Likely anywhere I step is an invitation for glass shards to pierce my skin. Happy 2:09 a.m. to me.

I make a move toward the light switch and my step doesn’t connect so well on the now-slick-with-water surface of the floor. Not that I don’t remember it happening, it was all very quick, but needless to say I fall, landing on my back on the booby-trapped floor. The fact that I don’t currently feel any pain is quite reassuring to the fact that the fall was graceful. A ballerina fall if ever there was one. The drunken spins vanish, but I make no effort to rise. The light switch is so far away, and currently, I feel unscathed; I’d like to keep it that way.

After a few minutes, a voice in the doorway breaks the silence.

“Go to bed. You’re drunk.”

“Shut up, Jeffry.” I scowl in the direction of the voice.

“Is that my new pet name?” The feline’s voice retorts.

I become instantly aware of two things: 1) The voice belongs to Fat and not Bestie’s husband, Jeff, and 2) My ass is soaked. I need to reassure myself: had I pissed my pants, it would have been warm wetness. What I’m experiencing is undoubtedly the water that goes in instead of the liquid that flows out.

“Sorry, Fat. Impulse. Just something my friend Jeff has said to me before.”

“You okay, boss?” I know she’s assessing the damage with her darkness-trained eyes.

“I actually think so.” Finally, I sit.

“Good. I’m going back to bed. Keep it down in here.” She’s silent on her feet, so I can’t tell if she’s still at the doorway or has padded her way back to the bedroom.

I call out, “What, no sage advice from my therapist?” I hang my head. I’m so tired, and now I have a huge mess to deal with. I must start making better decisions.

I jump when I hear Fat still in the doorway.

“I’d use a plastic cup next time.”

Free Falling

“I knew you couldn’t stay away for long, you’re too yella.”

Fat lies amongst shredded cardboard – it looks like confetti thanks to somebody’s idle talons. Her grey tail lifts and cracks down like a whip.

“Yella? You watch some cowboy movies while I was away?”

One of the bags in my grasp has an open zipper and vomits dirty clothes onto the floor beside the feline with the soft tumbling sound of fabric on fabric. My head hangs while I watch the purging of jeans and shirts, shorts and everything else that would last me a few weeks instead of two and a half days.

“Is that a trick your bag learned from watching you during the weekend?”

I look down at the mountain of laundry, drop everything else in my hands on top of the pile, and step over it. If I don’t acknowledge the mess, I can’t be held accountable for it. I add my flip flops to the chaos and proceed to the living room where I collapse on the couch. I think I slept a total of seven hours over the last two nights. I need to catch up.

Fat scuttles after me and jumps up on the coffee table. She’s still waiting for an answer.

“That wasn’t rhetorical? For your information, the overnight bag wasn’t in the room when my dinner decided to reintroduce itself.” I pause, but then tack on a last comment, “The way I puke isn’t so dainty.”

My eyelids fall to half-mast as I watch the cat. Fat’s paws reach out in front of her like she’s about to stretch, but instead she just sits like the Sphinx. Her head tilts to the side, inquisitively.

“There’s something different about you, boss. Get past all the exhaustion and you seem more settled than you have been in the last few months.” Green eyes glow with salacious delight, “You took my advice and got some strange, didn’t you? Boss, you wild thing.” She takes a cue from me and briefly pauses before adding another remark, “You make my heart sing.”

I wave my hand in front of my face to dispel her accusation and stop the song from continuing. “Still chaste over here.”

Fat doesn’t hide her disappointment. “Oh. So,” now disinterested, Fat’s gaze sweeps over her shoulder to see if the television is on, “what am I picking up on then?”

“I fell through the sky this morning.”

Her grey head slowly swivels back around. “Ah. Drugs. Did you bring any to share?”

A puff of air comes out of my nose, but doesn’t materialize into a full-on laugh. I offer a dry-lipped smile. “Skydiving, Fat.”

The small jaw of the feline hangs open for a moment. Brief silence fills the apartment as her face freezes. It’s quiet for a change.

Just as soon as the pocket of stillness arrives, it’s thrust back into the apartment’s cracks and crevices when the feline’s verbose voice comes a-callin’. “Bitch, you cray.”

My feet kick up and onto the backrest of the sofa as my head rests on a cushion. “It was sensational. Euphoric, even.” I don’t even feel my eyelids close, I remember sailing through the air and feeling so calm about the whole thing. No hesitation.

The soft pad of Fat’s paw touches my nose. I open my eyes, surprised I didn’t hear her jump off the coffee table. She sits so close to my face I can see her tiny cat nipples across her stomach. I shove her arm’s length away, I don’t need cat nipples in my line of vision.

“I’m proud of you, boss. I like that you don’t bore me. There’s always something with you, isn’t there?” Fat purrs, settling onto the couch to nap beside me. “Know what else?”

“Hmm?” I’m already slipping into sleep.

“Wild thing, I think I love you.”

DCIM100GOPRO

Undiagnosed Condition gets Diagnosed

“You are so entirely busted, young lady.”

The popcorn in my hand doesn’t make it to my mouth. Eyes wide, my focus pans left, away from the television, and zooms in on the feline. Fat smirks from where she sits on the floor.

Love Actually? You’re watching a movie about feelings.” She trots diagonally through the living room and gains enough momentum to easily leap onto the couch beside me.

“Don’t ever tell anyone.” I wipe butter-glazed fingers on my jeans and pause the live TV. “I keep getting hell from my best gals because I haven’t seen it.” I notice Fat eying my bowl of popcorn; I move it to my other side so I don’t have to contend with her trying to take some by force.

“You’re loving this film.”

“You can’t prove that.”

Her head nods in the direction of my remote-clutching hand. “You cared enough to pause it.”

“Pardon me for being polite enough to give you all of my attention.” Who am I kidding? I want to watch Colin Firth fall in love with a girl who doesn’t understand him.

“Are we going to tread down this road? I saw you watching Serendipity a couple nights ago after you got in from a late night with one of your gal pals.” A paw reaches out to nudge me playfully in the ribs, “You love romantic movies.”

It is only after I shamefully bury my face in my hands that I fret about a pimply outbreak from contact with my popcorn fingers. I’ll have to exude my apparent shame another way; like a frightened turtle, my head pops inside my t-shirt and I hide out.

“I don’t. My body must be generating excess estrogen this month.” I observe the sleek butter stains on my shirt. I can’t figure out my own weird behaviour. I’m almost surprised I haven’t stooped to the level of wistfully watching Titanic or The Notebook.

“What’s next? The Notebook? Titanic?

It’s not her judgemental tone that draws me out of the t-shirt, so much as my worry that she’s using some kind of x-ray device that interprets thought patterns. She squints when my eyes peer out of the neck hole. With the movie still paused, the living room almost echos with quiet.

“You’re acting like an idiot.”

“I’m sorry?” I yank the bottom of my entire head and neck come out of hiding.

“No need to apologize for something you’re good at.” Fat crosses my lap to sniff at the ikea bowl half-full of popcorn.

I flick her ear and she stops her advance on my movie snack. Instead, she settles herself on my thighs and stares at my face.

“I’m pretty certain I know why you’re acting like this.”

“Please. Share with the class.” My arms open widely as though I was displaying an entire audience sitting amongst the furniture in my living room. I pick up the popcorn bowl; I’m the kind of full where I’m aware that I’m not hungry anymore, but if the popcorn is beside me, I’m going to keep inhaling it until every kernel is gone.

“Boss, you need to get laid. This behaviour of yours is driving both of us crazy.”

I accidentally drop the bowl on the coffee table, sending some bits flying. Mutt scuttles over and starts gobbling up the little treats as fast as his greedy mouth can manage.

“Fat, we’ve talked about this plenty of times. I’m not dating right now…”

“Ban on Boyfriends, yes, I know.” Fat interrupts and rolls her eyes. “I’m not talking about dating, fool. This whole scene,” Fat points at Colin Firth’s frozen face on the screen, “is not what you’re about. This sappy shit has to end.”

I grab the remote and press play. I don’t even know what to say to Fat right now. I’m aware this isn’t what I would generally watch. Though I suppose I have actually been watching Cosmo TV lately. A Walk to Remember should be on right after this movie. The idea of an afternoon double-feature makes me giddy. And then I realize… I turn to Fat, horrified. She’s right.

“You look like you’re going to throw up. Too much butter on your popcorn or is the therapist’s analysis on the money again?”

I don’t answer. Instead, I greasily slide off the couch, race to the bedroom to change my shirt, slide on some shoes and grab my bag.

“I have to get out of here.”

Fat shouts after my frantic exit, “Don’t come back until you get your freak on.”

The Fictional Man of My Dreams Speaks French

“I don’t understand what you’re saying!”

Fat yells at the television as I burst through the door with a basket of needing-to-be-folded laundry. I hear the sounds of somebody speaking what can be referred to as the ugly sister of Canadian English… also known as Canadian French. When I left, we were watching Cutthroat Kitchen; a show that should be on the comedy channel as well as the food network. I’m not entirely sure what happened in the time it took to get my clothes from the laundry room in the building’s basement.

“What’s going on, Fat?” The blue basket drops on the coffee table with a cracking sound. I hope I didn’t break the plastic wicker that’s holding my clothes. Oafishness just becomes me I suppose.

“The television went crazy out of nowhere. They’re speaking in some kind of made up language.” My presence seems to sedate her freak out.

I shove Fat aside, grab the remote from beneath her and toss the clicker to the end of the sectional. “Your lard ass changed the channel.”

Green eyes watch the remote fly gracefully three feet away. She makes no effort to chase it. I return my attention to the basket, back facing the television and ears deaf to the quick-pace of those that parler francais.

I lift a pair of jeans from the basket and start folding. The French voices continue to inhabit the apartment. I take up residence inside my head and whatever is going on external to my brain, fades into oblivion.

The time that passes reflects in the growing pile of folded clothes on the table. I grab a teal sweater and fold it like an origami master.

Finally, Fat speaks.

“This guy. This is the one for you.” Fat’s eyes are locked on the television screen.

I add the sweater to the rising mountain and turn toward the screen. “Benedict Cumberbatch?” I’m so taken aback, I snort with laughter. “This guy,” I point to the charming man on the screen who is currently pretending to be a waiter at what I can only presume is the dinner where Watson is going to ask his lady for her hand, “is Sherlock Holmes. He’s not even real.”

I haven’t seen this episode; it must be from season three. I’m not sure why, but I turn the volume up, as though that will help me understand the language dubbed over their fabulous English accents.

“He is quite dashing though, isn’t he?” The flimsy coffee table groans with warning as I sit down on a corner.

“He’s not even my species, but I would definitely hit that.” She meets the disgusted look on my face with a sheepish expression and quickly moves beyond the awkwardness. “Shame you’ve got this ban on boyfriends.”

“Yes, because that is the only thing standing in my way of getting Benedict Cumberbatch to be my man. Although,” My sarcasm fades away and my tone becomes wistful, “My sisters and I are going to London next summer. But,” I waver, “I doubt he’s actually an intelligent asshole in real life.” I turn to Fat, “You know that’s my type. One can always dream.”

“So not all hope is lost. Hopefully the ban is lifted by the time you leave for the U.K.”

I reach and grab a pillowcase from the basket and fold it into a tiny rectangle. “Again, that is the only thing…”

Fat’s laughter overtakes my repetition.

“You’re absolutely right, boss. You two don’t even speak the same language. It’ll never work out between the two of you.”

Picking Up the Pieces While Fat Falls Apart

“When I look in the mirror I look like a cat. Am I actually a middle-aged man?”

There was a shift in Fat’s mood only a moment ago when her purring stopped. I’m lying with my stomach on the carpet, petting her. Fat’s eyes, which were closed with happiness, are now wide-eyed with concern. Her head tilts to the side, impatient that I haven’t answered her question within the half-second of silence that followed her voice.

“I don’t generally spend afternoons brushing and petting middle-aged men on the floor of my living room, Fat.” I scratch the top of her head; she remains nonplussed.

“Plenty of fetishes out there, boss.” The feline’s face sparks with realization. “Oh. Was your sarcasm because you’re an old hag that nobody wants? Sorry. So insensitive of me.”

I sigh, not because I’m exasperated, but because I’m still waiting for her to tire of casting me in the part of an old maid. Her understanding of my self-imposed ban on boyfriends lapses from time to time.

“What makes you question your outward appearance?” My fingers rake through the hair on her back. If she’s been trying to Freaky Friday one of our male neighbours into a body-switching incident, I’d like to know about it.

The corners of the feline’s mouth point downward, pouting. “Because I’m going bald. My hair is coming out in clumps like I’ve been going through chemotherapy.”

With almost precise timing, my hand lifts off her spine with rouge grey hairs clinging to my fingers. Fat’s gaze shifts to my fur-filled hand and I can almost see her ego shatter.

“We can always give you a comb-over.”

Fat hisses.

I blow on my hand and Fat and I both watch the short cat hair scatter into the air like dandelion seeds.

Fat’s chin lifts up and she follows the aerial acts of disconnected pieces of herself. “That was a pretty dumb move, boss.”

Damn hindsight. “I’m going to have to re-vacuum. And dust.”

“Yup.” Fat’s broken ego seems to have been momentarily patched back together. She sits up straighter and she looks around the rearranged living room and newly-hung pictures. “You really got everything here changed around pretty quickly after the ex-boyfriend moved out. Looks like when you’re properly motivated, you actually get things done.”

“Well,” I push up to a kneeling position and rest my hands on my hips, it was a bit of therapy. Needed to reclaim the space as my own. Moving would have been the ideal option, but I’m poor. And lazy.”

“Except even though you needed it, you didn’t ask for help.”

My upper lip curls into an I-didn’t-need-help sneer. No words accompany the face I give the feline, she knows what I’m asking.

“Boss, please. Even though it was hilarious watching you struggle, it took you forever to move that mammoth couch.”

“I did it though, didn’t I?”

“I just worry that the next time you need to do something like that, your hip is going to pop out of its socket. Yes, clearly you can manage on your own, but you should ask for help when you need it.” There’s a brief pause where the feline looks at me with concern, she starts to say something, then stops herself, then second-guesses her decision not to say whatever it is and says it anyways. “You get that I don’t just mean the changes in the apartment physically, right? And when I say ask for help…”

“I got that, Fat. I’ll take that advice like you did when I suggested a comb-over for your bald patches. It’s making you crazy that I haven’t fallen to pieces.”

“Watch yourself, old lady.”

“Mind your baldness, old man.”

Office Hours: Permission to Act Like a Jerk

“Before you sit down, I’m going to need you to grab an alcoholic beverage.”

Knees bent and ass hovering mere inches above the sofa, I freeze.

“Why?”

Fake glasses are slightly askew across Fat’s tiny, wet nose. Her face has a subtle glow from the iPad positioned in front of her on the couch. It illuminates her whiskers.

“The reviews are in.” Her tone carries a serious edge and she nods in the direction of the liquor cabinet.

“You’re going to need a cushion.”

Though I’m not sure what’s going on, I’m not going to dismiss Fat’s insistence that I need to consume alcohol. If she’s blessed my union with booze, I’m sure as hell going to have a loved one at my side when she breaks whatever bad news she’s holding on to. My legs, burning from the squat, sigh with relief when I stand up. I grab a liquor bottle at random and plunk it on the coffee table. I sit down in my nook where the sectional intersects.

Repulsion crosses Fat’s face. “No mix with that vodka?”

I fight the urge to groan as I lean forward and spin the bottle so the label points in Fat’s direction. “Raspberry vodka. It’s practically juice. Whatcha got going on my iPad?”

Her mouth draws into a straight line. “Have you been on Facebook lately?”

My back is still arches over to the coffee table where my hand still hasn’t released its grip on the bottom of the vodka bottle. My visceral gut tells me to pick up the vodka and keep it close.

“No, why?” The lid of the bottle becomes unscrewed as I turn it to the left, then I turn it back to the right. Then again to the left and back and forth a few more times as a means to deal with the silence that Fat has let settle into the living room.

“A certain ex-boyfriend has taken to social media to garner some sympathy and make himself look like a victim of your cold-hearted ways.”

The lid turns to the left and I remove it from the bottle; I hold it between my fingertips.

“Uh huh.”

Her paw sweeps across the iPad going over comments of people who have no idea how the relationship actually ended.

“There’s a fun little bit where he refers to being here a waste of time. My favourite has to be a thread that starts with a post that says, ‘They say time heals all wounds why am I angrier.’ Punctuation issues aside, that’s some refreshing prose he’s got going on there, don’t you think? Quite the poet, that one. Quite the poet indeed.” The feline does her best to hide her sarcastic smile. “Hang on,” Fat presses the comment section where several people have weighed in with opinions that are fed by his pity-me pretense, “I want to read you some things that are here.”

I take a tiny nip from the bottle, getting lost in thought as Fat searches the page.

He went out the door still professing love for me. Saying that we failed because I didn’t try. The reality is, we are on two different life trajectories and I don’t know if mine involves being Mrs. So-and-so and birthing babies. I like my alone time. I need it. He is the opposite of me, and from his watchtower, I’m perceived as a bad person because I don’t want the same life he does. I can live with that. I’m not a cheater. I didn’t treat him badly. I just didn’t love him.

I revisit the long fights and challenging debates of this suffocating relationship that’s currently on exhibition in my memory bank. A hearty gulp of vodka warms the inside of my chest and brings me back to present.

Fat squints at the tablet screen and starts reading off random comments.

“I moved 4000 klm away, and was given up on”

I suppose that means I don’t get to play the part of the protagonist in this story. Damn.

“Feels like I wasn’t worth the effort”

This is a clever trick I learned at PMS camp; feelings can’t be wrong. Boys shouldn’t be privy to how we manipulate language.

“Some people just really are ass holes”

I suppose that would be me. I’m not exactly Joseph Stalin, but with enough practice…

“The people that made you feel like that are the one that aren’t worth the effort”

Not worth the effort and a waste of time. This is a terrible day for my ego.

“I want to annihilate him.” I toss the bottle cap on the table and take another swig from the bottle.

“That’s interesting. I’ve always thought you were heartless, but it seems like you got a transplant from a super villain at some point.”

I shoot Fat an angry look.

“Boss, I’m kidding.”

“He’s making me look like an asshole.”

“You are an asshole.” She raises a paw when she sees me reach for a pillow to throw at her. “Not in the way you’re being depicted here, but you are an asshole. Everybody knows the internet is full of lies. Calm down.”

I take another sip of vodka. My anger tries to compose itself as Fat continues.

“He’s just fishing for somebody out there to show that they care about him. He’s mad because you didn’t love him forever like he hoped you would.”

“Dating isn’t a promise of forever. Marriage is a fucking promise of forever.” I yell and squeeze a fist around the glass neck of the bottle.

“You’re just going to let this charade play out, boss. He’ll come around and realize that you’re not the girl for him, and when that happens this will all go away.” As if to illustrate that fact, Fat shuts off the iPad and the lit screen goes black.

“And in the meantime.”

Fat ponders potential outcomes before she shrugs and gives me the answer I want to hear.

“Give him a reason to think you’re an asshole.”

The Kind Of Therapist She Pretends to Be

“Riddle me this: what’s a sickly yellow colour with the I.Q. of a newborn giraffe?”

Like a pervert, Fat lounges comfortably on the blue duvet watching me change out of my work clothes. I might be flattered if she didn’t make it a point to dry heave every three seconds.

“Fat,” I pull my head through the top of the tank top, “Just once, spare me the pretense. We both know you’ve got some kind of cruel commentary on something that’s a sickly yellow colour with the I.Q. of…” Of the two armholes in the tank top, I achieve a fifty percent success rate of putting my limbs where they’re supposed to go. Effort ceases because I see a familiar black clip peeking out from under the saggy folds of Fat’s fur.

“That’s my work ID tag your rolls are resting on, isn’t it?”

Beaming with tremendous satisfaction, Fat looks up at me as though she holds the coordinates of Atlantis.

“Boss, you ruined the big reveal. I ask the question, you offer a backwoods guess. That’s how this usually works. This back-and-forth in turn lets me move like so,” Fat flops over to her side so my work photo stares up at me, “and in grand ‘ta-da’ tradition, I repeat the question and say, ‘THIS GIRL!’” The feline bursts out laughing at the expense of past me and laughs harder at the mortification of present me. Fat’s chuckle carries throughout the apartment and she rolls onto her back trying to catch her breath. “How have I not seen this picture before?”

I loathe that picture. It was taken almost exactly two years ago. My hair is a mess, the yellow florescent lights in the room casts me in what appears to be a state of jaundice and my mouth looks all weird. Thirty seconds previous to the picture being taken, all the new hires were gorging on chocolate croissants. The expression on my face and forced closed-mouth smile remind me of how certain I was that pastry was stuck in my teeth. Didn’t even get to see that photo until it was generated on my ID tag. And now I’m stuck with this nightmare indefinitely. Generally, the picture is conveniently hidden behind my area safety chief badge.

I reach out with the arm that managed to thread itself through the hole in my shirt and flip the badge over.

“We don’t need to look at that.”

Fat’s paw draws across her face as though wiping away a tear. “Something that bad deserves to be shown to the world. It could be turned into a meme. You’re so yellow.” Another peal of laughter comes from the grey cat.

“So help me, Fat, if that ends up on the internet…” Finally, my second arm bare-knuckle-boxes its way out of the fabric of my shirt and I’m wearing clothes like a grownup again.

“Chill out, boss. The last thing I want is for the CIA to burst into the apartment and give you the same treatment they gave your cousins that landed in Roswell. Besides,” Fat doesn’t even give me a second to acknowledge the alien comparison, “what kind of therapist would I be if I didn’t keep a few of your secrets?”

“The kind of therapist who is an unlicensed fraud?”

She speaks over me, generating the words she was hoping I would say, “A great one. Exactly.”

I Know My Rank; I Don’t Make the Podium

“Tell me how much you loved the Mother’s Day gift I gave you.”

My fingers string more words together as I look up from the laptop screen. This moment is exactly the reason I learned to type properly; my fingers can keep clicking along so I can offer the cat a quizzical expression and not miss a beat.

“So help me, Fat, if you are referring to the gross state of your litter box…”

My hands lift away from the keys. I interlace my fingers and lean back in the office chair, eyes still glued to the feline.

The grey fur ball shrinks shamefully from where she sits beneath the desk, mimicking a shy turtle. “I was having digestive issues, lactose intolerance, perhaps. I wasn’t talking about that though, boss.”

I sit cross-legged in the chair. “What on earth are you talking about, then? Mother’s Day was yesterday. I’d also like to verbally acknowledge that I’m not your mother.”

Fat scowls. “Nice, lady. I thought I was being very considerate given the fact that you’re barren.”

Confusion paints my face like whore makeup. I feel the crease in my forehead. “I’m not barren…”

“Can’t keep a man, can’t have babies,” Fat speaks over me until she’s murdered my sentence. “It’s a good thing you have me around since nobody else is here to love you. Mutt doesn’t count, he’s not always here.”

With a little coercion, the chair beneath me reclines slightly. I clamp my dry lips together to keep untamed phrases from finding their freedom. She’s trying to get a rise out of me; she’s a genuine supporter for the ban on boyfriends.

Fat continues, “I can’t believe you didn’t appreciate my selflessness yesterday. Honestly, I’m kind of hurt you didn’t acknowledge my thoughtful gift.”

A puff of air expels from my lungs. “Sorry, Fat. I didn’t see anything around here that seemed gift-like.” Please don’t let this gift be a dead mouse or collection of dead flies. I cringe and scope the area to see if any rodent or insect carcasses are visible from my vantage point.

“That’s the point. You didn’t see me at all. I gave you the gift of solitude. You’re always nattering on and on how you need space. You’re welcome.” Fat’s fangs show with her delighted smile. She’s not pretending to be thoughtful; she genuinely tried with this one. It’s a gift that I love, but I have a bad feeling I won’t actually get to use.

“Just to clarify,” I clear my throat and lean on the armrests as I stare down from my throne. “This isn’t something that I can use on another day?”

“You didn’t notice?” Fat’s tiny face shatters with disappointment. “I hid beneath the bed all day long.”

I save the draft of the email I was composing and close the window.

“Fat, I went to see my Mom. It was Mother’s Day.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Fat’s sullen face brightens once again as though her facial expressions are controlled by a switch getting flicked back and forth with somebody suffering from OCD. “How did you ruin it this year?”

I wince. Me ruining Mother’s Day has become an accidental tradition. Last year I came up with the brilliant idea to try and get Mom to rank her six kids in order of most to least favourite. When she refused, I got the siblings to put it to a vote. I came in fifth… didn’t even make the podium.

On the ground, Fat bobs left and right to try and gain my eye contact.

“There was an incident with a thoughtless one-liner that came out of my mouth. Unfortunately, it turns out that the deflowering of one of my younger sisters wasn’t public knowledge. Suffice it to say, it’s public knowledge now.” I’m not sure it helped matters that she wasn’t around when the line came out of my mouth, so when she got home from work I ran out of that house like hell. Hope my stepdad found his humour about the situation…

“I see. You brought TNT to the party and left when the fuse was lit but hadn’t reached the point of explosion. Nice. That would give you sixth place this year, I reckon.” Fat rolls onto her side and laughs with immense satisfaction. “You’re tactless nature is my favourite, boss.”

“No medal for sixth place, but a participation ribbon at the very least I should think.”

“Point of optimism: there’s nowhere to go from here but up.”

Welcome to Exile

“Oh good, you’re home. I need the biggest favour.”

Fat, sitting on top of the hall table, bats her eyes in a sickly sweet way as I drop my bag on my floor. The feline would look even more foolish if I got her those fake eyelashes she wants so badly.

“Not how I’d like to be met at the door on a Friday, but I’ve had a flattering afternoon and it’s affecting my mood. What’s the favour?”

“Please go to the apartment at the end of the hall and introduce them to the other twenty-five letters of the alphabet.”

My hand rests on the doorknob. My brain offers an instant replay of her request inside my head – it doesn’t help me understand.

“Huh?”

“The only letter they seem to know is ‘O’ and they’ve both been screaming it all afternoon.”

Of this, I am entirely aware. I just walked past their door.

Fat looks momentarily sheepish, letting her neck get engulfed by a shy shrug. “I thought they were enthusiastic Wheel of Fortune fans at first. But obviously, ‘E’ and ‘A’ are the money vowels,” she cements this fact with an assuring look and minute nod, “Just ask Vanna White. It didn’t make sense why they persisted with screaming ‘O’.”

I move away from the door, kicking off my shoes. “Oh good. You understand what’s going on over there then.”

Fat stares at my terrible-smelling ballet flats. “Of course I do. What kind of an idiot do you take me for?” The bridge of her nose pinches. Green eyes drift from the shoes to me, and back to the shoes. “You’re going over there barefoot then?”

I drift into the kitchen, grab a rice cake and come back to face her in the hallway. “If you know what’s going on over there, I’m sure you can piece together why I won’t be knocking on their door.” There’s a loud crunch as I bite down. If I were to estimate, this rice cake went stale when Eisenhower was president.

“They’re some kind of foreign and that’s why you’re not going over there. You’re being a bad Canadian as well as a bad neighbour.” Her ears twitch as she hears the muffled love cries of the down-the-hall neighbours. “What language is that? Hawaiian?”

As Fat talks, I casually lean over the kitchen garbage can and spit out my mouthful of inedible brick.

“You’re right. Better to wait to go over there until later. We’re not familiar with their customs and don’t want to interrupt. This might be some kind of prayer ritual we’re hearing.”

I can’t tell if she’s messing with me or not, so I focus my attention on the hall mirror. My mirror twin offers a wide smile so I can check to see if she chipped any of her crooked English teeth on an antiquated rice cake.

“I forget that if the conversation isn’t about you, you check out entirely.” Fat pushes one of my candle holders off the table so I turn to look at her. “You say it was a flattering Friday for you, boss? Please share.”

“I got asked out by a guy that hangs out at the coffee shop a few blocks away.”

She stares at me as if I’m mental-hospital-grade crazy. “And this stranger’s validation provides you with more self-worth? So textbook. Let me guess: you said yes and now you’re in love and feel whole again.” Fat rolls her eyes.

My mouth turns into a smile and I hold up my index finger to silence her. “Oh, no, Fat.” The cat becomes briefly hypnotized as I tut-tut the idea by shaking my finger from side-to-side. “Charming guy. Not bad looking. But no. You see, doc, I’ve decided to put myself in self-imposed relationship exile.”

The feline’s face gets that pinched look of misunderstanding again.

I point at the list I’ve written on my dry erase board in the kitchen. “I have things I want to do. Time alone is healthy. You can’t argue that.”

Fat’s mouth hangs open for a few seconds of silence, as though she’s trying to come up with something to say.

“…So what happens when somebody you actually like, that isn’t some random in a coffee shop, asks you out?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but as you so graciously pointed out a few days ago, it’s not possible to have it all. Maybe giving up relationships will be my sacrifice for all those other things in life.”

“You’re actually doing this? A ban on boyfriends?”

I nod, feeling better now that what I’ve been thinking about the last few days has found a voice.

“Yep. Boyfriends are officially banned.”

Fat nods toward my art supplies cupboard. “Maybe you should make a ‘No Boys Allowed’ sign so everyone else can be aware of this decision. I would help, but not having thumbs makes writing impossible.”