Compliments to the Chef

“Oh, honey, you cooked.”

Fat leaps up on the messy desk beside the laptop, ink-smudged journal and sea of post-it notes. The corners of her mouth play at a smirk “You’re going to make your tapeworm so happy.” Her grey head shakes back and forth, dismissing the very idea, “Cooked. That’s rich. You think a frying pan is a weapon thanks to Saturday morning cartoons. Just another child left behind…”

As she tut-tuts my upbringing her stare lands on my face, waiting for me to acknowledge her presence. Impatience shows in her tail as it flicks back and forth, trying to pry my gaze from the screen. Giving up more quickly than is custom for an attention-seeking harlot, Fat redirects her focus back to the plate of half-eaten food.

My dinner sits on the opposite side of the computer, quickly losing heat as I frantically type and attempt to masticate at the same time. Multitasking isn’t a skill in my wheelhouse; I suppose there’s a reason writing and eating don’t generally go hand-in-hand. I feel my brow furrow in concentration. I need to force myself to finish reworking the sentence instead of give in to Fat’s desire for spotlight. Her uncharacteristically diverted attention stares with intense interest at the salmon.

“Actually, that kind of smells good – dare I say edible. Delivery? Care package? Where’s it from?”

I swallow, re-read the dozen-or-so words I’ve written and type a period before pushing the chair away from the desk.

“I made it.” Hands fold in my lap, preemptively impatient and aware of her forthcoming reaction.

Fat cracks a wide smile before throwing her head back in a surplus of laughter. “Good one, Boss. That standup of yours is really coming along.”

For once, not falling prey to her game, I wait. We stare at each other. I can’t believe my own house cat doesn’t take me seriously. I’m a grownup. Sometimes.

“You mean you actually… in the…” Her neck cranes in the direction of the kitchen, entirely baffled at the possibility.

I nod.

She sees the overflowing sink with dirty dishes, which support my claim. “Well, I’ll be damned. Did you alert the press?”

A deep exhale finds its way out of my chest. “No, Fat. The media won’t be stopping by.” Fingers grab the edge of the desk and I roll myself back into writing position. I don’t know why I keep indulging in her jackassery. My head shakes, dismissively. Just because I don’t usually cook doesn’t mean I can’t.

The keyboard rests under my ready fingers. I gently drum my digits across home row, and let my imagination take over. Mouthing the words of my last paragraph to myself, I settle back into where I left off. Reality blurs on the periphery and new words leave my fingertips, adding to the collection on the screen. I might be onto something here.

The noisy clacking of typing falls to background noise when the good doctor pipes up again.

“I like that you’re still able to surprise me, Boss.”

Her voice pulls reality back into focus. In my mental absence, Fat relocated to the other side of the computer, and is whiskers-deep in my dinner.

“Christ, Fat!” I reach to swat her, but the feline is too quick, and bounds to the floor before I can connect my fury with her fur.

She licks her chops from a safe distance. “Well pardon me for being proud of you.”

Cinderella Would Understand

“Fat, what are you doing in here?”

The gentle snoring ceases. Her grey head shifts a half-inch to the right when my words rouse her from what is likely hour six of an afternoon nap. One of the feline’s eyes opens a tiny fraction and sees me kneeling above her.

“What are you doing here? This is my fortress.” After a couple blinks, both her eyes find their way to half-open. Her neck rolls backward so she can look up to the rest of the contents of the overstuffed closet. “It’s impossible to find anything in here; the perfect place to hide out.”

She’s managed to flip the lid off one of the shoe boxes in the closet and wedged her rotund body into the box amongst the summer heels. A lion’s yawn escapes her gigantic mouth.

“You’re sleeping with my brunch shoes. What’s the matter with you?”

“I think the better question is: what kind of person has brunch shoes? I’ve never even seen you wear these.” She redistributes her weight around the champagne heels, settling back into slumber with both eyes once again closed.

I hold up an index finger pointedly. “Okay, first of all, those are summer brunch shoes. Second, you have enough places to flop around here, get out.” I shake the blue shoebox until the displeased feline jumps out.

“Hey!” The word is blanketed by a hiss. “I don’t force you out of hiding when you’re avoiding somebody. That’s just rude, is what that is.”

“Who are you avoiding?”

“Mind your business, Boss.”

“Fine.” I kneel and continue my rummaging through the mountain of boxes, opening each one to see if they hold the footwear I’m looking for. Eventually, box eight or nine has them. I pull out boots that match the feline in colour, with a black wedge heel.

“You haven’t worn those either, it looks like. S’funny.” Fat squeezes her way back into the small space that has exceeded capacity. She nudges close to her recently vacated nap space.

“What’s funny?”

Fat plays with the string handle of another shoebox, batting it with a Serena William’s style swing. “The fact that you identify yourself as a minimalist.”

“It doesn’t make it untrue. I don’t need much to live.”

“The fluffy ones are always the most adorable.” Her forehead elongates as if lifting her eyebrows and Fat gives me the gift of her signature you-are-some-kind-of-stupid look. She mutters under her breath, “It’s like that time you thought you were a feminist because you bought tools.”

“What?” I’m holding the boot in my hand like an oversize pistol.

With a matter-of-fact tone, Fat’s words are clipped and succinct. “You have summertime brunch shoes.”

Mutt saunters into the bedroom in a cavalier manner. He does a double-take when he sees the good doctor out of hiding. His mouth opens wide in a dog smile and his tail becomes a frantic metronome.

“Oh crap.” Fat looks left to right, searching for her best possible exit. She leaps up onto the dresser, and Mutt gives chase. The feline bounds to the bed then races out the door. I hear both of them sprint down the hall as Fat cusses at the simple-minded dog.

I daintily place the boot down on the floor amongst the boxes, now littered across the carpet, and quietly contemplate Fat’s insight.

That bitch is crazy. Even a minimalist needs summertime brunch shoes.

You Ain’t No Friend of Mine

“Breaking news, Boss. May I have your attention please.”

Fat sits in the apartment entryway like she’s been waiting quite a while for me to arrive home. She doesn’t twitch when my purse flings dangerously close to her face before it rolls to an ungraceful stop in the middle of the hallway.

“Today I have decided that I love Elvis Presley.” She waits for my acknowledgement of her less-than-grand declaration, when none comes, she assumes ignorance on my part. “You know, the King of Rock n’ Roll.”

A groan squeezes its way out of my lungs as I try to both manipulate an object bigger than a door through the doorway and force the uncooperative angle from the hallway to be my friend. I’m sweating; it’s not that glistening, dainty sweat that as a child I believed was the only kind of sweating a lady was capable of. I’m sweating like a lumberjack on an August day. My back cries like it’s thrice its age and my current desire is gaining access to a sledgehammer in order to turn this bulky beast of a thing into a manageable pile of shrapnel.

“It’s like you don’t even hear me. Hello, I’d like a response. Big day over here.” Fat’s paw taps with impatience on the carpet.

Frustrated, I set the giant board down and brush loose strands of hair out of my dewy face. “You’re going to have to move, Fat.” Hands find their way to my hips as I stare down at the unmoving feline.

“And if I refuse?” Green eyes glower in my direction and then quickly flip to a more curious state. “What do you have there?”

“This,” I grab an edge of the imitation antique frame and try again to coax the monstrous and unforgiving board around the corner and through the apartment doorway, “is a ginormous chalk board.” I push, pull, pivot and perspire without progress. Piss. My arms and sanity, demanding a break, refuse another attempt. “And of course I couldn’t fit it in the elevator so I wrestled this beauty up the stairs.” I force a smile and there are a couple hearty thuds as I bang my hand against the frame. “I kind of want to die right now.”

“You look like you could use some help, kid.”

Fat’s voice turns sing-song as she peers at the new arrival. “Awk-ward.”

I turn to address the owner of the voice. Jesse stands with a grocery bag, staring at the hallway obstruction. “So, am I supposed to hurdle over this thing or…”

“I’m trying to move it. Trying being the operative word. Just uh…yeah. Jump it.”

Fat interrupts, her head jutting toward the chalkboard. “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”

“Don’t.” I swivel and hold up a warning finger to the feline. I feel very like my mother right now.

“If I try to jump it, I might wreck my junk. Can I help you maneuver this mother of all chalkboards inside?”

“Boss, he still wants a piece,” the feline winks grossly. “Don’t mess it up,” she pauses, “again.”

“Stop. Stop it now. This is a no-interest situation.” Unless less than no-interest is a thing. I sigh, reminiscing about former decisions. Bad call, former self.

While I talk, Fat starts to hum and eventually the tune carries lyrics.

“Wise men say only fools rush in
but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

“Seriously, Fat. I’m going to kill you.”

Jesse sets his grocery bag on the floor. “Miss Fat, always with something to meow about. You know, sometimes I swear you two understand what the other is saying.” He points back and forth between me and Fat as though we can’t figure out who he is talking about. “Match made in heaven, I think.”

“What?” Fat’s head snaps upward to eye the neighbour with contempt. “How dare you, sir?”

I must shoot Jesse some kind of awful scowl too because he holds his hands up defensively. “Easy. Legitly, though. You two are some kind of pair.”

“Legitly isn’t a real word, fool.” Fat and I speak in unison and then regard at each other uncomfortably. It’s always uneasy when she and I are on the same page; we seldom get each other.

“Just trying to help here, girls.”

“Uh, thanks for the offer, Jesse, but I really don’t think the board is going to fit without breaking it. Damn. Guess it’s going back to the store.” I start unwedging the board from the doorway. Pity.

“You sure?” Jesse sees the confirmation on my face and takes it as a cue to grab his groceries and dig keys out of his coat pocket. “Alright, well, it was good running into you. See ya.”

I offer him a lazy wave as I wipe forehead sweat on the sleeve of my sweater.

Fat and I both watch as he saunters the ten feet to his door and disappears inside.

Silence.

I carefully lean the chalkboard against the wall.

And then it starts.

“Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It’s down at the end of lonely street
at Heartbreak Hotel.”

“Shut up, Fat.”

Not a Hallmark Card

“That settles it; you clearly don’t care about your friends.”

I stop writing, mid-Facebook message and focus my attention from my phone to the pudgy feline on my lap. Her lazy half-mast eyes sweep from my phone to my face and her whiskers twitch with purpose. I can’t decide if her expression is offense or contempt or a new devilish expression I haven’t yet been introduced to.

We were having such a nice, cozy afternoon. The fog has devoured the neighbourhood so Fat and I hunkered indoors today. Sweats on, hoodie up, a purring and wordless cat content and lounging on my thighs; the last hour was (not to oversell it) lovely. I read some more of a book, did a little writing, and am just now catching up on my correspondence – by correspondence I clearly mean Facebook and Twitter.

“Where in the world would you get an idea like that, Fat?” I press the illuminated screen of the iPhone against her wet nose. The motion is quick and I pull the device away from her face before her eyes can bring the text into focus. “My girlfriend had her baby a few weeks early and I’m sending her a note of congratulations.” I wipe Fat’s nose smudge from phone on the sleeve of my faded blue hoodie. Good as new.

“Yes. Thank you, Boss. I already read that. It took me a moment because I thought when you used the word ‘kid’ you were writing about an infant goat. Don’t worry, I pieced it together.”

“Then what’s your issue?”

“You’re making the message all about the baby. You haven’t written anything to this girl about how she’s doing. Gimme.” A grey paw makes a sweeping motion at my phone to draw it closer. I acquiesce.

The good doctor scratches her chin with her claws in contemplation and her eyes brighten when an idea hits her. The familiar clicking as she presses the buttons in quick succession sounds like an offbeat drum line. “There.” She sits back proudly letting me see what she’s written.

I clear my throat, and read aloud. “’I hope your nether region didn’t get ruined during childbirth; bear in mind, it’s had much more practice being an entrance than an exit.’” A heavy sigh falls out of my mouth but I finish reading, “’Here’s to a speedy recovery.’ Fat, I’m not sending this.” I hold the delete button until all the words are consumed by white space. “You just called my friend a harlot.”

Fat extends her arms down to my knees and her nails dig into my skin as she stretches. “But that’s the kind of comment that says, ‘I care.’ It’s doesn’t offer that smarmy, have-some-special-treatment-because-you-just-reproduced sentimentality. Frankly, I think she’d appreciate it.”

“I think you’re wrong.” I shove Fat hard enough to encourage her to leap off my lap. “I should probably go get her something for her baby shower this weekend. Dare I ask if you have any ideas?”

“Give the new mom a gift that will help the baby sleep. Chloroform. Lots and lots of chloroform.”

No Secrets from Housecats

“Where were you? Do you have any idea what time it is?”

I’m greeted by the feline’s backside. Fat doesn’t show any sign that she’s noticed me aside from the questions that sound remarkably distant. She’s preoccupied; something on the computer desk holds her attention far more than my entrance ever could.

I drop my yoga bag on the floor and throw a look at the digital clock on the PVR. The crisp white numbers show that it’s not quite seven-thirty. I feel my lip curl in uncertainty as I free my mane from a frizzed-out, sweaty bun.

“Prayer meeting.” I wait for Fat’s head to snap and look at me with alarm and intrigue, but it doesn’t happen. She’s busy reading something on the laptop.

“Well if I know anything about you, Boss, it’s that you love the Jesus.” I see her brow furrow as she leans closer to the screen. Her mouth moves as she silently reads a couple more sentences on the virtual document in front of her. Eventually she turns to give me her consideration. “Sorry, did you say something else?”

“Thanks for listening,” I mutter. “What are you reading anyways?” My head lazily tilts toward the computer.

The feline’s mouth opens with a smile so wide I can see her fangs. Her paw goes to the wireless mouse and scrolls up until I see the familiar banner of my blog. Oh god.

My chest constricts as I do my best impression of somebody who is able to maintain their composure. “I… uh… how did you stumble upon that?” My fingertips drum on the desktop for lack of anything better to do. I’m fighting the urge to drop-kick the good doctor off the balcony in a fit of panic. I’m really not sure if there is any other remedy for the situation.

“It’s on the internet, you idiot. How was I not supposed to find it?” Fat clicks on a post from April 2014. “Really, it’s quite amazing that you don’t even realize how psychologically destructive you are to yourself.”

Taken aback, I abandon my discomfort of the situation when curiosity takes over. I walk closer and crouch beside Fat so we can both read the post. “What do you mean?”

“Suppose the words I say… see, here,” a grey paw bats the screen to a paragraph where I’ve written about her verbally tearing me a new one, “suppose these cynical, bitchy, loathsome things aren’t actually me speaking to you – it’s how you feel about yourself manifesting in a bizarre situation where you talk to your cat and you think the cat talks back.” Fat snickers at something my past self wrote, “I wish I said that.”

My mouth falls open. Agape, I mull over conversations with Fat that I can remember the hateful and bitchy things she has definitely said in the past. At least, I’m pretty certain she actually said them.

“That’s a nice hunchback you’re growing. Trying to get Quasimodo’s job when he retires from the bell tower?”

“Your brain is so full of stupid the excess is coming out your mouth.”

“I thought ugly people were supposed to have great personalities.”

I slowly turn toward Fat and our eyes meet. I falter, questioning what I always assumed was true. “Fat, I–”

“BAHAHAHAHA!”  She buries a delighted kitten face in the crook of her elbow, “I’m just yanking you, Boss. You’re not clever enough to come up with a fraction of this stuff on your own.”

Office Hours: New Skills and Old News

“If you made regular appointments I’d have relevant notes.”

Fat, fur askew from a frenzied search through the unkempt file folder in front of her on the coffee table, shoots me a look of distain. Heavy rain hits the balcony, offering a reprieve from total silence.

“Maybe just catch me up on where you’re at with this mess you call a life.”

I sip my wine, carelessly rolling back on the couch with confidence the cushions will catch me. I don’t know why it took her so long to realize that wine and fake therapy go hand in hand. You never question motive when offered complimentary Malbec.

My right hand moves quickly; learning to sign the alphabet took no time at all. F-A-T. Y-O-U. A-R-E. S-T-U-P-I-D. I laugh to myself and take another plunge into the red wine. W-I-N-E. L-O-V-E. Y-E-S.

“Is your limb possessed?” Fat sees my hand clenched in the‘s’ formation. “A hand that does the devil’s work, it would seem. Beelzebub doesn’t recruit the smart ones, does he? Pity for the underworld.”

My hand changes to let my index finger extend in the direction of the yellow book on my desk. “Check it out. Signing for Dummies!” My other hand swirls the wine in the glass before I swallow it down. “More please.” The empty glass clinks when I set it on the coffee table.

Fat, with toy spectacles perched on her nose, scribbles on one of the random pieces of paper in front of her. I try to read what she writes, but let’s be honest: she’s a cat and cats aren’t known for their penmanship.

“Sign language. Weird choice, but communicating in silence is quite a good decision for you, Boss. People might actually like you if they don’t hear that barnyard sound that you call a voice.” Fat’s pencil crayon drops when she looks up at me with her signature satanic smile. “What else is going on? How’s work?”

“S’good.” I stare at my glass, then at Fat, then my purposeful gaze drifts back to the glass – which should hold wine, but does not. I huff with discontent and flop backward on the couch. My fake doctor is such an ass.

Fat doesn’t show any sign of recognizing my needs. Undeterred, she continues conducting her session. “And you saw your family over the holidays. How are things with them?”

“Cuh-razy.” I see fat lift an eyebrow in question. “That’s right, the broken syllable kind.” My foot lifts, and my toes inch the empty glass toward the feline. She still pays it no attention.

“Broken syllable kind of crazy,” she nods. “It’s nice that some things don’t change. Consistency is good for you, Boss.” Fat picks up a pencil crayon and draws what looks like a check mark on one of the papers by her paws.

“How are your friendships maintaining?”

“Deeeeeelightful.” I see Fat’s head tilt sideways with uncertainty. “Yes, you heard that correctly. Write that down.”

My toes stretch as long as they can until my glass falls over; it rolls lazily until it collides with the feline’s meaty haunches.

Fat looks downward with a slight frown. “Subtlety isn’t your strong suit, is it?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

The feline rolls her eyes emphatically then it’s right back to business. “And how is your neighbour boyfriend doing?”

“Ughhhhhh.” Leave it to the feline to remind me of that. It’s been long enough that I forgot about that weird I-don’t-want-to-see-you-anymore conversation I had to have with him.

“How many ‘h’s is that?” She looks up from her paper, “you know, for posterity’s sake.”

“I don’t know. Nineteen.” I look out the window at the downpour. Belatedly, I react, “And he wasn’t my boyfriend.”

“But you’re still seeing him?”

“Oh no. Nope. We… no thanks. We shine at banal small talk, but actual conversation is quite painful.”

Fat adds more to her nonsense scribbling. Without looking up, she mutters, “Preach on, sister. A conversation with you that has any depth is like seeing a giraffe with two heads.” Fat doesn’t even try to disguise her laughter. “And he lives across the hall. You know I’m a fan of awkward run-ins. Let me know how it goes.”

I feel my face morph into ugly grimace.

“Good catching up with you, Boss.” Fat’s paws sweep all of her papers back into the folder. “Bottle’s under the couch if you still need a refill.”

2015: The Year of What Might be an Achievable Resolution

“What New Year’s resolution are you going to fail at this year, boss?”

Fat’s head tips on a curious angle, a paper top hat perches on her head with the number 2015 splayed on the side in swirly, silver glitter. We’re well into New Years Day by now, and yet the chapeau persists. Part of me wonders if she hasn’t removed it just to make me crazy — when the countdown is over, the confetti is thrown and the kazoos have sounded, it’s time to take off the hat.

“I didn’t make any.” My eyes roll upward, to quickly consult my brain for any previous thoughts on the matter. “Nope. Nothing there.” iPhone shrieks from the hall table to let me know I’ve received a text message.

“You make it sound like breaking news; that brain of yours has been vacant of both memory and intelligence for years. C’mon, boss, think of something you can aspire to fail at this year.” Fat’s grey tail flicks playfully from side to side. “I have ideas if you fall short. For instance,” The feline clears her throat for what I assume will begin a tedious and insulting list. All too quickly this thought is proven correct. “Learn to act your age, purchase a new cat toy every week, fix that crooked English smile of yours, give up reading so you have more time to pursue more important things like making your cat happy, clean the skeletons out of your closet and get back to therapy, write a poem about me every day, spend effort in looking less like a hobo so maybe a man will want to be with you,” Fat pauses, making me think she’s finished, but that last idea has bridged itself to another thought. “Hmm, it’s not just the outside that’s the problem. Do you reckon you’re capable of a personality overhaul over the course of the year? Well, they do say a person’s reach should exceed their grasp. I’ll do what I can to help on that one, but you’ve been a work in progress since I met you. You might have to face the fact that you’re going to end up old and alone. Maybe your resolution can be about coming to terms with that harsh reality…”

I’ve stopped listening as Fat natters on about what she perceives to be my various personality and appearance defects. Checking my phone, the latest text is essentially the same as the last few I’ve received. Another ode to the New Year. The phone clicks rapidly as I text a reply, and respond to another two iMessages. I stand, holding my phone in midair, thinking about how positive everybody is at New Years. There has to be a way to harness this prolific outlook amongst the people; figuring that out could be my resolution. After all, I’m no stranger to the nickname Optimist Prime.

A few seconds pass and my attention transitions from the free-floating thoughts in my head back to the outpouring of words from my housecat. Fat’s monologue continues as her paw scratches her chin in thought. “…but then we’d have to find somebody that is competent in attaching brain electrodes and behavioural manipulation.” The feline’s green eyes refocus on me. “What if we just pick something for you that is vague enough to be achievable?”

I humour Fat with the illusion of caring. “What do you suggest, Fat?”

Triumph in the form of a sinister smile grows across her small face. Even her whiskers stand at attention for the good doctor’s decree. “Boss, your New Year’s resolution is to generally suck less at everything.”