Fathers and First Dates

“Help. It’s an emergency!” Fat’s voice shouts on the other end of the line.

My back hunches over as I hold the cell phone up to my ear and turn to look out the passenger side window at the storefronts we drive past. There really is no way to get privacy in a car other than turn your back to the other person and pretend to be alone. Gentle thuds from the rainy and grey day patter against the roof of the Mazda – way to be cliché, Vancouver. I’m delighted that we’re planning on going to dinner and a movie tonight; a stroll by the ocean is less romantic during a monsoon.

“Calm down. What’s wrong?” The silver lining to an emergency: James only picked me up from my place ten minutes ago – it won’t take long to get back home to fix whatever catastrophe has befallen the apartment. I go through the rolodex in my head of all the possibilities of things that could go awry leaving Fat at home without supervision. Any number of disasters could have occurred in my absence. For some reason, I’m quick to assume arson – and if that’s my first assumption, why on earth would I ever trust the feline home alone? She’s called me an idiot before. I’m sad to report that it could be true; maybe I am an idiot.

It’s our first time hanging out and here I am taking a personal call from my housecat. Awesome. Depending on how this goes could really affect how things move forward with this fella. I’m not really sure how I’m feeling about him yet. Better keep the ol’ pro/con list on standby.

“Is everything okay?” James turns down the car stereo and the Foo Fighters are forced into near-silence. In a normal circumstance, this would never happen. Foo Fighters are meant to be loud; if this guy is willing to mute a great band for my benefit – that’s a tally in the pro column.

I glance over my left shoulder and shrug. James alternates between navigating the busy street and throwing quick looks of concern my way before his attention returns to the road. His blue eyes widen with questions. He cares – another pro for the gent.

“I don’t know.” I turn back to my phone, “Faaa…” I can’t say her name, this date will be over instantly if he finds out who’s ringing me at this moment, “…ather, what’s going on?”

“Father? Is that what you call me behind my back? It’s my wisdom, isn’t it?” I hear the smile in her voice. “You didn’t have a fancy English childhood, just call me dad like a normal Canadian.”

My concern evaporates instantly. If something was actually wrong, she wouldn’t be dicking me around like this. “What’s the emergency, Fat?”

“Should I find a place to pull over?” James shoulder checks in preparation to get to the next side street. He makes no mention of me calling my pretend father Fat. That speaks to his overabundance of politeness – con. I need a dude that shoots from the hip.

I pull away from my phone, albeit briefly, and minutely shake my head, “You can just keep heading to the restaurant.” Good driver – pro.

“So how’s the date going?” Fat’s words are weighted with intrigue and gossip.

“Tell me why that’s not the reason you’re calling.” I wave my hand forward, reassuring James that he’s good to keep driving. The windshield wipers move in their rhythmic pattern. “I’m kind of busy at the moment.”

“Boss. I’m giving you an out here if it’s not going well. I noticed he was blond. If you need this phone call to be an emergency to get away from the man bimbo, take it.” The feline makes a point: blonde – con.

“It’s only been a few minutes,” my words hiss into the phone, and I adjust course when I catch the look on James’ face at my sudden change of tone. “It’s hard to tell so soon…father. Stay positive. I’m sure your team will win.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Fat’s words are clipped and she clearly does not understand what I’m trying to do. “You hate sports. There isn’t even a game on right now, dumb ass.”

I roll my eyes and try to spell it out for her. “The game (massive emphasis to let her know we’re not discussing something on TSN) just started. Anything can happen. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Have I told you recently that you’re an idiot?” The sound of buttons accidently being pushed on her end rings in my ears.

“I love you too. Bye.” I end the call, turn the ringer off and drop the phone in my lap. “I’m really sorry about that. I shouldn’t have answered.”

James searches for a tactful thing to say, “Your dad sounds like an… interesting guy.” There’s that politeness again – con.

Another call from Fat lights up my phone. I hit ignore.

“Huh? Oh yeah. My dad is a real cupcake.”

After the Warehouse

“From what I hear, it wasn’t a successful mission in the warehouse. Fat fail.”

My friend has long since departed after bringing her back home and I’m making dinner. Fat sulked in, crawled on top of the desk and has been quietly facing the corner since her less-than-triumphant return to the apartment.

“That wasn’t a mouse.” Fat shudders, still facing the camel-coat colour of the wall. “Mouse is a colossal understatement. That fucker was big enough to hold me like a teddy bear and spoon me all night long.” Her head turns to look at me in the kitchen, I strain noodles over the sink and then return them to the pot on the stove. “I’m not going back there, Boss. Ever.”

“I’d be embarrassed to let you.” There are no words as I mix butter, milk and powdered cheese into the noodles. I heap some of it into a bowl and sit on the computer chair near the feline. The smell of food prompts Fat to spin around and finally face me.

She attempts to change the conversation. “Anything interesting happen here while I was out?”

I hold up my finger, buying myself a moment to swallow the food in my mouth. “I took a Zumba class.”

“I bet you were awful.” Fat leans on her elbows as her paws cup her face, feigning interest – anything to distract from the search for her missing dignity.

“That’s the obvious conclusion. It was fun though. I also went to Bard on the Beach. I love theatre.”

Fat pouts, “It sounds like I really missed out. I suppose it’s nice that you had fun.”

I ignore her statement and frown into my bowl of bright orange. “This does not hit the spot at all.”

I scoop a bunch of the neon noodles onto a fork, lift them out of the bowl and then watch I tilt the utensil and the noodles slide off and land back amongst their clones.

“What do you expect from hallway Kraft Dinner?”

“I was too lazy to go grocery shopping, okay?” I put the bowl on the desk and push it as far away from me as possible. What I need to do is order some Chinese food.

Fat’s face disappears in the bowl and she helps herself to a taste of white-trash cuisine. “Oh, yeah. Not good.” There’s some fake cheese sauce stuck to the fur around her mouth.

I laugh.

“What?”

“Nothing at all, Fat.”

Fat tips her head in the direction of the bowl beside her. “What are we going to do about this?”

“I was thinking about getting some Chinese food deliv–“

“That’s not what I meant, idiot.” What I assume is annoyance gurgles at the back of the feline’s throat. “I meant the source of tonight’s terrible dinner. What are you going to do about the friendly neighbour?”

I reach to the iPad, which is beside the printer, and start looking up online menus. “There’s nothing to do about Jesse. He’s gone into a ghost state. I haven’t seen him in,” I think on it and can’t come up with a definite date, “a long time.”

Fat jumps beside me on the couch. “I’m not convinced. Trust me, I’m a therapist. I know these things. He’s going to knock on that door one day soon and make you an offer you won’t refuse.”

“The only thing he’ll be looking for when he finally does come a-callin’ is his extra set of keys. I still have them. That’s weird, isn’t it? If it were me, I’d be getting my keys back as soon as possible. Seriously, how long has it been since we saw that guy?” It bothers me that I can’t even ballpark his strange visit to my apartment that morning. It was a weekend. This much I know.

Fat answers without a second of contemplation. “It’s been two weeks since we locked up after the dearly departed harlot. I say hold on to the keys as long as possible.”

I look up from the iPad; the tone of her voice lets me know that Fat’s moxie has come back in full force. “What makes you say that?”

“You managed to get Kraft Dinner from him, let’s see what other presents we can extort. Next time you hear footsteps in the hall, say, ‘I want a floor-to-ceiling scratching post.’”

“Something for you?” The feline is regarding Jesse’s original sweet action as a shopping spree of sorts.

“Play fair, Boss. You got what you wanted last time.”

All Kinds of Fancy and Two Kinds of Assholes

“No. No-no-no-no. Nuh uh. This isn’t happening.” Fat’s eyes grow huge staring at the bejewelled collar in my hands. “Just because you’re decked out like Liberace doesn’t mean I have to be.”

My advance slows. “Decked out like… what do you mean?” I’m not wearing any more jewellery than usual: necklace, a few rings, earrings. Nothing ostentatious. Not like I’ve all of a sudden decided I adore sequined rose-coloured glasses or a tiara made of the feathers from hundred-year-old Great Horned Owls.

“You’re not fancy enough for diamonds.” Fat’s eyes stare from the purple feline jewels I hold to my second set of earrings. She dons a fake English accent, “Off for high tea at the Denny’s? Just remember: cross your legs at the ankles – you’re not a common whore, and bring me home what’s left of your Grand Slam. Pinkies up, dear.”

Defensively, my right hand reaches up to touch the diamond studs. “The mocking is a bit much.”

Fat’s shoulders hunch when I take another step closer to where she sits on the desk. Her eyes dart from the collar in my hand to my face, and back to the collar. She fishes quickly for something to say to prevent my drawing any nearer. “So you decided you like the earrings he gave you after all. What changed your mind?” The mocking in her tone evaporates as she fishes for what sounds like sincerity.

I remember opening the gift from Boyfriend and how feelings of adoration and overwhelm formed the strangest hybrid of internal conflict. Fat’s right. I’m not fancy enough for diamonds. That was my worry when I let my mouth control the situation instead of my logic asking, “Would you be offended if I returned these?” The answer is yes. Yes he would. Boyfriend didn’t have to say it, the look of disappointed shock talked as much as a drunk bitch at a house party.

Rather than verbally call myself an idiot, my hand slaps my forehead when I remember deflating his excitement with my lack of tact. This seems to please Fat, as she smiles when my self-slap leaves behind tingling pink skin. It’s not enough that I hate myself, but my fingers hate me too. Not cool, digits.

I perch on the edge of the desk beside Fat. She sits rigidly, though the reason for her hyper-awareness to my proximity is lost on me. “It wasn’t my best moment, was it?” My face scrunches as I brace myself for confirmation.

“Doesn’t even make the top thousand, boss. You are your own special kind of disillusioned idiot.” Fat chuckles, “I know you’re not good at relationships, but rule number one if you’re ever given anything made out of diamonds: be gracious. Not like he bought you a diamond chuck wagon.”

“A diamond chuck wagon is at least six different kinds of awesome. No word of a lie, I would use that every single day.”

Fat says nothing, just shoots me a your-mother-clearly-threw-you-out-of-a-second-floor-window-as-an-infant look.

I take my phone out of my pocket and take a quick selfie. Fat peers over my shoulder as if she expects the photo to be of somebody else. I zoom in and see how I look with diamonds in my ears. “I look…” I know exactly what would make me enjoy this picture more, “like I need bigger diamonds. At least a few carats. Maybe a necklace and some glittery goodness for my fingers.” I feel my eyes grow wide with greed and notice at the same time that there’s still a bejewelled collar still tucked in the palm of my hand.

With as much speed as I can muster, I grab Fat and belt the collar around her neck. Her ears point backward and she glares at me with the look of a serial killer.

“Fat, you look so pretty!”

“Get this shit off of me. Get this shit off of me right now.”

I open the camera app on my phone again and start taking some pictures. “Hey, what happened to rule number one? Be gracious, Fat.”

Her green eyes glare directly at the camera. “That rule only applies to real diamonds, you disgusting wench.”

Forming Hypochondria

“What is that rank smell?”

When I hear the judgement in her tone, I pull the turtle move; my head disappears through the neck hole of my t-shirt and I camp out inside hoping she won’t see me. I stay curled up like that for what feels like fifteen minutes. The silence gives me hope that she’s gone off to drink out of the toilet or hide in the closet. I poke the top of my head out, keeping everything below my nose hidden.

“Hello.” She’s on the armrest of the couch, at eye level and less than a foot away.

“Shit.” I pull the collar of my shirt down; no sense hiding anymore.

“That’s one. You went over your limit yesterday, so I’d try not to throw another one out there until the day after tomorrow just to balance out the average of curse words.” Fat’s nose lifts to the air, “Seriously, what is that smell? Did you start an at-home crematorium service?” She catches my guilty glance to the kitchen. “You didn’t? A third fire?”

I cringe, “Not exactly. Oh Christ.” I jump off the couch and rush to the patio door. The background sound of rain becomes louder when I pull the door open. I lean against the doorway and pile my hair on top of my head in a sloppy bun. I flap my fingers back and forth creating the worst makeshift fan in the world. My spine presses into the frame, the coolness making the situation marginally better. Eyelids heavy, my gaze glosses over the grey sphere on the couch. “Fat, I think I’m going through the change.”

She yawns, her mouth so wide it’s like seeing sunrise and sunset at the same time.

“Seriously. That smell? Some of my hair fell out and landed on the stove when I was making soup. I can’t regulate my temperature and my hormones are out of control.” I shriek the last part as I wipe the sweat from my brow.

Fat slumps over and rests her head on the couch. “Perhaps an exorcism is the way to go? Demon be gone!” One of her paws lazily stretches forward, she briefly extends her claws and then gingerly tucks her paw back under her portly self. She chuckles to herself, “Menopause.”

“You think this is funny?”

She offers me a droll expression. “Why are you making soup?”

“Because I’m feeling pretty gnarly. It feels like somebody’s scrubbing my throat with a brillo pad. I may or may not throw up.” Exhausted, I walk two steps and collapse on the chez lounge side of the sectional.

“Uh huh.” She waits, expecting me to come to a logical conclusion – a destination where I never arrive. “Have you looked around this apartment? Your hair is everywhere.”

“As is yours.” The words come out sounding like my throat is dusted in chalk. My head dangles over the side of the couch and I look at her upside-down.

“Uh huh.” She drags it out longer this time, possibly hoping that it will bring me closer to the point she’s trying to demonstrate. My jaw goes slack and hangs open and my eyes drift across the room. “Really?” I vaguely hear the annoyance in her voice. “You have a fever, fool. Take the soup off the stove and go to bed.”

“This menopause is killing me. Fat, to you I bequeath the Mutt. Take good care of him.”

Fat jumps down and crawls under the desk. “I want no part of this anymore. Sickness amplifies your idiocy.”