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.”

Making Comparisons

“I hear it’s Ken’s birthday tomorrow.”

Fat finds me in the kitchen and watches me down half a handful of dry granola.

“Oh yeah?” I crunch the cereal into paste and swallow it down. “Who’s Ken?”

Fat’s shoulders lift toward her pointed ears. “I don’t know. I thought you were best friends with all the neighbours now.”

The box of granola finds its way back to where it belongs on top of the fridge. “Not making a habit of it, I assure you.” My hands sweep against each other before I brush any stubborn crumbs onto my shorts. I grab a ribbon I left on the counter and start tying a bow around the glass jar beside it.

“You’re telling me you have no affiliation with this Ken or the old lady that was talking to him in the hallway this afternoon?”

I raise my right hand as though swearing an oath. “None whatsoever.”

“Well, you may have ordered a fruit bouquet online for the occasion, so…”

“You’re fibbing.”

“Completely.” Fat finally notices the jar of pickles on the counter that’s now flourished with green ribbon in the style of five-year-old shoelaces. “What’s up with this?” She holds her paw out to gesture at the fancy jar. “You’re not going to tell me this is a gift for Ken on his special day? I’m very confused.”

“I’m seeing a gal pal of mine tonight. She’s got good news coming out the wazoo – she’s rocking at life right now. The pickles are to congratulate her on a particular tidbit of wonderful news.”

“She’s discovered how nicely they go with tuna on high-brow crackers?”

I give Fat the look that tells her not to be an idiot. “Bun in the oven. New house purchased. Month long dream vacation coming up.” I stare at the label on the pickles. “I’m just recognizing the good things in the world by paying tribute with what used to be cucumbers,” I glance over my shoulder to the pink daisies on the hall table, “and also flowers.”

Fat gives me a skeptical sigh and her face gets done over with genuine interest. “You’re not making comparisons are you, Boss? That’s a dangerous game.”

I shrug. “I can drink vodka and she can’t. It all evens out.” The truth is, yes. I can’t help but make comparisons. I’m so far removed from a life such as that, I can’t even fathom what it’s like to live up to the model of adulthood. I’m still in the ‘having fun’ phase.

Fat’s head moves around, taking inventory with birdlike movements. “Can’t help but notice you don’t have any gifts, pickles or otherwise, celebrating significant moments in your life. Why is that?”

“For the precise reason you think, Fat. I’m happy enough, but I’ve got nothing especially significant going on.” In a last-minute decision, I untie the green ribbon and slap a blue bow sticker to the jar lid. That’s how it’s done.

Fat taps her jaw thoughtfully, “How does one fix that, do you think?”

I hurriedly grab the jar of pickles and flowers; I’m going to miss the seabus if I don’t hustle my caboose. “By going out and having a good time with my friend for starters.”

“We’ll figure this life thing out, Boss.”

“Oh goody. A team project.”

No Vacancy

“I’ve had some time to mull it over, and I’m okay with it – providing it doesn’t happen tomorrow.”

The apartment door hasn’t even had time to swing open far enough to collide with the entryway closet. Fat sits just far enough away the pendulum swing of the door so it barely misses her. The solemn-faced feline appears to have been anticipating my arrival.

“Huh?” I’m too paralyzed by the greeting to even step into the apartment. The doorway that separates my world from the real world makes me feel strange, like I’m an outsider looking into somebody else’s apartment.

“That whole you wanting to procreate thing. I say as long as you’re sure it’s what you want. And if I may use one of your standby quotes: ‘why the hell not?’”

My grip loosens on the strap of the purse slung over my shoulder. “Of course I’m not having babies tomorrow, Fat. I’ve got an IUD that serves a dual purpose; it’s also a No Vacancy sign.”

“That’s probably a good thing since you have a previous record of losing children.”

The tightness in my shoulders releases and I feel a foreign sense of comfort in talking with the feline. It’s nice that we’re back to normal. “That’s funny; I was literally telling the story about losing my nephew in a grocery store not a half hour ago. The lad was practically grown when I lost him; it wasn’t a huge deal.”

“Boss, the kid wasn’t yet three.”

“He could walk, talk and feed himself. I’ve met grown men who don’t have as much going for them. He was ready to take on the world.”

Fat licks her chops as though giving herself a moment to try and avoid something not bitchy, “How much longer do you have with that IUD?”

I don my thinking face, “Long time, just under four years.”

Fat nods, “That’s probably a good thing.”

The conversation stops as we hear the tinny sounds of empty beer cans knocking against each other. The good doctor and I exchange knowing looks – the sound serves as theme music of the guy around the corner, Fat calls him the Hobo Tenant. Nice guy. At least he seems to be, I can’t understand a word he says, but he’s always smiling. The aluminum sound comes closer, way too close. It appears the Hobo Tenant is on tour. Fat pops her head around the corner, as curious as I am as to where he’s headed.

The rustling rounds the corner.

“Jesse?”

My only tolerable neighbour rounds the corner and beams.

“I totally thought you were…” I point in the direction of the Hobo Tenant’s apartment and he laughs with me.

“Kind of sounds like it, eh?” He shakes the plastic bags of empty cans and bottles. “Saving them for my niece’s – I want to say dance club or karate – bottle drive. Fundraiser for something anyway.” He looks thoughtfully at the bags in his hand, “I don’t know. But how great is it that I can say that I’m drinking for the children?” He wrinkles his nose, “That sounds bad.”

“He seems like your kind of co-parent. Still admitting you’re not hittin’ that?” Fat hums a porn-sounding tune. Her neck and shoulders jostle as she moves along to the music.

I throw my bag close enough to the feline that surprise stuns her into silence.

I point at Jesse’s summer makeover. “Haircut.”

As most people will do when you mention their hair, Jesse runs his fingers through his locks unconsciously. “Thanks, yeah. I hear it makes me look like a soccer player.” He’s had the sides and back cropped really short, and the top remains long and kind of sticks up like it’s been teased – even though it hasn’t.

“I totally see that.” In reality, I’m as ignorant about soccer as I am with most things, so I totally don’t see that. I want to say it makes him look taller, but I get the feeling that’s not the right thing to say.

Thankfully, Jesse abandons the current conversation for something different. “Oh, hey. Check this out!”

Unprepared for what ensues, I watch Jesse drop the bags of empties and pull of his t-shirt.

“He’s harrier than I am.” Fat gawks from beside my heels.

“Shut up, Fat,” I speak out of the corner of my mouth as Jesse turns to show off his back. His skin looks as though it’s some kind of pop art in the medium of molten lava and skin grafts from the burn ward. The sunburn I had a few weeks ago played in the minors compared to this monster. “What in the hell happened to you? That’s disgusting, dude. Seriously, it’s vomit-inducing.”

The friendly neighbour smiles, “Not the first time I’ve heard that from a girl. Canada Day,” Jesse smirks and playfully kicks the empties, “after several of these, sunscreen doesn’t matter at all.”

Fat leans back in an attempt to increase distance from Jesse’s scarlet man-hide. “Your skin looks like Pompeii. That’s not hair; it’s the villagers that were scorched in the disaster.” Fat looks disgusted. I can’t help but notice that she hasn’t harassed me to feed her. I get the feeling that she’s not going to for a while. “You’ll need a wax when that heals. Put your shirt back on.”

I parrot the feline. “Put your shirt back on.”

Jesse just laughs and covers his man nipples as well as the eyesore with his cotton shirt.

“Get out of here, kid. You disgust me.” I point down the hall to Jesse’s apartment door. He salutes, grabs his bags of cans and saunters away. Such a weirdo.

I finally get into my apartment and shut the door behind me. When I turn, Fat is sitting casually by the hall table with her tail curled around her body; it flicks playfully.

“What, Fat?”

She alters her voice to what I suppose she thinks I sound like, “Get out of here, kid. You disgust me.” Her grey head shakes dismissively as Fat chuckles to herself. “I don’t know what I spent the last two days worrying about.”

Office Hours: Say What Now?

“What, uh,” Fat’s gaze sweeps from the dessert box in my hand to my waterlogged shorts, “what’s going on, Boss?”

My sandals squeak from the moisture as I wander past the good doctor and put the cake in the fridge. “Co-worker’s birthday tomorrow,” I tap on the appliance door in the direction of the cake on the other side.

“And the drippy nether region?”

“Your words paint an unappetizing picture, you know that?”

Tiny fangs show with Fat’s prideful smile, “It’s a gift.” Her shoulders lift in an innocent shrug.

“The wet shorts are from an unintentional enema at the water park while chasing around Bestie’s kid.”

Fat’s lungs release boisterous laughter. “Classic.”

“The only purpose I serve is to be your jester, Fat.”

My dry compliment has the effect of a triple highball on a cheap drunk.

“Time for a quick session?”

I waddle into the living room and flop on the couch, sandals on. “Sure, what the hell?”

Her green eyes bulge with astonishment. She scuttles after me and jumps on the coffee table. Her phony spectacles are conveniently on the table beside her and she fumbles in her race to log more time in her fake shrink book. “Wet shorts and shoes on the couch?”

I lift my index finger high into the air as though making a grand declaration. “My house, my rules.”

“Very well.” Fat adjusts her glasses so they perch just perfectly across her tiny nose. “It would seem you had a lovely afternoon outside.”

“Absolutely.” I take a quick assessment of my freckled skin. “Not a burn or anything.”

Fat stares at my face, which now also blossoms with tiny freckles across the nose and forehead. “You might want to think about a sunhat if aging gracefully is still your plan. A forty-year-old woman like you needs to take all the precautions she can.”

My face contorts into its best impression of a question mark. “I’m not even thirty…”

“That’s what I said, Boss. Do try to keep up.” Fat clips her words; the sharpness makes me doubt if I heard her correctly. She wastes no time on what may or may not have been said and sets right in on her imaginary work. “Now then, you were at the park with Bestie and her offspring.”

I smile and remember the almost-two-year-old saying ‘sexy’ over and over again because it made me laugh. Kids, they’ll repeat everything.

“Jonah, yeah. I love that kid.”

There is an almost unnoticeable twitch of Fat’s ears as they pick up on something.

“This is your godson, right?”

My declaration finger points again, this time at the porky cat, an inch and a half from her spectacled face. “That is correct, Doc.”

“You given any more thought to having your own wee ones?”

“Sure. I’d love to have a kid or two.”

“Liar!” She shouts over my answer and surprise registers as her expectation shatters. Frankly, I don’t blame her; I usually pretend that kids aren’t something I ever want just to avoid conversations about the path to parenthood. Actually, I’m a little surprised at my own honesty. I scratch my forehead. Fake therapy sessions really aren’t the place to talk about deep-seeded truths. I don’t really know what happened. I look at Fat, hoping she’ll bust out with one of her character-building quips, but clearly I’ve just made both of us uncomfortable.

Fat’s jaw drops and she stares, dumbfounded, while she keeps trying to process what she suspected all along. “Boss,” her green eyes hold disbelief, “did you just open up to me? Was that a moment?”

Both of my hands press hard over my heart as though my sincerity was the equivalent of pulling a pin and I’m bracing myself for an explosion of feelings.

Silence surrounds us. My aorta doesn’t become shrapnel. My cardiovascular system remains intact. I think we’re both astounded. With caution, I lower my hands down to the comforting cushion of the couch.

“Yes, Fat. I think maybe we did.”

“Think it’s time to call this one?”

I nod with exuberance. “I don’t think either of us know how to proceed from what just happened.” This honesty country, it’s a strange place.

Fat bats the plastic glasses off her face. “That was a solid three-minute session. I’m okay with that. Keep your uterus in check until we’re both equipped to have a sincere discussion. Okay, Boss? There are some dust motes I was planning to watch in the bedroom, so…I’m going to…do…that.”