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.”

A Woman Needs Girlfriends

“For a stick and bones frame, you sure jiggle a lot, Boss. Hold still. Stop fidgeting.”

I feel a brush sweep gently across my eyelid. If I was better at being girly I wouldn’t need to enlist the help of the hefty feline. Speaking of whom, my legs are going numb from her weight. Our tiny apartment doesn’t have room for a vanity, so I’m perched on the ledge of the bathtub with Fat balancing precariously on my lap so she can apply layers of makeup to my face. Unfortunately for me, I’m nervous about tonight and that feeling made me jump at the chance for any help. Fat, of course, came to the rescue.

The bathroom is ridiculously bright today. I’m pretty certain she switched out the regular lightbulbs for ones with greater watts. God forbid the feline misses a chance to check out my wrinkles under harsh lighting. Beside the tub, a multitude of products is displayed on the closed toilet lid; I have no idea what most of it is. Where is a good drag queen tutorial when you need one?

“Are you going to miss the spinster life? You were just starting to get good at it. That Chinese restaurant will miss delivering food to this particular shut-in. Their business is going to suffer, you know that right?” She leans over to her make-shift counter to get some more colour on the end of the brush. “Boss, close your eyes. I’m working here.”

The brush goes over the crease of my eyelid. Seems unnecessary; I was more or less hoping for some help with making my skin look better. The situation snowballed pretty fast – Fat’s even wearing one of those makeup tool belts to hold her brushes like the gorgeous people who work at MAC. “What kind of eyeshadow is this? It smells terrible.”

“It’s cigarette ash. I was going for that smoky eye look all the harlots are after. Do I have to tell you to close your eyes again? Honestly, I swear you like being difficult.” Fat cups my face in both paws to assess her work. In the moment I’m entirely dumbfounded, Fat licks the pad of her paw and wipes something away from the corner of my eye with her saliva.

“Could you please stop doing disgusting things to my face?”

Fat doesn’t respond to my, what I consider entirely reasonable, plea. “So tell me about the guy. Where did you meet him?” She grabs one of the bigger brushes out of her waist belt and grabs a small container of blush. God I hope it’s blush. She applies whatever it is to my cheeks.

“He’s a friend of a friend. Funny. Tall.” Remember, self, minimal details are your friend here. You don’t want the cat to get the idea you want to talk. Before you know it you’ll be hugging a pillow while lying on the couch and discussing your mommy issues.

“Gangly doofus. Sounds like a winner.” She goes for my face with something that looks like a hot pink Sharpie.

“Whoa, whoa. What the hell is that?” In an effort to dodge out of her way, I come dangerously close to falling ass backward into the bathtub. I regain balance and hold tight to the off-white edge of the tub.

Her green eyes travel to regard the pen then back to meet my gaze, “Lip liner.”

“Nope. No lip liner. My people don’t do most of this stuff that you’ve attacked me with. I’m taking a stand. This much makeup is unnecessary; I’m neither a pageant queen nor auditioning for a circus. I’m going to dinner and a show tonight. We’re done here.”  I pick her up and drop her on the floor and get on my feet before she can jump back up.

“If you just give me three more minutes…”

When I look in the mirror, I’m entirely horrified. “Fat, I look like the asylum gave me a day pass.”

Only panda bears and Avril Lavigne should have eyes that look like this. The blush is so orange against my pale skin it makes me feel like my face is attempting to outdo a sunset. No is the only word that comes to mind. No. No. No. No. No. No.

“I was trying to give you a look that says, ‘No need to buy the cow’. You don’t think it’s a success?”

I grab the makeup remover wipes. Multiple wipes. A handful. Less than three will not erase the catastrophe that used to be my money maker. I bury my face in the damp cloths and rub vigorously. Paint remover may be necessary. Oh Christ, the audacity.

“Who says concubines get to have all the fun? Excuse me for giving you the Pretty Woman treatment so you can go out and bag us a rich guy.”

When my face emerges from the collection of towelettes, the formerly white cloth is now an absurd rainbow. “I’d rather have a nice guy.”

“Money talks, Boss, and it says, ‘Buy your cat some decent food so she can stop eating the drivel you consider quality.’” Fat grabs a tube of mascara and jumps beside the bathroom sink so she can see herself in the mirror. Her mouth forms an ‘O’ shape as she applies the makeup to her whiskers to make them longer and more voluminous.

I reach for my phone when it beeps. “My cat deserves to starve for what she did to my face.” I read the text, “We can continue this later. He’s parked out front, I’ve got to go.”

“You’re going out like that?” The feline meets my eye in the mirror’s reflection. “No makeup?”

“Au natural.” I nod. “At least I feel like myself.”

“I’m sure it’ll go great and he’ll want to spend all the time in the world with a looker like you. So…see you in about ten minutes?”

 

The Dangers of Pumpkin Carving

“Art is not your strong suit, Boss.”

“What are you talking about?” I’m kneeling on the living room floor in front of the coffee table that is covered in a layer of newspaper now slimy with pumpkin innards. My bicep pops out slightly as I finish sawing into another section of the pumpkin. “You are going to effing love this jack o’ lantern.” The primal part of my being totally loves this stuff. I’ve got orange grit under my nails, my hands are slightly sticky and I’ve gutted this pumpkin like a damn trout.

Fat’s balances on her hind legs as her front ones brace the table’s edge. Her grey head tilts slightly to the side like a pompous critic at an art gallery. “Is this a self portrait or what?”

“Fat, it’s pumpkin carving. Be serious.” My thumbs press hard into the pumpkin flesh to dislodge the last piece of the mouth. Some people chisel the statue of David; I dissect pumpkins until they are four kinds of majestic.

“In all seriousness, it looks like a drag queen.” Fat’s paw notes the arched eyebrows and puffy lips. “I thought Halloween stuff was supposed to be scary.”

“First of all, it’s an homage to Tim Curry from Rocky Horror Picture Show. And second, it didn’t turn out as I pictured, but it is scary. What’s more frightening than painfully obvious Botox injections?”

Fat meets my gaze as she throws a dry look over her left shoulder. “Cute, Boss.” She jumps on the table amongst the pumpkin debris to suss out the work of the second pumpkin, now abandoned, on the table. “Your orange friend there must have startled your boyfriend. He hightailed it out of here a half hour ago. Didn’t even finish his bat thing.”

I set the knife down; I need it out of my hand if I’m going to attempt a conversation with the feline. “He’s not my boyfriend, Fat.” One would think she would tire from hearing this, but no.

“Yeah, okay.” She’s quick to interrupt even in the midst of leaning down to sniff a stringy, seed-filled, sloppy pile of pumpkin guts.

“And he’s been gone for like two, maybe three, minutes.” I was too absorbed to register the reason he said he needed to go back to his place. No matter.

“Just another one that couldn’t get away fast enough, lady.” Fat leans in and takes a delicate bite of pumpkin. “Oh god.” Fat spits it out instantly. “Oh no. No. Never again. What kind of devil food is this?” Her tongue darts in and out of her mouth as though licking the surrounding air will dissolve the taste across her palate. “I’m going to throw up. Seriously, right here on this table. Give me some room.”

I lift my pumpkin, saving it from potential cat vomit just as we hear the front door open and close; the sound brings Jesse back into the apartment. His head and arms poke through torn holes in a green garbage bag – his precautionary measure against the anticipated pumpkin mess. Jesse’s come back holding a six-pack of pale ale in one hand and plastic container of cookies in the other.

“Who do you think you are with that stuff, my father?” I’m half-kidding, but my pops would never turn down beer and cookies.

“Possible Daddy issues. Interesting.” Fat notes as her gaze follows the arc of a beer can lobbed through the air and into my awaiting hands. She seems to have forgotten about wanting to throw up. The feline’s neck snaps back to Jesse, doing a delayed double-take. “You’re still wearing your shoes. This is the living room.” She scowls at his lack of manners and her voice becomes a razor’s edge, “We do not wear footwear in the living room.”

“Chill, Miss Fat. I thought we were friends.” Jesse pulls the tab on his beer and the sound sings an anthem of refreshment. As a good woman, I’m already well into mine.

I grab the knife and attempt to cut more details into my wannabe Dr. Frank N. Furter one-handed while maintaining a hold on my beer with my left hand. I do not have the skill set to do this and decide that my pumpkin is finished.

Looking up, Fat stares at Jesse like she’s holding him at gunpoint. “Back up, sir. Remove your shoes, sir.” Her eyes drift to the container of cookies and her demeanor instantly changes. “Whatcha got there, buddy?”

“Woman, your cat is bipolar or something.” Jesse, still in his shoes, pulls the lid off the cookies. “Fat, you like cookies?”

“Don’t feed her cookies.” Curious, I reach over to see what kind of face Jesse’s pumpkin has. We were waiting to unveil our creations when we were both finished, but I’m done, and he’s been working on something. If you round up, we’ve both completed the job.

Fat’s neck cranes, trying to extend to the length of a giraffe’s just to see what kind of treats he’s brought over. “What kind of cookies?”

The pumpkin rotates in my hand as he announces, “Pumpkin cookies with cream cheese icing. I made them myself.”

Fat’s interest dissolves into utter disgust. Her taste only a moment ago was clearly enough of a trial. “Pumpkin?”

“Oh God.” My reaction mirrors that of my cat. “You have to go.”

“You don’t want cookies?” Jesse’s lower lip juts out in an overemphasized pout.

“Yes. What idiot doesn’t want cookies? But this,” I spin the pumpkin around so he can observe his crudely-cut Batman symbol, “is entirely unacceptable. We can’t hang out anymore.”

Jesse looks from Fat to me and back to Fat; by now he knows he’s pleased neither of us with his actions. He wears uncertainty the same way he wears his ghetto hazard suit.

His thumb points in the direction of the door and his slow backward steps masquerade as casual backpedaling, “Maybe I should go…”

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.”

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.”