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…”

Office Hours: Arts and Crafts

“Are you expecting a kindergarten class?”

I drop my beyond-ripe gym bag on the floor next to the full-body mirror in the hall. Fat, waiting expectantly in her plastic eyeglasses, sits straighter upon my entrance. She perches on the coffee table amongst a throng of construction paper, felt-tip pens, paint, glue sticks, coloured pipe cleaners and white out. She says nothing, just gives me the ‘trust me’ look of a politician in a sweater vest. Her eyes follow me as I disappear into the kitchen and come back with a Corona in hand.

“Seriously, Fat. Is it time for back-to-school shopping already? What’s going on with this stuff?”

I kneel on the ground beside the coffee table and set my beer down in a small area of table not occupied by craft supplies. My idle hands can’t help themselves and I reach over and grab the pipe cleaners. I wind a yellow and blue one together, with no idea of what will become of it.

“No.” Fat snaps when she sees my hands sculpting the wire aimlessly. “That’s not what this stuff is for, Boss.”

I drop the pipe cleaners instantly; they hit the edge of the table and fall to the floor in near-silence. I lift my hands in the air to show I’m at her mercy.

“You’re absolutely right. Clearly these are for the séance you’re hosting this evening. Give the spirits my apologies for disrupting their arts and crafts table.”

“No,” Fat repeats. “I want you to construct a physical representation of your heart.” Fat’s head nods at all the art supplies around her paws. “It’s an exercise in perception. Show me what you think yours looks like.”

I stare, open-mouthed at the art supplies, awaiting further instruction.

The feline’s tail sweeps over the craft materials, knocking the bottle of white out on its side. Her eyes squint at me from behind the wire frames of her spectacles. She sighs with impatience, “You can start now.”

“Oh, well…” I scan the art goods and grab the scissors and a piece of blue construction paper. For some reason, I think this is a timed event and start cutting the shape of a heart as quickly as possible.

I’m so engrossed in the process, I don’t even acknowledge Fat’s stare.

“You clearly were not emo as a youth.”

I look up just as I finish cutting the shape of a lopsided heart from the paper. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

The feline stares as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You’re not good at cutting.”

I don’t know how to respond so I just ignore her comment and focus instead on piercing and cutting several holes of various sizes into my paper heart. Upon completion of the round holes, I set the scissors and lean away from my art project.

“You think your heart looks like Swiss cheese?” Fat appears repulsed by my effort and stares at the barely held-together heart.

“Swiss chee…” My head lops to the side and I have to admit, yes, it does look like that. Unintentionally, of course.

“You think there’s a person out there who wants a heart that looks like that? This isn’t a heart you give to somebody.” Fat judges before she even hears my explanation.

“I have no intention of giving my heart to any one person.”

Fat gives me a look that can’t commit to being either pity or misunderstanding. It’s a face between differing states.

“The holes, Fat. I could never give anybody my entire heart because I’ve already given pieces of it to other people.” I point to a hole, “My folks have this part.” I point to another hole, “Bestie’s.” I point out a few more, “Chelsea’s. My niece. Nephew.” I list off a few more missing parts of my heart that have been given away. “Kind of selfish to get these parts of my heart back just so I can give my whole heart to a single person. I like it better like this. I like having a broken heart. More pieces to give to others for safe keeping.”

Fat sits in silence. Her face twists in what looks to be a pained expression.

“Fat? What’s wrong?”

Fat’s paw bats a few of the felt pens sheepishly and we both watch them fall off the table. “I was expecting to mock your ugly heart and tell you about how nobody wants something so hideous. It is hideous, by the way. But then you go and say something like that and I haven’t prepared any supportive comments.”

A Day at the Races

“It’s official, I’m poor.”

Not only sun-kissed, but sun-ravaged, I skip into the apartment and drop my bag in the computer chair. I show no signs of distress over the sing-song statement I just announced about my financial well-being.

“Are we going to be evicted? Shall I pack my things?” Fat pouts from atop the high computer desk cabinets. “I knew I shouldn’t have fallen for the first pretty young thing that wanted to take me home from the SPCA. I could have done so much better…” Fat stares off into nothingness, wistfully.

“Fat, we are po’ fo’ sho’.”

The feline blinks hard to come back to reality. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you go to the race track.”

I sway haphazardly from side-to-side instead of shaking my head in response to her statement. “Clearly you do not understand the pull of going to watch the Weinerdogs race on the track.” I speak behind my hand and whisper upward to the feline’s pert ears, “The dogs weren’t very good.”

Fat crouches low and leans downward, extending as close to my face as possible without compromising her footing. “Why are you whispering?” She whispers back. “Don’t tell me you lost our money betting on dachshunds.”

“I did not.” I smile proudly for not doing something so humiliating as losing a fortune gambling on short-limbed dogs. “I was betting on the ponies. As it turns out, Fat, you shouldn’t bet on a nag just because it’s from your hometown. Or has the same name as your dad. Or has the best-coloured horse jersey.”

Fat purses her lips and shakes her head incredulously.

“But,” I open my purse and empty it of the horse race schedule and tiny pieces of paper – evidence of all my bad choices from the duration of the afternoon, “We’ve learned something. I’m not good at gambling.”

Fat’s eyes lock on the slips I keep pulling out of my purse.

“Boss, I’m not really sure what to say. How much money did it cost you for them to print ink on those worthless pieces of paper?” High above the living room floor, Fat cringes, bracing herself for terrible news.

I quickly count the slips in my hand. “Twelve.”

“Twelve what? Hundred? Thousand?”

I squint at the feline and my head lops to the side as if it toppled over from the weight of the messy hair bun. “Yes, Fat. I lost twelve thousand dollars over the course of four hours.”

“So it was less than that?” Fat seems to be less stressed, but still on edge.

“I lost twelve dollars.”

There is a flash of grey as the feline jumps from the cabinet down to the desktop. “For Christ’s sake, Boss. You scared the shit out of me. I thought you owed money to the mob or something. I hope you’ve learned something from this experience. You won’t miss twelve dollars, we’re not broke yet.” Fat notices my grinding teeth. “What are you upset about? Twelve dollars is nothing.”

“I could have bought two more beer with that money.”

Fat’s face turns deadpan. “Chin up. I’m sure you’ll be fine with the amount you have in the fridge. It sounds like you had a rough day.”

Vacation: The Compression of 30 Hours

Hey Wilbur,
Thank you for your last Facebook message, but no, I will not stop calling you Wilbur, and no, that man’s voice in the hallway is not mine. I’m still at the airport; my flight was delayed. Just a heads up, Fat, I’m exhausted and I just want to have a chill night after I get home, okay? Anything you want to get unreasonably dramatic about can wait.
Yesterday and today are a blur and my mind and muscles are suffering from fatigue. The last moment that felt real-time was yesterday morning when I was lying in the sunshine of my parent’s backyard. The doorbell rang and it may as well have been the sound of the starting pistol at a foot race.
My bro arrived, he rolled his eyes as I put on my prom dress again to show off, we did some shooters of coffee in the kitchen and then we were off. I proved my multitasking ability by simultaneously driving my dad’s mountain of a truck and yelling at Google maps for guiding us the wrong way to the Godfather’s house. The argument may give the illusion that I knew where we were going – I hadn’t been to the Godfather’s new palace, but I can ballpark. Somewhat. You know me; I hate being told what to do, so I took it out on the digital woman’s voice who was directing us along.
If this was a movie you could fast forward and watch my bro, the Godfather and myself laughing in his backyard tipping back bottle after bottle of beer as the blue sky turns to a slate of grey. Enter dad, who pedaled up the mountain on his bicycle. If you keep fast forwarding you’ll see another round of beers, a trip to the liquor store to stock up for the night, we stopped somewhere else – but as I don’t remember where it was, it probably wasn’t important. We ended up at the parent’s house at the top of another mountain, did a little urban exploration going into houses currently under construction and guessing what each room would be when the construction was complete. After sunset we stumbled back to the house, tipped back a few more and engaged in a marathon of Speed Scrabble.
It should be noted that my bro is a damn poet with Speed Scrabble. He sewed together words that became slam pieces of sad fellows drinking gin and different kinds of lies. Granted, in hindsight, we had all been drinking most of the day so his eloquence is lost in history and botched Mead memory. Such a pity that one of the most soulful minds I’ve come across only becomes genius under the influence of booze. That’s the artist’s life, I suppose. Ask Hemmingway.
You can fast forward some more, we tipped back a collection of bottles and made word after word for many hours. Afterward, there was an early morning hot tub and collapse of the entire collective.
After K.O.ing for too few hours, we rose early to get on the lake for some kayaking. Note: one can paddle faster when their bladder is full and a public washroom is in sight. Maybe that’s where the blisters on my thumbs came from. The morning was amazing. I mean, yes, we lost one of the kayaks off the roof rack on the truck on the way to the water, but it was a great time. After trading the kayaks at the house for the power boat the adventure continued.
Since there was a wakeboard and since I haven’t done been on one in years, it had to be done. They mocked me for wussing out and wearing a wetsuit, but nobody else went in the water at all. I’m just saying…
So here I am, shorts still damp, sitting at the airport and noticing from the screen on the wall is showing that my flight is delayed another half hour. I’m going to hunt out a sandwich or something. I’m starving.
See you in a few hours,
Boss 

 


 

Boss,
The chef dropped off Mutt. I don’t what the man fed the beast, but he smells really bad. If the chef was a gracious man, he would have at least cracked a window to let the Mutt’s toxins escape. Also, he left you something on the counter in the kitchen. Hopefully you get home fast before something bad happens to it.
You’ll be happy to know I took your advice and looked up some “wannabe shrink” stuff online. You’re going to love it – I’ve scheduled you a session next week. Be excited. Welcome back to real life, sucker.
Love,
Fat

Vacation: Hour One

Dear Fat,
I took a guess and figured you’d be nosing through my emails while I’m away. I trust you found this letter in the draft folder and just couldn’t help yourself to a peek. Chelsea won’t be by to feed you until she’s off work – can you do me a favour and make sure that I didn’t leave the hair straightener turned on? I know you probably read that and thought something like, “Nothing doing, wench,” but you really should make sure it’s not plugged in; it’s not me that will die if the apartment catches fire. I’m just saying… you’re going to want to take clean up after my carelessness. My apologies, that could have been more sensitive. For the record, I don’t want you to die in a fire. I’m sure your fur is much too flammable.
Listen, I’m sorry that you’re mad that I left without giving you any warning. It’s only a week – enjoy the solitude. Mutt is over at the chef’s house. You can spend the quiet week pouring through the internet reading articles for unlicensed wannabe shrinks. Sorry, that could have come out a little nicer. You’ve been a great help at times. We probably shouldn’t discuss the times you have been less than helpful and I’ve wanted to search Craigslist for a kitty guillotine.
As I’m sure you can guess from the correspondence, I’ve arrived at Mead Manor and I’m in good company. My stepsister and I have both been busted on the cooking front and the parents have decreed that the two of us will be throwing together tonight’s dinner. The fact that she and I both gravitate toward men that know their way around a kitchen isn’t an accident; it’s a sign of intelligent upbringing. But with beer in hand, we’ve got great plans for protein skewers, roasted peppers and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. We’re working the ol’ Mead standby – keep everyone’s drinks full and cook slowly so the alcohol has time to warp judgement. You know, just in case.
Believe it or not, I will actually miss your company this week, Fat. Tell Chelsea I say hi.
Love,
Boss

 


 

Dear idiot Boss,
I expect you’ll find your straightener inside your suitcase. You packed it last night, remember? Obviously not, your ability to be a complete buffoon seldom surprises me anymore. That hair iron is an extra limb to a vain person like yourself; at least the hazard is out of the apartment for the time being – the hazard being you, of course. If I may also go on record, I don’t want you to perish in a fire either – I’d much prefer to get the satisfaction of suffocating you myself.
No, I’m not upset that you abandoned me to go wakeboard or whatever it is you do in Kelowna. One quick thing to note: if you find a hairball in your underwear drawer, it was an accident. Sincerely.
Oh, Boss. This almost seems like a letter to grandma. It’s cute that you think I care about you cooking dinner. I don’t. You left me and my ability to care about your life has also abandoned the apartment. Funny how that works.
I’ll be scooting my ass over as many surfaces as I can in your absence; I know how you love that. Please let that image gnaw at your brain for the duration of your time away.
Regards,
Fat

 

Conversations That Ease Abandonment

“I thought you said you were going to putter around the house today? What’s this nonsense you’ve got going on?”

Fat sits right in front of the plastic cup I’ve placed on its side on the carpet. She looks to where I’ve repositioned the coffee table — out of the way, beside the cloudy window of the patio door so I have more room.

I briefly take my eye off the brilliant pink of the Volvik ball in front of my feet. Instead of answering, I let my arms swing back and there’s the nice sound of the golf club connecting to the ball. Our heads move in unison as Fat and I both watch the pink sphere roll across the carpet. If my aim were better, I wouldn’t have missed her by a foot. However, this ball lands closer to the cup than my first one; the latter found a new home under the couch.

“So again I ask, what on earth are you doing?”

“Putting.” I give the feline an exasperated look with my answer, “Obviously.”

“And the outfit?”

“Pretty, yes?” The putter becomes a fancy cane that I lean on and strike a pose. I’m wearing my white golf skirt, teal shirt, matching shoes and glove that ties the ensemble together in a neat little bow. I figure if I’m going to play terribly and get drunk off beer at the golf course, I might as well look good doing it. I use the putter to manoeuver another ball from the remaining three into position.

“Sure, Boss.” Fat doesn’t move. She’s seen my skills and she’s clearly not worried about me hitting my target. Fat is smart like that sometimes.

Concentration and intention pour from my brain into my hands. My head tilts to Fat, then to the ball, then to Fat, then back to the ball. The golf club lifts gently off the ground, the hips swivel slightly, eye on the ball and…

“The dress-up thing doesn’t surprise me.”

I sigh and lower the putter to the ground. The sun comes out and light drifts into our dismal living room. I offer her my silence in exchange for an explanation.

The good doctor smiles as though she’s won something, and maybe she has. “You like to dress for occasions, don’t you? There’s this golfer outfit you’ve got here, when you fixed the closet door handles you gussied yourself up in coveralls, the rare times you bake there’s always an apron and the matching oven mitts, you even have a bandana for changing oil in a car. It kind of gives a clue as to why you’re old and alone.” Fat pauses, giving me time to make some sort of realization.

I twirl the putter around since I have nothing I should contribute to the conversation. I want to make a comment about being self-sufficient, but I’ve fallen into her traps before. It keeps my rage in check if I don’t give her a reason to make me feel like an idiot.

“There’s no kind of costume or Personal Protective Equipment for being in a relationship with you. It’s a wonder anyone has ever signed up to be your boyfriend.”

“PPE? Like goggles and safety vests?” I hesitate to ask, because I worry Fat will take the conversation to a XXX kind of place. Those S&M folk play dress-up too.

“More like a metaphoric jock strap. It’s almost like you truly don’t want to find somebody. Ever.”

I revoke my full attention and line up once again with the golf ball. “You think I’m a lot more harsh than I actually am.” I hit the ball without forethought, and it ricochets off the wall with much too much force. “Why don’t you think I’m fine without a man, Fat? This isn’t a hundred years ago. I’m not even close to old maid status.”

“But you would be such a beautiful bride. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, a great mother too.”

I frown and my mouth puckers like I’m tasting pink grapefruit. “You’ve supported my single life in the past. Whose agenda are you pushing?”

The feline scratches her temple and she bears a confession face. “I was maybe corresponding via text with your parents under the guise of your identity.” Her sheepish face switches to scorn, “When were you going to announce that you’re leaving me for a week?”

“My parents, of course. They can see my older brother about more grandkids, he’d love to add to his brood.” He’s planning a wedding next year too; that should take the heat off of me for a couple more years at least. “And stop playing on my phone.” I’m going to need to change my passcode.

In all honesty, I had no intention of telling Fat I was leaving, she would figure it out once Chelsea showed up to fill her food dish. I think euphorically of my plane ticket and lazy Okanagan plans. A week of freedom starting tomorrow. G’bye, Fat.

The feline squints at me. “What is that ridiculous smile for?”

Lowering the Bar

“You’ve got a little something there.”

Fat’s paw gesticulates in a circular motion in front of her furry chest.

Compared to the glorious weather outside, the apartment is immersed in darkness. I peel off my sunglasses and look down at what was, when I left for work fourteen hours ago, a flawless cream tank top. The shirt has since been violated and scandalized by a crusty smattering of brown something. From its location, the mysterious substance looks like alien areola on my shirt.

“Damn. Can’t keep it classy, can I?” I mumble and pull my top taut with one hand while the thumbnail of the opposite one picks at the dried-on smudge. I’m looking down at such an intense angle my neck folds like an accordion and becomes a double chin. At least that’s what it feels like.

“What is it?” Fat moves to sit at my heels. Her double chin flattens as she lengthens her neck to stare upward. Such juxtaposition.

I don’t think, I just act. Pinching the cotton fabric from either side of the mess, I lift the stain to my mouth.

“Boss, no!” Fat shields her eyes as though there will be some terrible backlash from my actions.

My tongue presses against the stain. It is just as I thought.

“Barbeque sauce.”

Fat carefully lowers her paw and peeks out. When she realizes that neither of us are going to die, her paw touches down to the floor and the feline sits straighter as her spine becomes rigid.

“You’re an idiot. Barbeque sauce? A brown smudge could have been any number of gross things.”

“I was at a barbeque after work, Fat. There is nothing else it could have been. Besides, if you look at the trajectory,” I mime eating and draw an invisible line from my imaginary burger to the stain on my right boob, “the angle checks out.” This is where high school math class pays off; I was wondering when this crap would come in handy.

Fat doesn’t think I notice her claws slowly digging into the carpet. “You’re so frivolous with stupid things. Nothing on your face showed sign of second thought to sticking unknown dried sludge in your mouth.” Her voice screeches with frustration.

“What’s your problem, Fat?”

“This devil-may-care attitude of yours. I just don’t understand why that’s not a blanket mentality. The therapist in me is curious, but the roommate in me is beyond tired of your moronic nature.”

“What do you mean?” I stick the soiled section of shirt in my mouth and suck the mesquite flavour.

The feline snaps, “Get that out of your mouth; you’re not a child.” She waits for me to obey before she continues. “You’re so carefree with all the stupid stuff in your life, but when it comes down to things that are important, you hesitate and drag your heels until the decisions are made for you. You lack instinct. I can’t think of a time when you’ve been attuned to your visceral gut.”

“That time in Mexico when everybody else ate at that gnarly dive bar and I had a bad feeling about it. They all ended up sick in the ‘it’s coming out of both ends’ kind of way.” I pair the anecdote with a cheeky smile. I’m pretty proud of that decision two years ago. Though, it may have been the voice in my head screaming about how it seemed like a bad idea; if I recall correctly, my gut was hungry at the time.

“Boss,” Fat draws out the word so she sounds like a serpent, “That’s not what I meant. But clearly your brain got busy rubbing elbows with the beer at the barbeque, so it’s kind of a lost cause talking to you right now. I get it. You don’t think things through. But for the sake of my sanity, can you be that way with everything in your life so I know not to have any hope?”

“I can’t promise that, Fat.” My eyes drift back down to the stain. I don’t know how I’m still hungry.

“It’s just not fair to me to know that you have the capacity to make informed decisions. If I always expect you to be a buffoon I can’t ever be disappointed.”