Vanity of the Bearded Lady

“You’re something of a handsome woman, Boss.”

My eyes drift to see the feline stretched lengthwise in front of the television as if willing the attention of the room to be drawn to her instead of the screen behind. She will not be upstaged.

“Beg pardon?” My thumb tucks between pages of the book I’m reading.

“There’s something distinguished about you. It could be the regal way you hold yourself or it could be that moustache. I’m not sure which. Either way, girl, you workin’ it.”

Insecurity overtakes my free will and I touch the area between my nose and upper lip. It doesn’t feel like there’s a grizzly moustache growing, but you never want to be the bearded lady who is unaware that she is the bearded lady. I toss the book on the table next to my water and grab my iPhone. The camera turns on so I can see myself in the screen. I approach from several angles, holding my face with my free hand so I can’t run away from myself to go cry in a corner.

She strokes her whiskers in a cavalier manner. “It’s mostly sprouting from the sides; with how long it’s getting, you’ve got kind of a fu-woman-chu. It’s pretty neat. And cultural.”

“You, talking with all those  awful words, are not making the situation any better.” The natural light helps illuminate the blonde hairs sprouting atop my lip. Oh god. It’s real. All that father/son time I spent working on cars with my pops and now I’m a man. I’m so sad for myself right now.

“My sincerest of apologies. I thought you knew. You stare at yourself in the mirror often enough.” Fat jumps down and wanders into the kitchen to start rooting through the junk drawer.

“Disaster. Such disaster.” I close the camera on my phone and go into my list of contacts until I find Stripped Wax Bar. It only rings once. I poorly conceal the frenzy in my voice. “Hi. I have a moustache. When is Heather free?”

“I could take care of that for you. We have duct tape, right?” Fat pilfers through the random hodgepodge of spools of thread, empty keychains, matchbooks, and hordes of extra ikea parts. She’s not a quiet rustler so I have to amplify my voice.

“Nothing sooner?”

A triumphant paw lifts high into the air holding a roll of the industrial tape. “Eureka! Boss, we’re in business.”

Oh. My. God. No.

“It’s okay; Thursday is fine.” I watch as Fat starts picking at the end of the roll of tape, “I’ll just hide behind a hand fan like a debutante or geisha until then. Thanks, bye.”

I groan and my head hits the back cushion of the couch. It’s a good forty seconds of silence before Fat leaps up beside me and forces her head under my hand for a pet. I sit up, reach for the glass on the table and sit there sipping while I scratch the feline’s head.

Fat’s eyes close with contentment. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s probably hard enough to deal with being pregnant without me making you feel self-conscious about your hairy face.” In the midst of relaxation, her head lolls to the side.

I choke on my water. “What?”

“Aren’t you…” Her inquisitive green eyes open and travel to my stomach region. “My mistake. Big lunch, right? You’re probably just bloated.”

Skype Calls and Fat

“We are so far beyond not interested, pal. Bye-bye now.”

Fat’s paws press the back of the laptop. She uses her girth to close the old computer while I’m mid-Skype conversation. The feline’s abrupt dismissal of our video chat interrupts my story about finally exploring McLeod’s bookstore downtown. I suppose I didn’t need to mention that after an arduous hunt, I finally found a copy of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. My cat is such a bitch cat; there will be no fairy tale endings on her watch – not even in bookstores.

Hinging from the hip, I try to stay in front of the camera and quickly sign off prior to hitting my chin on the desk and before Fat ends the call by clamping the computer shut. The grizzly-faced dude and I talk over each other in the few seconds we have left.

“I’m going to have to call you back.”

“Kat, what’s happening with your computer?” He’s unconcerned. The way he asks makes me feel that when stupidity happens in my presence, it’s not altogether unexpected. That is off-the-charts rude and presumptuous; perhaps I shan’t call him back. It seems jackassery is running rampant today.

The feline lets out a satisfied smirk and sits on the closed VAIO like it’s a throne. “Dodged a bullet there, eh? You’re welcome. I never thought I’d say this, Boss, but you can do better.” Fat’s tail hugs the perimeter of her meaty haunches.

My forehead wrinkles to accommodate the surprised lift of my eyebrows. “What’s that, now?” If she’s saying what I think she’s saying…

“Hate to see my prize pig settle for somebody like that blond schmuck.” Indicatively, a grey paw taps gently on the computer case.

Beyond any measure of comprehension, the term ‘prize pig’ doesn’t register as an insult; instead my thoughts briefly drift to the fridge contents and the possibility of bacon. In my humble opinion, a pre-dinner warmup is never a poor idea.

“There’s no accounting for taste, is there? It’s like he was oblivious to your terrible personality.” Fat’s musings coax my attention back from hunger.

“I’m going to stop you there, Fat.” My traffic cop hand rests inches from her wet nose. “What you’re thinking is eighty-thousand different kinds of disgusting.” I point to the corner of the desk at a framed picture that was taken a couple years ago at my mom’s house.

The feline sidles up beside it, almost pressing her face against the photo. “He’s already met your family?” The tone in her voice registers as revulsion.

“He’s my brother, you moron.”

Fat’s pupils expand and she stares, unblinking in my direction. Her cheeks puff out as her mouth stays shut, feigning a puke-like reaction. Gag sounds come from her throat as the feline oversells the dramatics. “V.C. Andrews really did a number on you, huh? I knew I shouldn’t have let you watch Flowers in the Attic.”

I stare at the ceiling. C’mon, brain, make this a Namaste situation… breathe in, breathe out. Do no harm to the furry idiot on the desk.

“So what’s up with your brother? Did you give him my regards?”

I shrug. “He somehow got the idea that I was plotting to murder my cat. For some reason he was trying to talk me out of it.”

“You know, I always liked that guy.”

How Billy Crystal Saved Fat’s Life

“He got to keep that horse you know.”

Fat’s eyes stayed glued to the television. I don’t see what she’s watching until I heave my ridiculously heavy bag into the living room. Billy Crystal and his best fellows are in the midst of a cattle drive talking about the best days of their lives. I always forget how much Fat adores Billy Crystal.

With great effort, I lift my shoulder bag onto the desk. Carrying it the ten blocks home almost crippled me. Frankly, I’m surprised my back didn’t give out because of the weight.

“Did he actually get to keep the horse or are you just taking a piss at me?” I wipe my brow on the inside of my elbow and turn around; Fat continues to stare at the screen, unblinking, as the trio of middle-aged men lollop along on their ponies. Fat ignores me.

I watch, half-engaged, until the movie breaks with a commercial.

“Genuinely… didn’t you read his book?”

It takes me a moment to realize that Fat is picking up the conversation exactly where it left off a few minutes ago. I shoot a quick look at the spine of Still Foolin’ ‘Em on my bookshelf and then stare guiltily at the about-to-burst satchel sitting on the desk.

Fat rolls onto her side and stares across the room at me.

“You would be a terrible criminal, you know that?”

“That’s a weird thing to say.” I slump in the desk chair and observe at the feline with curiosity.

“Boss, please. You need to be introduced to nonchalance. Never have you ever put on a coat and grabbed a bag to bring Mutt out to your ex-boyfriend’s vehicle. That was red flag number one.”

That thought didn’t occur to me when I was hightailing it out of the apartment an hour ago.

“Next, I noticed that you turned the television on before you left. You always make a point to conserve electricity and make my life miserable when you can. Clearly, you were trying to provide some kind of distraction.” Fat smiles and stretches out her body across the couch cushion. “Naturally, you piqued my curiosity.”

I remember rapidly leashing Mutt and leaving the apartment after the tv came on. At the time, it appeared that Fat was mesmerized by the movement on the screen. I suppose I just saw what she wanted me to, that wily bitch.

“I stuck my head out the window to have a little gander. Usually, you toss Mutt into the car and go about your day, but – and this part I found of particular interest – today you got in the vehicle with them. Which leads me to wonder,” Fat lifts a paw and dramatically stares as her claws slowly appeared out of her grey fur and just as slowly disappeared, “what were you doing getting into your ex’s automobile?”

She’s jumping to a terrible conclusion. I knew this would happen and that’s why I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell her before I left. “It’s not what you think, Fat. I was getting a ride.”

“I bet you were.” Fat shoots me an obnoxious wink. “Swimming in familiar waters, boss?”

“Gross. No. He took me–”

“In his arms?”

“Stop interrupting. You know I hate that. He took me up the street to the library.” I struggled with the zipper of my bag to show off a collection of borrowed goods. “In hindsight, I should have walked there and asked for a ride home. I think the workout unhinged my spine.”

“Was the workout that the trek home with the hoards of books, or was it bumping uglies in a car like a couple of teenag… Shut up, City Slickers is back on!” Fat’s attention is taken again by the quick wit of Billy Crystal. She laughs uncontrollably at something he says even though she’s seen this movie countless times.

The bad voice in my head has a theory that violence can solve problems – providing the problem is a presumptuous feline.  If the movie hadn’t started at that moment, Fat may have put that theory to the test. Thank you, Billy Crystal, for saving my cat from strangulation; I owe you a fruit basket – one of those nice ones that are cut to look like flowers.

Doctor Fraud

“Freud can suck it.” Fat jumps up on the desk; I throw her a look from where I sit, hunched over my laptop. “It would appear that I have made a positive impact on your behaviour.” Fat steps closer until she bumps her noggin against mine. “Working on your book,” she beams. “Who’s a good shrink?”

I straighten my spine and my elbows perch on the arm rests while my fingers interlace and lock.

Fat’s front paws rest on my thigh when she leans close to my fingers. She peers up at me, “Your knuckles are losing blood flow there. Might want to unclench your digits.”

I inhale and exhale deeply. “You might want to back the hell up.” My lips purse together so tightly they may never get their natural shape back.

With trepidation, Fat lifts her paws off my leg and takes a few steps backward. “What’s going on? Let’s talk about it.”

“Alright, Fat. Let’s talk about it. After our session yesterday, I was starting to buy into this shrink cred of yours.” I gesture with a nod of the head and long look at the desktop; It’s covered in notebooks, scrap pages and post-its that have my words scrawled across them like graffiti. “I thought I’d get back to it, like you suggested the other day. Funny thing though,” I unhook my hands from each other and tap my index finger against my chin, “There was an idea I wanted to incorporate that I researched a couple months ago. So I went to my internet search history to see if I could find it…” I purposely trailed off and watched the realization grow on her face.

“Uh oh.” Fat’s eyes expanded.

“Uh oh is an understatement. You were just going to let me think you came up with that gamophobia thing on your own. Dick move, Fat.”

“It’s no worse than that time you pretended you could read braille.”

Oh yeah, I forgot about that. A restaurant I worked at a few years ago had a braille version of the menu; I may have memorized part of it to make it seem that my fingers could translate the bumps on pages into sentences. That was different because it was funny.

“Fine, we’re both guilty of being jerks in that sense. However,” I half-rise out of the desk chair and unpin an old version of my book prologue from the corkboard, “this is what separates the jerks from the assholes.” Hidden underneath the printed pages, the wounds in the cork are deep the wood backing is visible in places; it looks as though the board had a mishap at a lumber mill.

Fat creeps close to the board, investigating the claw marks with concocted surprise. She looks to me, “Mutt can be a real scoundrel, can’t he?” She shakes her head, “I should think that he suffers from some kind of persecutory delusional disorder.”

“Fat?”

“Yeah.” She jumps, landing with a soft thud on the carpet.

“You’re going to want to get away from me for a while.”

“Already on it.”

Baths, Books and Boycotting Bachelors

“May I offer some terrible advice?” Fat struts into the bathroom and perches on the edge of the bathtub. She stares at me until I give in and lock into her psychotic green eyes.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else.” I close the book I’ve been forcing myself to read and drop it on the bathroom floor. Reading shouldn’t be a chore; I’ve just invested so much time I need to see it through to the end. It’s official. I find zombies uninteresting.

“You should put on some weight–”

“–You’re right. That is terrible advice.” I grab a handful of bubbles and give Fat an afro. After uneasy twitching, she shakes the bubbles off and they spill onto the tub ledge beside her. Fat sniffs the bubbles then chances a touch with her paw. She jumps when they disintegrate at her touch. I flick water at her to recapture her attention. “Looking for company in porker territory? You take up enough space for both of us.” Fat’s ears fold back with her displeasure. “What? You started it.”

“I wasn’t finished.”

My chin rests on my hand in mockery, “Listening.”

“Take two,” Fat’s face reverts back to the devilish grin she wore with her entrance. “You should put on some weight because then you’ll be nicer.”

A few beats of silence pass. “Was that… are you finished?”

Fat’s mouth hangs open as she tries to grasp my lapse in understanding. “You know, because they say fat people are jolly like–”

My hand extends in front of her face, “Just stop, Fat. Were that the case, I’d call you a bitch far less often. Thanks for not living up to the stereotype. Swing and a miss.”

Fat readjusts her footing on the porcelain. “Take three,” her throat clears, before she has the opportunity to have another go at an unsolicited insult my hand clamps over her mouth.

“Okay. Why are you doing this? That’s too try-hard, even for you. What’s your angle here, Fat?” Cautiously, my hand lowers from her face.

“What I mean to say here is, and how do I put it eloquently,” she scratches up by her ear, “bitch, you mean.”

My hands spray a tidal wave of oil-infused water across the bathroom.

Fat, now soaked, looks at the bathroom floor and the now-ruined book. “Well, that was not an overreaction in the least.”

“Worth it.” My torso leans out of the tub, I grab the book off the floor and squeeze what water I can from it. “It’s salvageable.”

“Speaking of salvageable, have you considered making up with your non-boyfriend bachelor yet?” Fat licks her fur as though feline saliva will magically make her dry.

“I have nothing to make up for. Besides, I’m going out with bachelor number one again tonight.”

“You can at least apologize for laughing in his face.”

“I’m not sorry. If he wants to call, that’s cool. I’m not going to be insincere.” My fingers get trapped in the knots of my wet hair as I talk. Balls.

Fat stops licking herself and stares with a deadpan expression for a few fleeting seconds. “I suppose we won’t be having a rose ceremony to eliminate this bachelor, then?”

I shove Fat just hard enough to knock her off-balance. It’s her hefty ass that pulls her off the ledge and to the floor.

“We’re not necessarily eliminating him, Fat. He just needs to be aware that I don’t deal with cutsie.”

“Very well.” Contrary to a reaction I expect from her, Fat calmly saunters away. I pick the book up again and pry apart sopping pages, looking for where I left off.

I know she’s rooting around the kitchen cupboards when I hear the sound of pots and tupperware containers clunking against each other. Fat’s loud voice fills the apartment, “You might want to get out of the bath. Once I find a long enough extension cord, I’m coming back with the toaster.”