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?”

 

Milestones and Missed Cues

“Happy Birthday, you old son of a bitch.”

The black office chair swivels around to reveal Fat in the power seat, appearing like a Bond villain. Her paws thrust into the air in celebration and unleash a sad supply of multi-coloured confetti that slowly drifts to the ground.

Propping the fridge door open with my elbow, I down some more juice from the carton and shake my head. “Son of a bitch?” I know there are times I look a little androgynous and all, but I identify as a woman and also lack the parts to be classified as a man. I like my ovaries, thanks.

Fat stares at me from the patchwork office space beside the tiny kitchen as she silently processes the tone of my voice.

“You’re right. How callous of me. You’re nobody’s son. From the top, people.” Fat grips the edge of the desk to turn the chair so it faces the wall again. “Take another guzzle from the O.J. The sound tipped me off to your entrance.”

Well, I am still a little thirsty. I slug back some more orange juice. Fat responds to the cue as I wipe my mouth in the crook of my arm.

“Happy Birthday, you old bitch.” Fat shoves off the desk too hard and instead of coming to a graceful stop facing me directly, the chair spins in an entire circle to only give me a fleeting glimpse of the ungraceful feline before she disappears from view. I love that chair.

“Shit.”

I imagine she’s on the opposite side of the faux leather chair sulking at her poor second entrance. Failure on two counts. That’s got to affect your self-esteem. I put the juice back in the fridge and approach the feline’s seat. I grab the backrest and pivot the chair in a semicircle.

“I didn’t even get more confetti for the second go-around.” Fat leans back in defeat until her head rests against the fabric. “I let you down, Boss. This was going to be the highlight of your day.”

“It’s a little early to be calling the best part, isn’t it?”

Fat waves her paw dismissively, “You don’t have friends; this was the biggest acknowledgement you could hope for. I wanted to point out the honour of accumulating another year’s layer of decay and disappointment. Oh hey,” Fat brightens momentarily when she digs between her pockets of grey fur and produces another pawful of paper confetti that she tosses with lackluster, “Congratulations on keeping up with the Crypt Keeper.”

“Uh, thanks?”

Fat scratches her head, clearly perplexed. She zeros in on my face.

“Boss, how old are you?”

I pick up the feline from on the chair and struggle to keep her in my arms. “That’s a rude thing to ask.” Thankfully she doesn’t get aggravated enough to use her claws.

“People only respond like that when they’re super ancient and ashamed of their age.” Fat squirms and twists for another fifteen seconds before entirely giving up and submitting to the housecat treatment.

“I’m not ashamed of my age. I’m thirty and perfectly fine with that.” I pet her head softly and scratch behind her pert ears.

“Thirty, huh? That means you’re about due for your first mid-life crisis.”

“Does that mean I can start a life anew and be as impulsive and crazy as I want?”

Fat slightly purrs, “You bet it does.”

“Fantastic. It’s settled then. I’m going to buy a taco stand.” I smile. That sounds awesome. I could eat a burrito every single day if I wanted. Cool.

“That is a terrible way to unravel into a mental breakdown. You don’t know how to do anything right, do you?”

Refunds at the Freak Show

“What do you reckon that ugly stick looks like? You know, the one from the phrase, ‘so-and-so looks like they’ve been hit with an ugly stick’. It must have a distinctive shape to be a definitive ugly stick. Right?”

Of course this is the useless drivel I wake up to. Why wouldn’t it be? Fat and nonsense might just be synonymous. I love being gifted many words from the idiot cat and no context to align them. I have no idea what time it is, I just know that this is more of a conversation for after the wake-up period. I adjust the blankets to cover the limbs exposed from the restless kicking and acrobatics that occurred in last night’s fight to find comfort.

The light from the bedroom window blinds me and, I say this in a hyperbolic hand-to-God kind of way, my retinas are definitely affected. I squint at the uncharacteristic November sunshine gracing this early Vancouver morning before I roll away from it and toward the absolute opposite: I come face-to-face with the she-devil feline who is deep in speculation mode. Our noses rest a fraction of an inch away from each other. Fat strokes her whiskers with a paw as she contemplates.

Her plastic shrink glasses are on. She’s been waiting for me. Ambush therapy, Fat’s specialty.

“If I were to suppose, I would say that ugly stick is shaped like a hand. Makes for a really great mark when you get hit across the face with it.” Her warm, sour breath accosts my face. This really isn’t a great start to the morning.

“Been awake for a while hey, Fat?” I mumble and try to push her a good arm’s length away. I don’t know what she’s been eating that makes her mouth smell like decay, but my face needs to be given some literal breathing room.

“Long enough to make you coffee, you ungrateful and wretched woman.” The grey feline sashays to the side to gesture with both paws, in a ta-da fashion, at the steaming mug on the bedside table.

Amazing. Good kitty. I reach with utter delight, so tickled at how the morning has turned around in mere seconds. Goodbye to the grumbling I-don’t-do-mornings version of myself, hello to the caffeinated little-miss-sunshine side of my personality. Before my fingers grasp the handle of the porcelain mug I stop. My arm remains suspended in midair as a panicked alarm echoes through my head. Fat did a deed that was both nice and unsolicited. Something isn’t right here; something is terribly, terribly wrong.

I brace for incurable news when I ask, “Why?”

“Wow, trust issues.” Fat’s paw clutches her chest as though I’ve violated the sanctity of her character. “Can’t a feline just do something nice for her caretaker?”

“Seriously, Fat, why?” My body remains rigid like a cartoon character frozen in place. I’m not about to grab that coffee mug just yet.

She reaches to grab her pen, almost like she’s expecting something noteworthy to occur. “Because at some point last night you were struck with the ugly stick, Boss. You deserve to be coddled a little bit. Life gets pretty hard when you’re the owner of a messed up face.”

I can’t sit up fast enough. I wrestle with the duvet that’s trying to keep me away from a mirror. What does she mean messed up face? My face doesn’t feel any different. What happened last night? The faint click of Fat’s pen punctuates this moment where I’m scrambling out of bed. I run over to the dresser mirror to see the damage.

A perfect scarlet image of my own hand rests across my cheek – it looks like I recently crossed Zsa Zsa Gabor. Because the moment calls for it, I lift my hand and press it against the mark on my face. Yup, story checks out. Looks like I was just sleeping with my face against my palm. Nothing to see here, folks, the freak show is a hoax; go see the world’s fattest twins for your refund.

“It’s just a sleep mark, you idiot.” I turn back to the bed, graced by the view of my shrink scribbling excitedly in one of my old college notebooks. “What’s so interesting?”

“We just had a eureka moment. Your reaction just confirmed something I’ve long since suspected, Boss. You’re a Narcissist, whom I also speculate suffers from Grandiosity.” She points to the coffee mug, still untouched, on the night stand. “Drink up. I’m going to need you to be fully alert. Prepare yourself for a long session.”

I can’t prove it, but I assume she learned these words from daytime television between her soap operas. Narcissist? How can she say that about somebody as humble as I am? I am the most humble, charming, sweet, thoughtful person you’ll ever meet. I dare say I might just be the best human alive.

I’m going to drink that coffee. Then I’m going to kill her. And then I’m going to go back to bed. Later I’ll find a nice taxidermist and have her stuffed. And we will finally live happily ever after.

The expression on my face prompts another tidbit from the feline. “Don’t worry, I brewed a whole pot. We’re set for a while.”

Sadism and Hygiene

“Sadist! You’re a sadist!”

Fat kangaroo-kicks me with her back legs as she tries to yank her left paw from my grip. We wrestle on the living room floor shouting expletives at each other. I feel at least a couple fresh scratches across my clavicle – they’ll match the ones that were delivered to my bicep when I was trimming the nails on her other paw. I get close to clipping another one of her talons when the grey feline sources Hulk-like strength to rip her paw from my grasp and scrambles out of my grip for the fourth time this morning. Her low-hanging belly sways side-to-side as she runs. I would rather spend eighteen hours doing intensive Crossfit in a down-filled parka than try to trim Fat’s claws. Current conditions are frustrating; we’ve seen moments of hatred throughout the day.

In a flash, the good doctor is down the hall shooting me a look of slight panic before turning into the bedroom. I trail behind and I lunge at her as I approach the bed where she’s stopped to catch her breath.

Fat scampers out of the way and across the mattress fast enough that I only graze her tail with my outstretched fingers.

“Christ, Fat. Get back here.”

“Willingly submit to torture? You must be insane if you think I’d get on board with that.” She stays low to the ground and slips past my ankles and into the hallway.

The routine is all-too familiar, a scene we’ve already played out a few times today. Fat’s ears fold backward in displeasure, and she darts through the kitchen. If feline parkour were a thing, what Fat does next would foot the bill. She runs, bounds from the leather chair to the desk and instantly leaps from the desk edge to the height of the bookshelf. She grabs hold of the high edge and kicks off the side of the shelf to boost her up to the very top. If I wasn’t so exhausted and annoyed I would have filled the apartment with applause.

Instead my reaction is: “Get back down here so I can kill you, Fat.”

“Yeah, okay, Boss. I’m all over that idea.” At least from her lazy sarcasm I can feel okay knowing that I’m not the only exhausted one here. I wheel the chair over to the shelf, bracing the glossy wood as I step onto the seat with the finesse of a senior citizen with a walker. Fat gets another wind as I reach for her and she does a Mission Impossible-style jump onto the couch, landing with momentum that propels her forward.

I groan as I step back down and violently shove the office chair aside. If Fat didn’t scratch me so much, I would have less desire to cut her nails.

As she sprints from the living room down the hall to the bedroom, Fat screams over her shoulder, “Your parents didn’t raise you right!”

Giving chase, I bellow, “I’ve been telling you that for years!”

“Clearly they saved the good parenting for the kids that showed promise. We can stop this chaotic nonsense and have a session about it.” Her words come out between huff-and-puff breaths.

“If I may quote you, Fat,” I gasp for air; my lung supply seems to be failing with all this cardio, “Willingly submit to torture? You must be insane.”

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.”

Morning Glory

“Oh my God. Alice Cooper is in my apartment. Tell me how much you loved my homage to School’s Out on YouTube.”

Fat jumps onto the kitchen counter; she plays the part of a fangirl almost convincingly. The cat stares, unabashedly wide-eyed at my morning face until I pour milk into the bowl beside her. Her nose sniffs the air looking for notes of aromatic deliciousness, but unfortunately for her, healthy cereal smells mostly like the cardboard box it comes in.

I scowl at the feline when I close the dairy carton and put it back in the fridge.

“Seriously, is it costume day at work, or what? Gotta say, Boss, you nailed it.” The end of her sentence turns sing-song. The high note she hits jostles me slightly closer to wakefulness.

Fat’s mockery of my appearance isn’t entirely unfounded. To the detriment of my ego, I’ve already shuffled past my mirror twin this morning. The reflection showed a mess of stringy, unwashed hair and the unforeseen result of accidentally falling asleep before washing my face. Yesterday’s mascara bears the resemblance of a cheap Zorro mask. It’s still too early to care, especially for the beginning of the work week. I lean against the counter and shovel as much cereal as possible into my face. I stare into nothingness, trying to make the leap into alert consciousness. How did I get here already? Time shift? I must have spent the weekend like a teenager spends allowance. Stupid, wasteful fun.

I scarf down the cereal with robotic efficiency. With the speed I get breakfast down my gullet, you would hardly know I woke up just after 2:00 a.m. for a snack. Refuelling with carbs is the halftime show between dreams in my world.

Gentle scratching on my arm asks for attention and I listlessly turn my head to look at the earnest-faced feline. “You know, you could teach a Master’s class on being disgusting.”

“Thanks,” I mumble with a full mouth, sending a dribble of milk down my lip. I meet Fat’s accusatory gaze. “Point proven, Fat.” I use the crook of my elbow as a napkin. To be fair, nobody is the best version of themselves at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday, not even the Queen. Sorry, Elizabeth.

I balance the bowl against my stomach with one hand while the other pushes Fat’s backside off the counter. She lands on her feet as though her intent was to be driven to the ground.

“Huh. In spite of your trance-like state, you’re ahead of schedule.” Fat’s eyes glimpse the digital numbers on the microwave. “You usually don’t shove me off the counter until 6:09. What are you going to do with those extra two minutes?”

Rather than risk another moment of spitting milk everywhere, I point at my mess of a face with the empty spoon.

“Two extra minutes hardly seems like enough, Boss.”

Office Hours: The Three a.m. Wildebeest

“I want you to tell me exactly what prompted that reaction.”

I follow the sound of Fat’s voice. She’s to my left, sitting comfortably on the bed pillow, fake therapist glasses adorned and at the ready. The grey feline sits haughtily, waiting for me to offer further evidence that I’ve trekked into mentally-unbalanced territory. Planted in front of her, the familiar mess that is my file sits open; she’s been waiting for me to find consciousness. The light is not in my favour, but my ears twitch with apprehension when I distinctly hear the click of her pen.

“Have you been sitting there all night, waiting to attack me with an impromptu session?” The sleep-filled voice comes out of me, sounding like I’ve spent seventy years in a smoky lounge. My fingertips wipe damp sweat from my sternum and the back of my neck. Without thinking, I relieve my now-moist hands on the recently-laundered duvet. That was a jackass move, self.

“I was merely watching the ebb and flow of your breathing; it didn’t hold my interest until it became tidal. You went into full-on wildebeest mode in your sleep, Boss. Deep frown, grit teeth, angry snorts, tense body. I momentarily thought you’d levitate and your head would spin the full three-sixty. No such luck. Instead, you just bolted upright and gasped for what sounded like your last breath. Again, pity for me that it wasn’t.” She registers the sound of my scowl. “I joke, I joke. The paws are up. I was just hoping for something more interesting than a nightmare.” Her pen succumbs to gravity with a little help from the huffy feline. In the pre-dawn light, the feline flips the file closed with audible disappointment in the form of an annoyed sigh.

I eye the cream-coloured folder, stuffed with a mess of God knows what kind of notions she has of my psyche. At this hour, a closed file is a good sign for my people. “Okay, so we’re done here.” I shuffle around under the covers trying to find space not affected by damp sweat.

“No, no. I’m sure I can manage through whatever boring dreams plague you. Just let me put on my professional I’m-very-interested-in-what-you-have-to-say face.” Her eyes widen and she rests her chin on a paw, international body language for: tell me more. “Now tell me, what monsters interrupt your slumber?”

“You.” It’s not quite a shout as I roll away from the good doctor and pull the blanket over my head. Please, please let her leave me alone so I can get in a bit more sleep before the alarm clock starts the morning ritual of cussing me out in its native tongue.

I expect a retort. This is usually the part where her evil side takes over. In an effort to keep some distance between us, I wrap myself tighter in the blanket fort and try to turn off my brain. Still, Fat uncharacteristically says nothing. Unease plays tug-of-war with exhaustion. Silence during the bedtime hours isn’t supposed to put you on edge. My eyes open to cautious slits and the protective hold on the duvet loosens. With glacial speed, I pull the blanket down until half my face is exposed. When I see her, Fat is quietly hovered over a loose sheet of lined paper, scribbling with the pen.

Sleep abandons me completely as curiosity takes the wheel. My fingers move quickly and snatch the paper out from under the feline’s paws. I hold it close to my face and see a juvenile picture of my nightmare recreated.

“How did you…”

“—Know exactly what you were dreaming?” Fat meets my uneasy and confused expression with glee. “You talk in your sleep, dummy.” A purr echos through the bedroom. “I love how open you are to sharing when you’re not awake. See that?” Fat’s paw taps in the lower corner of the picture to a stick-figure of a smiling cat. “That’s me. Know why I’m happy?”

I’ve already turned my back to her for a second time while she babbles. “Because you’re deranged?”

“Don’t call me deranged because I care.” Fat can’t even finish the sentence without bursting into raucous laughter. “Care.” She shakes her head. “Hilarious. God, I love freaking you out.”

Mornings in the Buff

“I’m not sure what makes you think this is acceptable behaviour. Mutt and I took a vote and we’re both offended.”

Fat hisses from the top of the bookshelf as I saunter into the living room.

My skin is still red and blotchy from the shower. I brush my wet hair with my fingers, pulling several strands out with the attempt; it’s a wonder I haven’t gone bald.

“Mutt isn’t here, Fat.”

“I have implied consent from him that I can speak on his behalf. Put some clothes on. You’ve got nothing to show off, Boss.”

Excess water from my hair collects on my shoulder and the beads run down my ribcage. My still-pruned fingers brush them away when the water reaches my hip.

“I’m air-drying, obviously. It’s a thing.”

The feline leans back as though trying to put more distance between us. “I don’t want to attack your fragile ego here, but your naked human form is all kinds of disgusting. By the way, that mole looks cancerous; you should probably get that checked out.”

I feel my nose wrinkle as I follow her probing stare to my lower stomach. I point at the dark mark and look at the feline, who nods her affirmation.

“That’s a tattoo, you knob.”

She squints, “Are you sure?”

“Entirely.” I pick up a lighter and candle from the coffee table.

As my thumb flicks to ignite the lighter, there’s the distinct sound of jingling keys. I think nothing of it; Crazy Dog Lady across the hall has been coming and going all day as she relocates to the first floor. Then I actually hear it; the sound comes from my lock. Before I can think to smash through the glass door and jump off the balcony, the apartment entrance bursts open and Mutt runs. The Chef follows, oblivious to the unintentional skin show as he turns to shut the door behind him. There are too few seconds before he will turn around and see me in my full glory.

“Cover your shame!” Fat shouts over the din of Mutt’s excitement.

The dog jumps gleefully at my feet as I do my best to cover my member’s only areas while screaming the word “Naked!” repeatedly at a high-pitched frequency. I realize I’m still holding tight to the lighter and candle; they immediately kiss the floor with twin thuds.

“When I said, ‘cover your shame,’ I meant your face. Sick burn!” Fat’s paw lifts into the air like she expects a high five. “Anyone? Chef?” She eventually lowers her paw when she concludes nobody’s going to meet her extended five.

At this time, the Chef has faced the living room and gotten quite an eyeful. He pauses, suddenly struck by the awkward realization that I’m home – in the buff – and he quickly turns to face the door and shield his eyes as though both are necessary. This is a very flattering moment for me.

“Shouldn’t you be at work?” His weight shifts with unease from side to side, illustrating that his discomfort matches my own. He hangs the small bag containing Mutt’s drugs on the handle of the hall closet.

“I took a personal day!” I’m still screaming because I’m trapped in this mortifying position. I grab one of the couch cushions and press it against my front. I feel like my crazy uncle just saw me naked. How do I normalize this situation? “My friend’s boyfriend has a guy crush on Derek Jeter.”

Fat, repulsed and taken aback, does that slow twist of the neck as her eyes bulge, giving me plenty of time to realize I picked the strangest thing to say.

“What?” The chef turns around, momentarily forgetting my lack of shame in the living room to acknowledge my stupidity and sees me hiding behind the tan cushion. “Whoa. That’s gross. I gotta go.” He blushes and races out of the apartment.

That’s gross? I frown, slightly offended.

Fat chuckles, settling herself into a napping position on her throne on top of the bookcase. “So what did we learn today?”

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…”

Being Neighbourly

“It’s okay, just keep plugging along like I’m not even here.”

I shoot a quick glance away from the mirror, eyes wide and mouth open as the mascara brush remains suspended mid-air. Fat sits on top of the toilet tank; the candles that usually occupy the small space have been shoved haphazardly aside by the feline to accommodate her rump.

“Fat, I–”

“I’ll have none of your excuses, jackass. It’s fine. I see how it is. We’ve got ourselves a black-and-white roommate situation. Should I start labelling which food in the fridge is mine?” The feline’s sarcasm is unmistakable. “Don’t take advantage of the elastic band on the doorknob privilege.”

My mirror twin shows a minor crease in her forehead. People do that in real life? I feign nonchalance as I go back to applying my makeup. “That’s a non-issue, Fat. A pervert like you generally finds herself in the room whenever I have company over.”

“I live here too!” Fat’s ears flatten and her green eyes narrow into slits.

I twist the mascara tube shut and put it away, looking in the mirror at the hideous bags under my eyes as I do so. I’d rather scrutinize the age on my face than chance a look to the grey feline. She radiates scariness right now.

Before I have a chance to manoeuvre my way out of her watchful eye, there’s a quick succession of three short knocks at the door. A beat of silence, then one more quick knock. The familiar sound has become a secret handshake of sorts and the right side of my mouth uncontrollably lifts into a smirk. Thankfully, the chef has Mutt for the night and the knocking is met with silence and not the excessive yips of a grumpy rotund dog.

“Wait,” Fat’s face changes back to her normal expression, “What gives? Who’s at the door?” The feline jumps down and near-gallops to the apartment entrance. She assumes a regal stance as she sits, waiting for the door to open of its own volition. She watches, transfixed, as the visitor turns the knob from left to right. “State your name and business, trespasser.” The demand booms from the cat’s lungs as the person continues to try the doorknob.

“For Christ’s sake, Fat.” I nudge her aside to gently flick the lock and the door is pushed open by the person on the other side.

A paw lifts, claws extended. “You’re far too accommodating to this intruder.”

Jesse swings the door open with a fake scowl. He points at my face with the enthusiasm of a shipwreck survivor seeing land. “You. I hate you so much right now.”

I swat his accusatory fingers until they recoil.

The feline’s claws retreat. “Take a number pal; I was mad at her first. She’s just in a place to piss everyone off it would seem.”

Jesse’s head swings down to acknowledge the cat near his feet. “Miss Fat, how do you do?” He tips an imaginary hat in her direction. “I just need a moment of time with your mistress; she’s done me wrong in a very cruel way.”

“Preach on, sister.” Fat glares in my direction then back to Jesse. “We should start a club.” She purrs, happy to have a cohort in her fight to bring me down.

Jesse bends to pick her up, petting Fat like he’s a Bond villain. The beard he’s grown out over the summer looks like it’s ready for a trim. It’s on the fringe of unruly.

“And how have I wronged you?” I look up as I bend over to put on my boots. “Between you and the monster you’re holding, I should open up a compliant department.”

“Pfft.” Jesse flips his hair as if he thinks it’s long enough to get into his eyes. The pomade keeps his brunette locks suspended in place. “You told Hobo Tenant down the hall that I would help him set up his pvr. I just spent the last twenty minutes in his apartment. He kept trying to feed me grapes.”

Fat and I speak at the same time and apparently share the same thought.

“Is that a–”

“That’s a total euphemism for balls.” Fat looks directly at Jesse’s face as if trying to discern truth from his expression.

I didn’t get to finish my question, because Jesse interrupts to edit his statement.

“Green grapes. Literal grapes.” He pats the top of Fat’s head, entirely unaware that she thought the same thing I did, and her eyes close happily. “Why you always gotta take it to that place? Damn, woman.” He smiles.

I shrug into my bomber jacket. “He asked me to help him and I said I thought you were the better man for the job.” Effort to hide my cruel laughter is wasted and I can’t help but chuckle at his misfortune. “I didn’t want to be in his apartment by myself. I won’t apologize for throwing you under the bus. I’d do it again too.”

Fat’s eyes open to look at Jesse again. “Boss is like that. She’s a hideous bitch who’s only capable of looking out for herself.”

Jesse lets out an easy laugh. “I’d have done the same to you if he asked me first.” He bends to let Fat down and steps closer to me with a pity-me face. “That guy smells so bad.”

I nod, thinking of Hobo Tenant’s signature scent of unwashed clothes with a lingering hint of dumpster debris. I mime throwing up. Fat sits on the floor between Jesse and me staring up at us with a calculating look.

“Something’s up.” Her head tilts from me to him and back again.

Jesse’s hands grab the bottom of my jacket and he fastens the zipper on my behalf like I’m a child. “It’s cold out there today.” He grabs my hood and lifts it onto my head.

“Something is definitely different. Didn’t I say something like this was going to happen?”

“Thanks. So thoughtful of you.” I shrug the hood off and respond to Jesse’s offended expression at the action. “We’re still inside, dork.”

“Where are you going?”

Before I answer, Fat dons a mock voice that I think is supposed to be me. “It doesn’t matter where I go so long as I’m with you, sugar face.”

I make the fake throw-up face again, pretending to hurl all over the feline. Sugar face? We don’t say that in my apartment. Not even in jest.

“I’m just responding to these gross vibes you and the neighbour boy are putting out there.” Fat offers a judgemental gaze of I-told-you-so.

The wise decision is to ignore the cat. If I start getting into it with her, Jesse will be correct in thinking I’ve gone off the deep end. “I’m not sure. I was just going for a wander, see where I end up. Wanna come with?”

Fat shoots me a not-so-subtle wink. “You sly devil.”

“Cool. I need to grab a coat. C’mon.” Jesse grabs my hand and pulls me out of the apartment. I barely grab keys from the hall table before we’re in the apartment hallway. I hear Fat’s voice from the other side as I’m locking up.

“Make good decisions, Boss. We all know how prone you are for the opposite.”