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.”

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…”

Climate Change and its Influence on I.Q.

“It’s possible that you might just be the most stupid human ever.”

Fat, lazily flopped in front of the open patio door, stares with absolute impatience as she watches my movements.

I sidestep twice to the right and pause. Then sidestep to the left and pause. And back to the right.

“Believe me, Fat. I would much rather sit down.”

“So sit.” Fat tries to elongate her body even more so body heat can’t build up in her armpits. “It’s not a leather couch; you won’t stick to it.”

I pile my frizzy hair on top of my head with my hands and expose the top of my sweaty back as I shuffle back again. “The fan, Fat. If I don’t stay in front of the cool air, I’ll die.” I shoot a glance to the window – it’s lethal for such a beautiful-looking day. I groan and look down at the feline. “I’m melting.” The words croak out of my mouth.

“I guess that answers the question as to whether or not you are a good witch or a bad witch.”

“Huh?” My arm swipes across my moist hairline. To my knowledge, I’m not either of those things; I’m just a girl sweating to death in her apartment.

“Nothing.” Fat’s voice becomes a mutter, “Can’t even get a Wizard of Oz reference. Stupid human.”

“What’s that?”

Fat abandons any idea to repeat herself and gets back to her original criticism. “Christ, Boss. I can’t believe I need to say this, but one of those buttons above the display screen will actually stop the fan from swinging side-to-side.” Fat waves a paw delicately in front of her face in an oh-good-gracious-this-heat-is-too-much kind of way. “On another note, I appreciate how considerate you’ve been with putting ice cubes in my water and leaving frozen water bottles tucked into my bed.”

I’m not too busy fiddling with the buttons to hear her appreciation. I’m sure my face brightens like neon at the acknowledgement.

“I can be thoughtful sometimes…”

“It’s not an all the time thing though. Almost makes me appreciate your tenderness because it’s rare to bear witness to it.”

It doesn’t occur to me to be offended by her statement.

Fat’s head droops to connect with the floor. “You going to go to the gym today?”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” I throw a victory fist into the air when I finally figure out which button makes the fan do what I want. “Nope. Too hot for that.”

“You’ll be writing then?”

I flop on the couch and fold my shirt up so my sweaty stomach exposes itself to the humidity. “Too hot for that too. Productivity ceases when the weather becomes sweltering. That’s got to be a law somewhere.”

“I fell asleep for a while on the balcony.” Her green eyes narrow with accusation, “You did go to work today, right?”

“Pfffft,” I dismiss her question with a don’t-be-preposterous expression. “Obviously. They have air conditioning there. I’m looking to see if we can move in to an empty cubicle over the summer. It might be cramped, but it would be worth it.”

“Well at least your productive in some respect.”

“Oh!” My exclamation jostles the good doctor unexpectedly. “And I ate three-quarters of a watermelon this afternoon.” I beam and look at Fat’s unamused expression. “In one sitting,” I prompt as though she’s not recognizing the triumph.

“That’s not productive.”

“It’s impressive though, right?”

I hear dull thudding sounds, and lean over the couch to see Fat hitting her forehead against the carpet.

“We need to move to a cooler climate. An increase in temperature leads to a decrease in your I.Q.” Thud, thud. “Stupid human.”

No Vacancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Boss, the kid wasn’t yet three.”

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

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

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

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

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

The rustling rounds the corner.

“Jesse?”

My only tolerable neighbour rounds the corner and beams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What, Fat?”

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

A Guidebook for the Ill

“Brace yourself, pal, here comes the stewardess spiel.” Fat tilts her head in Boyfriend’s direction. She’s sitting in the office chair; it’s the perfect place for her to see me, hunched in the light of the refrigerator, in the kitchen and Boyfriend, in the fetal position, on the couch in the living room.

“There is orange juice here and another bottle on the bottom shelf if you need it.” I point at the items as I mention them, then kick the fridge door shut as I move down my list. I open the cupboard above the kettle, “Should you require tea it’s in the cupboard along with plenty of honey if you’re in a hot water with lemon kind of mood.” The cupboard slams shut with force after I ensure there is enough of both to withstand the next few days.

Fat watches as I enter the living room with purpose.

“If you’re going to throw up,” both hands point to the bathroom like it’s an emergency exit, “you know where the bathroom is located. If it’s a dire situation,” my index fingers extend to their full length as I indicate the glass door opposite, “please avoid ruining the furniture, carpet or my appetite and eliminate your stomach contents over the banister.” Seems disgusting, but it’ll give Creepo downstairs something to observe that won’t require him to employ his binoculars.

Boyfriend sniffles and nods. Fat buries her face under her paws to silence the laughter trying to escape.

I pick up the can of disinfectant and spray enough of it to sting my eyes and harm my lungs; it tickles my esophagus enough to solicit an irritated cough.

“While you’re in this state, please remember the following: don’t sneeze on me, don’t kiss me, don’t touch me, avoid breathing my air, don’t talk to me – text me if you need more orange juice, don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t exaggerate your condition. When you change your pyjamas, burn the infected ones. Don’t expect any sort of sexy nurse role playing. I don’t give sponge baths, I don’t administer cough syrup, I don’t take temperatures. I won’t call your mother. I won’t baby you and I’ll be out the door before I put up with any infantile behaviour.” I see Boyfriend’s eyes glaze over as he tries his damnedest to listen. “Chin up, I’m almost finished.” I scratch my head, trying to remember where I left off. “Right. The best meal you can expect is a can of soup and/or toast. I will not pity for you or lavish you with affection because neither will generate a result that will improve your condition; it just puts me closer to sharing your plague and I absolutely refuse.” My eyes look up to search the archives of my brain – everything that was there has moved out. “That about does it then. Stay hydrated and best of luck to you.”

I spin on my heel and head into the bedroom. I hear the gentle sound of scurrying footsteps behind me. Fat jumps up onto the bed as I grab the iPad off the night stand.

“Your bedside manner is really quite cold, isn’t it?”

I tap my finger on the icon to check my email. “Fat,” I look at her for a fraction of a second, “If I wanted to nurse people back to health, I’d have gone into a healthcare field.”

Fat cozies up to my pillow and curls herself into a grey ball of flabby fur with a cat face. “No empathy in you at all, is there?”

“This is the first time Boyfriend has been sick since we’ve been dating. I have to set a precedent for future illness. You’ve heard of how men become babies when they’re sick; if I’m all nice and Stepford to him, he’ll always expect it.” I shake my head emphatically, “No, no, Fat. If I wanted an infant right now I’d be somebody’s baby mama.”

The feline stares up at me, appalled.

“What, doc? Clearly you have an opinion. I’m not going to apologize for what just happened in there. He’s not dying, to my knowledge he hasn’t become a recent amputee.” I delete a bunch of junk mail.

“Your lack of compassion is astounding, boss. Makes me wonder why I didn’t consider you a sociopath sooner.”

“We’re not doing this right now, Fat.” I drop the iPad on the bed and grab Fat under her armpits and carry her into the living room.

Boyfriend stares at me, not risking a syllable to ask what I’m doing – he knows not to verbally prod the unbalanced. With a gentle lob, Fat sails over the coffee table and lands beside Boyfriend’s hip. “Here’s the cat for company. Use her as you would a hot water bottle or punching bag. Cough on her, vomit on her, she’ll just purr and be a sweetheart the whole while you’re infected. She’s compassionate like that.”