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.”

Compliments to the Chef

“Oh, honey, you cooked.”

Fat leaps up on the messy desk beside the laptop, ink-smudged journal and sea of post-it notes. The corners of her mouth play at a smirk “You’re going to make your tapeworm so happy.” Her grey head shakes back and forth, dismissing the very idea, “Cooked. That’s rich. You think a frying pan is a weapon thanks to Saturday morning cartoons. Just another child left behind…”

As she tut-tuts my upbringing her stare lands on my face, waiting for me to acknowledge her presence. Impatience shows in her tail as it flicks back and forth, trying to pry my gaze from the screen. Giving up more quickly than is custom for an attention-seeking harlot, Fat redirects her focus back to the plate of half-eaten food.

My dinner sits on the opposite side of the computer, quickly losing heat as I frantically type and attempt to masticate at the same time. Multitasking isn’t a skill in my wheelhouse; I suppose there’s a reason writing and eating don’t generally go hand-in-hand. I feel my brow furrow in concentration. I need to force myself to finish reworking the sentence instead of give in to Fat’s desire for spotlight. Her uncharacteristically diverted attention stares with intense interest at the salmon.

“Actually, that kind of smells good – dare I say edible. Delivery? Care package? Where’s it from?”

I swallow, re-read the dozen-or-so words I’ve written and type a period before pushing the chair away from the desk.

“I made it.” Hands fold in my lap, preemptively impatient and aware of her forthcoming reaction.

Fat cracks a wide smile before throwing her head back in a surplus of laughter. “Good one, Boss. That standup of yours is really coming along.”

For once, not falling prey to her game, I wait. We stare at each other. I can’t believe my own house cat doesn’t take me seriously. I’m a grownup. Sometimes.

“You mean you actually… in the…” Her neck cranes in the direction of the kitchen, entirely baffled at the possibility.

I nod.

She sees the overflowing sink with dirty dishes, which support my claim. “Well, I’ll be damned. Did you alert the press?”

A deep exhale finds its way out of my chest. “No, Fat. The media won’t be stopping by.” Fingers grab the edge of the desk and I roll myself back into writing position. I don’t know why I keep indulging in her jackassery. My head shakes, dismissively. Just because I don’t usually cook doesn’t mean I can’t.

The keyboard rests under my ready fingers. I gently drum my digits across home row, and let my imagination take over. Mouthing the words of my last paragraph to myself, I settle back into where I left off. Reality blurs on the periphery and new words leave my fingertips, adding to the collection on the screen. I might be onto something here.

The noisy clacking of typing falls to background noise when the good doctor pipes up again.

“I like that you’re still able to surprise me, Boss.”

Her voice pulls reality back into focus. In my mental absence, Fat relocated to the other side of the computer, and is whiskers-deep in my dinner.

“Christ, Fat!” I reach to swat her, but the feline is too quick, and bounds to the floor before I can connect my fury with her fur.

She licks her chops from a safe distance. “Well pardon me for being proud of you.”

You Ain’t No Friend of Mine

“Breaking news, Boss. May I have your attention please.”

Fat sits in the apartment entryway like she’s been waiting quite a while for me to arrive home. She doesn’t twitch when my purse flings dangerously close to her face before it rolls to an ungraceful stop in the middle of the hallway.

“Today I have decided that I love Elvis Presley.” She waits for my acknowledgement of her less-than-grand declaration, when none comes, she assumes ignorance on my part. “You know, the King of Rock n’ Roll.”

A groan squeezes its way out of my lungs as I try to both manipulate an object bigger than a door through the doorway and force the uncooperative angle from the hallway to be my friend. I’m sweating; it’s not that glistening, dainty sweat that as a child I believed was the only kind of sweating a lady was capable of. I’m sweating like a lumberjack on an August day. My back cries like it’s thrice its age and my current desire is gaining access to a sledgehammer in order to turn this bulky beast of a thing into a manageable pile of shrapnel.

“It’s like you don’t even hear me. Hello, I’d like a response. Big day over here.” Fat’s paw taps with impatience on the carpet.

Frustrated, I set the giant board down and brush loose strands of hair out of my dewy face. “You’re going to have to move, Fat.” Hands find their way to my hips as I stare down at the unmoving feline.

“And if I refuse?” Green eyes glower in my direction and then quickly flip to a more curious state. “What do you have there?”

“This,” I grab an edge of the imitation antique frame and try again to coax the monstrous and unforgiving board around the corner and through the apartment doorway, “is a ginormous chalk board.” I push, pull, pivot and perspire without progress. Piss. My arms and sanity, demanding a break, refuse another attempt. “And of course I couldn’t fit it in the elevator so I wrestled this beauty up the stairs.” I force a smile and there are a couple hearty thuds as I bang my hand against the frame. “I kind of want to die right now.”

“You look like you could use some help, kid.”

Fat’s voice turns sing-song as she peers at the new arrival. “Awk-ward.”

I turn to address the owner of the voice. Jesse stands with a grocery bag, staring at the hallway obstruction. “So, am I supposed to hurdle over this thing or…”

“I’m trying to move it. Trying being the operative word. Just uh…yeah. Jump it.”

Fat interrupts, her head jutting toward the chalkboard. “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”

“Don’t.” I swivel and hold up a warning finger to the feline. I feel very like my mother right now.

“If I try to jump it, I might wreck my junk. Can I help you maneuver this mother of all chalkboards inside?”

“Boss, he still wants a piece,” the feline winks grossly. “Don’t mess it up,” she pauses, “again.”

“Stop. Stop it now. This is a no-interest situation.” Unless less than no-interest is a thing. I sigh, reminiscing about former decisions. Bad call, former self.

While I talk, Fat starts to hum and eventually the tune carries lyrics.

“Wise men say only fools rush in
but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

“Seriously, Fat. I’m going to kill you.”

Jesse sets his grocery bag on the floor. “Miss Fat, always with something to meow about. You know, sometimes I swear you two understand what the other is saying.” He points back and forth between me and Fat as though we can’t figure out who he is talking about. “Match made in heaven, I think.”

“What?” Fat’s head snaps upward to eye the neighbour with contempt. “How dare you, sir?”

I must shoot Jesse some kind of awful scowl too because he holds his hands up defensively. “Easy. Legitly, though. You two are some kind of pair.”

“Legitly isn’t a real word, fool.” Fat and I speak in unison and then regard at each other uncomfortably. It’s always uneasy when she and I are on the same page; we seldom get each other.

“Just trying to help here, girls.”

“Uh, thanks for the offer, Jesse, but I really don’t think the board is going to fit without breaking it. Damn. Guess it’s going back to the store.” I start unwedging the board from the doorway. Pity.

“You sure?” Jesse sees the confirmation on my face and takes it as a cue to grab his groceries and dig keys out of his coat pocket. “Alright, well, it was good running into you. See ya.”

I offer him a lazy wave as I wipe forehead sweat on the sleeve of my sweater.

Fat and I both watch as he saunters the ten feet to his door and disappears inside.

Silence.

I carefully lean the chalkboard against the wall.

And then it starts.

“Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It’s down at the end of lonely street
at Heartbreak Hotel.”

“Shut up, Fat.”