Fathers and First Dates

“Help. It’s an emergency!” Fat’s voice shouts on the other end of the line.

My back hunches over as I hold the cell phone up to my ear and turn to look out the passenger side window at the storefronts we drive past. There really is no way to get privacy in a car other than turn your back to the other person and pretend to be alone. Gentle thuds from the rainy and grey day patter against the roof of the Mazda – way to be cliché, Vancouver. I’m delighted that we’re planning on going to dinner and a movie tonight; a stroll by the ocean is less romantic during a monsoon.

“Calm down. What’s wrong?” The silver lining to an emergency: James only picked me up from my place ten minutes ago – it won’t take long to get back home to fix whatever catastrophe has befallen the apartment. I go through the rolodex in my head of all the possibilities of things that could go awry leaving Fat at home without supervision. Any number of disasters could have occurred in my absence. For some reason, I’m quick to assume arson – and if that’s my first assumption, why on earth would I ever trust the feline home alone? She’s called me an idiot before. I’m sad to report that it could be true; maybe I am an idiot.

It’s our first time hanging out and here I am taking a personal call from my housecat. Awesome. Depending on how this goes could really affect how things move forward with this fella. I’m not really sure how I’m feeling about him yet. Better keep the ol’ pro/con list on standby.

“Is everything okay?” James turns down the car stereo and the Foo Fighters are forced into near-silence. In a normal circumstance, this would never happen. Foo Fighters are meant to be loud; if this guy is willing to mute a great band for my benefit – that’s a tally in the pro column.

I glance over my left shoulder and shrug. James alternates between navigating the busy street and throwing quick looks of concern my way before his attention returns to the road. His blue eyes widen with questions. He cares – another pro for the gent.

“I don’t know.” I turn back to my phone, “Faaa…” I can’t say her name, this date will be over instantly if he finds out who’s ringing me at this moment, “…ather, what’s going on?”

“Father? Is that what you call me behind my back? It’s my wisdom, isn’t it?” I hear the smile in her voice. “You didn’t have a fancy English childhood, just call me dad like a normal Canadian.”

My concern evaporates instantly. If something was actually wrong, she wouldn’t be dicking me around like this. “What’s the emergency, Fat?”

“Should I find a place to pull over?” James shoulder checks in preparation to get to the next side street. He makes no mention of me calling my pretend father Fat. That speaks to his overabundance of politeness – con. I need a dude that shoots from the hip.

I pull away from my phone, albeit briefly, and minutely shake my head, “You can just keep heading to the restaurant.” Good driver – pro.

“So how’s the date going?” Fat’s words are weighted with intrigue and gossip.

“Tell me why that’s not the reason you’re calling.” I wave my hand forward, reassuring James that he’s good to keep driving. The windshield wipers move in their rhythmic pattern. “I’m kind of busy at the moment.”

“Boss. I’m giving you an out here if it’s not going well. I noticed he was blond. If you need this phone call to be an emergency to get away from the man bimbo, take it.” The feline makes a point: blonde – con.

“It’s only been a few minutes,” my words hiss into the phone, and I adjust course when I catch the look on James’ face at my sudden change of tone. “It’s hard to tell so soon…father. Stay positive. I’m sure your team will win.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Fat’s words are clipped and she clearly does not understand what I’m trying to do. “You hate sports. There isn’t even a game on right now, dumb ass.”

I roll my eyes and try to spell it out for her. “The game (massive emphasis to let her know we’re not discussing something on TSN) just started. Anything can happen. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Have I told you recently that you’re an idiot?” The sound of buttons accidently being pushed on her end rings in my ears.

“I love you too. Bye.” I end the call, turn the ringer off and drop the phone in my lap. “I’m really sorry about that. I shouldn’t have answered.”

James searches for a tactful thing to say, “Your dad sounds like an… interesting guy.” There’s that politeness again – con.

Another call from Fat lights up my phone. I hit ignore.

“Huh? Oh yeah. My dad is a real cupcake.”

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?”

Not a Hallmark Card

“That settles it; you clearly don’t care about your friends.”

I stop writing, mid-Facebook message and focus my attention from my phone to the pudgy feline on my lap. Her lazy half-mast eyes sweep from my phone to my face and her whiskers twitch with purpose. I can’t decide if her expression is offense or contempt or a new devilish expression I haven’t yet been introduced to.

We were having such a nice, cozy afternoon. The fog has devoured the neighbourhood so Fat and I hunkered indoors today. Sweats on, hoodie up, a purring and wordless cat content and lounging on my thighs; the last hour was (not to oversell it) lovely. I read some more of a book, did a little writing, and am just now catching up on my correspondence – by correspondence I clearly mean Facebook and Twitter.

“Where in the world would you get an idea like that, Fat?” I press the illuminated screen of the iPhone against her wet nose. The motion is quick and I pull the device away from her face before her eyes can bring the text into focus. “My girlfriend had her baby a few weeks early and I’m sending her a note of congratulations.” I wipe Fat’s nose smudge from phone on the sleeve of my faded blue hoodie. Good as new.

“Yes. Thank you, Boss. I already read that. It took me a moment because I thought when you used the word ‘kid’ you were writing about an infant goat. Don’t worry, I pieced it together.”

“Then what’s your issue?”

“You’re making the message all about the baby. You haven’t written anything to this girl about how she’s doing. Gimme.” A grey paw makes a sweeping motion at my phone to draw it closer. I acquiesce.

The good doctor scratches her chin with her claws in contemplation and her eyes brighten when an idea hits her. The familiar clicking as she presses the buttons in quick succession sounds like an offbeat drum line. “There.” She sits back proudly letting me see what she’s written.

I clear my throat, and read aloud. “’I hope your nether region didn’t get ruined during childbirth; bear in mind, it’s had much more practice being an entrance than an exit.’” A heavy sigh falls out of my mouth but I finish reading, “’Here’s to a speedy recovery.’ Fat, I’m not sending this.” I hold the delete button until all the words are consumed by white space. “You just called my friend a harlot.”

Fat extends her arms down to my knees and her nails dig into my skin as she stretches. “But that’s the kind of comment that says, ‘I care.’ It’s doesn’t offer that smarmy, have-some-special-treatment-because-you-just-reproduced sentimentality. Frankly, I think she’d appreciate it.”

“I think you’re wrong.” I shove Fat hard enough to encourage her to leap off my lap. “I should probably go get her something for her baby shower this weekend. Dare I ask if you have any ideas?”

“Give the new mom a gift that will help the baby sleep. Chloroform. Lots and lots of chloroform.”

Office Hours: New Skills and Old News

“If you made regular appointments I’d have relevant notes.”

Fat, fur askew from a frenzied search through the unkempt file folder in front of her on the coffee table, shoots me a look of distain. Heavy rain hits the balcony, offering a reprieve from total silence.

“Maybe just catch me up on where you’re at with this mess you call a life.”

I sip my wine, carelessly rolling back on the couch with confidence the cushions will catch me. I don’t know why it took her so long to realize that wine and fake therapy go hand in hand. You never question motive when offered complimentary Malbec.

My right hand moves quickly; learning to sign the alphabet took no time at all. F-A-T. Y-O-U. A-R-E. S-T-U-P-I-D. I laugh to myself and take another plunge into the red wine. W-I-N-E. L-O-V-E. Y-E-S.

“Is your limb possessed?” Fat sees my hand clenched in the‘s’ formation. “A hand that does the devil’s work, it would seem. Beelzebub doesn’t recruit the smart ones, does he? Pity for the underworld.”

My hand changes to let my index finger extend in the direction of the yellow book on my desk. “Check it out. Signing for Dummies!” My other hand swirls the wine in the glass before I swallow it down. “More please.” The empty glass clinks when I set it on the coffee table.

Fat, with toy spectacles perched on her nose, scribbles on one of the random pieces of paper in front of her. I try to read what she writes, but let’s be honest: she’s a cat and cats aren’t known for their penmanship.

“Sign language. Weird choice, but communicating in silence is quite a good decision for you, Boss. People might actually like you if they don’t hear that barnyard sound that you call a voice.” Fat’s pencil crayon drops when she looks up at me with her signature satanic smile. “What else is going on? How’s work?”

“S’good.” I stare at my glass, then at Fat, then my purposeful gaze drifts back to the glass – which should hold wine, but does not. I huff with discontent and flop backward on the couch. My fake doctor is such an ass.

Fat doesn’t show any sign of recognizing my needs. Undeterred, she continues conducting her session. “And you saw your family over the holidays. How are things with them?”

“Cuh-razy.” I see fat lift an eyebrow in question. “That’s right, the broken syllable kind.” My foot lifts, and my toes inch the empty glass toward the feline. She still pays it no attention.

“Broken syllable kind of crazy,” she nods. “It’s nice that some things don’t change. Consistency is good for you, Boss.” Fat picks up a pencil crayon and draws what looks like a check mark on one of the papers by her paws.

“How are your friendships maintaining?”

“Deeeeeelightful.” I see Fat’s head tilt sideways with uncertainty. “Yes, you heard that correctly. Write that down.”

My toes stretch as long as they can until my glass falls over; it rolls lazily until it collides with the feline’s meaty haunches.

Fat looks downward with a slight frown. “Subtlety isn’t your strong suit, is it?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

The feline rolls her eyes emphatically then it’s right back to business. “And how is your neighbour boyfriend doing?”

“Ughhhhhh.” Leave it to the feline to remind me of that. It’s been long enough that I forgot about that weird I-don’t-want-to-see-you-anymore conversation I had to have with him.

“How many ‘h’s is that?” She looks up from her paper, “you know, for posterity’s sake.”

“I don’t know. Nineteen.” I look out the window at the downpour. Belatedly, I react, “And he wasn’t my boyfriend.”

“But you’re still seeing him?”

“Oh no. Nope. We… no thanks. We shine at banal small talk, but actual conversation is quite painful.”

Fat adds more to her nonsense scribbling. Without looking up, she mutters, “Preach on, sister. A conversation with you that has any depth is like seeing a giraffe with two heads.” Fat doesn’t even try to disguise her laughter. “And he lives across the hall. You know I’m a fan of awkward run-ins. Let me know how it goes.”

I feel my face morph into ugly grimace.

“Good catching up with you, Boss.” Fat’s paws sweep all of her papers back into the folder. “Bottle’s under the couch if you still need a refill.”

2015: The Year of What Might be an Achievable Resolution

“What New Year’s resolution are you going to fail at this year, boss?”

Fat’s head tips on a curious angle, a paper top hat perches on her head with the number 2015 splayed on the side in swirly, silver glitter. We’re well into New Years Day by now, and yet the chapeau persists. Part of me wonders if she hasn’t removed it just to make me crazy — when the countdown is over, the confetti is thrown and the kazoos have sounded, it’s time to take off the hat.

“I didn’t make any.” My eyes roll upward, to quickly consult my brain for any previous thoughts on the matter. “Nope. Nothing there.” iPhone shrieks from the hall table to let me know I’ve received a text message.

“You make it sound like breaking news; that brain of yours has been vacant of both memory and intelligence for years. C’mon, boss, think of something you can aspire to fail at this year.” Fat’s grey tail flicks playfully from side to side. “I have ideas if you fall short. For instance,” The feline clears her throat for what I assume will begin a tedious and insulting list. All too quickly this thought is proven correct. “Learn to act your age, purchase a new cat toy every week, fix that crooked English smile of yours, give up reading so you have more time to pursue more important things like making your cat happy, clean the skeletons out of your closet and get back to therapy, write a poem about me every day, spend effort in looking less like a hobo so maybe a man will want to be with you,” Fat pauses, making me think she’s finished, but that last idea has bridged itself to another thought. “Hmm, it’s not just the outside that’s the problem. Do you reckon you’re capable of a personality overhaul over the course of the year? Well, they do say a person’s reach should exceed their grasp. I’ll do what I can to help on that one, but you’ve been a work in progress since I met you. You might have to face the fact that you’re going to end up old and alone. Maybe your resolution can be about coming to terms with that harsh reality…”

I’ve stopped listening as Fat natters on about what she perceives to be my various personality and appearance defects. Checking my phone, the latest text is essentially the same as the last few I’ve received. Another ode to the New Year. The phone clicks rapidly as I text a reply, and respond to another two iMessages. I stand, holding my phone in midair, thinking about how positive everybody is at New Years. There has to be a way to harness this prolific outlook amongst the people; figuring that out could be my resolution. After all, I’m no stranger to the nickname Optimist Prime.

A few seconds pass and my attention transitions from the free-floating thoughts in my head back to the outpouring of words from my housecat. Fat’s monologue continues as her paw scratches her chin in thought. “…but then we’d have to find somebody that is competent in attaching brain electrodes and behavioural manipulation.” The feline’s green eyes refocus on me. “What if we just pick something for you that is vague enough to be achievable?”

I humour Fat with the illusion of caring. “What do you suggest, Fat?”

Triumph in the form of a sinister smile grows across her small face. Even her whiskers stand at attention for the good doctor’s decree. “Boss, your New Year’s resolution is to generally suck less at everything.”

Hear no Evil

“Oh, God. I’ve gone deaf.”

I look up from my book. Fat is parked at the edge of the sectional, while I’m cozy in the corner where the couch becomes perpendicular.  I watch the back of her head bob and weave as she watches Boyfriend’s fingers fly across the ivory keys of the no longer pristine upright piano.

Fat’s voice becomes increasingly fraught with worry, “Oh, God. Oh my fucking damn. I’ve been struck deaf. I don’t have the thumbs or the patience to learn sign language; I’m not a monkey for Christ’s sake.” I see her spine straighten as the metaphoric lightbulb appears above her pointed ears. “Hold up. I can hear my own voice. Wait. Is that the voice in my head? I can’t tell. Hey. Hey, guy,” Fat’s paw reaches out in the direction of Boyfriend as if to will him to pay attention to her, “can you make some noise so I can tell if I’m deaf or not?” Her paw pathetically sweeps side-to-side in the air. Boyfriend plays on, letting his body lean into the notes he plays, completely oblivious to the feline behind him.

“For a self-appointed shrink, you’re a colossal dumb ass.”

Fat jumps with shock and comes heartbreakingly close to bailing off the couch. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky as to bear witness to one of my dreams coming true. “I forgot you were there. Book without pictures, I see. I’m proud of you.” Fat momentarily regains her charming demeanor. She blinks twice when my words finally become sound in her brain. “I can hear you.”

“And goody for me, I can hear you too. Seriously, Fat, what’s your deal? We agreed it was time to take a break from the catnip.” I reach my hand between two couch cushions and pull out my bookmark.

“Kicked the stuff. Cold turkey. Don’t need it. Nope. Fine without.” Fat throws looks over her shoulder at Boyfriend between her chopped sentences. “I don’t understand it, boss. The whole thing reeks of voodoo. He’s like the Charlie Chaplin version of King Midas; everything he touches turns to mute. Guess that explains why I never hear you two having–”

“I will pay you fifty dollars not to finish that sentence.” I cut her off, even though it doesn’t matter if she finishes the sentence or not. The next time Boyfriend and I find ourselves on the cusp of a XXX throw down, I’m just going to picture Fat with her pervy ear pressed against the other side of the door. At least we have the forethought to lock her out of the bedroom. Who knows what kind of advice would spring up at our next therapy session if she had a front row seat to that show.

“Aw, hell, Fat. His headphones are plugged into the piano.” I silently hoped I could ride out her potential deafness a little longer for amusement’s sake, but the conversational path we stumbled upon is one that certainly does not need to be travelled. I toss the library book onto the coffee table.

Fat invites herself to curl up against my sternum. Her ears flick as they absorb the surrounding noise. She lets out a contended sigh, “Creepo downstairs is listening to old school Alanis Morissette. Neat.”

I scratch the back of her ears, “You can hear that?” Aside the hum from the refrigerator, I don’t hear anything.

“Believe me, boss, when I’m not having a deaf day I hear lots of things.”

I’m instantly uncomfortable. If she can hear the downstairs neighbour’s music… I crane my neck to look down at the feline, she has some sort of nervous tic with one of her eyes. I watch it rapidly close and reopen. Almost like it was intentional.

She repeats the end of her last sentence, “Lots of things.”