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.”

Office Hours: The Good Doctor’s Bedside Manner

“Boss, I don’t want to make this sound like a rapist situation, but please stop touching me. How many times do I have to say no?”

In the darkness of the bedroom, small sparks of static shoot between grey fur and my fingertips as I pet the feline. It’s really quite something when one is overt-tired and in need of a distraction.

“Fat, you’re like a miniature fireworks display. It’s interesting. And since I can’t sleep, neither will you.”

Fat’s patience finally reaches its limit; she stands up and walks to the far end of the bed and out of the extended reach of my gorilla arms. The feline flops down, annoyed. The fireworks show is over.

“This upsets you? Now you know how it feels to be kept awake when you’d rather be sleeping. Welcome to my life every morning, Fat.”

I hear a snort of derision in the almost-darkness. “It actually hurts. I shouldn’t have to tell you – I’ve heard you swear loud enough from static shock that churches have moved neighbourhoods.”

“I’d put up with the zaps if mine got all electric in the night like yours do. It’s like an unharnessed super power.” I reach out to Fat pathetically as if the pitiful effort will convince Fat to return to my clutches.

I hear the kitty inhale and exhale as if to gather patience. “What’s keeping you awake anyways? Let me in on the Mad Monkey situation.”

“I’m not writing. Why aren’t I writing?” I think on the love/mostly hate relationship with the YA novel I’ve been writing for what feels like longer than my lifetime. It’s turned to ash and resurrected more times than a phoenix.

There is a pause and in the darkness, I hear what I assume is the good doctor licking a paw; squinting doesn’t offer any clarification.

“Oh poor you.” Fat’s sarcastic voice finds me. “You and your complaining. Life must be pretty good if this is what keeps you up at night.” The cat mumbles to herself, “Don’t have my patient notes or glasses and this idiot wants an after-hours session.”

I kick the sheet off my legs, exposing my lower limbs to the night air filtering in through the open window. “That’s not advice.”

“Astute observation, Boss. Go to bed. Write in the morning. Simple.”

“As my fake shrink, shouldn’t you be concerned with why I do or do not do something? All you do is attempt to make me feel stupid.” My spine lifts up off the mattress as I balance on my elbows and stare in Fat’s approximate direction.

“You want to do something, you’ll do it. No need to make the situation any more or less than it is. You’re just looking for me to give you a hall pass on making writing a priority. As for why you’re not writing,” Fat clears her throat, “you’re lazy, and uncertain with how to proceed. Since you don’t have anything especially noteworthy going on in your pathetic little life you’re letting this teeny tiny issue cast a long shadow. Get a life, Boss.”

“Wow, Fat. That’s surprisingly helpful.”

“Good. Now roll over, close your eyes, shut your face and go to sleep.”

The Revival of My Twenty-Year-Old Self

“It took you two hours and thirty eight minutes to get from the apartment’s front door to here.”

Fat checks the invisible watch on her wrist, shakes it as though it may be defective and mimes holding the broken watch to one of her furry ears. “Was a labyrinth installed in the building that I have not been notified about?”

I flick the light switch in the hall and the brightness of the new too-many-watt bulb makes my face pull into itself like I’m chewing a lemon. I make the effort to kick off my sandals, but as they’re strapped to my feet, I’m literally in a bind.

“You exaggerate, Fat.” I squat down to the ground and my leg extends in a ground side kick to shut the door. “It wasn’t that long.” Wait. “Was it?” Gravity pulls a little harder than usual; I have to work extra hard at not toppling over as I try to remove my footwear.

The feline flops down beside me and playfully rolls into her side, pawing the air. “I was out on the balcony and saw you stumble up the front walk. I know exactly how long ago you made it home from ladies’ night. So, what happened? Pass out in the stairwell again?”

“No. Thank you very much.” With unanticipated ease, I unfasten the buckles that harness my feet and recline until my back presses against the wall. I reach and bat at one of Fat’s paws with my fingers. Considering the amount of alcohol consumed tonight, I am doing pretty well at staying composed. Well done, self. “I’m sure you heard me talking to some neighbours as I got home.”

“The ones that were back from the bar and looking for their keys?”

“So you did hear.”

“No I didn’t.” The feline’s smirk becomes rather earnest and I’m not really sure what to make of it.

I scratch against Fat’s ribcage. “Oh, alright. Well I let them in the building just as the chick found her keys inside her purse.”

“Tell me what happened after the stuff that I know.”

I frown, and try to wipe the bright hallway light out of my eyes.

“They invited me up to hang out with them and have a night cap or four. Seemed rude to say no.” In hindsight, I was a definite fifth wheel until one of the two dudes blacked out.

“Why does your brow glisten as though you’ve been doing something physical?” Even lying on her back looking for attention, Fat still notices minute details. The left corner of her mouth lifts in a subtle smile.

“I think their doorway is a time warp and made me turn into my twenty-year-old self. Fat,” I feel my tired face turn grave, “I danced. A lot. And for a long time.” A hand covers my eyes shamefully.

“You’re lying. You hate the neighbours.”

My head shakes vehemently, “I assure you, Fat. It happened. Generally I’m so composed. Maybe it was the sangria consumed prior to coming home, but the brain didn’t make the decision – I think I’ve got the rhythm in me.” I uncover my eyes and stare into the curious mossy eyes of the feline.

“Was this at your boyfriend Jesse’s place?”

My head continues to swivel back and forth like I’m getting slapped from side to side. “No – they were neighbours that I’ve never talked to before. And just because I’m nice to Jesse doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend.”

“That ‘why the hell not’ attitude of yours has really taken over as of late, hasn’t it?”

I twirl the ends of my newly-cut hair. “They put autopilot in cars. No difference here. I don’t think my brain is the one driving, Fat.”

Even though I’m fatigued, I don’t miss her sarcasm. “That’s very reassuring to hear, Boss.”

Off the Personality Charts

“It’s been a long while since you’ve returned to the apartment doing the three a.m. donkey shuffle. Thanks for coming home, Clip Clop. I presume estrogen night was a success.”

It would seem the hitch in my giddy-up is readily apparent to a busybody feline. I take baby steps, still in disbelief that not fifteen minutes ago I was sprinting down the middle of a street, through the rain to Bestie’s car. The current state below my ankles is comatose; my feet are beyond the point of pain, they’ve long since checked out.

“It’s maybe quarter after two. Three a.m.? You exaggerate.” I groan, but strangely enough, it’s for celebration. I’ve spent hours in these shoes, I made it; I’m still alive.

Fat frowns with the familiar look of a parent that has denied themselves sleep in order to ensure their kin arrives home safe from a night out. I expect her to be in a housecoat and curlers with a glare like that.

“I’m rounding up, but it’s still late. I suppose it was more than just going out for dinner like you would have me believe. You should always call if you’re going to be late. It’s the courteous thing to do, boss.”

“Sure, yeah.” I stumble into the bedroom and collapse, face first, onto the mattress. I’m getting too old for late nights, but it was the birthday of one of my best gals, and it was delightful. Many of my favourite ladies breaking bread together, sharing some laughs. I snort, remembering Bestie’s face when the subject of vajazzles came up.

I try to kick off my shoes without turning over and sitting up, but the result of this decision is kicking my ankle, scuffing my shoes against each other and scraping my skin against the dark heels. I feel like a wind-up toy that keeps colliding with a wall – I imagine the feeling is more or less the same. My black pumps are fused to my feet like they’ve been melted to my soles with lava. Stupid swollen feet.

“Tut, tut.”

The fur of Fat’s tail drags across my shins. Because of the sound she makes, this action can only be interpreted as condescending. I lift my stomach off the duvet and roll over.

“You seem surprisingly alert, boss. Not wearing the askew eyeballs of one that is drunk and bumbling around.”

One of my feet stirs in its coma; it’s starting to register that it feels pain. I’m not sure which is preferable – numbness or agony. At least with agony you know it’s still alive. My knee pulls up to my chest and I reef on the shoe as hard as I can. That bastard stays put.

Fat jumps up beside me on the bed and watches me struggle as I try to free myself.

“Thought I’d keep it classy tonight and watch my intake.” I growl. “What is going on here? This kind of crap never happened to Cinderella.” I yell at my shoe, try to divorce it from my foot with more force then whine and huff in aggravation. I’m a prisoner to my footwear. How does this happen?

“I always pegged you as more of an ugly stepsister type anyways.”

I shoot Fat the dirtiest look I can muster.

“Kidding.” Fat smiles insincerely. “Seriously though, you might have to amputate.” She leans close enough to my leg that her whiskers touch my foot. She leans back quickly – they must smell terrible.

I give up on my right foot and lift my left foot. My arm muscles firm and a veritable war cry bursts from my lungs as I wrench the pump off my foot in a fluid motion. It frustrates me how much easier this shoe was to remove. I throw the shoe across the room and it lands in a pile of laundry beside the dresser. Okay. Half way there.

Fat laughs, “The best part about this is that there are flats in your purse, remember? You thought you were so smart bringing those along for when your feet tapped out for the evening.” Her laugh continues until it turns into a quiet wheeze.

“Of course I remember.” I talk over her raspy laughter. “I gave them to Bestie because her feet were crying.”

Fat instantly stops and she dons the face of genuine surprise. “Self-sacrifice, boss? This isn’t something I’ve marked on any of your personality charts.”

I stop grappling with my shoe and walk with one bare foot and one high-heeled foot to grab my purse from the hallway. I unzip it and flip the purse over to empty the contents onto the bed. The black flats, of course, are absent.

Fat takes a long time to blink. Her mouth hangs open, slightly-ajar as she looks at the wallet, lip gloss, compact, iPhone, small journal, pens and other purse crap.

“Nothing to say, Fat? That’s surprising.”

The feline gives her head a shake. It offends me that she’s so shocked at my capacity to put others first. If I weren’t so tired, I’d be making one hell of a scene – pulling tails, spouting verbal abuse, putting her in the toilet bowl and flushing, the whole nine.

“I guess there’s only one thing that comes to mind at the moment.”

I watch her green eyes remain on the items from my purse. She scans over everything as though she’s taking inventory.

“A single girl on the town should carry condoms in her purse.”

“I’m going to go to bed and pretend you didn’t just say that.”

A New Kind Of Alimony

“You know I’m not fond of you waking me through the night.”

I frown at Fat while grabbing a handful of Cap’n Crunch from the box. Fat delicately laps from her water dish, oblivious to my sour puss. I change the song playing on my iPhone then continue packing a lunch for work.

Once Fat’s thirst is quenched, she looks up at me. She licks the residual water from the corners of her mouth and blinks more times than needed.

“I told you I’d let you know when I came up with something. Excuse me for not leaving you hanging.”

“That was two days ago. There’s a statute of limitations on how long you have to deliver on a joke. Waking me up after 1:00 a.m. this morning was beyond unnecessary.” I drop the cereal into a plastic container. Fat’s ears lift at the sound, acutely attuned to the noise similar to her food dish being filled. When she realizes that it’s not the tinny sound of her bowl, Fat’s ears revert with disappointment to their previous state.

“It was a compliment. I like the smell of canned tuna.” Fat smiles genuinely. It hurts me that this is considered a compliment in the feline world. When she hears the second handful of dry cereal hit the Tupperware her face briefly lights with hope before she comes to the same realization as before and her anticipation deflates.

I crouch down in front of a lower cupboard to grab a granola bar and cup of ramen noodles. Fat comes and sits beside me while I contemplate grabbing some corn chips as well.

“So…” She draws out the word and looks at the food in my hands. Fat waits for me to read her mind, but after several seconds of silence, she realizes that’s not going to happen. “You ever going to learn how to feed yourself or is this the kind of nutrition,” she nods obviously at my lunch, “you’ll be enjoying for the rest of your cat-lady days?”

“What are you talking about?” She’s staring right at my work lunch. I don’t understand this feline. I remember there are some baby carrots in the fridge. I’ll grab some of those too.

Fat’s eyes follow me as I stand, toss the noodles and granola bar in my lunch bag and root through the fridge until I find the bag of carrots. I grab one and take a bite.

Maybe she didn’t hear my question. “What’s up, doc?”

Fat shakes her head. “What are you doing? An homage to your childhood?” She waits for me to swallow my food before she continues. “We haven’t really discussed much of what happens now that you’re all alone again.” Fat interrupts when I open my mouth to protest. She holds her paw up to force silence upon my vocal cords. Her voice comes out tired, “Yes, girl power. You don’t need a man. You’re a self-sufficient, independent woman, new age hunter/gatherer and whatever other crock pot clichés you’re packing. I mean no offense, but you don’t know how to cook, boss. I don’t desire to perish in a kitchen fire while watching another attempt.”

The feline looks genuinely concerned, though I’m quite certain it’s more for the threat on her life instead of my abysmal domestic skills.

“Fat, have some faith in me. I’ve got it all figured out.”

I swear I see Fat wince at the thought of me in an apron. I do my best to ignore it. I can’t be offended by the truth.

“As you may recall, the less-recent Ex-Boyfriend, with whom I share Mutt, is a red seal chef.” I grab my phone off the kitchen counter and check the time. Four minutes before I have to leave for work or I’ll miss my bus.

Fat shoots me a look of bitch-please-don’t-travel-down-that-road.

“Hear me out. I pay for all of Mutt’s food, vet bills, prescriptions, what have you. I’ve never asked for any sort of compensation for covering all of that. Therefore, I think that if he wants to continue to share Mutt with me, he should provide me with some sort of…” My still-tired brain reaches for some kind of term that will work, “edible alimony if you will.”

“Bitch, you crazy. Nobody would agree to that.”

I look down at the iPhone still in my grasp and go into my messages. There in plain text, is a response to a text I sent in the not-so-distant past.

“A pan of lasagna will be here on Thursday.” I throw my hands in the air like I’m in a nineties rap video and give Fat the you-can-suck-it face before turning the screen in her direction.

Fat’s eyes widen with surprise as she reads the text. “Not sure that I entirely agree with your methods, but if you can get fed properly through use of extortion I suppose I can’t fault you.” Her eyes squint as she reads something else on the screen. “You sent this at 1:13 a.m.?

“For some reason I was awake at that time.” I glare again at Fat, who, out of habit of my morning routine is planted in front of her food bowl. First I make lunch, then feed the good doctor. “It seemed like it was worth a try. Better to ask for something like this when he’s had time to tip back a few bottles, am I right? Alexander Keith’s got my back.”