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.”

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.”

A Curious Understudy for My Heart’s Desire

“I want mac and cheese!”

I swear the sound of muffled laughter follows my announcement. My neck snaps to look downward to Fat, sitting calmly at my feet by the entryway. I grab my keys off the hall table and shove them in my pocket. The intense eye contact persists throughout the small action.

“What?” Fat’s eyes narrow, trying to dissect the look I give her.

“I’m serious. I want mac and cheese!”

“Boss, calm down. There’s no need to yell.” Fat licks a paw and rubs it against her face.

My eyes widen. Yell? I thought I merely made a statement declaring my strong desire for carbohydrates. I had no idea such a tremendous want came with amplified volume. My voice adjusts to an indoor level. Ever since I started thinking of Bestie’s mac and cheese last week, the memory of its creamy deliciousness haunts me. It’s complete addict behaviour.

“You know what this is, don’t you?” Fat finishes washing her face and gives me a knowing gaze. “It’s addict behaviour.”

“I just said that.”

Fat shakes her head, “No, you didn’t.”

My brain abandons its lust of pasta to pursue recent memory. Maybe I just thought the thing about addict behaviour. Either way, it’s concerning.

“I think I’m going crazy.”

“Stating the obvious, lady. That’s why you made me your therapist.”

I mutter, “You’re a self-appointed therapist. If you were court-appointed I might pay more attention.”

“With your stupid behaviour I imagine that is only a matter of time. You need to distract yourself from this fleeting obsession with cheesy, fatty pasta. Get out of the house.”

My phone lights up to show me the time. “I’m trying. I actually need to get to the bank before it closes.” It’s going to be a close one. I might even have to run.

I open the front door as I wrestle to get my sandals on. While bent over, my untamed hair cascades, putting a divide between Fat and I.

“Well that’s interesting.” The sentence sounds broken the way Fat says it. The odd breaks between her words makes me curious. I part my wild hair like an explorer in an overgrown jungle so I can observe the feline. She looks beyond me and at the doorway, head cocked to the side as though perplexed. I turn and see it too.

A lone box of Kraft Dinner occupies the space within the door frame. Fat and I exchange confused looks and both race to look up and down the hallway for a hint as to who left it for us to find.

Fat eyes Jesse’s door with accusation. I follow her stare and recall the laughter after my initial loud announcement.

“You think?” I watch Jesse’s door for a sign of life. Nothing happens.

“If I may quote myself,” Fat looks from the neighbour’s door to the box of KD, “that’s interesting.” IMG_2672[1]

Unfinished Business of My Future Ghost

“You’re dead! You’re so dead!”

It’s like Fat’s voice blasts through a bullhorn. She shouts as she jumps from the liquor cabinet to the television stand to the top of the war-torn scratch post.

“Are you threatening me?” I tie my hair into a messy bun to avoid brushing it.

Fat leaps back beside the television and onto the coffee table. “The ground is lava. You’re long since dead; prepare to live as a poltergeist, Boss.” Fat stops when she bounds onto the arm of the couch to contemplate the idea. “No. You’re too ambivalent to be a poltergeist. Instead you’re one of those unfinished-business-wandering-the-earth-forever kind of spirits. Off you go. Haunt away.” She directs me as though she expects I’ll pretend to be weighed down by chains like Marley’s ghost.

Instead, I pull a small key ring from my pocket and drop the keys on the coffee table. They jingle when they hit the ikea surface.

“Man-slut neighbour still isn’t home to get his keys back, huh?”

“Fat, that’s the third time I’ve gone over to Jesse’s to give him those keys. That kid is never around when I am. Has he come by while I’ve been at work?”

Fat’s eyes roll upward in thought. “There was wheezy panting at the door yesterday. That seems like him, right?”

“Christ, I hope not.” I cringe at the thought and silently hope that the panting was from the pug in the apartment around the corner. “Well, I tried. From here on out, fuck it.”

Fat nods in mock understanding, “Ah, the whore’s mentality. Suits the situation.” Fat eyes the keys on the table and stares up at me with a crafty grin. “Want to go snoop around his apartment? It’s not breaking and entering if we have keys.”

“I certainly do not.”

“Because you’re afraid of getting caught?”

“Because his business isn’t my business and the interaction we have right now suits me just fine. If we humanize Jesse by finding things in his apartment, I won’t want to talk to him anymore. So,” I close the curtains as daylight has long since gone, “we’ll just wait for him to come and get his keys when he remembers I have them.”

“Make him come to you, eh? Boss, you sly devil.” Fat shoots me an exaggerated wink.

I point to her eye, “What was that about?”

“Oh, please. Mutt and I both know what’s going on here.” Pulled from sleep, Mutt lifts his head at her mention of his name. He becomes quickly disinterested and settles back in his bed. “This is your signature move for dating; you bait him with personality and then give him a reason to come by the apartment. Not exactly subtle, but it works.”

I say nothing, but raise skeptical eyebrows.

“Mark my words, Boss. Something is going to happen here. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice the similarities between you and Jesse’s crazy bitch one-nighter. Same demographic.” Fat’s voice lilts in a sing-song way to be extra annoying.

“We didn’t see her face.”

“Didn’t have to. Porcelain skin, tall, dark unkempt hair, prone for bad decisions…” Fat pauses to catch my eye and she nods, “Seems somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?”

I shake my head as if the motion will make her go away.

“It would be an awful shame if this unfinished business with the neighbour boy is what keeps your future ghost unsettled.” Fat points to my feet which are still standing in the imaginary magma.

I cross my arms and perch on the end of the couch, making sure that my feet are off the carpet. “Fat, I can say with the utmost certainty that nothing will ever happen in that respect with me and Jesse.”

A devilish smile lifts the corners of her mouth, “Wanna bet?”

Neighbour Favour

“I can’t believe this is what kept you up the other night. So simple: press buttons, make words.”

Fat sits beside me on the floor of the living room. I couldn’t get comfortable at the desk or on the couch, so we’ve found a good workspace on the floor. It took several cups of tea to work up the gumption to open my book. I haven’t worked on it in a long while; I feel like I’m starting from zero.

“It’s not just that, Fat.” My eyes digest a sentence. I press delete and write something else in its place. “It needs to be engaging, needs to have some intrigue and above all else,” I hit delete again, “it needs to make some fucking sense.”

“Let’s do something fun.”

“Fat, I’m not going to get distracted from actually working on this thing today.”

“But I’m so pretty. Pet me.” Fat rolls onto her side playfully.

A quick succession of raps on the door interrupts the writing process. My head and Fat’s head twist in succession to face the apartment door. At the sound of the knocking, Mutt goes crazy and yaps incessantly.

“You expecting somebody?” Fat’s eyes stay glued to the back of the door as if looking away will make the mystery guest disappear.

“Nope.” I push off the ground and slowly come to standing.

Fat holds up a paw, and points to her ear, indicating that I should mimic her. Her head tilts slightly sideways as she listens.

“Shh. Shh.” Whoever it is tries to silence Mutt’s barking.

“Weird.” I bend to pick up the porky dog and look through the door’s peephole. Jesse stands in the hallway, hands in his pockets and looking in the direction of his apartment down the hall. He’s wearing work clothes – must be on his way to the restaurant since he’s obviously not working on his game in server blacks.

“Hey,” Jesse drags out the vowel sound as I swing the door open.

I rest my hand on the doorknob and look to the approximate area of the door Jesse’s knuckles banged against. He’s never knocked on my door before; it’s foreign to me.

“What’s up?” I face him and an impish smile grows across his face.

He clasps his hands in front of his heart in a pleading manner. “I need a favour.”

Fat saunters over just in time to see Jesse stand on alert. A door opens near the end of the hall. His neck whips to see who is leaving which apartment; it’s the middle-aged single mom with the endless supply of kids on her way out. Jesse relaxes.

“I kind of brought a chick home last night and she’s still sleeping. I have to go to work.” He fishes an extra set of keys from his pocket and holds them up with feigned sweetness. “Could you be a dear and lock my place after you hear that crazy bitch leave?”

Fat pushes her way into the hall and plants herself at Jesse’s feet. “What’s in it for us?”

“Fat, shut up.” I hold a hand out for Jesse to drop his keys into my palm. “Sure, Jesse. No problem.”

“Ask him what her deal is.” Fat stares up at me wide-eyed and insistent. “Ask him. There’s got to be something up if he’s sneaking out and giving you keys to lock the door. If we’re setting a precedent for future behaviour, I want him to tell us the defect of every one-nighter we lock up after.”

Jesse stares down at Fat almost as though he can understand her too. “This one, always with the meowing, huh?”

“It’s a constant.” Fat catches my eye and nods her head in his direction. I smile and try not to act like I’m under the orders of the feline, “What’s the deal with her, anyways?” I nod in the direction of Jesse’s apartment.

“Super hot.”

“All the crazy ones are.” Fat talks over him as I shift Mutt’s weight to my other hand.

“But she’s looking for husband material. I shit you not, she went on for twenty-five minutes last night about the kind of wedding she plans on having and asking my opinion. I met her at a bar and it was a good idea to bring her home last night. This morning however…”

I try my best not to laugh right in his face, but Fat doesn’t spare Jesse’s feelings. Her laughing makes the inside of my chest rumble and I choke on the giggles as they force their way out.

“It’s not funny.” In spite of the sentence, Jesse cracks a smile.

Fat and I reply in unison, “It’s really funny.”

His voice turns to a whisper and he looks over his shoulder again to make sure he’s still in the clear. “Woman, you have to shut up or the crazy bitch will find us in the hallway and we’ll both be in for it.”

I salute with a smirk. “You can count on me, chief. I’ll lock your bad decision out of the building. But just so you know, my jurisdiction ends at your front door. If she doesn’t leave of her own free will, she’s your problem.”

“We don’t do exorcisms.” Fat chimes in and looks up to Jesse.

Jesse checks his phone, “Shit. I gotta go. Thanks. I owe you big time.” He takes off, tiptoeing past his own door on the way out.

“Funny one, that one.” Fat struts back into the living room and resumes her spot on the floor.

“Sure is.” I put Mutt on the ground and go sit next to Fat on the floor in front of my computer.

I resume my reading and manage to put in a few edits before we hear a door shut in the hallway. Fat and I both perk up and look at each other with delight.

“You think that’s her?”

“Think we can get a glimpse of her before she leaves?” Fat and I race to the hall door seconds too late. The door to the stairs was just shutting behind her.

“The balcony!” Fat runs in front of me and we go out on the balcony to see if we can get a glimpse of what hot/crazy looks like. We only catch the back half of her walk of shame as she stumbles away from the building.

Fat smirks, “Remember that time you said you wouldn’t get distracted from your writing?”

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.”