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?”

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?”

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.”

From One Starving Artist to Another

“Whoa, wait up there, woman.”

I look over my shoulder from the top of the stairs to see one of the down-the-hall neighbours whose company I actually enjoy. Jesse’s around my age and we know a few of the same people; he’s one of the rare breed of easily likeable people. He jogs effortlessly up the stairs as though he weighs nothing. Like a gentleman, I hold the door open for him so we can exit on our floor. He offers a hillbilly curtsy in exchange. Fuck you, gender stereotypes.

“Hey, pal. Haven’t seen you since spring thaw.” I take a quick surveillance of the hallway to make sure that the crazy dog lady and the awkwardly loud octogenarian humpers aren’t around to see my nice side. That would only invite conversation and that’s a bad idea – I’d be stopped for small chats all the time. No, no. Better they think I’m a bitch.

Jesse smiles; he has one of those genuine smiles that triggers an automatic grin on my face. He just exudes niceness. “Yeah, I’ve been busy. What’s going on with you? Haven’t seen your boyfriend in a long time too, is he…” Jesse watches my eyes widen and emphatic shake of the head, “Oh. Well, I’m sure it was for the best.”

This is one of the reasons I enjoy Jesse as a neighbour. He doesn’t pry; he just accepts things as they are.

We wander down the hall to my door. I’ve been here so long, the crooked apartment number doesn’t even register as annoying anymore. I start digging for my keys.

“How’s your game coming along?” I look at him through wisps of my hair as I rummage around the bottom of my bag. Several months back he showed me a phone app game he was building. It was pretty impressive then, and that was just a prototype.

“Stalled project, we’re waiting to get some more funding before we can push forward.”

I shake my purse and hear my keys jingle at the same time as a familiar voice demands attention.

“Boss, I’m so hungry, get in here.” Fat moans from the other side of the door.

I ignore the voice of the feline. “That’s too bad about your funding. I’m sure something will come along for you.” Finally, my hand fishes out my keychain. I clench it in my fist as if to say: success.

“Yeah, there are a few lines in the water right now. I’m not worried.” Jesse shrugs and casually puts his hands on his hips. “Hey, speaking of projects, how’s that book of yours coming along?”

“Progress is slow to non-existent at the moment. That’s because I’m getting in my own way and isn’t a result of lack of funding – unfortunately as a writer, I can’t use that as an excuse.”

An easy laugh falls out of his mouth and runs down the hallway.

“Who is that?” Fat’s voice draws out the words, filling them with innuendo. “Should I light some candles to set the mood?”

“Fat, shut up.” I gently kick the bottom of the door in hopes to scare her away.

“I didn’t know you had a cat.”

I exhale audibly. “I try not to talk about her. She’s…” I pause to come up with an appropriate word to describe my self-appointed therapist, “a character.”

“If you’re not going to bang him, come inside and feed me. Boss, do you hear me?” Her words are pointed. We hear a scratching sound as Fat claws the paint on the back of the door.

“Kind of a loudmouth, isn’t she?”

“Boss.”

“You were wondering why I don’t mention her…” I point my thumb at the door in the direction of the pathetic scratching and mewing.

“Booooooooooss.” She knows whining drives me insane.

Christ. I quickly unlock the door and open it. Fat peers up at both of us. She glazes over me and looks directly at Jesse.

“Hi Kitty.” He bends and reaches a hand out toward her.

Fat stares at the palm in front of her and follows the arm to Jesse’s unshaven face. “I don’t know who the hell you think you are, sir, but I don’t respond to empty offerings. Once you’ve gotten your freak on, we’ll need you to leave immediately.”

I stare up to the ceiling, hoping to whatever is up there to strike me down. I really hope he doesn’t understand what Fat is saying.

“She doesn’t seem to like me much, does she?” His fingers fold back and he points at Fat’s face, “Looks like a sneer, doesn’t it?”

I try to contain a laugh because Fat is clearly not impressed by this neighbourly imposition. “Sure does.”

“Well,” Jesse stands, “I should get going. I have a ton of work to do at home before I leave for my other job. Ladies, it’s been a pleasure.” He pretends to tip an imaginary cap at Fat and then at myself before sauntering down the hall. “Oh hey, Kat?” He swivels on his feet like a dancer.

“What’s up?”

Fat pokes her head out the doorway to listen in.

Jesse points at me as if to hold me accountable, “Make time for that book. It’s important.”

“You’re not my mom. You don’t get to tell me what to do.” Again, I smile but get serious when I realize that he wasn’t searching for a flippant answer. “I’ll try.”

I scoot Fat back inside and shut the door behind us.

“I really needed to hear that.” I press my spine against the back of the door and feel my eyes dart back and forth with realization. So simple, but incredibly helpful.

Fat rolls her eyes dramatically. “Writing is important if you’re a writer? If you couldn’t come to that conclusion on your own, you’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”