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?”

Making Comparisons

“I hear it’s Ken’s birthday tomorrow.”

Fat finds me in the kitchen and watches me down half a handful of dry granola.

“Oh yeah?” I crunch the cereal into paste and swallow it down. “Who’s Ken?”

Fat’s shoulders lift toward her pointed ears. “I don’t know. I thought you were best friends with all the neighbours now.”

The box of granola finds its way back to where it belongs on top of the fridge. “Not making a habit of it, I assure you.” My hands sweep against each other before I brush any stubborn crumbs onto my shorts. I grab a ribbon I left on the counter and start tying a bow around the glass jar beside it.

“You’re telling me you have no affiliation with this Ken or the old lady that was talking to him in the hallway this afternoon?”

I raise my right hand as though swearing an oath. “None whatsoever.”

“Well, you may have ordered a fruit bouquet online for the occasion, so…”

“You’re fibbing.”

“Completely.” Fat finally notices the jar of pickles on the counter that’s now flourished with green ribbon in the style of five-year-old shoelaces. “What’s up with this?” She holds her paw out to gesture at the fancy jar. “You’re not going to tell me this is a gift for Ken on his special day? I’m very confused.”

“I’m seeing a gal pal of mine tonight. She’s got good news coming out the wazoo – she’s rocking at life right now. The pickles are to congratulate her on a particular tidbit of wonderful news.”

“She’s discovered how nicely they go with tuna on high-brow crackers?”

I give Fat the look that tells her not to be an idiot. “Bun in the oven. New house purchased. Month long dream vacation coming up.” I stare at the label on the pickles. “I’m just recognizing the good things in the world by paying tribute with what used to be cucumbers,” I glance over my shoulder to the pink daisies on the hall table, “and also flowers.”

Fat gives me a skeptical sigh and her face gets done over with genuine interest. “You’re not making comparisons are you, Boss? That’s a dangerous game.”

I shrug. “I can drink vodka and she can’t. It all evens out.” The truth is, yes. I can’t help but make comparisons. I’m so far removed from a life such as that, I can’t even fathom what it’s like to live up to the model of adulthood. I’m still in the ‘having fun’ phase.

Fat’s head moves around, taking inventory with birdlike movements. “Can’t help but notice you don’t have any gifts, pickles or otherwise, celebrating significant moments in your life. Why is that?”

“For the precise reason you think, Fat. I’m happy enough, but I’ve got nothing especially significant going on.” In a last-minute decision, I untie the green ribbon and slap a blue bow sticker to the jar lid. That’s how it’s done.

Fat taps her jaw thoughtfully, “How does one fix that, do you think?”

I hurriedly grab the jar of pickles and flowers; I’m going to miss the seabus if I don’t hustle my caboose. “By going out and having a good time with my friend for starters.”

“We’ll figure this life thing out, Boss.”

“Oh goody. A team project.”

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.”

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.”

Awful Quips and Sinking Ships

“It’s not the best news, but compared to the alternative, it’s pretty good.” The woman peers at me from behind thick lenses as I round the corner. She and her cohort don’t budge; I can tell that they’re both very into whatever conversation they’re having, but, c’mon.

“Excuse me,” I jingle my keys, hoping the neighbours will take the not-intended-to-be-subtle hint and waddle their conversation down the hall and out of my doorway. The old lady does what can only be described as a backward goose step and the man she’s with does a sideways shuffle until they’re a couple feet out of my way.

The deadbolt clicks as it unlocks, granting me passage to the sanctuary of my apartment… and Fat. Her attempt at a baritone voice sounds, “You may enter–” the door collides, interrupting Fat’s disguised voice with a ‘donk’ sound. Unlike the neighbours, I can easily push Fat aside without the pretense of feigning politeness.

“Motherfucker.” Fat’s paw touches her nose, as if to ensure that it’s still there. “You hit my face, asshole.”

“What are you doing behind the door, anyways?”

Fat motions with a nod of her head to the murmured voices on the other side of the now-closed door. “Turns out, it’s benign. I waited for the better part of a half hour to hear that anticlimactic news.”

My arms cross over my chest, “Then why waste your time listening?”

Fat exhales in an unamused huff. “Somebody refuses to leave the television on when she leaves the house. Where were you, again?”

“Boat show.” My curt reply doesn’t affect her whatsoever. I go into the kitchen and open the fridge. I grab a chilled bottle, pull the wine cork out with my teeth and proceed to throw back a few ounces of pinot gris. It strikes me as odd that Fat’s remained in the hallway, uncharacteristically silent.

Her head tilts, minutely. “So…” Even in the dim light of the hallway, I can see on her face how difficult this is for her to grasp, “One can’t help but speculate that boat show is a terribly disguised code for AA meeting.”

“Nope, just a boat show.”

“Ay, Ay, Captain.” I watch her eyes read the label on the bottle in my hand.

I sigh and set it on the counter, “Why is it so hard for you to believe I was at a boat show?”

Fat throws me a you-must-be-joking half smile. “”Because you don’t know a damn thing about boats.”

“Oh but I do. Actually, I was inquiring with a rep about a 2007 Marquis 59 Markum Edition that he’s got in stock.”

Fat’s pupils dilate, an indication that she’s taken aback. “I learn more about you every day, boss.” Fat begins to give herself a bath, then stops abruptly. She thinks on it for a moment and stares with accusation, “Aside from planning a viking funeral, you have no business with vessels. You’re yanking me, aren’t you?”

With the grace of a clown college valedictorian, I swipe the bottle off the counter. “You better believe it.”

As I saunter away, Fat yells at me, “We either need to work on making your untruths sound plausible, or stop you from being the world’s worst pathological liar. Look up Pseudologia Fantastica online and you’ll be given some tremendous insight.”

I stop in my tracks, “How in the bloody hell did you come up with Pseudologia Fantastica?”

Fat smiles and breaks out a purr. “You might not leave the television on when you leave the house, but on occasion you do forget to turn off the computer.”

Office Hours: Inappropriate Show and Tell

“Are those your sodomy pants?” Fat’s smile widens as my attention suffers a minor breakup from the full-length hall mirror in order to throw a disgusted look at her over my shoulder.

“I really don’t understand your sense of humour, Fat.” I turn back to my mirror twin. She’s looking decent for a change; her hair is down and out of the frizzy I-don’t-give-a-fuck bun, makeup is given a little effort today — not just a hit of mascara and some concealer to disguise the war zone breaking out on the forehead, and the icing on the cake is that my mirror twin is wearing a cute outfit. I give the mirror-twin an overenthusiastic up-and-down, the knit scarf with the cardigan, antique necklace and the jeans. This chick has my approval. I spin slowly, like a vertical rotisserie, to check out the backside in the mirror. In the background, Fat muffles a laugh that is truly difficult to ignore. My mirror twin looks shocked and appalled; it appears I’m a lot more classy coming than going. Right in the seam of my beloved jeans is a hole, and not just a little hole; it’s big enough to serve as invitational porn-star pants.

Fuming, I look over to the couch, where the hearty chuckle of a certain feline booms from watching me discover the wardrobe malfunction. “How long were you going to wait before you told me?” I unzip my fly and wrestle the jeans off my thighs. Hunched with my pants around my knees, I look up again, “You were going to tell me, right?”

“Hey, I called them sodomy pants. What more could I have done? Boss, with the movies you’ve watched lately, I wasn’t about to judge.” Her tail curls around her body when the laughter finally subsides.

“Not sure what that has to do with anything,” I mutter and kick the deceased boot cuts into the middle of the living room.

Her voice follows me to the bedroom closet where I flip through hanger after hanger until I come across another pair of dark wash jeans. “The Hangover II? This is the end? Tell me what else those two movies have in common other than backyard playmates.”

Once again in pants, I re-enter the living room. “Backyard playmates? That’s the euphemism you go with?”

She smiles, “I was going to get into a metaphor about swing sets, but thought backyard playmates was strong enough to stand on its own. If you want I can keep going.”

“We’re good. I’m picking up what you’re throwing down.”

Fat taps the couch cushion with her paw. “Come, sit. Let’s have a chat.”

I can spare a couple minutes. I acquiesce and flop onto the couch beside her.

“Why are you being a nude prude?”

I cross my legs, “Fat, I’m not being a…” In the moment I fail to come up with a better way to phrase it, so I parrot her vernacular with an alarming amount of self-hatred, “nude prude. Pardon me for lacking the desire to share my ass with the world.”

“What ass?” She catches my stare, “Don’t give me that look, I’m kidding. Sort of.” Fat shakes her head in a taunting way, “You’ve changed; a couple years ago you would have laughed about showing off your brown eye by accident. Now, look at you. Running to the bedroom to cover up in something appropriate.”

“Please. I’m still inappropriate. In a classy kind of way.”

Fat rolls onto her side, hinting that she wants her belly rubbed. “How’s that, now?”

“I don’t do nudity. Not unless I’m accidentally showing off to the neighbours when I’m wandering around naked after a shower when the curtains are open.”

“Ah yes, Taco Tuesday. Always hilarious, never a crowd pleaser, but hilarious.”

I can’t help myself, I smile at the embarrassing memory. “We almost moved when that happened. If it wasn’t summertime I doubt there would have been such an audience on that balcony.”

“Cue breakthrough.” Fat moves to sit on my lap.

“Huh?”

Fat looks at me, slightly annoyed that she needs to explain. “You need to spend more time naked.”

“Not with you on my lap, I don’t. There are few things more unsettling than a cat lady that pets her feline whilst donning her birthday suit. It’s weird.”

“I meant metaphorically, ass face. I’m trying to inspire some growth from you.”

The conversation replays in my head. Fat watches as I play back the tapes, think on it, and consult the memory bank again.

After a couple minutes of waiting on a reply, Fat jumps down and wanders over to her cat bed. “It’s not really the think piece you’re making it out to be. Just let the message sink in and you’ll be fine.”

Porn Star Lines and Naked Truth

“It’s way too hard.” The couch catches me when I fall back, exasperated and exhausted. Fat is at the end of the sectional, staring intently out the window. I nudge her with my foot, trying to get her to pay attention to me.

Her eyes stay alert and focused at something across the street, but her head tilts when she talks to me. “Things a porn star would say.”

“I’m not playing this game, Fat.” I cross my legs at the ankles and lean back comfortably with my hands behind my head. “You don’t even try to be clever anymore, do you?”

“Just trying to stay at the intellectual level of my audience.” She clears her throat, “Take two: Things you say when trying to figure out how to use a can opener.”

I offer a slight shrug of indifference. “That’s better? Besides, I figured it out eventually.” I hate that she always catches me during those moments when my brain functions with the capacity of a cave woman. “I was really rather hoping you’d ask what is so difficult – perhaps offer a little of that shrink cred you keep boasting about.”

“Very well.” Fat’s focus stays glued to the view outside. “How was your day, dear?”

I wait a couple of seconds for her to offer me some look of recognition, even repulsion. Nothing. “Thanks for phoning it in, Doc.” I sigh. “It’s this whole house hunting fiasco. We’ve seen so many places and not finding the right one. It’s frustrating.” I grab one of the turquoise couch pillows and hug it to my chest. “I’m ready for change.”

“So change.” She says it like it’s obviously apparent. The words reverberate through my brain enough times that I’m brought to the brink of an epiphany. “Get off your ass and force something to happen, fool.”

“You’re probably the most helpful when you’re not giving me your full attention, you know that?”

“Dude. You’ve got to check this out.” Fat’s eyes grow wide and she leans back as if to put more distance between herself and whatever she’s been staring at outside. “Somebody’s returning your favour from the other day.”

“My favour from the other…?” I push myself to my knees and my stomach presses against the back cushions of the couch. The unattractive neighbour waves, naked, from the balcony window of his living room. It’s the dude that saw me in my nothingness on Wednesday morning when I ran from the shower to answer the phone I left on the desk. I fight the polite Canadian part of me that has a compulsion to wave back. Instead I just wilt to the floor and hide behind the couch with my head in my hands. I really hope I never run into that man on the street.

“We have to fucking move. ASAP.”

Avoidance Techniques

“You look like such a creep right now.”

Fat rubs against my legs; I try to kick her away while I continue to stare through the peep-hole.

Seems like the coast is clear. I already have my purse slung over my shoulder and my keys in one hand while I grip the doorknob with the other. My inner voice screams, Now. Now. Now. Move! and right before I give a frantic twist of the wrist to open the doorway to freedom I see movement on the other side of the peep-hole. Freaky Dog Lady across the hall comes out of her apartment with her dog stroller and terrier triplets with plastic barrettes in their hair. My jaw clenches. Damn it.

“Missed the window again, huh?”

My bag slides off my shoulder and drops on the floor. “Yeah.” I watch as Freaky Dog Lady goes back into her apartment, leaving her door open. She’s faked me out with this before – I mistakenly thought I could sneak by when she went back inside to retrieve whatever it was she forgot. She trapped me in a conversation about dog pajamas for twenty minutes. Her little rodent dogs are free range in the hall when I turn away and press my back to the door. So close to freedom. My knees soften and I slowly melt down to the floor.

“I would like to meet this woman.” Fat sidles up beside me and rubs her face on my knee. Upon hearing the cat, the herd of rodent dogs yap and growl from the other side of my door. “Shut up,” Fat bellows and hisses in response. She looks up at me, “Dogs, right? Pfft. Damn bitches.”

I stifle a laugh and pull Fat onto my lap.

“At least when we move you won’t have to hide from the neighbours. Grown-up of you, by the way.”

“Fat, it’s better that I don’t find myself in another conversation with her. My patience can’t take it. What kind of monster would I be if I yelled at her or in an effort to get her to back away threw her dogs like they were tiny grenades?” I can’t help smiling at the thought. Maybe I am a monster.

When I stop petting, Fat pushes her face against my hand. “How’s the house hunt going anyways?”

“I don’t even want to talk about it. Disaster after a hurricane bad.” I open my bag and dig until I find my phone. Fat watches as I write the “Sorry I’m going to be late” text.

“I see bachelor number two is back in the picture.” Fat shoots me a sly look then her eyes flick to the phone, “You hound dog.”

My head shakes with fervour. “Don’t ever say that again. I’m embarrassed for you right now.” The yelping dogs run up and down the hall. Fat claps a paw over her mouth to silence the laughter threatening to escape as we listen to Freaky Dog Lady berate them with their full names that are better reserved for those from royal descent.

From behind her paw, Fat murmurs, “This kooky bitch can’t be for real.”

I just lift my palms and shrug. There are no words.

“The bachelor caved to the silent treatment pretty quick, huh?” Fat keeps her voice low so the neighbour freaks don’t hear us.

I press my ear to the door. It sounds like they’re gradually moving down the hall. Once I know they’ve turned the corner I’m going to race in the opposite direction and take the side steps. “Far too quick, Fat. The guy treats me like a damn empress. Not to say that’s a bad thing, it’s just…”

“You take it as him being a bit of a pussy.” Fat makes direct eye contact as she states this matter-of-factly.

“I beg your pardon?” I push her aside, grab my bag and stand.

“It’s like you forget that I’ve got shrink cred. I know what goes through that head of yours. You don’t like an easy win. You need to achieve victory. You’re fucked in the head, kid.”

I peer through the peep-hole one more time. “Thanks, Doc.”

“Doc? Please. We’re not in session right now. This bit of insight is on the house. Gives you something to mull over while you’re out tonight wishing bachelor number two was a different kind of man.”

“Ouch, Fat. Kick to the region. Thanks.” I give Fat a half-hearted salute, pull my hood up and open the door. “Wish me luck.”

“You’re not the one that needs it.”