A Woman Needs Girlfriends

“For a stick and bones frame, you sure jiggle a lot, Boss. Hold still. Stop fidgeting.”

I feel a brush sweep gently across my eyelid. If I was better at being girly I wouldn’t need to enlist the help of the hefty feline. Speaking of whom, my legs are going numb from her weight. Our tiny apartment doesn’t have room for a vanity, so I’m perched on the ledge of the bathtub with Fat balancing precariously on my lap so she can apply layers of makeup to my face. Unfortunately for me, I’m nervous about tonight and that feeling made me jump at the chance for any help. Fat, of course, came to the rescue.

The bathroom is ridiculously bright today. I’m pretty certain she switched out the regular lightbulbs for ones with greater watts. God forbid the feline misses a chance to check out my wrinkles under harsh lighting. Beside the tub, a multitude of products is displayed on the closed toilet lid; I have no idea what most of it is. Where is a good drag queen tutorial when you need one?

“Are you going to miss the spinster life? You were just starting to get good at it. That Chinese restaurant will miss delivering food to this particular shut-in. Their business is going to suffer, you know that right?” She leans over to her make-shift counter to get some more colour on the end of the brush. “Boss, close your eyes. I’m working here.”

The brush goes over the crease of my eyelid. Seems unnecessary; I was more or less hoping for some help with making my skin look better. The situation snowballed pretty fast – Fat’s even wearing one of those makeup tool belts to hold her brushes like the gorgeous people who work at MAC. “What kind of eyeshadow is this? It smells terrible.”

“It’s cigarette ash. I was going for that smoky eye look all the harlots are after. Do I have to tell you to close your eyes again? Honestly, I swear you like being difficult.” Fat cups my face in both paws to assess her work. In the moment I’m entirely dumbfounded, Fat licks the pad of her paw and wipes something away from the corner of my eye with her saliva.

“Could you please stop doing disgusting things to my face?”

Fat doesn’t respond to my, what I consider entirely reasonable, plea. “So tell me about the guy. Where did you meet him?” She grabs one of the bigger brushes out of her waist belt and grabs a small container of blush. God I hope it’s blush. She applies whatever it is to my cheeks.

“He’s a friend of a friend. Funny. Tall.” Remember, self, minimal details are your friend here. You don’t want the cat to get the idea you want to talk. Before you know it you’ll be hugging a pillow while lying on the couch and discussing your mommy issues.

“Gangly doofus. Sounds like a winner.” She goes for my face with something that looks like a hot pink Sharpie.

“Whoa, whoa. What the hell is that?” In an effort to dodge out of her way, I come dangerously close to falling ass backward into the bathtub. I regain balance and hold tight to the off-white edge of the tub.

Her green eyes travel to regard the pen then back to meet my gaze, “Lip liner.”

“Nope. No lip liner. My people don’t do most of this stuff that you’ve attacked me with. I’m taking a stand. This much makeup is unnecessary; I’m neither a pageant queen nor auditioning for a circus. I’m going to dinner and a show tonight. We’re done here.”  I pick her up and drop her on the floor and get on my feet before she can jump back up.

“If you just give me three more minutes…”

When I look in the mirror, I’m entirely horrified. “Fat, I look like the asylum gave me a day pass.”

Only panda bears and Avril Lavigne should have eyes that look like this. The blush is so orange against my pale skin it makes me feel like my face is attempting to outdo a sunset. No is the only word that comes to mind. No. No. No. No. No. No.

“I was trying to give you a look that says, ‘No need to buy the cow’. You don’t think it’s a success?”

I grab the makeup remover wipes. Multiple wipes. A handful. Less than three will not erase the catastrophe that used to be my money maker. I bury my face in the damp cloths and rub vigorously. Paint remover may be necessary. Oh Christ, the audacity.

“Who says concubines get to have all the fun? Excuse me for giving you the Pretty Woman treatment so you can go out and bag us a rich guy.”

When my face emerges from the collection of towelettes, the formerly white cloth is now an absurd rainbow. “I’d rather have a nice guy.”

“Money talks, Boss, and it says, ‘Buy your cat some decent food so she can stop eating the drivel you consider quality.’” Fat grabs a tube of mascara and jumps beside the bathroom sink so she can see herself in the mirror. Her mouth forms an ‘O’ shape as she applies the makeup to her whiskers to make them longer and more voluminous.

I reach for my phone when it beeps. “My cat deserves to starve for what she did to my face.” I read the text, “We can continue this later. He’s parked out front, I’ve got to go.”

“You’re going out like that?” The feline meets my eye in the mirror’s reflection. “No makeup?”

“Au natural.” I nod. “At least I feel like myself.”

“I’m sure it’ll go great and he’ll want to spend all the time in the world with a looker like you. So…see you in about ten minutes?”

 

Milestones and Missed Cues

“Happy Birthday, you old son of a bitch.”

The black office chair swivels around to reveal Fat in the power seat, appearing like a Bond villain. Her paws thrust into the air in celebration and unleash a sad supply of multi-coloured confetti that slowly drifts to the ground.

Propping the fridge door open with my elbow, I down some more juice from the carton and shake my head. “Son of a bitch?” I know there are times I look a little androgynous and all, but I identify as a woman and also lack the parts to be classified as a man. I like my ovaries, thanks.

Fat stares at me from the patchwork office space beside the tiny kitchen as she silently processes the tone of my voice.

“You’re right. How callous of me. You’re nobody’s son. From the top, people.” Fat grips the edge of the desk to turn the chair so it faces the wall again. “Take another guzzle from the O.J. The sound tipped me off to your entrance.”

Well, I am still a little thirsty. I slug back some more orange juice. Fat responds to the cue as I wipe my mouth in the crook of my arm.

“Happy Birthday, you old bitch.” Fat shoves off the desk too hard and instead of coming to a graceful stop facing me directly, the chair spins in an entire circle to only give me a fleeting glimpse of the ungraceful feline before she disappears from view. I love that chair.

“Shit.”

I imagine she’s on the opposite side of the faux leather chair sulking at her poor second entrance. Failure on two counts. That’s got to affect your self-esteem. I put the juice back in the fridge and approach the feline’s seat. I grab the backrest and pivot the chair in a semicircle.

“I didn’t even get more confetti for the second go-around.” Fat leans back in defeat until her head rests against the fabric. “I let you down, Boss. This was going to be the highlight of your day.”

“It’s a little early to be calling the best part, isn’t it?”

Fat waves her paw dismissively, “You don’t have friends; this was the biggest acknowledgement you could hope for. I wanted to point out the honour of accumulating another year’s layer of decay and disappointment. Oh hey,” Fat brightens momentarily when she digs between her pockets of grey fur and produces another pawful of paper confetti that she tosses with lackluster, “Congratulations on keeping up with the Crypt Keeper.”

“Uh, thanks?”

Fat scratches her head, clearly perplexed. She zeros in on my face.

“Boss, how old are you?”

I pick up the feline from on the chair and struggle to keep her in my arms. “That’s a rude thing to ask.” Thankfully she doesn’t get aggravated enough to use her claws.

“People only respond like that when they’re super ancient and ashamed of their age.” Fat squirms and twists for another fifteen seconds before entirely giving up and submitting to the housecat treatment.

“I’m not ashamed of my age. I’m thirty and perfectly fine with that.” I pet her head softly and scratch behind her pert ears.

“Thirty, huh? That means you’re about due for your first mid-life crisis.”

“Does that mean I can start a life anew and be as impulsive and crazy as I want?”

Fat slightly purrs, “You bet it does.”

“Fantastic. It’s settled then. I’m going to buy a taco stand.” I smile. That sounds awesome. I could eat a burrito every single day if I wanted. Cool.

“That is a terrible way to unravel into a mental breakdown. You don’t know how to do anything right, do you?”

Refunds at the Freak Show

“What do you reckon that ugly stick looks like? You know, the one from the phrase, ‘so-and-so looks like they’ve been hit with an ugly stick’. It must have a distinctive shape to be a definitive ugly stick. Right?”

Of course this is the useless drivel I wake up to. Why wouldn’t it be? Fat and nonsense might just be synonymous. I love being gifted many words from the idiot cat and no context to align them. I have no idea what time it is, I just know that this is more of a conversation for after the wake-up period. I adjust the blankets to cover the limbs exposed from the restless kicking and acrobatics that occurred in last night’s fight to find comfort.

The light from the bedroom window blinds me and, I say this in a hyperbolic hand-to-God kind of way, my retinas are definitely affected. I squint at the uncharacteristic November sunshine gracing this early Vancouver morning before I roll away from it and toward the absolute opposite: I come face-to-face with the she-devil feline who is deep in speculation mode. Our noses rest a fraction of an inch away from each other. Fat strokes her whiskers with a paw as she contemplates.

Her plastic shrink glasses are on. She’s been waiting for me. Ambush therapy, Fat’s specialty.

“If I were to suppose, I would say that ugly stick is shaped like a hand. Makes for a really great mark when you get hit across the face with it.” Her warm, sour breath accosts my face. This really isn’t a great start to the morning.

“Been awake for a while hey, Fat?” I mumble and try to push her a good arm’s length away. I don’t know what she’s been eating that makes her mouth smell like decay, but my face needs to be given some literal breathing room.

“Long enough to make you coffee, you ungrateful and wretched woman.” The grey feline sashays to the side to gesture with both paws, in a ta-da fashion, at the steaming mug on the bedside table.

Amazing. Good kitty. I reach with utter delight, so tickled at how the morning has turned around in mere seconds. Goodbye to the grumbling I-don’t-do-mornings version of myself, hello to the caffeinated little-miss-sunshine side of my personality. Before my fingers grasp the handle of the porcelain mug I stop. My arm remains suspended in midair as a panicked alarm echoes through my head. Fat did a deed that was both nice and unsolicited. Something isn’t right here; something is terribly, terribly wrong.

I brace for incurable news when I ask, “Why?”

“Wow, trust issues.” Fat’s paw clutches her chest as though I’ve violated the sanctity of her character. “Can’t a feline just do something nice for her caretaker?”

“Seriously, Fat, why?” My body remains rigid like a cartoon character frozen in place. I’m not about to grab that coffee mug just yet.

She reaches to grab her pen, almost like she’s expecting something noteworthy to occur. “Because at some point last night you were struck with the ugly stick, Boss. You deserve to be coddled a little bit. Life gets pretty hard when you’re the owner of a messed up face.”

I can’t sit up fast enough. I wrestle with the duvet that’s trying to keep me away from a mirror. What does she mean messed up face? My face doesn’t feel any different. What happened last night? The faint click of Fat’s pen punctuates this moment where I’m scrambling out of bed. I run over to the dresser mirror to see the damage.

A perfect scarlet image of my own hand rests across my cheek – it looks like I recently crossed Zsa Zsa Gabor. Because the moment calls for it, I lift my hand and press it against the mark on my face. Yup, story checks out. Looks like I was just sleeping with my face against my palm. Nothing to see here, folks, the freak show is a hoax; go see the world’s fattest twins for your refund.

“It’s just a sleep mark, you idiot.” I turn back to the bed, graced by the view of my shrink scribbling excitedly in one of my old college notebooks. “What’s so interesting?”

“We just had a eureka moment. Your reaction just confirmed something I’ve long since suspected, Boss. You’re a Narcissist, whom I also speculate suffers from Grandiosity.” She points to the coffee mug, still untouched, on the night stand. “Drink up. I’m going to need you to be fully alert. Prepare yourself for a long session.”

I can’t prove it, but I assume she learned these words from daytime television between her soap operas. Narcissist? How can she say that about somebody as humble as I am? I am the most humble, charming, sweet, thoughtful person you’ll ever meet. I dare say I might just be the best human alive.

I’m going to drink that coffee. Then I’m going to kill her. And then I’m going to go back to bed. Later I’ll find a nice taxidermist and have her stuffed. And we will finally live happily ever after.

The expression on my face prompts another tidbit from the feline. “Don’t worry, I brewed a whole pot. We’re set for a while.”

Sadism and Hygiene

“Sadist! You’re a sadist!”

Fat kangaroo-kicks me with her back legs as she tries to yank her left paw from my grip. We wrestle on the living room floor shouting expletives at each other. I feel at least a couple fresh scratches across my clavicle – they’ll match the ones that were delivered to my bicep when I was trimming the nails on her other paw. I get close to clipping another one of her talons when the grey feline sources Hulk-like strength to rip her paw from my grasp and scrambles out of my grip for the fourth time this morning. Her low-hanging belly sways side-to-side as she runs. I would rather spend eighteen hours doing intensive Crossfit in a down-filled parka than try to trim Fat’s claws. Current conditions are frustrating; we’ve seen moments of hatred throughout the day.

In a flash, the good doctor is down the hall shooting me a look of slight panic before turning into the bedroom. I trail behind and I lunge at her as I approach the bed where she’s stopped to catch her breath.

Fat scampers out of the way and across the mattress fast enough that I only graze her tail with my outstretched fingers.

“Christ, Fat. Get back here.”

“Willingly submit to torture? You must be insane if you think I’d get on board with that.” She stays low to the ground and slips past my ankles and into the hallway.

The routine is all-too familiar, a scene we’ve already played out a few times today. Fat’s ears fold backward in displeasure, and she darts through the kitchen. If feline parkour were a thing, what Fat does next would foot the bill. She runs, bounds from the leather chair to the desk and instantly leaps from the desk edge to the height of the bookshelf. She grabs hold of the high edge and kicks off the side of the shelf to boost her up to the very top. If I wasn’t so exhausted and annoyed I would have filled the apartment with applause.

Instead my reaction is: “Get back down here so I can kill you, Fat.”

“Yeah, okay, Boss. I’m all over that idea.” At least from her lazy sarcasm I can feel okay knowing that I’m not the only exhausted one here. I wheel the chair over to the shelf, bracing the glossy wood as I step onto the seat with the finesse of a senior citizen with a walker. Fat gets another wind as I reach for her and she does a Mission Impossible-style jump onto the couch, landing with momentum that propels her forward.

I groan as I step back down and violently shove the office chair aside. If Fat didn’t scratch me so much, I would have less desire to cut her nails.

As she sprints from the living room down the hall to the bedroom, Fat screams over her shoulder, “Your parents didn’t raise you right!”

Giving chase, I bellow, “I’ve been telling you that for years!”

“Clearly they saved the good parenting for the kids that showed promise. We can stop this chaotic nonsense and have a session about it.” Her words come out between huff-and-puff breaths.

“If I may quote you, Fat,” I gasp for air; my lung supply seems to be failing with all this cardio, “Willingly submit to torture? You must be insane.”

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.”

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.”

Climate Change and its Influence on I.Q.

“It’s possible that you might just be the most stupid human ever.”

Fat, lazily flopped in front of the open patio door, stares with absolute impatience as she watches my movements.

I sidestep twice to the right and pause. Then sidestep to the left and pause. And back to the right.

“Believe me, Fat. I would much rather sit down.”

“So sit.” Fat tries to elongate her body even more so body heat can’t build up in her armpits. “It’s not a leather couch; you won’t stick to it.”

I pile my frizzy hair on top of my head with my hands and expose the top of my sweaty back as I shuffle back again. “The fan, Fat. If I don’t stay in front of the cool air, I’ll die.” I shoot a glance to the window – it’s lethal for such a beautiful-looking day. I groan and look down at the feline. “I’m melting.” The words croak out of my mouth.

“I guess that answers the question as to whether or not you are a good witch or a bad witch.”

“Huh?” My arm swipes across my moist hairline. To my knowledge, I’m not either of those things; I’m just a girl sweating to death in her apartment.

“Nothing.” Fat’s voice becomes a mutter, “Can’t even get a Wizard of Oz reference. Stupid human.”

“What’s that?”

Fat abandons any idea to repeat herself and gets back to her original criticism. “Christ, Boss. I can’t believe I need to say this, but one of those buttons above the display screen will actually stop the fan from swinging side-to-side.” Fat waves a paw delicately in front of her face in an oh-good-gracious-this-heat-is-too-much kind of way. “On another note, I appreciate how considerate you’ve been with putting ice cubes in my water and leaving frozen water bottles tucked into my bed.”

I’m not too busy fiddling with the buttons to hear her appreciation. I’m sure my face brightens like neon at the acknowledgement.

“I can be thoughtful sometimes…”

“It’s not an all the time thing though. Almost makes me appreciate your tenderness because it’s rare to bear witness to it.”

It doesn’t occur to me to be offended by her statement.

Fat’s head droops to connect with the floor. “You going to go to the gym today?”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” I throw a victory fist into the air when I finally figure out which button makes the fan do what I want. “Nope. Too hot for that.”

“You’ll be writing then?”

I flop on the couch and fold my shirt up so my sweaty stomach exposes itself to the humidity. “Too hot for that too. Productivity ceases when the weather becomes sweltering. That’s got to be a law somewhere.”

“I fell asleep for a while on the balcony.” Her green eyes narrow with accusation, “You did go to work today, right?”

“Pfffft,” I dismiss her question with a don’t-be-preposterous expression. “Obviously. They have air conditioning there. I’m looking to see if we can move in to an empty cubicle over the summer. It might be cramped, but it would be worth it.”

“Well at least your productive in some respect.”

“Oh!” My exclamation jostles the good doctor unexpectedly. “And I ate three-quarters of a watermelon this afternoon.” I beam and look at Fat’s unamused expression. “In one sitting,” I prompt as though she’s not recognizing the triumph.

“That’s not productive.”

“It’s impressive though, right?”

I hear dull thudding sounds, and lean over the couch to see Fat hitting her forehead against the carpet.

“We need to move to a cooler climate. An increase in temperature leads to a decrease in your I.Q.” Thud, thud. “Stupid human.”

Office Hours: The Groom of Childhood Past

“You couldn’t seem more unenthused to be here.”

“That’s because I was getting all set up for an afternoon nap when you rolled in wearing those on your face.” I point to the unprescribed wire glasses across the bridge of the feline’s nose; the plastic Santa in the hall closet looks unfinished without them.

I pout, “Fat, conditions are perfect. The television is at that prime lullaby level.” We both strain to hear the familiar sounds of an ancient Friends episode on the Slice network. “There’s a gentle breeze coming in through the patio door. I’m entirely comfortable.” I’m in the fetal position tucked in my couch nook with a pillow between my knees to properly align my spine. “And then you show up.” One of my hands forms an unamused-but-nonviolent fist.

“I had a thought.” Four words from the cat’s mouth and my brain already hurts.

I don’t cover my mouth when I yawn. “Oh yeah? It must have been important for you to scuttle all the way in here from the bedroom. I’m surprised you’re not wheezing from that cardio.”

The good doctor feigns amusement at my comment before unveiling her tremendous realization: “I never knew you as a child.”

“That’s hardly a revelation, Fat. I didn’t get you from the SPCA until I was in my twenties.” The couch pillow between my hand and my head has flattened and I can almost make out the feeling of each individual finger against my cheek. If I don’t pass out soon, I’m going to need to fluff up the pillow – it’ll become a whole thing; I’ll have to sit up and from there I’ll probably just give up on catching some afternoon winks.

“Were you a happy kid?”

I fight the urge to break out into another yawn. “Happy enough. Sure.”

Fat looks at me sideways as though she’s not satisfied with my effort to answer the questions. “Was your imagination as rampant as it is now, or did it grow as your chemical balance shifted?”

It takes a few seconds for my eyes to open from a blink. I answer with a rhetorical, “What do you think?”

She already has another question in the holster and it fires out. “Did you ever have a fake wedding with a boy on the playground when you were in elementary school?”

My lips purse in genuine thought, “Hmmm. No, I actually didn’t. I played house with a boy who lived on my street. That’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?” I think back to my seven-year-old self and the Christian lad from across the way.

“Played house? Like make-believe common-law?” Fat’s eyes narrow as though missing a key part of understanding what I mean.

I shake my head. “No. We were married. Surprisingly, I remember Jacob referring to me as his wife. He’d always be in our pretend house, but I would never make it home because I was much happier and far too busy with my imaginary job. My absence didn’t make him a particularly happy childhood husband. We didn’t last long as a fake married couple.” The moment I say the words, my half-closed eyes open wide and I stare at the feline as she rests her mouth against a paw. “Fat, don’t read into that. Please.”

“I haven’t said anything.”

“I just wanted to nap…”

The whispered voices of Ross and Monica blur the sound of silence that follows. I should have just pretended to be sleeping when the cat gallivanted into the room. My perfect nap conditions are officially ruined.

Fat lays her spectacles on the coffee table beside her tail. “Boss, is it fair to suppose that you are incapable of change? It may have something to do with the fact that you’re alone–”

I interrupt to spare us both a subject that I’m getting tired of defending. “Fat, change is something one gives to the homeless.”

“Deflecting won’t help you here. Your childhood pretend-husband abandoned you because you were unavailable to him. That’s got to hurt.”

“Aren’t hurt feelings supposed to be soothed with a gift of casserole or dessert or something? I wasn’t devastated then, and I maintain that position.” It’s a good thing that childhood divorces were literally as simple as, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’; there was no shame if you couldn’t make it work. I’d forgotten all about Jacob – there were never any genuine feelings there; playing house was just a way to pass the time. He got legitimately married a few years ago to a girl who – I assume – is a great housewife and mother.

As I lie on the couch, still in my nap-stance, I feel her intense stare on the side of my face as I make comparisons to myself as a pretend bride. My independence was only an issue back then because Jacob wasn’t the right pretend husband, right?

After a few seconds of the television bringing the only conversation into the room, Fat speaks. “I love when you do all the work inside your head and I still get to call these billable hours.”

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.”

Office Hours: Say What Now?

“What, uh,” Fat’s gaze sweeps from the dessert box in my hand to my waterlogged shorts, “what’s going on, Boss?”

My sandals squeak from the moisture as I wander past the good doctor and put the cake in the fridge. “Co-worker’s birthday tomorrow,” I tap on the appliance door in the direction of the cake on the other side.

“And the drippy nether region?”

“Your words paint an unappetizing picture, you know that?”

Tiny fangs show with Fat’s prideful smile, “It’s a gift.” Her shoulders lift in an innocent shrug.

“The wet shorts are from an unintentional enema at the water park while chasing around Bestie’s kid.”

Fat’s lungs release boisterous laughter. “Classic.”

“The only purpose I serve is to be your jester, Fat.”

My dry compliment has the effect of a triple highball on a cheap drunk.

“Time for a quick session?”

I waddle into the living room and flop on the couch, sandals on. “Sure, what the hell?”

Her green eyes bulge with astonishment. She scuttles after me and jumps on the coffee table. Her phony spectacles are conveniently on the table beside her and she fumbles in her race to log more time in her fake shrink book. “Wet shorts and shoes on the couch?”

I lift my index finger high into the air as though making a grand declaration. “My house, my rules.”

“Very well.” Fat adjusts her glasses so they perch just perfectly across her tiny nose. “It would seem you had a lovely afternoon outside.”

“Absolutely.” I take a quick assessment of my freckled skin. “Not a burn or anything.”

Fat stares at my face, which now also blossoms with tiny freckles across the nose and forehead. “You might want to think about a sunhat if aging gracefully is still your plan. A forty-year-old woman like you needs to take all the precautions she can.”

My face contorts into its best impression of a question mark. “I’m not even thirty…”

“That’s what I said, Boss. Do try to keep up.” Fat clips her words; the sharpness makes me doubt if I heard her correctly. She wastes no time on what may or may not have been said and sets right in on her imaginary work. “Now then, you were at the park with Bestie and her offspring.”

I smile and remember the almost-two-year-old saying ‘sexy’ over and over again because it made me laugh. Kids, they’ll repeat everything.

“Jonah, yeah. I love that kid.”

There is an almost unnoticeable twitch of Fat’s ears as they pick up on something.

“This is your godson, right?”

My declaration finger points again, this time at the porky cat, an inch and a half from her spectacled face. “That is correct, Doc.”

“You given any more thought to having your own wee ones?”

“Sure. I’d love to have a kid or two.”

“Liar!” She shouts over my answer and surprise registers as her expectation shatters. Frankly, I don’t blame her; I usually pretend that kids aren’t something I ever want just to avoid conversations about the path to parenthood. Actually, I’m a little surprised at my own honesty. I scratch my forehead. Fake therapy sessions really aren’t the place to talk about deep-seeded truths. I don’t really know what happened. I look at Fat, hoping she’ll bust out with one of her character-building quips, but clearly I’ve just made both of us uncomfortable.

Fat’s jaw drops and she stares, dumbfounded, while she keeps trying to process what she suspected all along. “Boss,” her green eyes hold disbelief, “did you just open up to me? Was that a moment?”

Both of my hands press hard over my heart as though my sincerity was the equivalent of pulling a pin and I’m bracing myself for an explosion of feelings.

Silence surrounds us. My aorta doesn’t become shrapnel. My cardiovascular system remains intact. I think we’re both astounded. With caution, I lower my hands down to the comforting cushion of the couch.

“Yes, Fat. I think maybe we did.”

“Think it’s time to call this one?”

I nod with exuberance. “I don’t think either of us know how to proceed from what just happened.” This honesty country, it’s a strange place.

Fat bats the plastic glasses off her face. “That was a solid three-minute session. I’m okay with that. Keep your uterus in check until we’re both equipped to have a sincere discussion. Okay, Boss? There are some dust motes I was planning to watch in the bedroom, so…I’m going to…do…that.”