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.”

Not Something Scrawled on a Prescription Pad

“You really know how to give Saturday the Jack the Ripper treatment, don’t you?”

I open my mouth to protest but Fat silences me by holding up a paw.

“That was rhetorical. You would know that if there was any intelligence stored behind your retinas.” She licks her raised paw and wipes the saliva across her brow.

I feel strange being angry while wearing nothing but a towel. Fat bombarded me when I exited the washroom post-shower. My hair drips onto the floor, leaving slipping hazards I’ll only notice after it’s too late.

“Saturday is only half-begun, Fat.” I point through the bedroom doorway to the bright daylight streaming in through the window. “Besides,” I nudge her aside with my heel so I can walk past, “It’s my Saturday and I’ll do what I want.”

The sarcasm in Fat’s voice is so dry she sounds tired when she asks, “How can you possibly make today any better?” Her head tilts to the side as she hears Jesse’s voice moving along the building hallway. “Your boyfriend is outside.”

I roll my eyes; there’s really no point in correcting her; she’ll think what she wants. “Once I do my hair and throw a face on, I’m going to go get myself a coffee and read in the sunshine. After that, I’m not really sure. Maybe clean the apartment…”

“And you got up early to prance off to the gym? Honestly, boss. Tut-tut. Weekend fail.” Her paunchy belly sways as she trails me into the bedroom and then out of the bedroom and then we loop through the kitchen into the dining/living room. “Don’t you dare run away from me. This place isn’t big enough for you to give me the slip.”

I stop in the living room beside Fat’s well-loved scratch post. The old lady crease in my forehead deepens. “I’m not trying to get away from you. I can’t find my hairbrush.” My fingers try to comb through my hair, but the knots are too intense. God damn curly hair.

Fat shrugs. “Can’t find a hairbrush, can’t assemble a proper weekend, what’s going on with you?”

“I just need some me time right now, Fat.” I bite the inside of my cheek and my eyes devour every inch of the room while I mentally retrace my steps since I last brushed my hair.

“Are you sad?”

“What? No.” I get on my hands and knees. My face touches down to the carpet as I look under the couch. Not there either.

Fat jumps up on the armrest of the couch, settling into a familiar pile of her previously shed fur. “Did your friends finally figure out that you’re a loser?”

I kneel and rest my hands on my thighs. “Not to my knowledge.”

“You just want to act like a hermit today?”

“That is correct.”

“Please explain yourself. I don’t get it.”

“Don’t use that haughty tone with me. Sometimes I just need a little alone time to recharge my batteries. I deal with people every day – there’s nothing wrong with taking a time out.” The metaphorical light bulb flashes above my head – my hairbrush is in my gym bag. I’m almost too distracted with self-congratulations that it takes me a moment to notice Fat’s whiskers twitching.

The feline’s face puckers slightly as she consorts with her inner dialogue.

“What’s with the face, Fat?”

“Time to yourself. It’s so simple it’s genius. I’m going to have to use that prescription on my other patients.”

My hands push of the ground so I tower over the cat. “You mean Mutt?”

Fat makes a point to turn away from me and direct her gaze to the opposite wall. “As a professional, I can’t discuss my other cases.” She watches me move toward the hallway. “Oh, hey, boss?”

I pause, “yeah?”

“Please send Mutt in to see me. He’s about to have a breakthrough.”