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.”

Vanity of the Bearded Lady

“You’re something of a handsome woman, Boss.”

My eyes drift to see the feline stretched lengthwise in front of the television as if willing the attention of the room to be drawn to her instead of the screen behind. She will not be upstaged.

“Beg pardon?” My thumb tucks between pages of the book I’m reading.

“There’s something distinguished about you. It could be the regal way you hold yourself or it could be that moustache. I’m not sure which. Either way, girl, you workin’ it.”

Insecurity overtakes my free will and I touch the area between my nose and upper lip. It doesn’t feel like there’s a grizzly moustache growing, but you never want to be the bearded lady who is unaware that she is the bearded lady. I toss the book on the table next to my water and grab my iPhone. The camera turns on so I can see myself in the screen. I approach from several angles, holding my face with my free hand so I can’t run away from myself to go cry in a corner.

She strokes her whiskers in a cavalier manner. “It’s mostly sprouting from the sides; with how long it’s getting, you’ve got kind of a fu-woman-chu. It’s pretty neat. And cultural.”

“You, talking with all those  awful words, are not making the situation any better.” The natural light helps illuminate the blonde hairs sprouting atop my lip. Oh god. It’s real. All that father/son time I spent working on cars with my pops and now I’m a man. I’m so sad for myself right now.

“My sincerest of apologies. I thought you knew. You stare at yourself in the mirror often enough.” Fat jumps down and wanders into the kitchen to start rooting through the junk drawer.

“Disaster. Such disaster.” I close the camera on my phone and go into my list of contacts until I find Stripped Wax Bar. It only rings once. I poorly conceal the frenzy in my voice. “Hi. I have a moustache. When is Heather free?”

“I could take care of that for you. We have duct tape, right?” Fat pilfers through the random hodgepodge of spools of thread, empty keychains, matchbooks, and hordes of extra ikea parts. She’s not a quiet rustler so I have to amplify my voice.

“Nothing sooner?”

A triumphant paw lifts high into the air holding a roll of the industrial tape. “Eureka! Boss, we’re in business.”

Oh. My. God. No.

“It’s okay; Thursday is fine.” I watch as Fat starts picking at the end of the roll of tape, “I’ll just hide behind a hand fan like a debutante or geisha until then. Thanks, bye.”

I groan and my head hits the back cushion of the couch. It’s a good forty seconds of silence before Fat leaps up beside me and forces her head under my hand for a pet. I sit up, reach for the glass on the table and sit there sipping while I scratch the feline’s head.

Fat’s eyes close with contentment. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s probably hard enough to deal with being pregnant without me making you feel self-conscious about your hairy face.” In the midst of relaxation, her head lolls to the side.

I choke on my water. “What?”

“Aren’t you…” Her inquisitive green eyes open and travel to my stomach region. “My mistake. Big lunch, right? You’re probably just bloated.”

Morning Glory

“Oh my God. Alice Cooper is in my apartment. Tell me how much you loved my homage to School’s Out on YouTube.”

Fat jumps onto the kitchen counter; she plays the part of a fangirl almost convincingly. The cat stares, unabashedly wide-eyed at my morning face until I pour milk into the bowl beside her. Her nose sniffs the air looking for notes of aromatic deliciousness, but unfortunately for her, healthy cereal smells mostly like the cardboard box it comes in.

I scowl at the feline when I close the dairy carton and put it back in the fridge.

“Seriously, is it costume day at work, or what? Gotta say, Boss, you nailed it.” The end of her sentence turns sing-song. The high note she hits jostles me slightly closer to wakefulness.

Fat’s mockery of my appearance isn’t entirely unfounded. To the detriment of my ego, I’ve already shuffled past my mirror twin this morning. The reflection showed a mess of stringy, unwashed hair and the unforeseen result of accidentally falling asleep before washing my face. Yesterday’s mascara bears the resemblance of a cheap Zorro mask. It’s still too early to care, especially for the beginning of the work week. I lean against the counter and shovel as much cereal as possible into my face. I stare into nothingness, trying to make the leap into alert consciousness. How did I get here already? Time shift? I must have spent the weekend like a teenager spends allowance. Stupid, wasteful fun.

I scarf down the cereal with robotic efficiency. With the speed I get breakfast down my gullet, you would hardly know I woke up just after 2:00 a.m. for a snack. Refuelling with carbs is the halftime show between dreams in my world.

Gentle scratching on my arm asks for attention and I listlessly turn my head to look at the earnest-faced feline. “You know, you could teach a Master’s class on being disgusting.”

“Thanks,” I mumble with a full mouth, sending a dribble of milk down my lip. I meet Fat’s accusatory gaze. “Point proven, Fat.” I use the crook of my elbow as a napkin. To be fair, nobody is the best version of themselves at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday, not even the Queen. Sorry, Elizabeth.

I balance the bowl against my stomach with one hand while the other pushes Fat’s backside off the counter. She lands on her feet as though her intent was to be driven to the ground.

“Huh. In spite of your trance-like state, you’re ahead of schedule.” Fat’s eyes glimpse the digital numbers on the microwave. “You usually don’t shove me off the counter until 6:09. What are you going to do with those extra two minutes?”

Rather than risk another moment of spitting milk everywhere, I point at my mess of a face with the empty spoon.

“Two extra minutes hardly seems like enough, Boss.”

Office Hours: The Three a.m. Wildebeest

“I want you to tell me exactly what prompted that reaction.”

I follow the sound of Fat’s voice. She’s to my left, sitting comfortably on the bed pillow, fake therapist glasses adorned and at the ready. The grey feline sits haughtily, waiting for me to offer further evidence that I’ve trekked into mentally-unbalanced territory. Planted in front of her, the familiar mess that is my file sits open; she’s been waiting for me to find consciousness. The light is not in my favour, but my ears twitch with apprehension when I distinctly hear the click of her pen.

“Have you been sitting there all night, waiting to attack me with an impromptu session?” The sleep-filled voice comes out of me, sounding like I’ve spent seventy years in a smoky lounge. My fingertips wipe damp sweat from my sternum and the back of my neck. Without thinking, I relieve my now-moist hands on the recently-laundered duvet. That was a jackass move, self.

“I was merely watching the ebb and flow of your breathing; it didn’t hold my interest until it became tidal. You went into full-on wildebeest mode in your sleep, Boss. Deep frown, grit teeth, angry snorts, tense body. I momentarily thought you’d levitate and your head would spin the full three-sixty. No such luck. Instead, you just bolted upright and gasped for what sounded like your last breath. Again, pity for me that it wasn’t.” She registers the sound of my scowl. “I joke, I joke. The paws are up. I was just hoping for something more interesting than a nightmare.” Her pen succumbs to gravity with a little help from the huffy feline. In the pre-dawn light, the feline flips the file closed with audible disappointment in the form of an annoyed sigh.

I eye the cream-coloured folder, stuffed with a mess of God knows what kind of notions she has of my psyche. At this hour, a closed file is a good sign for my people. “Okay, so we’re done here.” I shuffle around under the covers trying to find space not affected by damp sweat.

“No, no. I’m sure I can manage through whatever boring dreams plague you. Just let me put on my professional I’m-very-interested-in-what-you-have-to-say face.” Her eyes widen and she rests her chin on a paw, international body language for: tell me more. “Now tell me, what monsters interrupt your slumber?”

“You.” It’s not quite a shout as I roll away from the good doctor and pull the blanket over my head. Please, please let her leave me alone so I can get in a bit more sleep before the alarm clock starts the morning ritual of cussing me out in its native tongue.

I expect a retort. This is usually the part where her evil side takes over. In an effort to keep some distance between us, I wrap myself tighter in the blanket fort and try to turn off my brain. Still, Fat uncharacteristically says nothing. Unease plays tug-of-war with exhaustion. Silence during the bedtime hours isn’t supposed to put you on edge. My eyes open to cautious slits and the protective hold on the duvet loosens. With glacial speed, I pull the blanket down until half my face is exposed. When I see her, Fat is quietly hovered over a loose sheet of lined paper, scribbling with the pen.

Sleep abandons me completely as curiosity takes the wheel. My fingers move quickly and snatch the paper out from under the feline’s paws. I hold it close to my face and see a juvenile picture of my nightmare recreated.

“How did you…”

“—Know exactly what you were dreaming?” Fat meets my uneasy and confused expression with glee. “You talk in your sleep, dummy.” A purr echos through the bedroom. “I love how open you are to sharing when you’re not awake. See that?” Fat’s paw taps in the lower corner of the picture to a stick-figure of a smiling cat. “That’s me. Know why I’m happy?”

I’ve already turned my back to her for a second time while she babbles. “Because you’re deranged?”

“Don’t call me deranged because I care.” Fat can’t even finish the sentence without bursting into raucous laughter. “Care.” She shakes her head. “Hilarious. God, I love freaking you out.”

Not a Hallmark Card

“That settles it; you clearly don’t care about your friends.”

I stop writing, mid-Facebook message and focus my attention from my phone to the pudgy feline on my lap. Her lazy half-mast eyes sweep from my phone to my face and her whiskers twitch with purpose. I can’t decide if her expression is offense or contempt or a new devilish expression I haven’t yet been introduced to.

We were having such a nice, cozy afternoon. The fog has devoured the neighbourhood so Fat and I hunkered indoors today. Sweats on, hoodie up, a purring and wordless cat content and lounging on my thighs; the last hour was (not to oversell it) lovely. I read some more of a book, did a little writing, and am just now catching up on my correspondence – by correspondence I clearly mean Facebook and Twitter.

“Where in the world would you get an idea like that, Fat?” I press the illuminated screen of the iPhone against her wet nose. The motion is quick and I pull the device away from her face before her eyes can bring the text into focus. “My girlfriend had her baby a few weeks early and I’m sending her a note of congratulations.” I wipe Fat’s nose smudge from phone on the sleeve of my faded blue hoodie. Good as new.

“Yes. Thank you, Boss. I already read that. It took me a moment because I thought when you used the word ‘kid’ you were writing about an infant goat. Don’t worry, I pieced it together.”

“Then what’s your issue?”

“You’re making the message all about the baby. You haven’t written anything to this girl about how she’s doing. Gimme.” A grey paw makes a sweeping motion at my phone to draw it closer. I acquiesce.

The good doctor scratches her chin with her claws in contemplation and her eyes brighten when an idea hits her. The familiar clicking as she presses the buttons in quick succession sounds like an offbeat drum line. “There.” She sits back proudly letting me see what she’s written.

I clear my throat, and read aloud. “’I hope your nether region didn’t get ruined during childbirth; bear in mind, it’s had much more practice being an entrance than an exit.’” A heavy sigh falls out of my mouth but I finish reading, “’Here’s to a speedy recovery.’ Fat, I’m not sending this.” I hold the delete button until all the words are consumed by white space. “You just called my friend a harlot.”

Fat extends her arms down to my knees and her nails dig into my skin as she stretches. “But that’s the kind of comment that says, ‘I care.’ It’s doesn’t offer that smarmy, have-some-special-treatment-because-you-just-reproduced sentimentality. Frankly, I think she’d appreciate it.”

“I think you’re wrong.” I shove Fat hard enough to encourage her to leap off my lap. “I should probably go get her something for her baby shower this weekend. Dare I ask if you have any ideas?”

“Give the new mom a gift that will help the baby sleep. Chloroform. Lots and lots of chloroform.”

Office Hours: New Skills and Old News

“If you made regular appointments I’d have relevant notes.”

Fat, fur askew from a frenzied search through the unkempt file folder in front of her on the coffee table, shoots me a look of distain. Heavy rain hits the balcony, offering a reprieve from total silence.

“Maybe just catch me up on where you’re at with this mess you call a life.”

I sip my wine, carelessly rolling back on the couch with confidence the cushions will catch me. I don’t know why it took her so long to realize that wine and fake therapy go hand in hand. You never question motive when offered complimentary Malbec.

My right hand moves quickly; learning to sign the alphabet took no time at all. F-A-T. Y-O-U. A-R-E. S-T-U-P-I-D. I laugh to myself and take another plunge into the red wine. W-I-N-E. L-O-V-E. Y-E-S.

“Is your limb possessed?” Fat sees my hand clenched in the‘s’ formation. “A hand that does the devil’s work, it would seem. Beelzebub doesn’t recruit the smart ones, does he? Pity for the underworld.”

My hand changes to let my index finger extend in the direction of the yellow book on my desk. “Check it out. Signing for Dummies!” My other hand swirls the wine in the glass before I swallow it down. “More please.” The empty glass clinks when I set it on the coffee table.

Fat, with toy spectacles perched on her nose, scribbles on one of the random pieces of paper in front of her. I try to read what she writes, but let’s be honest: she’s a cat and cats aren’t known for their penmanship.

“Sign language. Weird choice, but communicating in silence is quite a good decision for you, Boss. People might actually like you if they don’t hear that barnyard sound that you call a voice.” Fat’s pencil crayon drops when she looks up at me with her signature satanic smile. “What else is going on? How’s work?”

“S’good.” I stare at my glass, then at Fat, then my purposeful gaze drifts back to the glass – which should hold wine, but does not. I huff with discontent and flop backward on the couch. My fake doctor is such an ass.

Fat doesn’t show any sign of recognizing my needs. Undeterred, she continues conducting her session. “And you saw your family over the holidays. How are things with them?”

“Cuh-razy.” I see fat lift an eyebrow in question. “That’s right, the broken syllable kind.” My foot lifts, and my toes inch the empty glass toward the feline. She still pays it no attention.

“Broken syllable kind of crazy,” she nods. “It’s nice that some things don’t change. Consistency is good for you, Boss.” Fat picks up a pencil crayon and draws what looks like a check mark on one of the papers by her paws.

“How are your friendships maintaining?”

“Deeeeeelightful.” I see Fat’s head tilt sideways with uncertainty. “Yes, you heard that correctly. Write that down.”

My toes stretch as long as they can until my glass falls over; it rolls lazily until it collides with the feline’s meaty haunches.

Fat looks downward with a slight frown. “Subtlety isn’t your strong suit, is it?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

The feline rolls her eyes emphatically then it’s right back to business. “And how is your neighbour boyfriend doing?”

“Ughhhhhh.” Leave it to the feline to remind me of that. It’s been long enough that I forgot about that weird I-don’t-want-to-see-you-anymore conversation I had to have with him.

“How many ‘h’s is that?” She looks up from her paper, “you know, for posterity’s sake.”

“I don’t know. Nineteen.” I look out the window at the downpour. Belatedly, I react, “And he wasn’t my boyfriend.”

“But you’re still seeing him?”

“Oh no. Nope. We… no thanks. We shine at banal small talk, but actual conversation is quite painful.”

Fat adds more to her nonsense scribbling. Without looking up, she mutters, “Preach on, sister. A conversation with you that has any depth is like seeing a giraffe with two heads.” Fat doesn’t even try to disguise her laughter. “And he lives across the hall. You know I’m a fan of awkward run-ins. Let me know how it goes.”

I feel my face morph into ugly grimace.

“Good catching up with you, Boss.” Fat’s paws sweep all of her papers back into the folder. “Bottle’s under the couch if you still need a refill.”

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?”