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?”

 

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?”

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.”

After the Warehouse

“From what I hear, it wasn’t a successful mission in the warehouse. Fat fail.”

My friend has long since departed after bringing her back home and I’m making dinner. Fat sulked in, crawled on top of the desk and has been quietly facing the corner since her less-than-triumphant return to the apartment.

“That wasn’t a mouse.” Fat shudders, still facing the camel-coat colour of the wall. “Mouse is a colossal understatement. That fucker was big enough to hold me like a teddy bear and spoon me all night long.” Her head turns to look at me in the kitchen, I strain noodles over the sink and then return them to the pot on the stove. “I’m not going back there, Boss. Ever.”

“I’d be embarrassed to let you.” There are no words as I mix butter, milk and powdered cheese into the noodles. I heap some of it into a bowl and sit on the computer chair near the feline. The smell of food prompts Fat to spin around and finally face me.

She attempts to change the conversation. “Anything interesting happen here while I was out?”

I hold up my finger, buying myself a moment to swallow the food in my mouth. “I took a Zumba class.”

“I bet you were awful.” Fat leans on her elbows as her paws cup her face, feigning interest – anything to distract from the search for her missing dignity.

“That’s the obvious conclusion. It was fun though. I also went to Bard on the Beach. I love theatre.”

Fat pouts, “It sounds like I really missed out. I suppose it’s nice that you had fun.”

I ignore her statement and frown into my bowl of bright orange. “This does not hit the spot at all.”

I scoop a bunch of the neon noodles onto a fork, lift them out of the bowl and then watch I tilt the utensil and the noodles slide off and land back amongst their clones.

“What do you expect from hallway Kraft Dinner?”

“I was too lazy to go grocery shopping, okay?” I put the bowl on the desk and push it as far away from me as possible. What I need to do is order some Chinese food.

Fat’s face disappears in the bowl and she helps herself to a taste of white-trash cuisine. “Oh, yeah. Not good.” There’s some fake cheese sauce stuck to the fur around her mouth.

I laugh.

“What?”

“Nothing at all, Fat.”

Fat tips her head in the direction of the bowl beside her. “What are we going to do about this?”

“I was thinking about getting some Chinese food deliv–“

“That’s not what I meant, idiot.” What I assume is annoyance gurgles at the back of the feline’s throat. “I meant the source of tonight’s terrible dinner. What are you going to do about the friendly neighbour?”

I reach to the iPad, which is beside the printer, and start looking up online menus. “There’s nothing to do about Jesse. He’s gone into a ghost state. I haven’t seen him in,” I think on it and can’t come up with a definite date, “a long time.”

Fat jumps beside me on the couch. “I’m not convinced. Trust me, I’m a therapist. I know these things. He’s going to knock on that door one day soon and make you an offer you won’t refuse.”

“The only thing he’ll be looking for when he finally does come a-callin’ is his extra set of keys. I still have them. That’s weird, isn’t it? If it were me, I’d be getting my keys back as soon as possible. Seriously, how long has it been since we saw that guy?” It bothers me that I can’t even ballpark his strange visit to my apartment that morning. It was a weekend. This much I know.

Fat answers without a second of contemplation. “It’s been two weeks since we locked up after the dearly departed harlot. I say hold on to the keys as long as possible.”

I look up from the iPad; the tone of her voice lets me know that Fat’s moxie has come back in full force. “What makes you say that?”

“You managed to get Kraft Dinner from him, let’s see what other presents we can extort. Next time you hear footsteps in the hall, say, ‘I want a floor-to-ceiling scratching post.’”

“Something for you?” The feline is regarding Jesse’s original sweet action as a shopping spree of sorts.

“Play fair, Boss. You got what you wanted last time.”

Office Hours: Arts and Crafts

“Are you expecting a kindergarten class?”

I drop my beyond-ripe gym bag on the floor next to the full-body mirror in the hall. Fat, waiting expectantly in her plastic eyeglasses, sits straighter upon my entrance. She perches on the coffee table amongst a throng of construction paper, felt-tip pens, paint, glue sticks, coloured pipe cleaners and white out. She says nothing, just gives me the ‘trust me’ look of a politician in a sweater vest. Her eyes follow me as I disappear into the kitchen and come back with a Corona in hand.

“Seriously, Fat. Is it time for back-to-school shopping already? What’s going on with this stuff?”

I kneel on the ground beside the coffee table and set my beer down in a small area of table not occupied by craft supplies. My idle hands can’t help themselves and I reach over and grab the pipe cleaners. I wind a yellow and blue one together, with no idea of what will become of it.

“No.” Fat snaps when she sees my hands sculpting the wire aimlessly. “That’s not what this stuff is for, Boss.”

I drop the pipe cleaners instantly; they hit the edge of the table and fall to the floor in near-silence. I lift my hands in the air to show I’m at her mercy.

“You’re absolutely right. Clearly these are for the séance you’re hosting this evening. Give the spirits my apologies for disrupting their arts and crafts table.”

“No,” Fat repeats. “I want you to construct a physical representation of your heart.” Fat’s head nods at all the art supplies around her paws. “It’s an exercise in perception. Show me what you think yours looks like.”

I stare, open-mouthed at the art supplies, awaiting further instruction.

The feline’s tail sweeps over the craft materials, knocking the bottle of white out on its side. Her eyes squint at me from behind the wire frames of her spectacles. She sighs with impatience, “You can start now.”

“Oh, well…” I scan the art goods and grab the scissors and a piece of blue construction paper. For some reason, I think this is a timed event and start cutting the shape of a heart as quickly as possible.

I’m so engrossed in the process, I don’t even acknowledge Fat’s stare.

“You clearly were not emo as a youth.”

I look up just as I finish cutting the shape of a lopsided heart from the paper. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

The feline stares as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You’re not good at cutting.”

I don’t know how to respond so I just ignore her comment and focus instead on piercing and cutting several holes of various sizes into my paper heart. Upon completion of the round holes, I set the scissors and lean away from my art project.

“You think your heart looks like Swiss cheese?” Fat appears repulsed by my effort and stares at the barely held-together heart.

“Swiss chee…” My head lops to the side and I have to admit, yes, it does look like that. Unintentionally, of course.

“You think there’s a person out there who wants a heart that looks like that? This isn’t a heart you give to somebody.” Fat judges before she even hears my explanation.

“I have no intention of giving my heart to any one person.”

Fat gives me a look that can’t commit to being either pity or misunderstanding. It’s a face between differing states.

“The holes, Fat. I could never give anybody my entire heart because I’ve already given pieces of it to other people.” I point to a hole, “My folks have this part.” I point to another hole, “Bestie’s.” I point out a few more, “Chelsea’s. My niece. Nephew.” I list off a few more missing parts of my heart that have been given away. “Kind of selfish to get these parts of my heart back just so I can give my whole heart to a single person. I like it better like this. I like having a broken heart. More pieces to give to others for safe keeping.”

Fat sits in silence. Her face twists in what looks to be a pained expression.

“Fat? What’s wrong?”

Fat’s paw bats a few of the felt pens sheepishly and we both watch them fall off the table. “I was expecting to mock your ugly heart and tell you about how nobody wants something so hideous. It is hideous, by the way. But then you go and say something like that and I haven’t prepared any supportive comments.”

The Simplistic Nature of the Fred Flintstone Personality

“Ow! Christ!”

I reposition the dish towel and pull the tray from the oven; it clangs on the stove top with haste. I do an instant one-eighty and turn the faucet of the kitchen sink so the cold water blasts my stupidity-inflicted wound.

“Christ… there’s a guy that’s terrible at hide and seek.” Fat saunters into the kitchen and frowns upon her entrance. She opens her mouth with a question on her face. She looks at my hand under the water stream, the feline inhales the scent of baked-goods which leads her gaze to the tray of muffins. She closes her mouth; there’s no need for her to ask, she’s pieced together the storyline of my misfortune.

I try to speak over the sound of rushing water. “What makes you think Christ would be bad at hide and seek?”

“People find that guy everywhere.” Fat gives me an isn’t-it-obvious face. “If he were better at hiding, our world would have no use for Christian Mingle.”

“The dating site?” I twist the tap so the water just trickles over my thumb.

Fat smiles, “Very good, Boss. Sometimes I question your comprehension level, but not today.” Fat balances on her hind legs while her front paws lift up and brace just above my knee. “What’s with the muffins, Betty Crocker?”

In spite of the fact she can’t see the countertop, I point at the motif of spilled ingredients. Apparently I am capable of creating a great mess in a spur-of-the-moment decision to try this domestic thing.

“I had this great desire for a fresh-baked muffin and a latte.” I nod at the countertop espresso machine. “And I got a new book from the library, I was going to sit on the patio and just enjoy quiet indulgence this afternoon.” I don’t get annoyed with Fat leaning against my leg until her claws gently try to pierce my skin. My leg retreats immediately, but it’s not fast enough to make her fall with disgrace. Damn cats and their ability to land on their feet.

“Offence intended, but that’s a lame way to spend a free afternoon.”

“The saying is ‘No offense’–“

Fat cuts me off, “Don’t correct me. I meant it the way it sounded.”

“…And quiet time is highly necessary. I’ve had some massive mad monkeys the last while and I just want chill out.”

“Yeah. Your life is so hard.” It’s a shame Fat’s icy sarcasm can’t be used to soothe my burning thumb.

I lift my hand and inspect the minor burn.

Fat continues in a whiny voice, “I went to a Caribbean Festival and the beach this weekend. Then I took in a night of theatre. Children in third world countries have no idea what rough is. Vancouver life is hard.” Her mock misery face only lasts a few seconds before her fangs make an appearance with her smile. “Somebody save me from my misery.”

“I’m not miserable. Life is lovely right now. That’s what you think my inner monologue sounds like?”

“No. I was merely breathing vocabulary into the Neanderthal grunts you consider intellectual thought.”

The water turns off and I carefully pry one of the muffins out of the baking tray.

“Thanks, Fat.”

Fat swipes a paw across her brow with phony relief. “Phew, I was worried you weren’t going to get the compliment there.”

I say nothing, just eye her with contempt.

“You’re a simple creature, Boss. It doesn’t take much to make you happy. Or as your people would say,” Fat finishes the sentence with screeching monkey sounds.

Bestie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

“Do you look sad because it’s raining? On tv, people are always sad when it’s raining.”

I stop staring at the summer thunderstorm and look at Fat. She’s chewing on the ear of a toy mouse with frenzy but she still manages to read my face. The bell inside the stuffed rodent jingles as she thrashes around with it.

“No, Fat. If rain made people sad, Vancouverites would be the most miserable people in the world.” I stare back at the mesmerizing litres of water falling from the sky. Maybe it will turn everything green again. “Not to say that some of them aren’t.”

Fat rolls backward almost losing grip of her mouse, but manages to snag it by the tail with her claws. “Maybe all those miserable people are just on their periods all the time – both women and men. You know, I bet it’s a side effect of the red tide.” Fat freezes dramatically as if struck by an epiphany. “Is that where the phrase ‘surfing the crimson wave’ comes from?”

I almost smile. “That’s from Clueless, Fat.” I watch the puddles forming on the balcony. “And I’m not sad, I was just reminiscing.”

“Oh yeah? About what?” Fat abandons her toy to jump up beside me on the couch. When she purrs, I’m inclined to pet her.

The rain sounds like the rat-a-tat sound of children pretending to shoot guns. “Bestie used to live a five minute walk away. I’m still getting used to her not being right there.”

“I thought you said she moved to East Van.” Fat’s head tilts with misplaced comprehension.

I nod. “Yeah. She did.”

“So she’s like a fifteen minute drive away. Not something to be mopey about.”

“That’s dependent on traffic,” I announce with the dramatic flair usually reserved for teenage angst. “Fifteen minutes when there are no other cars on the road maybe.”

The feline’s jaw falls open and just hangs there for a moment as she assesses my sincerity. “This is a problem for you?” Her eyes light up, “oh my God. You care.” Fat bursts out laughing.

I turn away from her and stare out the window again, “Shut up, Fat.” It’s hard to hide emotion for something so close to my heart.

The good doctor laughs so hard the sound disappears and all I can see are the shudders of her shoulders as she shakes with giddiness.

My phone beeps and I check it as Fat heaves with a massive case of the giggles.

“I completely forgot it was gym day today.” I groan and reply to the message that I can be ready in five minutes.

“Who are you going to the gym with?”

“Bestie.” I almost add ‘duh’ after the mention of her name. I don’t go to the gym with anybody else; you only let true friends see your disgusting, sweaty gym self.

“Problem solved I guess.”

“What problem?” I frown when I realize that I still haven’t washed my gym clothes from last week.

“You said you missed Bestie.”

My nose wrinkles when Fat misunderstands my wistfulness. “I didn’t say that. Don’t misquote me. I miss living near her. It’s raining and I want homemade mac and cheese. That woman makes the best comfort food ever.”

A Day at the Races

“It’s official, I’m poor.”

Not only sun-kissed, but sun-ravaged, I skip into the apartment and drop my bag in the computer chair. I show no signs of distress over the sing-song statement I just announced about my financial well-being.

“Are we going to be evicted? Shall I pack my things?” Fat pouts from atop the high computer desk cabinets. “I knew I shouldn’t have fallen for the first pretty young thing that wanted to take me home from the SPCA. I could have done so much better…” Fat stares off into nothingness, wistfully.

“Fat, we are po’ fo’ sho’.”

The feline blinks hard to come back to reality. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you go to the race track.”

I sway haphazardly from side-to-side instead of shaking my head in response to her statement. “Clearly you do not understand the pull of going to watch the Weinerdogs race on the track.” I speak behind my hand and whisper upward to the feline’s pert ears, “The dogs weren’t very good.”

Fat crouches low and leans downward, extending as close to my face as possible without compromising her footing. “Why are you whispering?” She whispers back. “Don’t tell me you lost our money betting on dachshunds.”

“I did not.” I smile proudly for not doing something so humiliating as losing a fortune gambling on short-limbed dogs. “I was betting on the ponies. As it turns out, Fat, you shouldn’t bet on a nag just because it’s from your hometown. Or has the same name as your dad. Or has the best-coloured horse jersey.”

Fat purses her lips and shakes her head incredulously.

“But,” I open my purse and empty it of the horse race schedule and tiny pieces of paper – evidence of all my bad choices from the duration of the afternoon, “We’ve learned something. I’m not good at gambling.”

Fat’s eyes lock on the slips I keep pulling out of my purse.

“Boss, I’m not really sure what to say. How much money did it cost you for them to print ink on those worthless pieces of paper?” High above the living room floor, Fat cringes, bracing herself for terrible news.

I quickly count the slips in my hand. “Twelve.”

“Twelve what? Hundred? Thousand?”

I squint at the feline and my head lops to the side as if it toppled over from the weight of the messy hair bun. “Yes, Fat. I lost twelve thousand dollars over the course of four hours.”

“So it was less than that?” Fat seems to be less stressed, but still on edge.

“I lost twelve dollars.”

There is a flash of grey as the feline jumps from the cabinet down to the desktop. “For Christ’s sake, Boss. You scared the shit out of me. I thought you owed money to the mob or something. I hope you’ve learned something from this experience. You won’t miss twelve dollars, we’re not broke yet.” Fat notices my grinding teeth. “What are you upset about? Twelve dollars is nothing.”

“I could have bought two more beer with that money.”

Fat’s face turns deadpan. “Chin up. I’m sure you’ll be fine with the amount you have in the fridge. It sounds like you had a rough day.”

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: The Trojan Horse

“Is that your interpretation of a Trojan horse?”

My back curves as I peer over Fat’s shoulder; she’s very involved in something open in the Paper app on the iPad. It looks like a kindergarten drawing of a horse-like animal on wheels.

The grey feline scrambles to smother the digital sketch with her gelatinous obesity. The hair down her spine stands rigid.

“Don’t look at this. My eyes only, thank you!” There’s an edge to her voice when she shouts.

I go into defense mode and lift my hands to shield my face in case an angry kitty claw swipe comes my way. Knowing that she doesn’t want me to pry only feeds my curiosity. Now I have to know what she’s hiding.

“So, it’s not a Trojan horse?” I speak slowly and lean backward, still wary. Rightfully so.

Fat’s tiny scowling face twists around as though The Exorcist was a movie based on her unbalanced nature. My muscles tense, not sure what’s going to happen next. I think to cover my eyes, but I’m captivated by her frenzy.

“For your information, boss, this is going to make us a fortune. That’s why it’s so hush hush.” If her boiling blood were a city, what happens next is the equivalent of an ice age in the Sahara. “Okay, I’ll tell you.” It’s a good thing she can’t keep a secret or I’d be going crazy. It’ s like gossip is stress relief for the feline; the more she divulges, the more she calms down. Her fur reveals the horribly drawn picture on the tablet. “It’s a Zampony.”

I play along as though fully informed on the subject at hand. “Yes.” I nod. “A Zampony, of course. I was just looking at it from the wrong angle.”

Fat’s face contorts with disgust. “Don’t do that. Don’t pretend you know what I’m talking about in order to spare yourself from stupidity.”

One sentence and I’ve turned from the boss into an idiot sidekick. Fat can really make me feel insignificant if she tries.

The cat sighs, patience deflates from her chest like a balloon pierced by a bullet. “It’s a Zamboni with a horse head. This is Canada. Every arena will want one. Just you wait.”

“I don’t…” my face scrunches and I squint at the iPad as if distorting it with my vision will help me see how amazing Fat’s idea is. I lose my train of thought and my sentence runs itself off a metaphorical cliff. When Fat stares at me, waiting for me to finish the thought, all I can do is shrug… and then yawn.

“I’m sorry, boss. Do my dreams bore you?” Fat turns in a semicircle and places her paws on top of the iPad. “What are you doing here anyways?”

“Didn’t we,” I shoot a quick glance to the time on the PVR, “have a session today?”

“Oh damn. We did – we do.” The good doctor quickly corrects herself. “I’ve made an observation as of recent, boss: you critique my dreams when you keep yours neatly written and folded up in a small square in your wallet. Tell me which is better, which garners results.”

“You snooped through my wallet?”

Her little grey head bobs up and down with confirmation.“Every Tuesday since you brought me home from the SPCA. Helps you discover a lot about a person. Why do you keep them itemized on a list?”

It never occurred to me that it was strange. “Just as a reminder, I guess. I don’t want to forget what’s on my bucket list.” My memory is akin to a sieve.

“And yet, you hide your dreams away and judge me for what I would like to achieve in this lifetime.” The kitty is ruffled. “I just don’t get how leaping out of a plane doesn’t phase you, but actually trying to accomplish something petrifies you.” Fat sneers, “Pathetic.”

“Are you saying that I should have my ambition on display?”

“Breakthrough.” Her tone is curt and Fat turns her attention back to the iPad. She doesn’t look up with her dismissal, “We’re done for today. Please see yourself out.”