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.”

The Punishment For a Day at the Beach

“Scarlett O’Hara, you’re home earlier than expected.”

Fat jumps down from the bed when she sees me in the hallway. She shoots a quick look to the window; the tail end of daylight occupies the frame. The grey cat settles herself in front of the bedroom door, watching as I kick off my flip flops and pull my hair from a ponytail.

Fat sniggers loudly from the doorway when I walk past her and into the kitchen.

Sometimes I really don’t get Fat’s humour, but I play along anyway. Playing Frisbee all afternoon at the beach has boosted my mood. My voice elevates to that of a southern ingénue from a decades-old classic film.

“Fat, you are no gentleman.” I open the fridge and talk at the same time. I’m so parched, I just drink the water straight from the pitcher. As is to be expected, it dribbles down my front and gives me the appearance of  a leaky nursemaid.

“And you, Miss, are no lady.” Fat times her Rhett Butler response perfectly. Her voice dips to a lower octave and she fiddles with her whiskers as though they are a glossy moustache.

“In hindsight, a glass might have been a good idea.” The pitcher finds a home on the countertop as the back of my hand brushes across my wet chin and throat.

“In hindsight, something else might have been a good idea today too. Methinks you went a little too heavy on the rouge, Boss.”

My nose crinkles, a sign of incomprehension. “I’m not wearing any makeup, Fat.”

Fat’s index digit shakes at me in a scolding manner, “No sunscreen either, I suppose.”

I most certainly did put on sunscreen, my lily-white albino skin needs it. I made sure to put it on this morning. Right?

There is a moment of doubt when it comes to my memory and I dash to the full-length mirror in the hall. I gaze into the worried ashen face of my mirror twin. I stare at her from head to toe, she pulls off her nursemaid t-shirt and stands in a bikini top and shorts – appearing in front of me with the healthy complexion of an apparition.

Fat has leisurely sauntered over and sits directly at the base of the mirror with a cruel-but-delighted smile on her face.

“Fuck off, Fat.” With the open-handed gesture of a magician’s assistant, I motion to the reflection in the mirror.

The feline licks her lips, as though trying to suffocate her laughter. She looks down to the floor and her shoulders shrug up and down with a silent chuckle. After a moment, she composes herself, meets my angry stare and calmly utters the words, “Turn around.”

The lowered eyebrows of my mirror twin transition and now arch in worried surprise. The thought didn’t occur to either of us to twirl and check out the body’s other hemisphere.

Slowly, my mirror twin and I do a synchronized routine of rotating our bodies as our faces peer over our shoulders with concern. Looks of worried surprise turn to a hybrid of utter self-contempt and sorrow. Stinging pain sets in the moment I acknowledge the damage done. The section from the middle of my back down to my knees looks to have survived nuclear war. The burn has the disposition and hue of Satan’s office. I grab the base of my shorts and pull up to reveal one of my ass cheeks. There is a definitive line of where the bathing suit stopped.

Her laughter can’t contain itself anymore; Fat gives it voice and sets it free. “Stay right there, I need to get a picture of your face for Instagram.”

“Don’t be a jerk, can’t you see that I’m hurting?” How did I successfully lather everything else with sunscreen, but miss so much?

“Frankly, Boss, I don’t give a damn.”