Fathers and First Dates

“Help. It’s an emergency!” Fat’s voice shouts on the other end of the line.

My back hunches over as I hold the cell phone up to my ear and turn to look out the passenger side window at the storefronts we drive past. There really is no way to get privacy in a car other than turn your back to the other person and pretend to be alone. Gentle thuds from the rainy and grey day patter against the roof of the Mazda – way to be cliché, Vancouver. I’m delighted that we’re planning on going to dinner and a movie tonight; a stroll by the ocean is less romantic during a monsoon.

“Calm down. What’s wrong?” The silver lining to an emergency: James only picked me up from my place ten minutes ago – it won’t take long to get back home to fix whatever catastrophe has befallen the apartment. I go through the rolodex in my head of all the possibilities of things that could go awry leaving Fat at home without supervision. Any number of disasters could have occurred in my absence. For some reason, I’m quick to assume arson – and if that’s my first assumption, why on earth would I ever trust the feline home alone? She’s called me an idiot before. I’m sad to report that it could be true; maybe I am an idiot.

It’s our first time hanging out and here I am taking a personal call from my housecat. Awesome. Depending on how this goes could really affect how things move forward with this fella. I’m not really sure how I’m feeling about him yet. Better keep the ol’ pro/con list on standby.

“Is everything okay?” James turns down the car stereo and the Foo Fighters are forced into near-silence. In a normal circumstance, this would never happen. Foo Fighters are meant to be loud; if this guy is willing to mute a great band for my benefit – that’s a tally in the pro column.

I glance over my left shoulder and shrug. James alternates between navigating the busy street and throwing quick looks of concern my way before his attention returns to the road. His blue eyes widen with questions. He cares – another pro for the gent.

“I don’t know.” I turn back to my phone, “Faaa…” I can’t say her name, this date will be over instantly if he finds out who’s ringing me at this moment, “…ather, what’s going on?”

“Father? Is that what you call me behind my back? It’s my wisdom, isn’t it?” I hear the smile in her voice. “You didn’t have a fancy English childhood, just call me dad like a normal Canadian.”

My concern evaporates instantly. If something was actually wrong, she wouldn’t be dicking me around like this. “What’s the emergency, Fat?”

“Should I find a place to pull over?” James shoulder checks in preparation to get to the next side street. He makes no mention of me calling my pretend father Fat. That speaks to his overabundance of politeness – con. I need a dude that shoots from the hip.

I pull away from my phone, albeit briefly, and minutely shake my head, “You can just keep heading to the restaurant.” Good driver – pro.

“So how’s the date going?” Fat’s words are weighted with intrigue and gossip.

“Tell me why that’s not the reason you’re calling.” I wave my hand forward, reassuring James that he’s good to keep driving. The windshield wipers move in their rhythmic pattern. “I’m kind of busy at the moment.”

“Boss. I’m giving you an out here if it’s not going well. I noticed he was blond. If you need this phone call to be an emergency to get away from the man bimbo, take it.” The feline makes a point: blonde – con.

“It’s only been a few minutes,” my words hiss into the phone, and I adjust course when I catch the look on James’ face at my sudden change of tone. “It’s hard to tell so soon…father. Stay positive. I’m sure your team will win.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Fat’s words are clipped and she clearly does not understand what I’m trying to do. “You hate sports. There isn’t even a game on right now, dumb ass.”

I roll my eyes and try to spell it out for her. “The game (massive emphasis to let her know we’re not discussing something on TSN) just started. Anything can happen. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Have I told you recently that you’re an idiot?” The sound of buttons accidently being pushed on her end rings in my ears.

“I love you too. Bye.” I end the call, turn the ringer off and drop the phone in my lap. “I’m really sorry about that. I shouldn’t have answered.”

James searches for a tactful thing to say, “Your dad sounds like an… interesting guy.” There’s that politeness again – con.

Another call from Fat lights up my phone. I hit ignore.

“Huh? Oh yeah. My dad is a real cupcake.”

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.”

Skype Calls and Fat

“We are so far beyond not interested, pal. Bye-bye now.”

Fat’s paws press the back of the laptop. She uses her girth to close the old computer while I’m mid-Skype conversation. The feline’s abrupt dismissal of our video chat interrupts my story about finally exploring McLeod’s bookstore downtown. I suppose I didn’t need to mention that after an arduous hunt, I finally found a copy of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. My cat is such a bitch cat; there will be no fairy tale endings on her watch – not even in bookstores.

Hinging from the hip, I try to stay in front of the camera and quickly sign off prior to hitting my chin on the desk and before Fat ends the call by clamping the computer shut. The grizzly-faced dude and I talk over each other in the few seconds we have left.

“I’m going to have to call you back.”

“Kat, what’s happening with your computer?” He’s unconcerned. The way he asks makes me feel that when stupidity happens in my presence, it’s not altogether unexpected. That is off-the-charts rude and presumptuous; perhaps I shan’t call him back. It seems jackassery is running rampant today.

The feline lets out a satisfied smirk and sits on the closed VAIO like it’s a throne. “Dodged a bullet there, eh? You’re welcome. I never thought I’d say this, Boss, but you can do better.” Fat’s tail hugs the perimeter of her meaty haunches.

My forehead wrinkles to accommodate the surprised lift of my eyebrows. “What’s that, now?” If she’s saying what I think she’s saying…

“Hate to see my prize pig settle for somebody like that blond schmuck.” Indicatively, a grey paw taps gently on the computer case.

Beyond any measure of comprehension, the term ‘prize pig’ doesn’t register as an insult; instead my thoughts briefly drift to the fridge contents and the possibility of bacon. In my humble opinion, a pre-dinner warmup is never a poor idea.

“There’s no accounting for taste, is there? It’s like he was oblivious to your terrible personality.” Fat’s musings coax my attention back from hunger.

“I’m going to stop you there, Fat.” My traffic cop hand rests inches from her wet nose. “What you’re thinking is eighty-thousand different kinds of disgusting.” I point to the corner of the desk at a framed picture that was taken a couple years ago at my mom’s house.

The feline sidles up beside it, almost pressing her face against the photo. “He’s already met your family?” The tone in her voice registers as revulsion.

“He’s my brother, you moron.”

Fat’s pupils expand and she stares, unblinking in my direction. Her cheeks puff out as her mouth stays shut, feigning a puke-like reaction. Gag sounds come from her throat as the feline oversells the dramatics. “V.C. Andrews really did a number on you, huh? I knew I shouldn’t have let you watch Flowers in the Attic.”

I stare at the ceiling. C’mon, brain, make this a Namaste situation… breathe in, breathe out. Do no harm to the furry idiot on the desk.

“So what’s up with your brother? Did you give him my regards?”

I shrug. “He somehow got the idea that I was plotting to murder my cat. For some reason he was trying to talk me out of it.”

“You know, I always liked that guy.”

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.”

You Ain’t No Friend of Mine

“Breaking news, Boss. May I have your attention please.”

Fat sits in the apartment entryway like she’s been waiting quite a while for me to arrive home. She doesn’t twitch when my purse flings dangerously close to her face before it rolls to an ungraceful stop in the middle of the hallway.

“Today I have decided that I love Elvis Presley.” She waits for my acknowledgement of her less-than-grand declaration, when none comes, she assumes ignorance on my part. “You know, the King of Rock n’ Roll.”

A groan squeezes its way out of my lungs as I try to both manipulate an object bigger than a door through the doorway and force the uncooperative angle from the hallway to be my friend. I’m sweating; it’s not that glistening, dainty sweat that as a child I believed was the only kind of sweating a lady was capable of. I’m sweating like a lumberjack on an August day. My back cries like it’s thrice its age and my current desire is gaining access to a sledgehammer in order to turn this bulky beast of a thing into a manageable pile of shrapnel.

“It’s like you don’t even hear me. Hello, I’d like a response. Big day over here.” Fat’s paw taps with impatience on the carpet.

Frustrated, I set the giant board down and brush loose strands of hair out of my dewy face. “You’re going to have to move, Fat.” Hands find their way to my hips as I stare down at the unmoving feline.

“And if I refuse?” Green eyes glower in my direction and then quickly flip to a more curious state. “What do you have there?”

“This,” I grab an edge of the imitation antique frame and try again to coax the monstrous and unforgiving board around the corner and through the apartment doorway, “is a ginormous chalk board.” I push, pull, pivot and perspire without progress. Piss. My arms and sanity, demanding a break, refuse another attempt. “And of course I couldn’t fit it in the elevator so I wrestled this beauty up the stairs.” I force a smile and there are a couple hearty thuds as I bang my hand against the frame. “I kind of want to die right now.”

“You look like you could use some help, kid.”

Fat’s voice turns sing-song as she peers at the new arrival. “Awk-ward.”

I turn to address the owner of the voice. Jesse stands with a grocery bag, staring at the hallway obstruction. “So, am I supposed to hurdle over this thing or…”

“I’m trying to move it. Trying being the operative word. Just uh…yeah. Jump it.”

Fat interrupts, her head jutting toward the chalkboard. “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”

“Don’t.” I swivel and hold up a warning finger to the feline. I feel very like my mother right now.

“If I try to jump it, I might wreck my junk. Can I help you maneuver this mother of all chalkboards inside?”

“Boss, he still wants a piece,” the feline winks grossly. “Don’t mess it up,” she pauses, “again.”

“Stop. Stop it now. This is a no-interest situation.” Unless less than no-interest is a thing. I sigh, reminiscing about former decisions. Bad call, former self.

While I talk, Fat starts to hum and eventually the tune carries lyrics.

“Wise men say only fools rush in
but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

“Seriously, Fat. I’m going to kill you.”

Jesse sets his grocery bag on the floor. “Miss Fat, always with something to meow about. You know, sometimes I swear you two understand what the other is saying.” He points back and forth between me and Fat as though we can’t figure out who he is talking about. “Match made in heaven, I think.”

“What?” Fat’s head snaps upward to eye the neighbour with contempt. “How dare you, sir?”

I must shoot Jesse some kind of awful scowl too because he holds his hands up defensively. “Easy. Legitly, though. You two are some kind of pair.”

“Legitly isn’t a real word, fool.” Fat and I speak in unison and then regard at each other uncomfortably. It’s always uneasy when she and I are on the same page; we seldom get each other.

“Just trying to help here, girls.”

“Uh, thanks for the offer, Jesse, but I really don’t think the board is going to fit without breaking it. Damn. Guess it’s going back to the store.” I start unwedging the board from the doorway. Pity.

“You sure?” Jesse sees the confirmation on my face and takes it as a cue to grab his groceries and dig keys out of his coat pocket. “Alright, well, it was good running into you. See ya.”

I offer him a lazy wave as I wipe forehead sweat on the sleeve of my sweater.

Fat and I both watch as he saunters the ten feet to his door and disappears inside.

Silence.

I carefully lean the chalkboard against the wall.

And then it starts.

“Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It’s down at the end of lonely street
at Heartbreak Hotel.”

“Shut up, Fat.”

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?”

Unfinished Business of My Future Ghost

“You’re dead! You’re so dead!”

It’s like Fat’s voice blasts through a bullhorn. She shouts as she jumps from the liquor cabinet to the television stand to the top of the war-torn scratch post.

“Are you threatening me?” I tie my hair into a messy bun to avoid brushing it.

Fat leaps back beside the television and onto the coffee table. “The ground is lava. You’re long since dead; prepare to live as a poltergeist, Boss.” Fat stops when she bounds onto the arm of the couch to contemplate the idea. “No. You’re too ambivalent to be a poltergeist. Instead you’re one of those unfinished-business-wandering-the-earth-forever kind of spirits. Off you go. Haunt away.” She directs me as though she expects I’ll pretend to be weighed down by chains like Marley’s ghost.

Instead, I pull a small key ring from my pocket and drop the keys on the coffee table. They jingle when they hit the ikea surface.

“Man-slut neighbour still isn’t home to get his keys back, huh?”

“Fat, that’s the third time I’ve gone over to Jesse’s to give him those keys. That kid is never around when I am. Has he come by while I’ve been at work?”

Fat’s eyes roll upward in thought. “There was wheezy panting at the door yesterday. That seems like him, right?”

“Christ, I hope not.” I cringe at the thought and silently hope that the panting was from the pug in the apartment around the corner. “Well, I tried. From here on out, fuck it.”

Fat nods in mock understanding, “Ah, the whore’s mentality. Suits the situation.” Fat eyes the keys on the table and stares up at me with a crafty grin. “Want to go snoop around his apartment? It’s not breaking and entering if we have keys.”

“I certainly do not.”

“Because you’re afraid of getting caught?”

“Because his business isn’t my business and the interaction we have right now suits me just fine. If we humanize Jesse by finding things in his apartment, I won’t want to talk to him anymore. So,” I close the curtains as daylight has long since gone, “we’ll just wait for him to come and get his keys when he remembers I have them.”

“Make him come to you, eh? Boss, you sly devil.” Fat shoots me an exaggerated wink.

I point to her eye, “What was that about?”

“Oh, please. Mutt and I both know what’s going on here.” Pulled from sleep, Mutt lifts his head at her mention of his name. He becomes quickly disinterested and settles back in his bed. “This is your signature move for dating; you bait him with personality and then give him a reason to come by the apartment. Not exactly subtle, but it works.”

I say nothing, but raise skeptical eyebrows.

“Mark my words, Boss. Something is going to happen here. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice the similarities between you and Jesse’s crazy bitch one-nighter. Same demographic.” Fat’s voice lilts in a sing-song way to be extra annoying.

“We didn’t see her face.”

“Didn’t have to. Porcelain skin, tall, dark unkempt hair, prone for bad decisions…” Fat pauses to catch my eye and she nods, “Seems somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?”

I shake my head as if the motion will make her go away.

“It would be an awful shame if this unfinished business with the neighbour boy is what keeps your future ghost unsettled.” Fat points to my feet which are still standing in the imaginary magma.

I cross my arms and perch on the end of the couch, making sure that my feet are off the carpet. “Fat, I can say with the utmost certainty that nothing will ever happen in that respect with me and Jesse.”

A devilish smile lifts the corners of her mouth, “Wanna bet?”