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Fat Cat
by Gina M. Angelone

      Bruno is spending hours on the couch drawing fat leopards. It’s an assignment for his art class: pick an animal to draw over and over and make it fat. He’s done this kind of exercise before with modes of transportation. He turned long, sleek airplanes into chubby flying saucers, and made trains look like link sausages. There’s an overt friendliness to obese vehicles that makes me want to take a road trip with nothing but a backpack and a bag of donuts.
      Each of Bruno’s leopards assumes a different pose and personality. Some look like mob bosses and others like couch potatoes.
      "When you were small, you confused the word leopard with leper," I say standing over him which is something he tolerates but does not enjoy.
      "That's because they sound exactly the same." His gaze stays on the paper.
      "Then how can you be sure you're not supposed to be drawing fat lepers?" I like to say ridiculous things, mostly to see if he’s listening.
      Bruno continues with his pudgy cats.
      I wash the dishes and wonder what it would be like to spend a whole day doing nothing but drawing. I’m glad my son has been afforded certain advantages like art classes. At his age, I held a low-wage job at the A&P. Stocking shelves was tedious, but it felt good to make money. I’ve tried explaining this to my teenaged son, but he’s not interested in getting a job. He’s fine with being supported. He likes the long, dreamy hours and the
constant handouts.
      I remind myself that I gave him an artsy name, after all, and wonder if it’s dumb luck that he became interested in drawing. Bruno could also be a fitting name for a deli owner or a tailor—both respectable occupations, though far less romantic than an artist. Daniel wanted to 
call him Oliver. Oliver and Bruno evoke green and brown colors and as certain shapes. They are round, fat names.
      "I could really use a day to goof off," I say wiping my hands on my pants.
     "Take one," Bruno croaks from the couch. "What's the big deal?"
      The big deal is that nothing interesting comes to mind. No great people to hang out with, no amazing places to go, no wild notions of what to do. Just a blank feeling with no inspiration to draw from.
      I suddenly turn toward my son with an idea. "Gimme a piece of paper and a pencil.”
      "Why?" Bruno closes his sketchbook protectively. “I don’t want to mess up my book
by ripping out pages.”
      "But I’d like to draw something."
      "Mom, you don't draw."
      "You've never seen me draw, which is different. I can draw fat mice."
      "Mice are already fat. You have to pick something like a giraffe or a gazelle."
      "I love giraffes. Paper, please." I hold out my hand and wait for supplies, hoping to feel supported. Like an artist.
      “Don’t screw up the point on this pencil. It takes me forever to shave it down. Okay? I don’t know why you’re even doing this...” He carefully and unenthusiastically hands me the pencil and tears a piece of paper from his precious sketchpad. It’s like his skin is being flayed 
as it rips, spoke by spoke, off the coiled metal spine.
      I hold the graphite gingerly between my fingers and begin to trace large circles in the air.
      “What are you doing?”
      “I’m warming up my wrist. And my imagination.” I wink at him, and he rolls his eyes.

      “Don’t break the pencil,” he says again, like a teacher speaking to a reckless child.
       I begin tracing lines across the page to get the feel of it. A large sphere appears out of smooth, soft circles.
      "What’s that?" Bruno laughs.
      "I just started. Don’t judge." My hand slides upward as a long neck stretches to invisible treetops. Giraffes are good at adapting to their environments. I had grown up thinking I’d be a travel writer, acclimating to ever-changing customs and cultures and horizons. That was a real stretch of the imagination. Instead, I’m in the same place every day. Same trees. Same sky. Same kitchen sink. I hope Bruno will get to see the whole wide world and fill up on all the things I only dreamt of doing.
      The alarm monitor beeps, and the front door opens. It makes an annoying blee-deep sound three times in a row. I always mimic the noise at the same time it’s happening which makes it twice as annoying to my son.
      "It's involuntary."
      "It’s not."
      A set of keys lands on the counter with a metallic scrape. Daniel places his computer bag on the floor and surveys the room. "Looks like the number of artists living under my roof has doubled since this morning."
      "Mom is still a mom." Bruno keeps his eyes on his sketch.
      "Rome wasn't built in a day," I volley back in my own defense with a strained note of defiance in my tone. Daniel just called it his house.
       My husband stares at my fat giraffe and smirks. "It looks like one of those South American gourds with a metal straw they use for drinking tea. Am I right?"
      "Why would I draw a gourd? It’s a giraffe."

      "A fat giraffe," Bruno qualifies. "And I'm drawing fat leopards."
      Daniel coughs up a single laugh which sounds more like huh. "So, what's for dinner?
Whatever it is, I hope it's fat. I'm starving."
      "There are leftovers on the top shelf of the fridge. I took the night off from cooking so I could experience the life of an artist."
      Huh is muttered for a second time. “Must be nice." Daniel opens the fridge, grabs a beer and the leftovers, and sits down to eat.
      "Aren't you going to heat those up? It'll just take a few minutes..." This is just the kind of thing that gets on my nerves, but I decide to let him do what he wants. I’m trying to be more giraffe-like and adaptable.
      "I'm too hungry." Daniel digs into the cold plate with a fair amount of noise, chewing the coagulated casserole and washing it down with stout. “Since my family is busy drawing fat animals, I’m going to put on the TV...”
      A documentary about an indigenous tribe in Ecuador ignites on the screen. Tribal members sit around the fire, passing large bowls of cooked fish and rice. Daniel aims a belch in my direction. I know what he’s thinking: Even the poorest wretches in the world can get a hot meal at the end of the day. He burps a second time.
      "Can you please stop that? It's gross." I exaggerate my disgust.
      He offers a taut, greasy smile as an apology.
      My gaze drifts from the paper to the Amazon as a young woman begins sweetly singing while cutting off her hair with a sharp knife. As the last bit of her mane falls to the dusty ground, I wonder how it feels to do something so simple yet so severe—to take a knife to one’s head, disallow anyone else’s exercise one’s own feel dispossessed but happy.
      I can’t imagine such freedoms.

      I hand the pencil carefully back to Bruno. “I’m not in the mood to draw anymore. Thanks for letting me use your stuff.”
      “You’re giving up already?” Bruno looks me in the eye for the first time.
      “I guess I don’t have what it takes.” I whisk away Daniel’s plate and walk over to the microwave.
      “You don’t have to do that...” Daniel wipes his mouth with the back of his hand like a cat.
      “It’s okay,” I murmur, knowing that nothing is ever guaranteed. Not a hot dinner or a grown-up life or satisfaction.
      As the microwave counts down the radiated minutes, I stare into the sink. I do not want to die alone or diseased on some doomed island of domesticity. I want to live something bigger than this. A leopard would instinctively know how to make that leap. I do not.
      The clock hits zero and its series of high-pitched beeps go off like an alarm my head. I stand frozen.
      “Hon...?” Daniel is poised with his fork, ready to finish his dinner.
      I want to remove the casserole and give it to my husband, but the flashing zeros on the
microwave remind me that I’m incapable of making art or dinner or taking a night off for
myself. I suddenly hear cackling from the TV as peals of laughter mock me all the way from
the Amazon—another big, fat place I’ll only ever dream of.

Gina M. Angelone is a documentary filmmaker and fiction writer. Her work has received Emmy awards, international prizes, and grants from foundations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Academy of Arts & Letters. Gina is currently writing flash fiction that attempts to step into a moment in time and reveal the fractured connections between people and the places they inhabit, both physically and emotionally. Her work is published in several journals and magazines.

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