Ouch by Pug Grumble
Chapter 7: Birthday Gifts
Felicia flipped through the assorted packages of sandpaper, fingertips rubbing across the surface of each as she fished for the proper feel. Not too firm, not too fine.
She settled on a heavy grit emery cloth, pliable and durable, with enough coarseness to be useful, while also being surprisingly waterproof. It had the look of being able to survive some punishment, which was a prerequisite in their household.
She tossed it on the table beside the spool of denim thread and a new package of needles she’d bought at the fabric store (and kept hidden from Sylvester, lest he use them as toothpicks). Felicia’s inventive streak was branching off into tailoring now, age sending her signals and pushing her down the path of white picket fences and PTA meetings. She mentally kicked age in the shin.
She pulled out of storage the long-forgotten sewing machine, scrubbing it down and scraping it free from the dried and caked on failure of Sylvester’s many experiments. It was the kind of appliance neither of them had much experience with and bought for all the wrong reasons.
When it was finally clean and threaded and sparkling new, Felicia braced herself with a vodka shot and slid open Sylvester’s closet door. On the hangers hung his few nicer bits of clothing, the ones that had yet to be destroyed; a shirt, a tie, some slacks, and a jacket, together totaling one nice set of clothes, albeit completely unmatched.
Below these rested ‘the heap’, a mildew breeding entity that she swore breathed sulfur and ate Fraggles. Jagged bits of clothing emerged from all sides, many torn and shredded, various implements having been poked through them far too often to maintain their resiliency.
She hesitated for a moment, her eyes flitting about, hoping that her goal would reach out a hand, begging for rescue, but her charismatic charm held no sway on this creature, so with a deep breath of hope, Felicia dove in, searching and flinging, tossing aside clumps and piles and foul-smelling things she couldn’t identify. She found t-shirts that appeared pink, bloodstained and bleached so many times that they fell apart in her hands. She pulled out a fleshy leather jacket that looked like it may have been plucked directly from a fresh cow with the ears still attached. She found grass-stained shoes that were shredded and filleted, trophies a victorious lawnmower may have once tried to stuff and mount on its mantle.
Finally, toward the bottom, she found her goal, an old pair of jeans still in workable shape, a gift from the previous year that’d been in the unfortunate position of being worn the day Sylvester discovered the magical bond between super glue and human skin, leading them to no longer possess the structural integrity needed to be worn in public.
They were perfect.
After a quick run through the laundry Felicia made her way to the sewing machine, flipping the jeans inside out as she went, inspecting the holes and planning her strategy.
She tore open the emery cloth and began fitting and pinning, aligning the cloth to the jeans, the sand-side in, a patchwork of patches that reinforced the stability and breathed in abrasive new life.
When the holes were all filled, the patches in place, she stitched them together, creating a strange and mottled pattern that she knew would make Sylvester appear far more hip than he’d know what to do with.
And finally, as an added surprise, she folded them nicely and wrapped them in a box, with some feminine paper and a feminine bow.
She smirked to herself with a little bit of pride, her soft side shining through with its faint glimmer of motherly potential. She had a good and loving streak in her, buried deep, and she occasionally let it sniff the fresh air around the holidays.
Sylvester’s birthday mornings were often a time of joy and pain that always ended decidedly one-sided against him.
Felicia would buy Sylvester injurious gifts that would always find their way into her hands, the rest of the morning spent sharpening their dull edges and trying them out.
But this year was different from the get-go; Felicia had made sure of it.
“Open this one first,” she told him, offering up the box wrapped in paper from another holiday.
Sylvester looked down at his assortment of gift opening tools, his favorite part of the holiday; scissors, knives, and pliers all were available in triplicate, settled beside a letter opener, a box cutter, and even a rather large hatchet on the off chance his gift had come wrapped in a tree trunk.
He settled on an overly sharp letter opener and sliced into the wrapping paper smoothly, being sure to let the tip dip briefly into his finger with each swipe. Underneath the paper was a roll’s worth of tape, tightly strapped around the box, as if the contents had tried to escape and were being punished for their crime.
Sylvester switched to the box cutter and began slicing incisions, a swashbuckling enthusiast who enjoyed the bad angles and clipped fingers more than discovering the mystery gift hidden within.
When he finally cut off the top he saw the blue jeans, punched through with holes and gashes, bad stitching visible like a gift from Grandma Scissorhands.
He looked on curiously at first, recognizing them from the year before, but since Felicia refused to re-gift, he knew he was missing something.
“Try them on,” she encouraged.
He gave her an odd look, but was happy to obey, stripping off his pants, somewhat unsure what he’d find.
When his toe hit the inseam he started to smile, a long-teased thought now finally made real, and he dove in thigh deep, embracing his first ever pair of sandpaper pants.
He slid in his second leg and hopped them on, zippering and buttoning as he felt sandy spots scratch angrily against his legs, causing him to once again regret the societal bondage of underwear.
They felt amazingly rough, coarse and grating, causing Sylvester to grin broadly and happily before putting them to use, an impulsive bit of exercise that combined jogging, stretching, and lunging.
“They’re perfect! I love ‘em!” he finally said as he enjoyed the world’s most abrasive wedgie and peppered Felicia with grateful hugs and kisses.
“Great,” smiled Felicia, her good side taking the rare bow. “I wanted to get something for you for once! These’re guaranteed to remove all the hair from your legs and at least a layer or two of skin!”
Sylvester couldn’t stop beaming as he began to dance in place, slow-grinding into his own body.
Felicia smiled even wider, knowing the hook was barely baited. “OK, one more. You ready?”
“I get two presents this year?” he sang. “Sure, bring it on! But I’m not sure you can top this.”
And with that, Felicia stood up and wordlessly left the apartment, Sylvester looking after her, his hips still gyrating, unsure if he was meant to follow or wait.
Minutes ticked by as he played with his pants and admired her stitchwork. He amused himself with the box cutter and the scissors, teasing new holes in his barely stable pants, before finally committing to removing his boxers and properly enjoying the gift.
Felicia finally returned 15 minutes later, Sylvester now splayed comfortably on the couch, his pants hiked up to his navel. He sat up immediately, curious about the pet carrier she was shielding with her body, certain that Tasmanian devils were still not capable of being housebroken.
“What is it? A new dog? Better not be a cat…” he began, already envisioning litter box duty and wondering how that could possibly beat sandpaper pants.
Felicia settled the carrier in the corner and squeezed open the door, swinging it wide, before settling behind Sylvester and wrapping her arms around him.
“You’re gonna love this…” she whispered in his ear as her nails traced white lines in his neck.
And then they watched. And they waited.
But nothing came out.
Sylvester tried to adjust his seat and get a better view, but Felicia held him down. “You need to let him get comfortable first,” she said in a soft voice completely unlike her own.
“What is it?” asked Sylvester, getting a sense of curious excitement as his nerves started to flutter.
“It’s your perfect pet.”
From the shadows of the cage dark eyes blinked awake and peered out, a small nose poking its way past the cage edge, sniffing the air, before disappearing again. And then, a tentative step. Then another. And finally, Sylvester could make out what it was that was nervously inching its way out of the carrier. His voice was soft at first, rising in pitch as the excitement took over.
“Is that a porcupine?! You got me a pet porcupine??”
The poor creature’s quills poofed like a blowfish at the loud voice as its eyes went wide and small and it tried desperately to scamper backwards into its carrier, its inflated posterior blocking the way like an open umbrella.
Sylvester slid to his knees and dropped his voice to a whisper and gingerly held out his hand towards the frightened creature as he smiled broadly.
“Hey, fella…I’m sorry…shhhh….it’s ok…”
Felicia smiled at him. “I heard they make pretty swell pets once they get used to you.”
Sylvester’s voice was barely above a fly’s whisper now, “I didn’t even know you could get one! Where? How? Oh man, I always wanted to pet these things at zoos, but they wouldn’t let me…”
“A friend of a friend who lives outside the city. Fluke kinda thing, but when I heard about him needing a home I knew he was perfect for you.”
The porcupine inched its way out again, sniffing and pawing and taking in the surroundings, its quills still up, nervous and on guard, slowly but curiously making its way towards Sylvester’s still outstretched hand.
It took all of Sylvester’s restraint not to rush in with a bear hug and pepper it with unexpected kisses, vibrating goosebumps of excitement quietly forcing their way through him.
The porcupine had begun testing the carpeting, deciding whether the strange alien surface could bare his weight, seeming to dance and hop between legs as he learned to enjoy the squishiness of Berber.
They watched as their new roommate circled and sniffed, exploring his new territory, taking in his new home, and wondering about the awkward smell of ointment and bandages that surrounded him.
Sylvester slowly leaned over and gave Felicia a kiss. “This is the best birthday ever. Sandpaper pants and a porcupine. Do you know me or what?”
“Glad you like them. Gotta pick out a good name for him now.”
“Yeah, but first I gotta pet him…”
But before he could pet him, the porcupine suddenly fell forward, face-planting on the carpet, stone cold asleep.
It was then that Sylvester discovered that porcupines could have narcolepsy.