Ruth Gila Berger

Encounter with an Animal


My little gargoyle is gone. I found him already cold. His yellow snaky eyes, no more, still yellow, not right. Cornish rex, I’ve been explaining him as not-a-hairless-cat for years. He has only one layer of fur, marcelled waves. Got a little pooch on his belly which might look hairless to somebody.

I’m going to put a time stamp on this. My forty-fifth year. My wife, Christi, not home. Summer. I was on the phone, laughing. Maybe it was an important conversation. It was. Except my heart is now one of those metal cans that guilt blooms up in white tarnish. Of this, my eyes will never be clean. His heart just stopped, no doubt. If I had not sat in the dining room for two hours I might have scared him back. Clap-clap. Instead big alien ears stiff, one against the floor. And a little spit leaked from his mouth open, even that short fur squished. His expressive teeth. (We’ve all laughed at those pictures of cats and their vampiric yawns). The dead don’t know they are awkward, or of the costumish grotesque they make our living bodies feel. I moved him like a rag on the floor, back an inch, forward an inch. I patted him. The minutes tick-ticked. I didn’t scream. I knocked on my housemates’ door. The first time in his tenure with us there. My cat’s dead. I went back to the corner of my bed. Mike came in. Oh, he said. Do you want to move him? (No, you’re not going to be the big man). The Navy seal, me and my wife’s good friend, the grandfather, his scrawny calves—a point of vanity—why I thought of them, because I never stop noticing anyone else’s painful irrelevancies. Burden, burden. I shook my head and he stood there. Sometimes a downcast head is all the comfort anyone needs. The once-cat, now heavier than the weight of God could ever be presumed to be, and still under it, we breathed.

Nobody escapes childhood without their crown of ghosts.

And that life, with my gargoyle.

  • If I am at my desk between nine o’ eight and eleven he will come and run about my chair.
  • Nails click-click.
  • He will stop to the left of my legs facing away, turn his head to me, yowl, flick his tail and do another circle.
  • Twenty minutes.
  • If Christi is in bed she will call and he might detour to curl up in her throat.
  • Suffocating me, she’ll say
  • And he’ll be back to circling.
  • You have never seen such a dirty cat.
  • At seventeen his white chest is a Camel Filter.
  • His ears are a fully layered Jackson Pollack despite Christi’s best efforts to keep them clean. (Obviously no cigarette butts in the muck but the image holds.)
  • If I try to pick him up he Gumbies or crouches suddenly two pounds heavier than the solid muscled seven he already is.
  • Sometimes I put him under the covers on the guest bed next to me and roughly pet him over the layers exactly as he likes it.
  • I have a roughly thirty percent chance of him staying put. Otherwise again the yowl and circle.
  • Fucking cat, I call him.
  • When I go to bed I carry and drop him on the bed.
  • He maneuvers to get between me and Christi.
  • Fucking perv, she calls him.
  • I flip him over to my other side and tuck him into the crook of my arm against my heart.
  • Fucking Ritzo.
  • We battle over the nuance of his position.
  • He purrs.
  • I don’t know who wins.
  • I sleep.
  • Day after day after day.
  • He has other antics.
  • Christi tells a story of how she put down a too big pile of nip-nip.
  • Fucking fiend, she said.
  • He ate the whole thing and stood there wavering on his feet like a cartoon.
  • Are you okay Ritzo? she asked and he pitched forward for a second, yowled and vomited green.
  • Poor guy.
  • There was no way we weren’t laughing.
  • We laugh about it still.
  • That my cat was a drug addict came as no surprise.
  • As a young thing he grew up being swatted away from the coke plate.
  • When Christi and her big Siamese Gepetto moved in Ritzo dogged him.
  • He was in love.
  • Gepetto was having none of him.
  • Rough trade kitty we called him for his scratched-up face.

When Gepetto’s lungs started to fray and we gave him prednisone Ritzo would come running. Shake a pill bottle. During my long-ago spin in rehab there was an exercise where the counselors laid paraphernalia around. So easy to tick off everyone’s weakness then. Chicka-chicka the shake of a pill bottle, and well, my head swiveled. Breath in that moment a knife. One guy looked down at a needle, bellowed fuck you and stormed out. Chicka-chicka. Now Ritzo too. He jumps on the chair after Gepetto and raises a paw up like a show cat to beg. When he gets to the point of medication Christi and I laugh, it’s so easy. Shake a pill bottle he comes running. Ritzo loves his pills. Big boy, Christi says. So big. He purrs and squats on her lap. Little gargoyle, looking a little beat. He has his teabag phase. Where he stands over the used one. Doesn’t lick them. Doesn’t try to eat them. Just hovers over inhaling. Fucking cat, off the table. What I say matters nothing. He’ll be back and amused, Christi lets him inhale over her chamomile tea. He’s gone now.



Ruth Gila Berger looks out the window and listens to local crows for inspiration. She is currently also published by Arts & Letters; she was a finalist in their Nonfiction Contest. More of her work can be found in Slice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and Creative Nonfiction.