The Dead Cat in the Freezer
A personal note: The story of "Eating an Island"
If you like my writing, please share and subscribe. -JRS
The writing process is queer. Sometimes you start with almost nothing, at most a nod or suggestion, and, Seamus Heaney-like, you begin digging. It can be a fitful, frustrating process, this act of solitary excavation – but rewarding in equal measure, when you do strike something solid and the writing takes shape.
Occasionally, however, the idea comes to you fully formed, absolute – from a “muse”, maybe – and you need only take notes or transcribe it. Such was Eating an Island when it knocked on the door of my mind, ten years ago.
I was thirty-four and living in Montreal, a city I had called home since my mid-twenties. At the time, I shared an apartment with a man who made a living by doing construction, fixing and flipping bikes from his bedroom, and cheating on his taxes. His ancient cat, over two decades in age, palsied about the place, its fur matted and stinking, its eyes clouded to near-blindness.
The apartment sat atop an Irish pub that hosted live music every night of the week. My bedroom, a small square with a skylight, lay above the stage, and I learned to sleep with earplugs in. The furnishings comprised a mattress on the floor, a desk and a chair. In the mornings, I would tilt the bed up against the wall, sweep off the floor, pull out the chair, and sit down to work – doing, as I do still, freelance translation.
What brought me, at that age, to that modest apartment and minute bedroom-office was a few years of bad luck and bad decisions (the latter often follows the former). In fact, behind me lay a constellation of calamities: divorce, a negligent prescription of SSRIs, a cataclysmal encounter with a fugitive con artist and sociopath, a stretch of acute suicidality, bankruptcy (financial, probably moral) and the embers of just about every bridge I’d built.
Problems like these life deals to us all, of course – malady, financial ruin, natural disaster, you name it; in my case, the losing hands hit the table in quick succession, one after another, leaving me rather rapidly broke and broken.
And so it was there, in that humble apartment with the malodorous but adorable cat, that I’d begun the slow, unsteady process of assembling a life anew.
Writing was a part of that life. Like many, I had long wanted to “be a writer”, but had rarely done the thing that writers do. On the advice of a helpful therapist – unrelated to the therapy itself – I’d established a habit of two pages per day, first thing in the morning. Short stories, mostly. That routine continued for about a year and a half, begetting a handful of completed pieces, two or three of which I still like, ten years on.
The practice also brought me Eating an Island – not a newsletter, but a cookbook. I’ll tell you more about that soon.
As for the cat, it died come winter the following year, its ending practically aristocratic – i.e. slow, at home in its bed, in the company of a loved one. My roommate, taken with grief, built a small pine casket, and planned to bury it on a family campsite up north. The ground being frozen, that would have to wait, of course; so the slim crate he stored in the freezer, to gather frost beneath the green peas and the dumplings, until the spring thaw.
When I moved out that summer, the cat was still there.
Thanks for reading Eating an Island! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support independent writing in Newfoundland and Labrador.