The Truth about Cows

Nana always warned me not to underestimate the milk sows but Grand Pap said not to mind her. Said she was a bit loopy ever since she ran the combine into the barn after one too many half glasses of red blend. Still, when I was little I used to sit on the big flat boulder in the middle of the back field and watch them for hours. I wanted to believe Nana. So I watched and waited for one of them to surprise me. I waited and waited and waited but they never did anything out of the ordinary. For hours on end I watched as they chewed their cud or started over again ripping fresh blades of grass from the earth. Sometimes they just stopped and stood there, napping on their feet. The cows were mostly silent. They didn’t moo to each other in conversation. Their vacant stares were fixed to one spot for up to an hour at a time. Every so often a pair of eyes would land on me—a pair of slippery black coals hidden behind long sad lashes. Nothing. They just stared. I don’t know if I thought eventually one of them was going to open her mouth and talk to me or what, but every time their eyes shifted to me my heart skipped a beat and I waited for that black and white beast to amaze me.
Later I would beg Nana, “Just tell me. Please!” And Nana would smirk and part her lips with her wrinkled fingers and for just a split second I would think she was going to spill the beans and tell me the truth about cows, but she never did. Instead, she’d bite her lips in half smile and repeat the same reminder—never underestimate the milk sows.
Grand Pap caught me out there on that rock more times than I could count. Most times he’d laugh at me, tell me I was wasting my time and to get back to my homework. Until one time he was in a foul, sarcastic mood. He snapped at me. “Why would they do anything with you staring at them like that? You’d be better off hiding in them bushes.” He didn’t mean it, he was just sick of finding me out in the field acting like a milk sow myself (the hours of nothing, not the cud chewing—just to be clear). But I didn’t care. At the time I thought his snarky words were brilliant! The next day when I went out to watch the cows I hid in the bushes just like Gran Pap suggested. And I waited.
They still didn’t do anything.
But the day after that they did. Well, one of them did. And she did it before I got there so I didn’t exactly witness it. When I reached the kine she was already standing on the big flat rock in the middle of the field. I still have no idea how she got up there. Or how she got back down. She just stood there, staring at me with her eyes like big black holes, and I stood there staring back at her until the hair on my arms stood on end. A crow screamed in the distance and I backed away, out of the field. I didn’t turn around until I had the farmhouse in my sights. That night when Nana reminded me the blood went cold in my veins.
That was the last time I went out to that field. Until today. Until Nana went missing.
I was sure she would be there! So sure!
Never underestimate the milk sows.
I climbed onto the flat rock where the Holstein had stood the last time I was here. I stood on it like she had and looked around at the field. Nana wasn’t there. So I waited and waited—just like I did as a kid. My legs grew weary so I sat. The sky grew dark so laid down. I don’t know when I fell asleep but I woke to Nana’s giant head in the sky.
Never underestimate the milk sows.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slow. The next time I woke it was morning and the cows were gone. I stood and jumped off the boulder, dusted myself off. I needed coffee—black coffee and a cigarette.
There’s a diner downtown where my friend is a regular. Any day of the week I can find him there from eight to three, at the last sidewalk table, a bottomless cup of coffee and a half full ashtray pushed to the edge of the table to make room for his laptop. This time he had half a glazed doughnut on his lap and crumbs on his keyboard. I sat across from him but he didn’t so much as acknowledge me.
“Hi.”
His eyes darted back and forth across the screen. He croaked, “Hi.”
“I still don’t know the truth about cows.”
“I know,” he says without looking up.
I sighed in defeat. That is when a hooligan in a black leather jacket sprinted past us followed by an old woman in house shoes and a duster. I knew that duster! “Nana!”
I took off after them. I called after my Nana but she ignored me. She kept chasing him without looking back at me once. Half-way down the block the hooligan ran out of breath. Nana caught up with him in just a few strides. She grabbed him by his collar and shouted in his face, “I said give me your wallet you fucking punk!”