By Attila Zønn
“…now make a left. Don’t drive so fast there’s deer around here. Just ahead here, make a right. Slow down. You’re gonna miss the entrance. Slow down. Here. Turn left. Past that sign make a right. Look at all this garbage at the side of the road. People got no respect for nature. Okay, next left.”
On we went for another half hour as he directed, left, right, slow down, deer. On asphalt road, gravel road, dirt road, the tires kicking up dust in the rear-view mirror, as he dug into his onion rings, as my burger got cold. Onward through high brush, between tall bulrushes, over a decaying racoon in the middle of the road, and then there was a forest. Then beyond, we drove into a clearing.
“The edge of forever,” Ludy said. “What a view.”
The “edge of forever” was a vista of eroded sandy cliffs. I drove to the edge and put the car in park. A creek flowed around a treed island at the bottom.
“You’re too close to the edge. Back it up a bit,” Ludy said.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s eat.” He unwrapped his burger, crushed it between his hands and took a big bite. He chewed big and noisy.
“Mm. I love this flavor,” he said. “Good beef—all of it. One hundred percent. You can really taste the cow. Can you taste the cow?”
“It’s good,” I said, but my burger would have tasted better if it were warm.
We chewed on.
“David. You ever look into a cow’s eyes?”
“They’re kinda soft, aren’t they? They got those long eyelashes. When they look at you it’s like they want to tell you something—like they want to tell you a story. I bet, if a cow could tell a story, it would be a love story.”
We chewed and chewed.
“I had a pet cow once,” he said.
“Was her name Elsie?”
He thought a moment. “No, it was Maria. She was a dancing cow. Every time she saw me she did this little sideways step, she’d shake her head, then jog over to me.”
“You had a cow in the city?”
“No, at my uncle’s farm. Me and Fred used to spend our summers up at my uncle’s farm, near Orangeville. It was no vacation. He made us work.
“There’s something natural about waking up in the morning, seeing the dew on the grass, smelling cow shit, horse shit, you know? He had twelve cows, a couple of gray horses that didn’t do much except chew grass all day, some goats mixed in with the some sheep, pigs and chickens. Those fucking chickens. Everywhere you went they were under foot. My uncle let them go wherever they wanted. One time I was eating lunch in the kitchen. It was hot, the window was open. I hear a cluck, and there’s a chicken sitting on the window sill staring at me. Dirty fucking bird. I’ll never eat chicken.
“Maria’s mother wasn’t in good shape. Once we pulled Maria out of her, the cow went into a seizure and that was that. So we had this motherless calf, and I was in charge of bottle feeding it. She followed me everywhere. Sometimes I’d sleep in the barn with her. We had a relationship. They’ve got personalities, you know? They’re not stupid animals chewing cud all day. It was hard to leave her at the end of the summer. But the next summer when I went back, the first thing I did was go to the field and she came out of the herd to greet me. She remembered.”
“You can tell the cow’s apart?”
“Of course you can. If you’re around them long enough. We had a great summer. Every Sunday, when my uncle and Fred went to church, me and Maria would go down to the stream, and it was so peaceful just me and her. That’s a memory that makes me happy.
“But then the next summer, I’m standing there looking at the herd but Maria didn’t come out to greet me. So I walked among them, looking for Maria, but no Maria. I looked in the barn – no Maria. Maria was gone.
“That evening, we’re sitting down to dinner—my uncle was an old school wop, only spoke enough English to get by, but his favorite food was Mexican. Anything Mexican. Go figure. I don’t mind the stuff, but every night? And it was super hot. It really abused your asshole the next day. But that’s what he cooked so that’s what we ate. After dinner we’d be sitting around, maybe watching a little TV and it started—my uncle ripped some lethal farts. And then it was Fred’s turn, then me. You couldn’t help it. Man, we filled that room. And when you stood up? Your head was in a fart cloud circulating above us. Anyhow, I asked him where Maria was. He looked puzzled. ‘Which one’s Maria?’ ‘The dancing one,’ I said. ‘Oh,’ he said, and pointed to the bowl of ground beef on the table. He said, ‘The rest of her’s in the freezer. Go down say hello.’
“When he said that, I lost my appetite.” He paused. “I had a shitty summer that summer. I was bummed, depressed, that I’d never look into her eyes again, never feel that peace that her beautiful eyes gave me.”
“I cringe at the slaughter, but still I eat the meat.”
“It’s a saying. How people get teary eyed at the thought of butchering animals, but then have no problem eating them.”
“Hey, I don’t have a problem slaughtering animals for meat. That’s what they’re there for. Why else would we have so many of them? I was watching this show the other night. They said the cow was the first animal man domesticated that allowed them to stay in one place instead of migrating around.”
“I thought the dog was the first domesticated animal.”
“I’m talking about an animal you can eat. You can’t eat a dog.”
“If it wasn’t for the cow humans would still be living in caves.”
“You really like watching that shit?”
“It’s not shit. It’s educational. It’s informative. Better than watching some cliche comedy with a laugh track. You really surprise me sometimes. You know so much, yet you’re pretty stupid about nature.”
“What happened to Maria?”
“She stepped in a groundhog hole and broke a leg. There’s not much you can do after that except put her out of her misery and chop her up. I always wondered why her? Any other cow could have stepped in that hole. Why her?”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2019