Monday, October 1, 2012

MMWUC: On Vacation, Writing, and Cows

My question three weeks ago was: Can writers go on vacation?

My answer is: No. As long as there is a story in our mind or one that needs editing or an email reply, Facebook retort, Twitter wisecrack, LinkedIn comment to answer, the truth is, writer's love words and love sharing them. I don't believe a writer can go on vacation like a research scientist. True, the scientist can think about work, but I'm sure they don't take electron microscopes on vacation as easily as a writer takes a pad of paper and pencil as the minimal tool set.

Could you write here?
Thanks goodness for the lack of a vacation. Even cows standing in the fields inspire stories.

Cow stops chewing and asks, "We do?"

- - - BESSIE - - -

Bessie snorted. She cleared her massive air passages just as the crow landed on her back. She snorted again. Bessie mooed; the crow cawed. It was--

"Hello again. How are you?"

"Fine, thanks. Nice batch of yummy, fat flies hanging around you today."

The crow had been doing this since the middle of the hot time, when Bessie just didn't seem to want to eat any more like the other cows who grazed all day across the big pasture. She only moved when she needed to. She would eat at the corner of the old barn then waddle to the shade of the oak tree to rest and then tromp down to the watering hole. She repeated this six or seven times a day. She'd nibble on grass either side of the path she had created, tossed her feces as fertilizer for a new batch of sweet grass, and allowed her hooves to break the hard ground so that seeds could get a foothold. Every time she had her fill of water and left for the old, rickety barn, the crow would alight on her back. This happened all day long, except for milking time in the milking barn, a time she'd come to dread.

The first time the crow landed on her back, Bessie got scared. She bucked the crow off. The crow cawed several times. It was--

"How rude. What did I do? Just hungry. A bit tired. Your big; I'm small."

After two more times with the crow landing with a bit more warning beforehand, Bessie had accepted and even looked forward to the crow's scratchy massage of her back. Her tail couldn't reach some places to shoo away the flies any longer and a annoying itch remained from years ago when the man put a harness on her daily and made her walk in circles for hours, listening to the irritating sound of a grinding wheel. She hated the harness and despised the walks in the sweltering heat of the barn that had no air movement. She also hated the milk machine as it bled her dry and then some. He wanted every last drop of milk she could produce. Her teats hurt all the time.

So, the crow hitched a ride three to five times a day now, even as the weather cooled. Bessie didn't say much more than an occasional moo while the crow cawed incessantly. It was--

"See the hawk. Hate the hawk. Why'd the chicken cross the road? What's a road? Ha ha! No seriously, what's a road? Look Buzzards. Oh no! There's the man. Gotta go."

Bessie usually just mooed, "Uh huh." After arriving at her spot near the old, run-down barn, Bessie would head butt it, making some hay that was stored above fall down, and then wait for the mice to get some grain before she ate. Bessie hated mice; the crow was nice enough to pick them up and take them away, removing them from Bessie's sight. It had been much better since the crow had arrived.

Today though, she didn't like the fragrance wafting in the wind, but understood the nature of man and the season of cows disappearing into smelly building. She knew lack of milk production was an issue. She knew it was nearing her time to disappear into the smelly building. It was routine.

She stood there thinking that she had tried her best to keep up with expected fifty-five pounds of milk per day and dutifully walked into the barn morning, noon, and night for milking. It was routine. Cows like routine; she liked routine. However, she was getting on in years. Early in the summer, she could only muster about forty pounds per day. It didn't help that the man would slap her on the backside more often when she lagged behind with filling the tank. The slap on her leaner side just made her tense, and the flow would slow up. She leaked milk now on her path occasionally when the tension eased after milking. The man, more than once, said it was unacceptable. Now, she was lucky she could pump out twenty pounds even with the man encouraging her to try harder.

"Stupid cow. You cost too much to feed. You'll be a side before long." Another slap on the hind quarters. "Should have never allowed the kids to name you. But they're out of the house. Gone. What they don't know won't hurt them." He cackled and moved on to the next cow.

Bessie would try to explain. "Moo." The man wasn't interested in explanations. She'd ask, "Moo. What's a side?" He never answered her questions.

The crow alighted as usual after Bessie took a few mouthfuls of water. Her thirst wasn't what it used to be. She turned and headed back to the old dilapidated barn. The crow talked as usual. It was--

"Cold last night. Saw frost. Kids fledged this morning. Life is good. Did you catch the Packer game last night? What's a packer? Ha ha! You're moving slow today. Are you okay?"

They'd reached the barn; she head-butted it; mice scurried; the crow caught two. Amazing, Bessie thought.

Pop! The sound made Bessie flinch. Something dropped from the sky onto the crow. He dropped his mice. Bessie backed up a few feet. The man came running. The crow was flopping on the ground in a net. It was--

"What is this fresh hell? How do I get out? I don't like this. Where are my mice? Oh no! There's the man. Gotta go. Can't! What is this fresh hell?"

"Gotcha." The man exclaimed. "You black-devil, corn-stealing thief of a bird."

Bessie watched the man extract the crow from under the net. He put a bag over the crow's head. It didn't stop the crow from cursing the man and calling out a word of caution to the other crows gathering nearby not get too close to the man. It was--

"Save yourselves."

Bessie listened. She realized that the multiple voices from the gathering crows were his family: father and mother, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and three of his kids, about twenty altogether, though Bessie wasn't very good at math. They were all screaming for the man to let the crow go. Bessie chewed her cud, confused. This is not the routine. The crow scratched the man several times, and before the man got the bag over the crow's head, the crow had bitten him twice. Feisty. Bessie had heard the man call the old gray mare that once. It fit this scene. The man carried the crow to the smelly building, and Bessie wondered if the crow was going to become a side. Whatever that was.

Later, the man came back outside. He had tied a dried corn cob with the husky tassel end hanging down to a small bit of twine. He had tied the other end to the crow's feet. Was the farmer giving the crows something to eat?

The farmer held up the crow, displaying him to the other crows who'd become silent. "Y'all get your noisy, crop stealing selves out of here or one by one I'll do the same to all of you. I know your routine."

The man pulled out a small stick. It was a special stick. Bessie had seen it before and didn't like it. The man used it to make fire for the other thing he put in his mouth, cigarette. Bessie was very much afraid of fire. She stomped the ground and backed up a few more feet. She was glad the other cows were out in the big field. Fire had made them run stupid in the past, and she didn't feel like running, but she didn't want to be near the other cows or the fire. It was hot, it hurt, it smelled, it made other things catch on fire. And then, there would be more fire, and the other cows would run. And she couldn't run fast any longer. She did not want to die in a stampede. That would be stupid.

Bessie looked on in horror. The man whipped the bag off the crow's head, and then lit the stick. The stick lit the husk on fire. "Here take this back to your nest." He let the crow go with the husk on fire. Flames licked up to the crow's behind. The crow flew. The farmer laughed. "Die. Ha ha! Burn, baby, burn." The crow screamed his caws. The other crows screamed back. "What do we do? What do we do?" The crow could barely fly, but he rose, flames tickling his tail feathers. The effort was difficult. He screamed his caw. It was--

"It hurts! It hurts! Damn, it hurts!"

He went to the farmer's house and barely made it to the roof. The farmer stopped laughing. He ran at the crow. "Get the hell off my roof." He picked up a rock and threw it at the crow. The crow obliged and started flying again. He was screaming louder and more often. The other crows were screaming. Bessie was mooing, shedding great big tears to the ground, because she knew this was wrong on so many levels, but didn't understand why.

The exhausted crow paused on the smelly building before the farmer threw rocks at him again. He flew off the smelly building after a small rock nicked him. The farmer turned to his house. The burning husk of the cob had caught the roof on fire. The man ran to the hose. The crow landed on the milking barn with a thud. He cawed. It was-

"Help me. Help me."

Bessie mooed. The crow glided down to Bessie, plopping on the ground in front of her. The first of the crow's long tail feathers had caught fire, the singed smell was repugnant to Bessie. She stepped forward and sniffed the crow. Smoked filled her nose. The fire flickered at her snout. She snorted, and for a moment, the fire retreated. Bessie snorted again with all her might, and despite the pain of the fire brushing up against her cheek, she chewed through the twine, and brushed the freed crow away from the flaming cob. The crow had just enough energy to flap up onto her back. With crow aboard, digging his claws into her hide, she rain to the water hole with the memory of being a calf, running endlessly against the wind and flopping without a care into the water arose. Long forgotten feelings erupted: freedom, happiness, and joy.

She barreled into the cool water. The crow fell in with her. She stuck her whole head under the water.

When she pulled her head out of the water, the pain was still there, but not as intense. The crow, with wings outstretched, floated on the surface like a strange duck. He cawed in relief; she mooed a laugh. Ducks always made her laugh. The other crows had gathered around and were all cawing so loud and at the same time that Bessie couldn't understand what they were saying. The crow farted in the water; all the crows laughed their caws.

A scream erupted behind her, and Bessie turned around to see the milking barn glowing bright yellow and red from the flames. Smoke filled the air. The man was spraying his hose everywhere, but all the buildings were burning, except the dilapidated barn where the Bessie's hay was stored.

Hours later, Bessie sat under the oak tree, exhausted. The crow sat on her back, still and quiet. The rest of the crow family had gone back to their nests. Many other men had come and gone. The house, the smelly building, and the barn were black, smoldering heaps on the ground. Bessie's barn mates had been moved on to other fields or barns. It was routine. They had to be milked. Bessie would sleep under the oak tree tonight. The man in the white coat felt that was best.

"Take some time to rest old gal," he had said.

Some milk had squeezed out of Bessie when she lay down, a bunch of mice and a barn cat from the milking barn had called a truce and lapped up the milk. The spillage was enough to make Bessie feel comfortable. The man in the white coat had gently rubbed something on her snout and cheek earlier. It had made her face feel better, and she had allowed the crow to wipe the tips of his burnt tail feathers in greasy ointment. It seemed to make him happy.

The light was fading; the wind had changed direction and a gentle cool breeze replaced the acrid smell. A big moon rose in the sky. She hoped she'd have the dream where she jumped the moon. It was such a pleasant dream. In the dream she was weightless and without a care.

Bessie's Dream
Over by the milking barn, the man was sobbing. Bessie felt sorry for him. A man in blue stood next to him, writing something down on a piece of paper. "Just how much corn could that crow have been stealing?" The man shrugged his shoulder, shook his head, and sobbed harder.

The crow cawed once: It was--

"Thanks." He bent his head backwards into his folded wings.

Bessie sighed a deep long moo. She thought about the weird day. She was so tired. More tired than she'd ever been. The man's actions hadn't been part of the routine, and she wondered what it all meant, but Bessie didn't have deep thoughts. She was just a cow and glad the fire hadn't done any real damage. The other cows were milked and safe; the crow lived; the man was still there to fix the routine. She chewed her cud a few times, snorted, then went to sleep for the last time.

- - - THE END - - -

Coming 11/1/12, a new novel by Rick Bylina - SECRETS - How do you move on when you wife dies and you're accused of doing it?

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