Cows are immutable by nature, so it was no easy feat coaxing her into the back of the truck. It is hard to persuade a cow, but left to their own ingenuity, two college juniors will eventually figure something out. Riding in the back of a truck was always something I thought was sort of fun, but riding in the back of a truck with a stolen cow was even more fun because of the added danger. I had been looking forward to drinking beer, missing the backboard entirely, blaming it all on the booze, and trying once again to flirt with Molly the barkeep. But all my life I had been prone to let the world lead me where it may, and that summer was especially so. This cow was the most exciting thing to happen in a while. I decided to name her Apocalypse.
We led her into the backyard and shut the gate. One of the advantages of the house was the tall, wooden privacy fence. Our cow would be safe from the target practice of passing rednecks, and we would be safe from discovery. No one would ever suspect that we had stolen a cow. Absent visual suspicion, how would it ever even come up in conversation? As long as we could hide her from the landlord, we’d only have to mow the front yard, we would get free milk and butter, and we could sell the leftovers to the neighbors. "We could even call it organic," drawled Jeff. "We ain’t got no chemicals back here."
The next day we wondered what to do with all the cow shit. I shoveled two still-moist pies into a Piggly Wiggly shopping bag and hurled it into the trash in the alley across the street. The bottom of the bag ripped out as I swung it around, and cow manure sprayed the front of the dumpster. This was going to require much more delicacy than I had anticipated.
I was always kind of a loser when it came to ladies. Mostly I wanted the ones I couldn’t have, and the ones who wanted me I hadn’t enough sense to recognize. Molly at the Drink and Drunk seemed to go for the boys who were better at basketball than I was, but I thought the cow might give me an opening. I approached her and ordered a Shiner Bock, and as I waited for her to draw it, I asked, "Did you ever play basketball on a team, Molly?"
"The Lady Lions."
"The Lady Firemen."
We had gotten pretty good at milking her, disposing of poop, and once we had practiced with the churn a few times, making butter. When Molly came by to meet Apocalypse, we had fresh milk, cream, and unsalted butter. Molly was much obliged, and she even gave me a peck on the lips. Things were looking up, but I could tell something was troubling her. "What’s wrong?" I asked.
As soon as Molly left, I approached Jeff in the kitchen. "Does this taste good?" He shoved a spoonful of something fatty and over-sweetened into my mouth.
"What if she gets off the leash and bites someone?"
"We could always say she ran away or got run over."
"No." It was decided that between the hours of midnight and two AM one of us would walk Apocalypse around the block each night. I took the belt out of an old bathrobe and tied it around her neck with gentle precision. I found that she allowed herself to be led quite easily. I said to the cow, "I think Molly likes me, and I owe it all to you." The cow said nothing, so we walked in silence. Half-way around the block, she had a body function, and I shoveled it into a storm drain.
The old man passed on the ice cream, and we let Apocalypse out of the house. I led her over to a patch of tall grass and tried to persuade her to eat. She looked at me mutely with sad, liquid eyes. I gave her a hug. She began to pee.
"Did you house train her?" asked Jeff.
The ice cream was much better, and when we went to the farmers’ market with our weekly load of milk, whipping cream, and butter, we brought along a carton of it to spoon out for samples. "I like it best with fresh, organic peaches," I would say to people, who invariably wanted to know when we would be selling it. When we got home, Jeff kicked it into high gear. He milked and milked until finally Apocalypse mooed plaintively every time he touched an udder.
Still, I knew it couldn’t last. The approach of September caused a dull ache in the back of my mind. We would be working more and taking classes again. The influx of students would
give Molly more choices, and she would eventually leave me. That was the way of the world, and it seemed like I was helpless to stop it.Jeff and I played baseball on his Nintendo. He struck me out, and my players took the field.
"The more I try to hold onto the world, the more it seems to escape me," I said.
"So it goes," I said.
Painting for The Front View by Lori Andrews
About The Author:
Todd Heldt has published poetry and prose in dozens of journals, including Birmingham Poetry Review, Borderlands, Chattahoochee Review, Sycamore Review, and Laurel Review. In recent years, he won 2nd place in the 8th Annual Poetry Superhighway Poetry Contest, was a nominee for a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist in the Cleveland State University first book competition.
His first novel, "Before You Were a Prophet," was serialized at The Hiss Quarterly and is now available through Lulu, Inc. It’s a humorous tale about death, guilt, god, rednecks, kleptomania, and William Carlos Williams scholars. In October of 2009, Ghost Road Press will publish Todd's full-length collection of poetry, "Card Tricks for the Starving."
When he's not feeding alligators at the Lincoln Park Zoo he's probably hanging out with his wife, Kelly, and flying kites.