I’ve seen a look in animals’ eyes, a quickly vanishing
look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basicallyanimals think humans are nuts.
-- John Steinbeck
Joady was no ordinary Angus because fate had endowed him with the ability to discern human intentions and although that may have seemed a great gift it proved more a horrible burden to the omniscient bovine for he knew he was destined for the slaughterhouse. As is the sad plight of most cattle, he had the misfortune of being born into a world that wished to devour him—one that saw him only as porterhouse, sirloin, T-bone, rib eye, and flank steak. Humans fed him not out of compassion but so they could more sumptuously feast on him. Indeed, nobody took Joady’s feelings into account, and he had feelings . . . profound feelings. Foremost among them was a passionate desire to avoid the human dinner table.
The perceptive steer could tell the end was near because the herd had been placed in a holding area and watered and fed at an unusual time. Something was up and he knew what it was. In order to escape his imminent demise he had to do something that would catch the attention of his soon-to-be executioners, that would distinguish him from his unknowing and unsuspecting kin. If he could display some unique talent, he might be spared, he thought, and perhaps his being spared might lead to the others being spared as well. Surely they would not kill a cow that could sing, would they? So he moved to where a group of men wearing Stetsons congregated beyond the holding fence and broke into song. First he performed an aria from Puccini, but he got no response from the humans. Surmising they were not into opera, he then crooned a spirited rendition of “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, but his heartfelt interpretation of the Man in Black’s hit only caused a bucket of water to be thrown at him.
“That damn cow’s mooing is drivin’ me nuts,” exclaimed the attacker to his amused associates.
Joady then decided to pull out the stops and perform the Andrew Lloyd Weber songbook thinking it might result in his salvation, but as soon as he launched into “Music of the Night,” another bucket of water was heaved in his direction.
“ You won’t be bellowing like that much longer you crazy critter,” shouted the unappreciative human.
Clearly cowpokes had little music appreciation, Joady sadly concluded. So what could he do next to gain their admiration? After a few seconds, he came upon another idea. He would dazzle them with dance. With his rump he pushed away a few of the curious cows that had gathered near him to make room to do a tango. The “La Giralda” was certain to gain his reprieve he mused while executing a perfect boleo.
As he gracefully pranced around the holding pen the cowpokes looked at him with alarm for all they saw was a steer teetering from side to side.
“Maybe he got the Mad Cow Disease,” said someone in the group, and that prompted Joady to stop his high stepping immediately knowing that cattle with that affliction are quickly put down.
Feeling frustrated and more desperate, Joady searched his mind for another maneuver that might keep him from being butchered. If only they knew me, they surely would not want to kill me, he sighed, and then conceived yet another strategy. He realized people had animals as pets, and he knew they loved those animals. Perhaps he could appeal to that commendable human trait, he thought.
He ambled over to the fence where the men stood. There he poked his head through the wooden rails and playfully extended his long tongue hoping to be patted, yet instead his snout was whacked with such force by one of the men that it brought tears to his eyes, but even the huge droplets inspired no compassion.
“Scat!! Get out of here you dumb old heifer!”
It’s no use . . . the world sees no value in us beyond the plate, conceded Joady, withdrawing his head from the fence.
At that moment the door to the slaughterhouse opened and the cattle were formed into a single line and marched toward it. As Joady was prodded into the stunning box, he made a vow to his doomed brethren paraphrasing a soliloquy from his favorite book:
“I’ll be all around in the corral. I’ll be everywhere—wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so cattle can live, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cowhand twisting our tails, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way herds moo when they’re frightened—I’ll be in the way calves bleep when there’s no feed in the trough. And when the humans are eating us, I’ll be as tough as I can. And at the barbeque, I’ll sizzle with contempt over what people do, for I’ll be there, too.”
“Where will you be?” asked the man loading a stun gun.
“I didn’t say nothin’,” replied his cohort.
“Well, I sure heard someone say somethin’,” said the shooter as he rendered Joady unconscious.
* * *
Bio: Michael C. Keith is the author of many stories, articles, and books. He teaches Communication at BostonCollege.
by Roger Real Drouin
Winter comes slowly and steadily, but it still manages to sneak up. First cooler nights, then colder nights, a sheet of frost on the grass, and finally the mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed from under the thick blankets.
Long johns, layers of sweatshirts, the heavy coat, thick gloves, big boots. It wasn’t enough to keep me warm. The only thing that kept me warm was zigzag running from one side of the fortress wall to the other, dodging the incoming missiles and launching my own snowballs across the white expanse to the other snow fort.
I hid way out in left field during his one season of little league, and I couldn’t catch a football. But I could run. My legs were carrying me faster and faster. I didn’t get tired because I didn’t think of running as anything different than walking—only quicker. I leaped over my sister, who knelt down behind the wall, a pyramid of icy snow pellets before her. She was getting ready. We were outnumbered, but that didn’t matter.
Two snowballs zoomed over my head, just before another two, three, four came over at once, nailing me in the leg and back. The one in the back stung.
Then I was down behind the wall. My sister started the volley. She threw them one after the other. I joined in. Two snowballs hit the tallest boy in the chest, and another hit the fat one as he winded up. I could hear the fat boy squeal out. He cried in the same tone he made fun of me in, and that made me laugh. It’s easy to laugh at the ones who think they’re tough.
The third boy fired one at us. He fired it like a baseball pitcher. The snowball landed on her neck, and some of the snow fell down her coat. She brushed the remaining snow off her coat and kept throwing. She threw every snowball in her pile.
She was trying to hide it, but I could tell how cold she was. Once the snow gets inside your coat and shirts, touching your skin, the coldness keeps spreading. It keeps spreading until you feel like an icicle inside your bones.
She looked at the other fort.
“I’m not leaving you out here with those punks.”
I smiled. It’s nice to have a true ally on your side, especially when the sides don’t match up.
We heard the boys in the other fort talking about throwing snowballs at cars, and footsteps scurrying in the snow, the group runs off, like chickens about to be fed.
My sister headed inside. I could tell how cold she was .
I sat down in the fort, my arms on my knees, leaning my back against the high snow wall. The noise of the morning disappeared. Smoke twisted from a chimney. I curled my fingers and stretched them straight, to get the blood flowing so they wouldn’t feel so numb.
Inside an empty, well-built snow fort can be the quietest place in the world. It’s insulated from the wind and all the other things that make up reality. A hawk flew above me, heading into the woods.
I’m not sure how long I sat there. I forgot about the cold, and when I began to think about heading inside, the cold was inside my bones. I knew hot cocoa would be waiting inside. I would strip off my snow-caked layers, down to the Long johns, and stand by the radiator heater. I would hold both my hands around the big mug, the tiny marshmallows floating on top in a circle after I stirred the cocoa.
Later at night we’d see if there was anything good on TV. The three of us. Without a dad. There was nothing empty about this house, though. Mom would say, “put your feet here” and lean a little so I could put my feet under her butt. We were in it for survival; this is the warmest place to rest one’s feet.
We would end up watching the weather channel, waiting for the local forecast, waiting and watching the rest of the country, surprised it was colder in Michigan, and envious of Florida. It called for a fresh six inches, which on top of the packed snow, would make a mess of the roads. Jess did a little dance around the living room. No school for us. No school for us. The living room suddenly became our planning headquarters. The next morning, we would work on the fort, build the wall even higher to protect us and erect a bastion where we would have a clear view of the other fort.
A few hours later, I would be in my room, thinking of the intricate details of the fort. Mom would come say good night, kiss me on the cheek. When she tucked the thick comforter and the quilted blanket up to my chin, it would make me feel so warm and sleepy I forgot how cold it was outside.
Bio: Roger Real Drouin is a journalist and graduate student pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. His short stories have been published in Canopic Jar (2007 and forthcoming winter 2010) and Because We Write. His Web site is www.rogerdrouin.com
*This first appeared on the Clarity of Night Blogspot.