by Suanne Warr
I walked along the river path in a light snow fall. For miles around I could see nothing but stubbled corn fields, cows, and wispy old leaves still clinging to the trees.
I stuck out my tongue to catch a snowflake, and heard the swelling strains of The Star Spangled Banner.
I looked around. Not a soul was in sight but myself and my two-year-old, Tally, in the stroller.
“Is that you, sweetheart?” I bent over him and poked around in his blankets. Nothing.
I looked up, wary now, and studied the landscape again.
A black and white cow with a big udder walked toward me, her eyes on mine. She opened her mouth.
“... o’er the la-and of the free, and the home of the brave!” blasted straight into my face. I gasped, then edged the stroller and myself to the far side of the path.
“That’s it?” she said. “No applause? No flowers?”
“We’ve been over this, Rosy,” spoke a low voice behind me.
I jerked the stroller around to face another cow, this one with a large black spot over one eye. “It’s all about singing buggies and boxes, nowadays. Nobody wants to hear a cow low, no matter how well you place your voice.”
I put a hand to my forehead. Maybe a bit warm? Or some kind of sun-blindness that affected hearing? I looked down at Tally, then back at the first cow.
She had her head down. As I watched, she pushed a bit of snow aside with her nose and bit into the pale brown grass beneath.
Maybe I’d just been out too long without water. Dehydration, that was it. I turned the stroller around and started walking back the way we’d come.
“Hmph. No appreciation for art.”
I tipped the stroller back so it could zoom along on the rear wheels and ran for home.
The low, moody sounds of the blues chased me down the trail.
* * *
I told no one of my ‘cow encounter’, as I called it in my mind. What could I say? “Honey, did you know our neighbor’s cow is this year’s best applicant to Juilliard?”
But the incident stayed on my mind. I told my husband, Jim, it was too cold for winter walks and started walking at the mall instead. But I missed walking in the winter landscape. Missed the biting chill that made me feel alive and kept me moving.
On a Friday two weeks after the incident I sat at my computer, in the warm glow of the kitchen. I had emails to write, but I could not get the cow’s rendition of the anthem out of my head.
I selected our media player and searched for ‘Star-spangled banner’. Cows cannot sing — I must have heard the song online and gotten it stuck in my head.
I scrolled through the offerings and listened to snippets from a few, but nothing sounded right. Maybe I’d heard it on the radio.
“If you’re looking for an artist who can top Rosy, you won’t find any. Her version is the best.” My husband spoke from behind me.
I looked up at him, my face stiff. “Rosy?”
“Yeah, you know. The cow with the great voice that Mr. Tupper keeps in his river pasture?” Jim walked past me to the fridge. His voice came back a bit muffled. “I’ve been thinking, there ought to be some way we can get her some recognition. I mean, talent like that, it’d be a shame to waste it.”
He backed out of the fridge, his hands full of left-over pumpkin pie and whipped topping, and went into the family room to negotiate a channel change with his son.
I stared after him for a full five minutes by the clock. Then I clicked on my search bar and typed in, ‘delusions’. If that didn’t pull anything up, I could try ‘mental health’, or ‘anxiety attack’.
I didn’t feel stressed out, but maybe I was just in denial.
* * *
Two days later I was feeding Tally his dinner when I heard Jim come in. He was talking to someone and sounded excited.
“Sara, you remember Mr. Tupper, our neighbor?” he said. “I’ve brought him over to show him around eBay. We’re thinking there might be some recording equipment on the cheap that we could pick up.”
Mr. Tupper nodded to me, but spoke to Jim. “Now, really, I’m not sure that the barn is the best place,” he said. “If the cold’s not a problem, what about humidity in the summer? And the dust?”
I jerked my head in a belated nod, and the two of them settled at the computer. Tally started banging on the tray so I spooned up some more rice with cheese, but my eyes stayed fixed on the men.
Recording equipment, and a barn? That sounded like... but it couldn’t be. Maybe Jim was playing a joke on me. He could be a real practical joker. But it was a little early for April Fool’s pranks.
Tally grabbed the spoon from my hand and waved it around, like the conductor of a one-cow chorale. His fist caught the edge of the bowl and dumped its contents on the floor.
I pulled myself out of my thoughts to clean him up, and started on the rice stuck to the floor. Tonight I’d call my sister. She studied psychology in college. She ought to have some insights.
As soon as Tally was settled in bed I grabbed the phone and called Janey. We chatted over trivialities while I tried to bring myself to the point. Before I was ready she said that her kids weren’t in bed yet, so was there anything else?
“Uh, well — I was wondering if we have any family history of instability.”
There was a pause on the other line. “Instability?”
“Yea, you know. Mental Illness.” I felt sweat break out on my upper lip. I plunged ahead. “When you studied all that stuff in college, did you notice any... trends in our family?”
“Well, sure. I could hardly help but notice Uncle Bob’s obsessive ticks; and then there’s the approach-avoidance issues Ruth has passed on to all her kids. Even Mom and Dad, for all their marriage seems rock solid, have a co-dependency thing.”
“Co-dependency?” I pictured my parents, smiling in their golden years.
“Of course. Haven’t you ever noticed how Dad can never work on a project without Mom hovering near? And Mom insists that Dad drive her anytime it’s dark — they can’t even function without each other!”
“But why are you asking? Is everything okay between you and Jim?” she asked.
“Oh, great, great! We’re all doing well here. Just fabulous. Well, I gotta run — I think I hear Tally taking his room apart. ‘Bye now!”
I hung up and sat looking at the phone. My parents, co-dependent? What was she on? And if she thought the rest the family was swimming in place, what would she make of my cow affair?
I sighed, and resolved to put the whole thing out of my mind. At least if I was crazy, I’d have Uncle Bob and all of Ruth’s crowd for company. Perhaps Ruth had the right idea, anyway. What is there to gain from running after trouble?
* * *
The avoidance tactic worked great until Jim’s schemes for Rosy took on more tangible proportions. I was catching up on the finances when I came across a bank statement with a $2,800.00 debit for electronic sound-ware. I cornered Jim and demanded an accounting.
“Honey, don’t look at it as money spent,” he said. “It’s really an investment.” My face must have shown my doubt, because he sighed, and offered what collateral he could. “If I haven’t recouped the cost within, say, two years I’ll put my Harley up on craigslist to cover the expenses. Deal?”
Two years was a long time for a chunk of cash to go on loan interest free, but it was fair enough. What I couldn’t understand was how the money really got spent. If I hadn’t spent it, which I hadn’t, was Jim with me in my cow delusion? Or had I just imagined that the money was gone?
I didn’t dare bank on that supposition, so I just balanced out the accounts and promised myself that one way or another I was going to get myself a medical exam. Maybe Jim, too.
That night I was in a warm, comfortable dream free of any cow-inspired artistic illusions. Then the phone rang. Rang again.
Jim shifted beside me, then knocked over a stack of books in a grab for the phone.
“Hello?” he said.
I heard what sounded like squeaking from the other line.
“Okay.” Jim sounded concerned. “I’ll be right over.” I sat up in bed. “You’ll be right over? Right over where?!”
Jim sighed as he slipped the phone back onto the cradle. “That was Rosy. She’s got a nasty sore throat, and we’re recording tomorrow.”
“Recording?” I stared after him in the dark. Since when had it progressed to recording?
“Yeah,” Jim answered. “The acoustics in the barn aren’t bad, actually. Sylvia wants to have several songs recorded before we go live.”
“You know, the cow with the black spot over her eye? Rosy’s pasture-mate? She’s a bit sour in disposition, but her handling of Rosy is great and she’s proven herself a shrewd manager.”
I sat there, stunned and trying to take in this new bit of weirdness while Jim picked up his boots, dropped a kiss on my cheek, and left our room. I was still sitting there minutes later when the back door opened and shut. Tally began to cry from his room.
I sighed as I climbed out of bed and reached for my robe. At least some things in the world were consistent and normal.
* * *
That morning I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment.
“What is the reason for the visit?” the nasal-voiced secretary asked.
I hesitated. “It’s a matter of some delicacy,” I said.
“If you’re making an urgent appointment with Dr. Carter we need to know the purpose of the visit,” she answered.
“It’s not that urgent,” I lied.
“Would a week from this Friday, at 10:00 am, work for you?”
“Yes, that’ll work.” I pencilled it on the calendar and hung up. Almost two weeks. Well, at least there was no danger. No real reason to rush in.
I was wrong.
Four days before my appointment I came home from a grocery trip to find the driveway full of cars. I got Tally out of his seat and brought in the milk and cold stuff.
When we got inside I saw Jim lying on the futon with Mr. Tupper and a doctor I didn’t know standing over him.
“... just cracked and bruised, not broken,” the doctor was saying.
They all turned to me, then, and between their reassurances, explanations, and apologies it took me several minutes before I understood a word. Somewhere in the middle of it all Jim’s brother, Stan, came in from the kitchen and I handed him the groceries to put away.
The gist of it seemed to be that they had finished recording and Jim, in his exuberance, had startled Rosy. Who had promptly kicked him.
“Because, after all, she’s still a cow,” Jim said.
* * *
I spent the next couple days being Jim’s hands and feet. Stan was some help, but not much, as he and Jim were too busy playing with his laptop to notice when Jim needed to eat or take his meds.
Still, at least they put themselves to some good use. Jim expressed an urgent interest in web design so I made a run to the library the first day.
After a crash course and two bags of Cheetos they had a family web page up and running, complete with pictures of Tally from the last few months and even a video clip from his last birthday.
“It’s only a practice page,” Jim said. “So we can learn all the tricks and make Rosy’s really good. But it’s not bad.”
I rolled my eyes and called a friend to arrange for Tally while I was at the doctor’s the next day. I hadn’t much hope, but I didn’t know what else to do.
* * *
I sat in the waiting room, going over introductory statements in my mind. ‘Well, doctor, we’ve had a bit of paranoid delusion going around our house’, ‘I’m not sure, but I think I’ve developed a delusionary relationship with my neighbor’s cow’. But if I couldn’t tell my sister what was going on, how would I tell the doctor?
By the time I was back in the little room and sitting on the examination table I’d worked myself into a nervous sweat.
“Well, and how’s our budding millionaire?” Dr. Carter greeted me. “Come to complain of Glad Cow disease?” he chuckled, and settled his laptop on the counter.
“Millionaire?” I asked. “Glad Cow disease?”
“Well, I’m sure millionaire is a bit of a stretch,” the doctor answered. “But surely you’ve seen how the buzz is taking off over Rosy’s debut?” He grinned at me.
“Show me,” I said.
He opened the laptop and pulled up the internet. On the home page were two headlines that caught my eye. “Rosy: A fraud or the real deal?’, said one, and the other, ‘Patriotic Cow takes the web by storm’.
Dr. Carter followed a link and a picture of Rosy came up. She was brushed and shined and for $1.00 you could see her sing the star-spangled banner. Dr. Carter clicked on the Paypal button and the canned strains of the national anthem filled the room.
“Pretty fun, actually,” the doctor said. “For another dollar you can hear her other songs, and dress her in stylish hats. They’ll be selling t-shirts soon. But I’m sure you’ve seen all this.” He closed the laptop and turned to me. “What can I do for you?”
I’m not sure what I answered. I’m not even sure how I left the office or picked up Tally. I was still feeling dazed when I walked in the front door.
“Isn’t it great!” Jim said. “Have you seen the hits we’re getting? And come look at our Paypal account!”
I looked over his shoulder at the dollar signs adding up in our account and relinquished my last reservations. If the way of the world was singing cows, I’d best get on board; and if the money pouring in was tainted with madness, it would spend just as well.
Besides, now I could go back to my walks along the river.
Copyright © 2007 by Suanne Warr