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A Complete Short Story from THIS SIDE OF CENTER

Photo by Rebecca L. Willoughby

Those big, round brown eyes looked sad. It was as if she were saying “take me home” or “let me out” or even, ‘”who are you?”


The cow poked its huge wet, black nose through the chewed and beaten wooden slats and snorted. I could feel the spray of cold, clear cow snot hit me in my face, and I laughed. It was probably more of a giggle, since I was only three or four years old at the time. The cow must have thought it was funny also because she did it again. I laughed, shook my head and wiped my face with my hand. My grandmother and grandfather laughed, too, and they held me up higher and closer so I could actually touch its hard, rubbery nose with the two enormous holes in the front. As I did so, the cow’s long, rough tongue suddenly crawled out of the side of its mouth and licked my hand. I instinctively screamed and pulled it back thinking my whole arm would be eaten in the next moment.

My grandfather must have read my mind because the next thing I heard was, “Don’t worry, they don’t eat little boys!” Just then, the cow mooed loudly, very loudly, apparently agreeing with him, and moved its head up and down as if to say “thanks for the laugh” or “thanks for the visit” and her head then backed out of the slatted opening above the latched gate.


That was fun!


I was told that was a girl cow because she gave us milk. That’s what those things hanging underneath her did. They gave us milk.

“Why does the cow want to give us her milk? Can’t we just get our own?” My grandparents looked at each other and just laughed and never answered the question.


We walked down the center aisle of the barn very slowly. My grandparents were on either side of me, each of them holding one of my hands. They slowed their steps to keep pace with my little legs and shortened stride. This old barn was full of cows. Boy cows and girl cows. Boy cows had big, long horns and didn’t give us milk, I was told. The last barn we were in had pigs in it. All pigs, and nothing else, just pigs. In one pig pen a mommy pig was having babies and we stood and watched as they came out of her. That was weird. She had seven. There weren’t any cows having babies in this barn. I wonder how many they would have?


The whole fairgrounds smelled. It smelled like a lot of different things. Some bad, some not so bad, and some smells that I didn’t know, which came mostly from the people who worked at the game stands.


I smelled cotton candy and French fries. I smelled apple cider.

I smelled orange juice.


That was the drink stand that had the most flies around it. And the yellow jacket bees were the worst over those garbage barrels, flying and buzzing back and forth really fast and landing on the food and cups that people threw away.

I smelled mud.


I tried to step in the puddles to make them splash but my grandmother would yank my arm straight up over my head and I would fly over them instead. There was straw laying everywhere. That smelled good. There was cow poop, too. That didn’t smell so good.


At the Fair I heard things, too. I heard the music from the rides. I heard bells ringing and guns shooting and the metal bulls-eye targets getting hit with BB’s or pellets.


Ping! Ping! Ping!


I heard the animals in the other barns. The chickens clucking. The geese honking. The horses neighing. And I heard the cows' hooves banging on the wooden stalls they were trapped in, on both sides of the aisle of this barn.


Boom! Boom! Boom!


I heard people yelling.


There were people yelling as we walked through the cow barn. There was a black man standing in front of us at the end of the barn. He was holding a big door closed on one side of the aisle. And there was another black man next to him. He was the one doing all the yelling. He was yelling and holding the other door open and waving his hands at us.


Suddenly, my grandparents both yanked my arms up over my head at the same time and my feet left the ground. I was flying over the dirt floor with the straw on it! It was just like I did over the mud puddles! They were running, so I made my little legs run, too.


I’m running in the air! This is fun! 


We were going fast and we got closer and closer to the black man who was holding the door open. I looked up and saw my grandfather look back over his shoulder. I tried to look back too to see what he was looking at. Just then, we reached the black man at the door, at the end of the barn.


I looked back again. A boy cow was almost right behind us with his long horns moving up and down. He was running just like us and he was snorting like the girl cow did! We all ran outside into the hot sun, and the smells and the sounds of the Fair.




The black man slammed the door shut behind us and the boy cow stayed inside the barn. 


That was fun!    ~

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