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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bessie

A few weeks ago, on a farm not too far away, Bessie started her day like any other weekday morning. She walked lazily to the milking machine before the sun rose and sat still as an underpaid dairy hand plugged her in with no regard for her personal privacy or feelings. The teatcups tickled more than normal and Bessie let out a discontented “moo.” The dairy hand slapped Bessie on the rump and moved on about his chores. If Bessie weren't so distracted by the soft suction of the machine, she might have felt put out by the worker's callousness.

Bessie wondered briefly whether producing less milk would make the dairy workers respect her more. None of them appreciated the sacrifice required by a cow of her age to pump out quality milk with such regularity. They ignored her entreaties, verbal and not, choosing instead to joke among themselves or pay attention to Coco, a Holstein with udders so productive, they could support the entire cream division of Bayview Farms.

Coco. That was a heifer. With perfect coloring and minimal muscle, she was a milk machine and the envy of trough nineteen. Worse, she knew it. Coco would prance around the field when she should have been grazing and graze when she should have been sleeping. But she produced. And because she produced the dairy hands let her get away with it.

The worker returned to disconnect Bessie. With a relieved “moo,” she trotted into the cool morning air to graze. Grazing was the best part of Bessie's day. She loved a patch of crabgrass near the south fence and worked with Dairy Queen and Mama Moo to secure it from the others. Together they would partake of the greenery and forget about all their troubles.

By noon, Bessie was chewing her cud. She neither despised nor enjoyed the practice. It was just something she did. She left the south fence area to be alone. She liked to chew her cud in private. Even Coco would go off by herself for this digestive exercise.

That afternoon it was back to grazing. Tonto and Nutless, a couple of steers from next farm over, had jumped the fence and were eating the crabgrass. Everybody regarded the steers as strange and they were ostracized whenever they ventured out. Bessie had had a bad experience with T-Bone a few weeks ago and didn't want to deal with any more steers, so she joined the others eating in a large plot of sown Bermuda. Bermuda grass was the fast food of the milk cow's world, but Bessie would still eat it occasionally.

Darkness came quickly and Bessie joined Mama Moo and the rest of the cows in the trot back to the milking machine. The worker was nicer than the man on the early shift had been and Bessie was happy with her treatment. She thought her day would end with a contented cud chewing session and sleep, when Dairy Queen approached her with an idea.

No. It wasn't right. She couldn't do that. She would get in trouble. When Dairy Queen told her that Coco had done it, Bessie mooed her assent. She was game.

Mr. Cranky Pants was a handsome stud who lived in a well-kept pasture a few miles away. He had been at Bessie's dairy once before and had caught her eye immediately. She had always thought about going to see him. Mama Moo explained that the steers had knocked the fence down when they left that afternoon. This was their chance.

Bessie was surprised at how easy it was to climb the fence. A couple of other cows had caught wind of the mischief and decided to tag along. Bessie was not sure how many cows were in their group, but it was sizable. She was excited about the adventure.

At first Bessie was concerned when the group moved into the middle of the road. It seemed to her that cows should be on grass or dirt, not pavement. But Dairy Queen started making funny trotting noises on the hard surface and Bessie was so caught up in the hilarity of the situation that she surrendered her fears.

They continued this way for a few hundred meters, occasionally making comments about the houses they passed or the other cows they saw sleeping in their pastures. Freedom felt so good until it hurt.

Bessie never saw the car that hit her. It struck her from behind, pushing her forward several feet. She suffered an involuntary and very unladylike reaction to the car's force. Bessie was embarrassed by that and happy that her friends scattered quickly and probably hadn't noticed. The car's owner looked upset and disheveled, but was okay. That made Bessie feel better. She had never wanted to hurt anyone.

Emergency vehicles arrived quickly. A police officer started asking questions and taking measurements, but never thought to ask Bessie how she was doing. Remarkably well, thank you, given the circumstances.

The car was towed away and the driver taken to the hospital for minor injuries, leaving Bessie all alone on the side of the road. With a grunt, she got up and trudged back the way she came, cautious to stay out of the road and clear of traffic. She hopped the fence again and curled up to sleep near the crabgrass. She hadn't met Mr. Cranky Pants, but she couldn't wait to tell her amazing story to the other cows, especially Coco.

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