We watched the boy roam among his cows in the pasture off Boyden’s farm.

He trotted, dumb in the field with them, pretending to graze with them. Why? Well, I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe he was dropped on his head. We didn’t really care too much, just thought he was crazy like his old man who worked the dog kennel in Gray and sang to birds. At night, the boy slept standing. Unless they knelt—knees buckled tight to their chests—then he knelt, too. They say a cow only sits when it’s about to rain, but that isn’t true of course.

His hair was a milky-brown, his frame so slim it could crack; he looked like a caramel apple bending on its stick. The cow he seemed to follow around most—brown one with the udder so swollen it dragged across the tips of grass—had the same thin frame, the same colored hair. On sunny days, their long cuts looked like wheat we stored in the silo—strong wisps folding over one another, collapsing over one another. The boy let his get matted up, almost into dreads.

We laughed at him because he stunk just like the cows.

He saw us watching him once—stared into us without blinking, looking as blank and placid as the animals. We could have let him be. Then and there. But that wasn’t our way.

Sad truth of it.

We went out to the pasture drunk on Evan Williams, not surprised to see him there in the tall grass pretending to chew cud with the cows. Or maybe not pretending at all. Some of us were out for tipping and others just to have something to do. Not much to do with our lives, being the sons of our parents.

Fuck away! he said, his voice half-hiccuping, he couldn’t even complete a full sentence. Most of us were surprised to hear him talk at all—he looked surprised himself, like those were the first words he’d spoken out in these fields and it were God Himself who put them there in his mouth.

I was the one who held his arms across his chest as the others pushed their palms into one of the cow’s side. We chose the brown one for reasons we thought obvious. The skin on the boy’s forearms was rough with dirt. Dry like a thin leather belt, his screams like a whip through the air. His legs sprung up like a bull’s. The cow hit the ground with such force we could hear her ribs break under her own weight. Her limbs twisted in the tall grass, feeling for the ground, feeling for something to help get its bearing. Reminded me of Mom sick in bed. Stuck on her side, her stomach ripe with my almost sister. Should have known only boys were birthed here.

The kid lost it when his cow fell.

Back bent like the curve of the moon overhead, he was trying to rip away from me. Thought I could hear his spine snap in two, he lifted it so high and with such force. His behind jumping into the air as if my body were a scorching brand. I held both his wrists tight. We were almost holding hands when an elbow struck across my temple, and I felt my body hit the ground beneath.

I woke to the cow at eye level. All I could read in her eyes was fear. Maybe there’s the problem with me. Not finding much of anything aside from fear. Or maybe, it’s in fact all of us. I knew she would die there, the others unable to save one of their own. Dumb, helpless things.

I closed my eyes after that and just listened to the animals. Eventually they all lay still, everything but their breathing it seemed. Deep and pained. I could hear the cow boy choking on snot. I’m sorry, he mumbled. I’m so sorry. Thought he was talking to me at first and I almost asked, For what? Realized he was talking to his friend.

I watched the cow’s eyes close and open, blinking slow.

I could still hear her breathing. Could hear her breathing in my head, even over our laughter as we walked away from the pasture—each of us joking to the other about this and that. Each of us waving goodbye to the other as we trailed off towards our own homes one by one.

And then, I was alone. My house the last on the block. Saw Mom’s boots drying out in the driveway, dirt scattered around their soles like an unfinished crossword. I had the worst headache and felt like I could hear echos of the night rattling between my ears. I nearly fell asleep standing up. There in the yard. In the uncut grass.

Alex Eaker received his MFA from the College of Charleston. His work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Cleaver Magazine, the Esthetic Apostle, amongst others.


Photography by: Alexander Schimmeck

Cow Boy

by Alex Eaker

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