Can’t See Out the Other

Mike Connelly

Chris Harris

Can’t See Out the Other

 

Name was Wanda. Weighed 1,462 pounds. That’s big, even for a cow.

She had this long-ass face. In fact, if her head was all you saw and if her ears didn’t stick out sideways, you could have mistook her for a horse.

I remember one time I got the tractor stuck up to its axles, right out in the middle of the field uphill of the stock pond. I dug and pulled on it for two days and it only went down deeper. I had to wear irrigation boots because I’d be standing there up to my hips.

On the third day, I went up while the frost was still on the mud, hoping I could get a bite.

 

Like the other mornings, I spent a good five minutes just leaning on the shovel, looking at it. Long sunrise shadows and cold orange morning light. Pulled a tip of silver sage, smashed it, smelled it, threw it in the pit. Like dad always said, nothing else to do but do it.

Right then there’s a splash in the stock pond, too big for a fish. Or anything else I could think of. I looked down toward the pond but the sun was right in my eyes. I tipped my hat to cut the glare, and there she was. Wanda looking me straight in the eyes, stuck up to her belly in the mud on the edge of the pond.

I’m looking at her, she’s looking at me, both of us looking like we’re about to laugh. Both of us, stuck good.

I tell you it was funny as all hell.

*

But it was the next year she got the cancer in her eye. She had a new calf and we didn’t want to mess with her, but it was bad. We caught the calf and headed toward the pens with Wanda following. We got her in the chute and finally got a good look at it. 

I couldn’t think of anything else to do. The dogs knew. They were sitting there waiting. There’s not many jobs less pretty on a place like this, but there was Dad again, all the way from on high: Nothing else to do but do it.

We put a soft loop on that long nose, pulled her head up tight to the side, and started cutting. It’s one thing cutting a leg or a gut or whatever. Cutting open a face is a whole different thing. Big bloody cancer eye looking right at you.

You have to cut big so you can get to everything, but you have to leave enough hide to sew it back up again. So cut, then peel everything back until there’s just that wet ball and a bunch of muscle. Then push and pull until you can get to the nerve, and the whole time that eye still looking at you. Then cut, and clamp, and then cuss the dogs away while you look for somewhere to put it.

Wanda kicking and huffing snot, snapping back against the rope, a dripping six-inch hole right inside of her head.

She settled just for a second, made a quiet mama noise. The baby heard it and answered back, and Wanda was like to jump right out the top of that chute.

Right then the dog knocked a bucket over trying to get at the eye, and when I tried to kick the dog I kicked the bucket instead, and it splashed all over the hired guy, who was down on a knee trying to get a hoof unstuck. Gunked up his face and the whole front of him with blood and puss and hide and tincture of iodine. 

It was funny, he didn’t even move. Just stayed there on one knee all splattered with blood and said, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Then he yanked that hoof out and said, “How about you sew up that fucking hole?”

The dog ran up and grabbed the eye, and the hired guy threw the bucket at him as he ran off under the gate, the big nerve hanging out the side of his mouth.

 

*

 

Wanda lived another seven years. Had seven more babies. We kept her longer than we usually do. I guess I took to her. Mom said it’s because I been blind in one eye myself since I was born.

When the time came, we sorted her off instead of loading her on the truck. Killed her and ate her ourselves. Not much good except for ground up. Old cow like that.

I don’t know. Dad would’ve probably laughed. But I just couldn’t see bringing a cow like that to town.

For ten years Mike Connelly ran a cattle and hay operation on 2500 acres near the town of Bonanza, in southeastern Oregon. His essays and fiction have appeared in Orion Magazine, Northern Lights, Utne Reader, Range Magazine, Open Spaces, and Cascade Cattleman. About a dozen years ago he and the family moved to town, where they've been running a small sourdough bakery.