It snorts and stares at us, the sides of its white-spotted black body heaving. My two-year-old says “cow” and points. There isn’t a soul in sight–no neighbors gawking, no farmer chasing after and hollering out Bossie or Patches at this half-grown cow that suddenly bellows out a sound so long and mournful that my five-year-old crawls to me, spilling her teacup, and begins to wail, while the two-year-old loops her arms around my neck in a silent choke hold.
Two miles from anything resembling a farm, a cow in a Washington Street yard is more than an uncommon thing. Yet here it is–I want to say thundering, but that would be a lie–loping to a stop right in front of where my girls and I are having a tea party under the willow in our corner lot.
That cow isn’t leaving like I hope it might. It seems unwilling to trot into the street beyond the willow. Our back yard is fenced in, nowhere to go but backwards that will keep it on grass. With a huff that sounds like it’s deflating, it settles on the lawn.
There is a string of lots, but ours is the only one on our side of the street with a tree of any size. The rest are dogwoods and weeping cherries and a lot of those evergreen bushes shaped into balls or cones or just trimmed flat like a military haircut. Maybe that cow is looking for shade large enough to fit inside, and that’s what I am afraid of when it stands again and noses under that tree with us, the girls going mute and clutching me.
“Daddy,” the young one whispers.
“Daddy,” the older one says aloud. “Daddy.”
The cow nuzzles against me. It licks my face, and my daughters, seeing that big slurping tongue, stop calling for their father, who’s been gone for three weeks now. The younger one reaches out her hand and touches the cow’s nose, saying “wet” and letting go of my neck. The older one silently touches the cow’s face, feeling the texture of its skin.
For nearly a minute, the cow stands still and lets them touch. When it turns away, tail switching behind it and slapping against the drooping branches, both girls say “Mommy” at the same time, and we watch that cow amble away, beginning to gather speed as it crosses lawns until it becomes a speck, something we stare at even though, by now, it is so small it can be anything at all.