Blood dripped from the cow’s nose ring. Judd dangled from her hindquarters, boots aloft, his arm shoulder-deep as she rocked and whooped, giving off an air of authority and stupidity.
“I can’t hold on much longer,” he said. “It’s been hours.”
“Just close your eyes,” I said. “Try to pull.”
Her tail fenced with his nose and he winced as it lashed his brow.
“Fuck it,” he said. “I give up.”
The cow groaned woefully and wallowed in a semicircle. I could smell her pheromone around me. Great gray brains of cloud swirled in the sky above as she lowered Judd onto the prairie. He withdrew his arm. In his palm, a handful of guts, some of it blue.
“What is that stuff?” I said.
He touched his thumb to his index.
“Can’t be certain,” he said. “It feels like honey.” Then he held his hand under his nose and made a sour face.
“Kind of smells like phosphorus.”
He dropped his arm and the matter dripped from his fingers. The tendrils unfurled and congealed like slugs in the sun.
“I don’t know what to do,” Judd said. He caressed the cow’s snout with the back of his wrist. “I can’t leave her like this. It ain’t right.”
I envied his concern for her and the world before me. It filled me with a helpless, destined feeling. She was worth more than me. So I imagined.
“Why not?” I said.
“I kind of wish she would.”
“We won’t have any milk.”
The cow grunted as if she had picked up his drawl and a wave of spasm rippled through her fur.
“What else can we do?” I said.
Judd folded his arms and circled the cow stroking his chin in contemplation.
“I suppose we could have hamburgers.”
“She’d feed an army.”
“Decisions,” he said. “Decisions.”
Taken with curiosity, I poked the cow’s haunch. Her entire torso palpitated and I distanced myself. She shifted her rear. It dribbled on the grass. Eventually, she fluctuated.
Judd pinched his nose. “I’m not going back in there,” he said.
“Then you better put her down.”
He closed his eyes and whispered something. I couldn’t decipher it. I guess he was praying.
“I’m tired,” he said. “Let’s get it over with.”
He collected the yoke and the cow mooed in agony. As she tugged back, our eyes met. Her black bulbs sequenced with a distressed beauty, invoking a maternal instinct. Suddenly, I felt a hot flash. I knew humans got that way about animals, but I didn’t know I did.
“Wait,” I said and stepped between them. “Let me have a go.”
Judd surrendered the yoke and stood aside.
“If you have a death wish,” he said. “Then be my guest.”
The cow stammered anxiously as I squared my shoulders to her pelvis. I was happy with the chance to be of use. I wanted to be the one who saw it through and saved her when no one else could. People would talk about it. I hoped I would be liked.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Judd said.
I spat into my hands and rubbed them together.
“Yeah yeah yeah,” I said. “How hard can it be?”
“You’d be surprised.”
I peered into the split where he had entered before. I plugged my fist inside and the cow’s stance hardened.
“Be careful,” Judd said. “If she bucks, she’ll kill you.”
She constricted around my elbow and moaned a little. Judd took a knee. He dug into his breast pocket and produced a brass harmonica. He cleared his throat, sawed the instrument across lips with his soiled hand and blew. The soporific harmony wheezed around us. It calmed the cow into a lackadaisical sway. I leaned in step with lead as I stirred through her fathoms.
“I feel a bunch of different things,” I said. “What am I looking for?”
Judd paused. “You’ll know it when you find it,” he said. “It’ll feel like a bone.”
He wiped his slobber from the mouthpiece on his shirt and resumed his serenade. I verged deeper, wrenching my hand along the wall of a ribbed cavity. The cow spread her legs and allowed me deeper. I probed my fingers across a lobe of mossy texture. I clutched it and squeezed and detected the vague click of cartilage between my fingertips. When I tugged, her flanks heaved and legs buckled.
Judd leapt up. He dropped the harmonica and hurried over.
“You’re hurting her,” he said. “She’s getting pissed.”
“I think I have it,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
I worked my hand around an object somewhere in the dark. It felt like a bone, but what did I know.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Like, 100 percent.”
“Got a grip?” he said.
I clenched my hand and gave him a nod.
“Good,” he said. “Now don’t let go.”
He took me by the ankles and jerked my body parallel to the ground. The bone began to kick the cow’s insides and she cried. My bicep burned as I curled. I was worried. I didn’t know what was happening. I wondered what it actually was.
“Hold on,” Judd said.
“I’M HOLDING,” I snapped.
He brushed his thigh across my prone knoll. I flailed my heel backwards, catching his sternum.
He giggled. “That’s nice,” he said. “I like it when you’re angry.”
“What?” he said. He brushed me again. “This is as kinky as it gets.”
“It hurts,” I said. “You’re an asshole.”
As the cow began to dilate, her inertia waned. She cantered from side to side, unleashing a pained yawp with every movement, though I doubt she felt anything but fear.
Judd’s clutch tightened around my ankles. The cow lurched in the opposite direction, ripping my spine taut.
The ache of it needled through me. Then my vision went cloudy. If there’d been anything in my bowls, I’d have messed myself.
“It’s coming,” he said.
“I can feel it.”
The cow labored forward, musk fretting from every orifice. A final push and the bone breeched the passage, a little limb that protruded from cow’s end.
Judd released me and I fell on my face. He seized the limb and delivered series of forceful yanks, the look of glory on his face. I didn’t know what else to do but lie there and watch him extract a small calf from the gap. It squirmed through the threshold, hooves-first in a drizzle of fluid. The cow toppled onto the prairie and hushed, careening as if the wind had been kicked out of her. It happened so gracefully we knew she was dead.
Judd watched her and sighed. “I thought she’d do that,” he said. “But not like that.”
The calf rose meekly behind her and floundered about, somersaulting through the grass in our direction. It shivered rudely and blinked its innocent eyes.
“Would you look at that,” I said. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s veal.”