One day, while bored in heaven, I strolled over to talk with the ancestors of the cows. They were grazing on the clouds, heads tucked downwards and ignored my approach. I looked for the oldest cow, who was easy to see because he was a massive, yellowing skeleton gnawing idly at cloudshoots that sprung up from the milky surface. The grass stretched upwards, almost yearning to be devoured by the wholly bone creature.
If he was looking at me while I sat there looking at him I could not tell. His eye sockets were empty. It was only when I tried to gnaw at the blades of cloudgrass that he was failing to eat that his head tilted up towards me.
“Don’t be an asshole”, he said to me.
The thought of course sprung into my mind and not out of his mouth.
“Sorry. I just wanted to talk.”
He went back to grazing.
“Then talk. Don’t take my food. And don’t touch me.”
I sat beside him and looked him up and down.
“Why’re you a skeleton? I asked.
“Because I’m supposed to be dead. This is how cows look after a long time.”
I pointed around at the other cows, most of them not bone but still fleshy and plump.
“What about them? They’ve been here a long time too.”
He grunted mentally in my mind. Every piece of communication came out in my language, though initially they were blurry images, seen from the viewpoint of the animal.
“They never saw what happened to cows when they died for a long time. These cows died before they could see that.”
“You could keep your form too. Your meat. This is heaven, you can do anything you like.”
This time he stared at me, and did not say anything.
“What? I’m just saying, you could become meaty again. Eat that grass that you can’t eat.”
“But I’m dead” he said, matter of factly. “This is what cows look like when they’ve died for a long time.”
“So, if I didn’t look like this even after knowing that I would become bone then I wouldn’t be a cow.”
I sat in a silence for a while. Then I pointed at the others.
“Are they cows?”
“Because they don’t know that’s what they look like years after you die?”
“But they see you. Don’t they ask you why you look like that?”
“Rarely? Why only rarely?”
“We usually don’t ask why. Sometimes we do, but the other cows don’t change once I answer them.”
“How can they become something that they don’t understand? Just because they know that they might become like doesn’t mean that they can understand the process. I watched because another cow died in the only grazing area that we had. Then I understood after watching. Now I’m like this.”
The simplicity of it sunk in rather sweetly. Then another thought, rather sudden swooped into my mind.
“You’re not the oldest here, are you?”
I was about to ask who was, but I stopped myself from doing so. For some reason, the thought suddenly had as little purpose as jumping up and down on my hands while holding my breath and passing gas. I moved onto my next question.
“What do you think about cows these days?”
“Small. Dumb. Boring.”
“Do you know what happens to them on the surface on Earth in modern times?”
A sudden spike of mischief rose up inside of me. I prayed that I wouldn’t lose my place here due to the temptation of it. Reaching down with my hands and into the grass, I moved the clouds aside and waved my hands over in a circular motion.
Factories of mutilated cattle and cows held up by machines popped into view. The ancestor watched metallic udders drain cows of their milk and I looked at the skeleton. He looked at the picture for a long time. It was dozens of minutes before he looked away. I reminded myself to try this to another cow, more full in flesh for a better reaction but then I felt a pang of guilt, much like a warning. When he looked away I closed the clouds up but didn’t apologize.
“What do you think?”
“It was a nice view. I hadn’t seen anything like it for a long time. I never thought about doing something like that. Didn’t know how to. Now I have an idea.”
“You’re not mad, are you?”
“I don’t have the meat for you to do that to me, so why would I be?”
I paused. His words were heavy and I was drunk in the sensibility of it.
“You don’t care? You don’t care that humans like me are killing your kind? Don’t you want to change things?”
“No. They are the way they are.”
“Don’t you want to save those cows?”
I brought the picture back and focused on the butchery of the animals.
“What is there to save? There are many of us. Many more than other animals on earth. Many animals that I have once seen in my time have come to tell me that they are no more. Even the cats tell me that their cousin lions are dying, and for that I am not mad.”
“But these cows don’t have any purpose! They’re just dying to feed people like me!”
The skeleton waved it’s face in the clouds, pushing the clouds away. Then he showed me some different scenes on earth to the ones I had been showing before. Pictures of cows copulating within the farms and calves being born. He showed how they grew up in a fast-forwarded documentary on the life of cows. We watched as the calf grew up to become a bull and with a heifer conceived a calf. Then the bull was cut apart and fed to humans.
The skeleton looked up at me. The scrying circle closed and he continued in his grazing. I left then.
As I walked away from the fields heading towards the city of angels, I realized that the closer I got to the glistening gates the more that I felt that the love kept within the city was not that the taste of happiness that I wanted that day.
Pivoting round on my heels I returned to where the cows lay grazing in the pasture. There I stayed, basking in the all-encompassing optimism that emanated from the ancestors of cows. There was nothing but pride as they watched their descendants create life, and then die.
- j. NG
I don’t think this one needs a postscript. Wrote this one during the lunch period in Tai Koo, was writing another piece when I realized I didn’t like it too much and took an image created in the mind of another character and made it into this. The other piece started in McDonalds but this one began and ended in a coffee shop, written in 40-ish minutes. And I was eating a chicken burger, not a beef burger (thank god), to answer the question that some people will inevitably want to ask.