This short story was based on writing prompts of heifer, mumbles and Where’s the beef.
The photo of the heifer used on this post was provided by Carrie of Dairy Carrie.
There was something strange in the air that day, and it was more than the harsh brushes of wind whistling through the burgeoning corn fields.
I remember sitting astride Callie, our 9-year-old chestnut horse, at the edge of the cattle pasture, right where the wood post fence tangled with the nearly sideways corn stalks, which were rendered horizontal by the strong, angry winds.
Old Mother Wind was busy that day to be sure, yes, but there was something else. Something I just couldn’t quite wrangle up.
No matter, I thought, watching as the wind gusts let up briefly and the corn stood up again, proud and nearly ready to deliver its fruit.
But there was something underneath those harsh winds, something that I could not quite shake. I bounced to and fro atop Callie, moving her around in a circle, trying to figure out what that was.
There was no figuring going on. I’d like to think my frown scared the winds back into the next day. Calm was restored to the prairie, if only so briefly.
Near as I could tell, that something was a rumbling, a low and guttural noise. Husky yet quiet, barely noticeable. It’s like what the beginning of an earthquake must feel like, that moment when you just start to realize something terrible and devastating is happening. Well, I assume that’s what it’s like at least. I’ve never stood in the middle of an earthquake, you see.
It’s easier for me to say that the rumbling that day was more like that big moment before a twister touches down across the prairie field. Just before the touch down, it’s a calm moment. Not a blade of grass is torn away from the soil in anger. But then the winds start to whip up, a howling noise builds, and all you can do is grab your family, grab your friends and head to safety.
But as I sat astride Callie, I just could not find what that noise was.
Meanwhile, the cattle sat and stared at us. I bucked against Callie a bit as she came to a halt about 50 feet away from a few of the Holstein Jersey cross heifers. They were grazing, grasses briefly being chewed between their teeth. The one in the middle faced us, its muzzle showing a faint smile.
In the middle of the field, several young heifers surrounded one that was standing up, facing me down: The smiling heifer.
Her brown hair was matted back on the top of her head, and her eyelashes were long and lustrous around her curious eyes. Every once in a while, I saw her mouth open and close, almost as though she were whispering secrets about the full-grown bulls in the nearby pen to the other heifers gathered around her.
And I noticed that the low, nearly continuous rumbling along the roots of the prairie grass seemed to match perfectly with her muzzle movement.
I motioned Callie into a trot as we grew closer to the heifers, perched in the middle of the field atop what was a mountain in the prairie, but was really just a small hill of a couple of feet. And I kept watch of her, the smiling heifer in the middle of that crowd. She eyed me cautiously, her mouth moving up and down.
That’s when I saw it, even if I didn’t believe it. The heifer was mumbling.
I dismounted Callie, patting her along her mane, letting her know that I would be right back. The smiling heifer was still standing there, in the middle of her heifer squad, soaking in the wind and sun.
When I reached close to her mouth, I could hear the mumbling more clearly: “Where’s the beef?”
Yes, there was something strange in the air that day.
That mysterious liquid was soap. All I can taste right now is soap. I am an adult, I think.
I took the bowl of Cheerios and threw it down. The spoon flew out and rattled against the stainless steel kitchen sink, nearly careening over the ledge and onto the floor. The rest of the bowl crashed against the side, and the Cheerios flowed over like lava slowly working its way down a volcano.
The soap bubbled from my lips, flowing down my chin into the cold metal below.
I gagged. I could feel myself retching, the cold soap forming into a ball at the back of my throat, trying to wiggle its way free. Then all I could taste was more soap.
Adults do these things, right? I know the difference between soap and milk. Usually.
After all, I am an adult.