By Rudy Koshar
A man with a red baseball cap and green leather apron led a cow into a pen. The cow was black and white and had big brown eyes, glistening with comprehension.
A thin boy watched the animal, and for a moment he thought the cow focused on him. Maybe it was his flannel shirt, a blue-and-red-checked affair his mother had picked out. You wear your nicest shirt on a class outing, she’d said. Of course, he thought, a cow would recognize a mother’s choice.
It was three in the afternoon, and the boy looked around at his classmates, 20 third graders from Trinity Lutheran School. They were so quiet it made him nervous. Why wasn’t Karl making wisecracks? Everyone stared at a single pair of huge bovine eyes, which just then flashed a large amount of white.
The man held a rifle.
The boy looked at his teacher, a stocky man with a large chin and red hair. He’d told them they were going to see where hamburger came from. The boy thought of the last time his father had grilled a batch of juicy burgers and sang as he put cheese slices on them.
No one was smiling as the man aimed the rifle at the cow’s head.
The cow let out a long, loud moan—a plea, or maybe a question. The boy thought of the Bible passage they’d just memorized in religion class, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But cows had no idea of the Bible, right?
The boy was frightened. His teacher’s chin jutted out, the cow’s eyes showed even more white than before, and his classmates stood on the edge of a cliff, as if they were about to plunge into some dark abyss from which they would never escape.
The shot made the world shudder.
The cow fell with a thud, its eyes wide and staring but not seeing.
Nerdy David fainted and had to be held up by one of the mothers who’d accompanied the class. The boy now knew why his mother hadn’t volunteered.
Soon the man in the green apron used a squeaking chain to hoist the cow up by its back legs. With a shining blade too quick to follow he slit the cow’s neck. With another long slice, gray, red, and pink matter hit the cement floor with a mournful slop that made Doris, the girl with a port-wine stain on her forehead, spew her bologna-sandwich lunch on her new white shoes.
The man worked quickly. He talked as he wielded his blade, said the cow had once given milk, she’d been used up.
The boy wasn’t listening. He felt his knees go jellylike. He thought of the time his mother told him his hamster Nellie had died. Some of his classmates were crying. His teacher told everyone to calm down, watch and listen, this is important, not everyone has a chance to see this process.
When they filed out, the boy’s friend Tony looked green.
The boy thought he should comfort Tony, say something, but the rifle shot still sang in his ears and words felt blocky and thick.