Cow in the Road

by Linda Saldaña | San Rafael, California, USA

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

An illustration of a car
Illustration by Elli Dalton

The road was slick with rain near Spirit Rock, not torrents, but enough to make the asphalt shiny. I was doing my best to stay between the lines when I could see them at all—knew well enough to respect a couple of nasty bends. And coming around one of those curves, I spotted her. A cow. Just standing there, facing the road as if contemplating whether to cross.

I was about to fly past when she caught my eye. Not a cow-in-the-headlights moment. I’m talking soul-searching gaze, like strangers who lock eyeballs in a bar.

By now you are snickering, because there I was on a dangerous and soggy night, apparently making sapien-bovine contact. But that look promised a higher intelligence, so I slowed and backed up carefully.

Rolling down the passenger window, I caught a scent of the milky femininity that she exuded. “Back off the road, bossy,” I suggested. 

She chewed cud for a moment, the rain running down her face in rivulets. “Moo,” she said.

“Bad idea for you to be out in this weather,” I advised. “Don’t you have a barn or someplace?”

She didn’t move or change expression. “Moooo!” she said again, but I could ascertain that she thought I was the one who needed help.

I pulled over, got out, and tried to shoo her away from the roadside. She stayed planted, swishing her tail with annoyance. “Leave me be,” she said. “I’m just counting cars.”

Could I suddenly understand Cow or had she somehow learned English? She didn’t speak with an accent. I decided to play nonchalant. “And how many cars have you seen so far?”

“A hundred and three,” she said. “I’m not counting the pickups.”

I wanted to know why she had assumed this task and how long it took to get to 103 and why not the pickups, but held my tongue.

She swished her tail again, spraying droplets in my direction. “You’re the first to stop,” she added. “Now I need to start a new category: People who care enough to pull over.”

“I didn’t want you to get hit,” I said.

“Oh, bull,” she said. “Were you worried about me, or about some human messing up his fancy vehicle? You don’t strike me as a vegetarian.”

She had me there. I had just consumed a hamburger; she could no doubt smell the au jus on my breath.

“You’re not like other cows,” I said.

“I take that as a compliment.” She turned around as if to show off her magnificent black and white markings. “Best in Show at the fair a few years back. Not just the County, mind you. State! They said my udders possessed a fine bloom.”

“Impressive,” I said. “I suppose you swayed the judges with your gift of gab. I’ve never heard a cow talk.”

She frowned. “Did you ever bother to listen? Of course we do!”

 • •

About that time, a sheriff’s car pulled up.

“One hundred and four,” said the cow. “Two pullovers.”

“Howdy,” said the deputy, peering into the falling rain, trying unsuccessfully to control a smirk. “You wouldn’t be a cattle rustler, would you?”

The cow stomped and muttered under her breath. “Pig! Tell him I’m a free-ranger.” I looked at the deputy to see if he heard, but he hadn’t.

“This one’s feral,” I said.

He snickered. “You don’t say. One of those Wild Bovines of West Marin?”

I shrugged.

The deputy was examining me, sniffing to detect a possible whiff of alcohol. “You been hitting the booze, or do you just have a thing for milk?” he asked. “I think you’d better walk a straight line for me. Maybe recite the alphabet backwards.”

I checked to make sure he was addressing me, not the cow, who was muttering under her breath, “Z… Y… W… V…”

“You forgot X,” I said.

The deputy got out, popped his umbrella, and swaggered around his car. “I didn’t forget nothin’,” he said.

As I tried to recall just how many glasses of that pinot I had consumed, Miss State-Fair-Best-in-Show ambled onto the road and headed down the centerline, carefully placing one foot in front of the other with great precision.

“The damn line is curved,” she complained.

“The heifer is making a break for it,” I warned the deputy.

He sighed and returned to his car to call in a stray cow report. “Tell Bradley that Melba’s loose again,” he said, before turning on his light bar and trailing her slowly down the road. ■

Linda Saldaña is a recovering technical writer who loves to tell stories through fiction, poetry, and plays. She can be found hovering all around the San Francisco Bay Area, and has had several pieces published, performed, and yes, rejected.