8. Home, David Thoreau, the cow, insemination, meeting the Devil

Lying cow by Vincent van Gogh
-Entonces, ¿qué esperas para morirte?
-La muerte, Susana.
JUAN RULFO, Pedro Páramo.

It was during that time, that Father bought the House in the outskirts from a middle age woman whose blond hair had already started graying. She offered me a small wooden Pinocchio the day we met. The House was set apart from the world and its people by a brick wall and a black iron gate. Once inside, a front green yard where two enormous pines that stroked the blue cold skies with their fingers and welcomed the visitor. A small pond where goldfish lived and multiplied. A playground made of steel and light wood with swings, slide, and a wooden tunnel. Dozens of eucalyptus trees, its leaves to fight the grippe, its trunks to hang the red and yellow handmade hammocks. From its soil sprouted lemon, cherry, guavasteen, and aloe trees. On the grounds rambled dogs of half a dozen breeds, cats, a goat, and a cow and her calf. On the dark waters of the ditch that went around it, protecting it as if it were an ancient secret fortress, swam ducks, frogs, and turtles. On the branches of its trees reigned songbirds, a parrot, and a red-and-green macaw called Robert or Lawrence depending on the caller. The main building itself was an ample cottage of naked light-red brick walls. The edges of its triangular thatch roof went so low that they almost touched the ground. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a bright living room, a dining room, and a kitchen Mother said was the one she had always dreamed of. Two more cottages, these ones independent, housed the man and woman helpers. In the backyard, there were houses for the dogs, a kiosk from which wooden walls hung the stuffed head of a sad gray bull, later eaten by the moths, and a barbeque grill in front of which Father used to murder hens and pigs. Depending on the season there were plagues of hairy worms, mosquitos, flies, spiders, rats, termites, and cockroaches. Henry David Thoreau said that There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building its own nest. Father and Mother built the house, they built our Life. And we grew and lived in it until it burnt to the ground as hit by a curse or a fallen star and all there was left of that House and that Life was ashes. On the right side of the House, a dark green corn field cared for and guarded by Cayetano, an old man made of strings of muscle baked by the sun. His face, dark and withered, was always half-covered by a straw hat. Cayetano quartered his crop of cobs armed with his brown hands and a long hoe. After tongues of fire licked the House until it was no more and decay and misery and hunger took its place, we went with Paco, my friend and brother, crossed the fence that was between the golden kernels and us, and stole handfuls of tusk-like corncobs. I think the old man knew of our felony from the beginning. He just preferred to blame the crows and the pigeons for the missing corn. Cayetano’s face radiated light when he saw Mother. There was no favor from her lips that was left unattended. After a brief chat between them, they decided that the cow and her calf could roam and graze in the fields once the last cob of corn had been picked and the land had to be freed from twigs and roots and grass and weeds before the new harvest. I remember with disturbing clarity how the man of the mustache tied the hind legs of the animal, how it lifted her tail with his right hand and inserted his left fist covered in a layer of thin plastic inside the cow’s vulva. Green handfuls of soft feces fell to the ground between the man and the cow, followed by a thick gooey thread of slick, as if the cow’s insides were inhabited by a thousand snails. I didn’t know an animal’s body could contain so much excrement.

Insemination of a cow

The mustache man then inserted the long metal tube containing the bull’s semen into the vulva with his right hand, dipped his gloved hand deeper, down to his elbow, and kept palpating as exploring inside the reproductive system of the cow as if he were looking for a lost ring inside a muddy pond. Black and green flies were quick to join. Before the end, the man shoved his fist halfway in and out and pulled it out form the cow’s vagina. Only a species as greedy as ours would think of raping an animal with our fists in order to accelerate natural processes and increase gains and profits. It was during one of those nights when Paco and I had to fetch the animals that I think I saw the Devil. The cow was hungry, or so I thought, and wouldn’t bulge. So I cursed and punched and kicked the beast in front of her child and I think that’s why the Devil came to see us. The cow screamed and went wild with pain and anger. Fearing to be crushed by the hooves of the mad animal, I let go of the rope around her neck and Paco and I ran in different directions. I ran and ran through the dead corn fields, and ran into the House through the open gate, and ran through its gardens until I saw the light of the backyard shed. Faster, faster, I kept telling to Paco, whose quick steps I heard and darkened feet I saw between my own. I jumped around to face my friend and make sure the wicked cow was nowhere to be seen. I saw the shadow pass in front of me and disappear behind the shed without a noise. Paco? I asked surprised at his behavior. Behind the shed there was nothing but a fence of barbwire, what is he doing there? I wondered. I was about to say his name again when Mother and Paco came walking and chatting without haste from the main building. Who was he who just ran in front of me? I asked them, feeling my spirit break. I cried. Mother smiled. Paco pretended not to listen and said that now the cow was calm. Some months later in the middle of a dark night, Silvana saw a woman dressed in white floating in that same spot behind the House. She came back into the house in tears.

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