The cat pawed at the dead mouse, tearing open its little stomach, then started pulling out the wet pearls of intestine. I stood there quietly; I knew that cats ate mice, but only via hearsay, and it was a bit shocking to be this close to the morbid truth. My mom said that I should look away if it bothered me, but I simply couldn’t. I was six, and my family was staying on an old farm in Norway for a few weeks.
I looked up from the mouse to the cat and we made eye contact. The housecat mentality had long since been lost thanks to the encroaching wilderness, and I felt as if the animal was deciding whether or not I was edible. I lost the staring contest and we went our separate ways as I followed my parents along an old forest trail that led to a church. The main building was surrounded by aboveground tombs that had enormous slabs on top carved with effigies that had been washed to oblivion by centuries of rain. A few were askew thanks to looters who had also long since died.
They let me use the enormous iron key to unlock the door. I felt that surely such a key could only open a pirate’s treasure chest, but the lock clicked and we went in. Living in Alaska, I had never really been exposed to antiquity, so the church came as a shock. It smelled of earth and years and the lead glass windows were actually thicker at the bottom then they were at the top because the glass, being an amorphous solid, had slowly succumbed to gravity. How crazy is that? My dad told me that even the newest part of the church was older than anything back in the United States. It felt sacred.
On the way back to the farm house where we were staying, we got word that a bull was loose. My parents went running towards the noise all the while yelling at me to stay back, but I simply couldn’t. We got there in time to see the bull, covered in mud and greenish manure, run into a small building along the trail. Tom, the farm’s caretaker, went in after it but came back out shortly after spitting blood and holding his jaw. The bull burst from the little building and started running away. My dad chased it, which I thought was awesome, but then the bull turned on him. It wasn’t a really big bull, but anything big enough to be called a bull is big enough to take seriously. But then again, so was my dad.
He grabbed the bull by the horns, literally, twisted and heaved, and then slammed a few hundred pounds of hamburger into the mud. Tom came running and tied the thing up and left it there writhing in the mud until they could figure out what to do next. I was awestruck. First the mouse, then the church and its mystical key, and then I got to watch my dad beat up a cow. Are you frickin’ kidding me? It was shaping up to be one hell of a day.
We went back into the farmhouse and cleaned up before dinner. Oddly enough, I have no remembrance of what we ate, but afterwards, Tom’s two toe head twins, Christopher and Cecilia, took me by the hand and drug me out to the barn and up a latter into the hayloft. Neither of the two spoke any English and I only spoke enough Norwegian to say “a thousand thanks” which doesn’t get you very far. We had long since reverted to that odd unspoken, giggling type of communication kids eventually grow out of, and through it, I figured out that they wanted me to jump off of the hayloft into a pile of hay that was a good twenty feet below us. My eyes said “no way,” Cecilia’s said “you’re a chicken,” mine said “oh yeah?” and then I jumped. Like the rest of the day, it was simply awesome. My little legs couldn’t carry me up the latter fast enough to do it a second time, or a third or a fourth. I clearly remember the musky smell of the yellow hay and the way it covered me as I lay in it. I envied the animals that lived in the barn. I recalled all sorts of nonsensical stories from bedtimes past and wondered what it’d be like to spin the straws around me into gold. We ended the night by throwing handfuls of hay at each other; to the twins it was commonplace, to me it was a novelty. I slept, and the rest of the trip has long since faded in my memory except for odd little flashes that I can’t place.
If you’ve ever eaten a Lay’s potato chip, then you’ve eaten a potato grown by a Navajo consortium that operates an enormous swath of land referred to simply as the Napi. I’m pretty sure it’s an acronym, but I don’t know what it stands for and I don’t care enough to Google it and find out. Anyway, all of Lay’s potatoes are grown right here in Northern New Mexico, and I often drive through the endless fields on my way to natural gas wells. The wells spot the expansive fields of rolling earth like odd little mechanized islands floating in an artificial ocean of vegetation. It’s easy to get lost, and I almost did last week, but I pulled over to the side of the road to get out and stretch and make a phone call. That’s when I saw the hay.
There, close to where I parked, was the most hay I had ever seen. I guess that’s not really saying much and I suppose it’s also a rather ridiculous statement, but whatever. There had to be at least one hundred thousand bails, each of which was bigger than my truck, stacked two stories high and lined up in long rows. The smell hit me and snapped me back to that farm in Norway like some sort of olfactory flashback and I stood there, stuck in my reverie and staring at the hay, until a truck full of passing Navajos honked at me. I can’t really blame them; I doubt they often see slack jawed white guys wearing hard hats and FRC coveralls staring up at their hay. I got back in my truck, pulled on to the road, back into the here and now, and then drove away.
Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI