Cow-Heads.jpgCow Heads, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Third prize winner of the 1st Annual Short Long-Distance Writing Contest.
It’s usually her mother’s story: what she was wearing, who came to visit, what kind of flowers were sent, the weather in Winnipeg. In that month of ripening sometimes there isn’t enough rain, sometimes too much. But on this hot August morning of someone’s arrival, others are waiting: having breakfast, reading books, making zwieback, looking for somewhere to live. In Transcona her uncle is measuring the height of the wheat, praying for a bountiful crop this year so all the bills will get paid. The truce isn’t signed yet but he’s hoping the boys will return.
Her mother checks into the Misericordia soon after the contractions begin, her father asleep out West. By the time he eats breakfast in Chilliwack, a doctor in Winnipeg has decided to intervene.
Her father wakes up early, thinking at first that he has to milk the cows and then, amazed that he has time, shifts himself upright and grabs the book on the night table to read a chapter (Willa Cather, or something by Schweitzer) before going down for coffee. He can smell fresh bread—his mother has been up since sunrise, punching down the dough and twisting the domes for zwieback. There will be eggs from the henhouse out back, already wiped and washed. Perhaps today there will be a telegram. If it’s a boy, his second name will be Gerhard, or perhaps just George. You could call her Odessa, his aunt says, caught in an old life.
He has decided to rent a tiny house behind a house, just a few blocks down from this home of his parents, but closer to the school where he’ll teach, close enough to ride his bicycle. It will be a few more years and a bigger salary before he drives a car for the first time, the day he takes the Austin off the lot. One day he’ll be a professor with a Mercedes, and when he dies his family will dream of him gliding along in its grey elegance, still at home in the red leather seats.
What if he knew—they’ve put the mother out now and the doctor has picked up the forceps—that after his death the Mercedes will be bought by a man on the far edge of this family to come, some ex-partner of somebody’s son’s girlfriend’s mother, with a connection to this girl being born too complicated to explain? A mechanic, not a scholar, takes the car apart, puts it back together and, in the pain of being cuckolded, drives away.
Her father is rereading Death Comes for the Archbishop when his daughter is born in Winnipeg. When he turns on the radio later that day he hears that the Americans have dropped a bomb on Nagasaki and the war is pretty close to being over.