By Phaedra Mintun
The stout form of Mrs. Dorthy Marlen filled the doorway of a well-kept farmhouse. "Walter! I am going to leave your lunch out here on the picnic table so you don't track mud on my fresh scrubbed floors."
From inside the dark recesses of the tool shed she heard a muffled response that she took as conformation that her message had been received. She toddled across the yard and set her heavy tray full of all the things a teenage boy would need to stay healthy. Relived of her burden and secure in the knowledge that her son would be well fed, she made her way back toward her house, flapping her floral print apron at the chickens as she went.
Just as the door to the tidy little farmhouse closed behind her a pair of crusty underpants floated from the sky and landed on the well-laden tray. It settled over the warm bread spread thick with home made butter. It nestled its folds around the creamy lump of fresh cheese. The soiled undies even blanketed the thick slice of apple pie. The spring day puffed a gentile breath of wind and the garment shivered. Another lilac scented gust made the fabric shimmy in a restless little dance before it hopped away from the healthy lunch of Walter Marlen in search of better entertainment. All that remained of the underthings was a thin coating of shimmering pollen.
Walter blinked as his eyes adjusted to the sunlight. After the hour or so he had spent in the dim tool shed trying to fix the old seed laying bot, the bright day was blinding. Once he had grown accustom to the light he didn't waste any time before tucking into his lunch. Being at the stage in life where growth happened practically overnight Walter was in a near constant state of hunger. He jammed bread, cheese, and pie into his mouth and relished it in a way that only teenage boys seem capable of.
As was normal to his routine, he picked up the empty tray and was crossing the yard to place it on the porch for his mother to pick up when he noticed the chickens were making a fuss over something in the yard. He deviated from his path and went to investigate.
The chickens were in a mad fury over some item of interest, he reached in amongst the sharp pecking beaks and pulled the item free. The chickens went crazy flapping and scratching at him. They made a horrendous amount of noise with their clucking and screeching. Walter had never seen chickens act so strangely. He backed away from them, tucking the bit of cloth they were after under his arm.
Walter would never be able to think of this moment later without shuddering. There was something strange in their dark red ringed eyes as they turned on him. Everything happened so fast, a flurry of feathers and pain as he was pecked, scratched, and beaten with murderous wings.
Walter fled. He ran as fast as his healthy, young legs could carry him away from the whirling dervish of poultry. Gasping for breath Walter looked around and found himself a good three miles from home, leaning on the fence post in front of the home of the widow Elpost and her beautiful daughter, Eleanor. Walter had spent many hours playing games of tag or hide and seek with Eleanor as a child. One day, a few years ago, he had become uncomfortably aware of her as a female and had spent nearly every hour since then admiring the lovely form of Eleanor from afar.
Not wanting to be spotted standing in front of her house breathless and sweaty, but also not wishing to face the fearsome whirlwind of beaks and feathers occupying his front yard, Walter decided to make his way back to his house through the pastures. He carefully slipped into the row of hedges that lined the side of the Elpost property. As he was squeezing through the branches, Walter remembered the piece of fabric that he had taken from the chickens and tucked under his arm. He held it out to take a look. He blushed to find himself holding an old, dirty, slightly worn, pair of men’s underpants. Walter dropped them and wiped his hands on his shirt in disgust. Then the image of the lovely and innocent Elenor discovering them in her hedges came into his mind and he scooped them up again.
Walter crouched in the bushes, frustrated by his uncertainty. He couldn't leave some perverted old man’s shorts here where pretty young girls could find them, but he didn't want to be seen carrying them around with him either! At last he shoved them in his pocket and vowed to get rid of them the first moment he could.
Now that he had a plan of action Walter made his way through the waxy leaves and dark webbing of branches inside the hedge. The going was slow. He had to squeeze his way through the tighter spots and his shirt and pants often caught on the sharp twigs sticking out from the branches. The light filtering through the leaves gave everything a soft green glow and the earthy smell reminded him of the summer days he spent building secret forts in these bushes with Eleanor.
When he came to the end of the hedge row he was coated in spider webs and dried leaves stuck in his hair. He came out into the pasture that he remembered as being full of cows back when Eleanor's father had been alive to tend to them. It had changed substantially since then. A large area had been fenced in as vegetable gardens. He had come out in an open area where there was one little dairy cow munching the soft spring grass. Her large black spots melting over her white sides were picturesque. Yet it all made him inexplicably sad to see the changes.
His image of Eleanor shifted a little. In his mind’s eye he could see now the sadness in her eyes. Her father had been a hard worker who had provided well for his wife and little daughter. Walter remembered him as a jovial and generous man who had showered Eleanor with affection and who had always treated him as an equal, rather than a silly little neighborhood boy. He felt a pang of grief for the man he had known and then he measured that small emotion to the vast cavern of loss her fathers death must have left in Eleanor.
While Walter stood in the shade of the hedge lost in memories the sweet little dairy cow grew nearer. Her liquid brown eyes stared at him in a way that made Walter uneasy. Her hooves were quiet on the spongy grass. Her breath squelched in and out her large, moist nostrils. Walter wanted to run but he stood mesmerized as the bovine grew closer and closer. The slippery nose of the beast left silver trails over his clothes as she breathed him in. He stood taking shallow breaths of her warm, manure rich scent. The cow didn't seem so small now. Her skull was easily larger that Walter’s rib cage but she seemed determined to force her way into his chest. He stepped back but it was too late. The animal had him pinned against the hedge. He tried to scramble back into the protection of the branches, but without the room to maneuver he gave himself a nasty gash on his arm. The cud-chewing creature pressed into him again and he lost his balance. His feet skidded in the loose dirt on the edge of the pasture and he slid to the ground.
He shuffled to avoid the spindly legs and sharp hooves, which resulted in him being in the uncomfortable position of being pinned beneath the beast as she snuffled him. Her slick nose and velvety lips brushed over his face. Her grassy breath made him gag. The cow took a few small steps backward as she worked her nose down his body. Walter tucked his arms and legs in tight hoping that she wouldn't step on him as she moved. She continued to work her way down his body, carefully sniffing every inch of him. He tried to push with his feet and slide on his back away from her. Every attempt he made was thwarted by her massive head coming down to pin him.
She reached the pocket of his trousers where he had stuffed the offending underpants and she took several large huffing breaths. Her wide wet nose nuzzled into the front of his pants.
He heard a noise off to his left. He swiveled his head and was struck down in mortifying horror. The beautiful Eleanor was standing a few yards away. Her fair hair caught the spring sunshine and spun it into gleams of strawberry light. Her slender form was draped in a pale blue dress that danced merry rings around her ankles in the breeze. Her hazel eyes were wide with surprise and her soft pink lips hung open in a little "oh!"
Walter sputtered trying to make words come out, some wonderful word that would explain his being here, on the ground in her pasture, with her cow, and his...his mind jittered to a halt. His mouth opened and closed a few times and he tried to kick start it into saying something. "I'm sorry your dad died."
That was not what he had been hoping for. He tried again, "I see you have gotten a new cow. She's friendly." He patted the head of the cow that was still snuffling the front of his pants.
Eleanor took a step forward. Her button nose twitched. She took another step forward, and sniffed again. Walter took a deep breath through his nose. The smell of cow and his own sharp body odor was combining into a powerfully rank stench. Embarrassed by offending her delicate olfactory senses Walter began an apology. He was cut short by the startling movement of Eleanor as she rushed forward and pressed her face in beside the cows. Walter was left breathless.
Walter stared up at the clear blue spring sky and listened to the birds gossiping in the trees and he watched as Eleanor ran through the pasture with his pants, the black and white dairy cow charging after her.
He pushed himself up off the ground. Bruised and confused he limped home. It had been a strange and baffling day for Walter Marlen, but as the sunset, he smiled to himself. For months now he had been trying to think of an ice breaker that would give him the confidence to talk to the beautiful Eleanor, and tomorrow morning he would have just the thing.