Cattle Drive

I am driving the bovine eyes back from Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. Part time job, gives me a little kitty money while at school. Once a week, about seven hours there and back. They call me a lab assistant.

The pairs have been separated. Each one sits in a plastic bucket, like a very large margarine container. The buckets sit side by side in cardboard boxes. I’ve got a box on the seat next to me and two more in th back. The guy in Pennsylvania, the lab assistant, who loads them, always lays a towel in the bottom of each box before he puts the buckets in. Today the towels are mauve. I never bring the towels back, I wonder if I’m supposed to?

I think about the eyes when I’m driving. I don’t talk them or anything, but I do sing old western songs on the ride back. I go a whole week without ever wanting to sing cattle drive songs and then I get in the car with the bovine eyes and automatically start singing ‘Git along little dawgies.’

You can’t drive through Pennsylvania without hitting some construction, you just can’t. I try to drive smoothly so as not to disturb the bovine eyes. I can hear them slosh around inside the margarine buckets. Poor dawgies. What a life. Spend their days grazing in the fields, chomping clover, and then they get their eyes taken to be put in margarine buckets and shipped off to a university to be cut up by some undergraduate upstarts. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. You wouldn’t think they’d be allowed to do something like that to the poor little dawgies. There must not be any bovine unions.

So I try to make the ride as peaceful as possible. If that means going a little slower along the grooved roads, then I will. If it takes me seven hours and twenty minutes, then it does. Doesn’t bother me, I know lots of songs.

I sometimes think about my parents on the drive back from Wyalusing. I wonder what my mother would say if she were to see me chauffeuring these margarine buckets over a couple hundred miles of broken roads. She doesn’t keep anything in plastic margarine containers. Not left over meat, vegetables, rice, nothing. She doesn’t even keep margarine in margarine containers, preferring to scrape butter from a stick lying on one of her glass butter dishes.

At functions she makes a point to say, for the benefit of poor, dear Mr. Noonan, who has had every valve within eight inches of his heart replaced by plastic tubing, that, “The butter is butter and nothing but.”

“You had better watch your cholesterol, Marjorie,” states Mr. Noonan in a stern, compassionate voice.

“I appreciate your concern, Jack, but it’s all in the metabolism. I’m one of the lucky few that can eat whatever she wants,” my mother says and ceremoniously places a wafer, piled with smoked salmon, into her cavernous mouth.

And then Mr. Noonan will ask my father, “Bill, how’s that boy of yours doing at school?”

“Fine,” dad will say. “Just fine.”

Mother, off to the side in the direction of kind, old Mrs. Noonan, says, “I think Steven is taking on too much.”

“What is he studying, Bill?”

“International Relations, pre-law.”

“But he has a job, too,” my mother chimes in. “He’s a lab assistant.”

Oohs and aahs all around.

“You know, Bill,” mother says, folding her little white sandwich napkin into smaller and smaller squares. “I would not be at all surprised if Steven ends up pre-med instead pre-law.”

“Well, dear, I don’t know about that.”

Mr. Noonan spins his ice cubes around the bottom of his glass, watching them glide. There will be a lull, a short one, but a lull.

And that is what it comes down to. To my father I am a lawyer, to my mother I am a doctor, and to me I am a cowboy.

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