Everything would have been fine if it weren’t for the cow.
If it weren’t for the cow, it would have been a perfect day. Real productive. I was working all morning on the insurance report, and I even finished early, in time for lunch. I ate my turkey and cheese in the break room, going over the latest celebrity gossip on my phone. When I came back, the cow was there.
“Moo,” it said.
“Excuse me,” I replied. “You’re in front of my cubicle. I need to get by.”
It did not look very interested in moving.
I’m a small person, really. Five feet and a handful of inches. I’m not very confrontational either. So I couldn’t get by the cow. And it just kept looking at me with these vacant eyes, mouth agape.
My computer was still on, so it looked like I was clocked in. I mean, I was clocked in, obviously. I just couldn’t respond to my emails. Or file my letters. Or do anything at my desk.
“Excuse me, you need to move,” I tried again.
The cow gave no response.
It wasn’t going to listen to me. I needed someone else, someone more versed in bovine removal. I started to pace around the office, looking into everyone’s cubicles as I passed by. The cow’s head was taller than the cubicle walls, just barely, so I could track it as I walked around. It wasn’t going anywhere.
Jeff from accounting was playing Tetris on his computer. He quickly shut out of the window when I came up behind him — then, when he saw my face, he smiled.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
Jeff pulled up the insurance report. “This is good work here. Very specific. There’s a spot on the fourth floor opening up next month, you know. They need a lady up there. I could vouch for you.”
I’d heard about the opening. “I don’t know if I’m ready for a promotion.”
“Nonsense. You’ve got C-suite level skills. I mean, as much as anyone up there has any skills. You treat your job like it’s your life, and they love that at corporate.”
He was right. I’ve never hated my job, and that’s more than most people can say. Plus, the promotion would come with a huge pay raise.
I fidgeted with my shirt sleeve. “Ashley thinks I should apply.”
“She’s probably right,” Jeff replied.
There was an awkward silence. Jeff drummed his fingers on the desk, impatient. He wanted to get back to tetris. “Do you need help with something?” he asked, in the polite way that people offer when they want you to leave them alone.
“Actually, I do.”
By the time we got back to my cubicle, I expected some sort of change. Movement from the cow, at least. Maybe it was going to bother someone else. But nothing changed. The cow was still there, blocking my way.
Jeff crossed his arms. “Well. That’s pretty inconvenient.”
He examined the cow up close, looking in its snout, its ears. He leaned down and got under the stomach. The cow didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s a girl cow,” Jeff said.
“Why would that be relevant?”
“I don’t know,” he said, getting back up. “Maybe she has baby cows somewhere around here. Maybe that’s why she came in. What are those called, anyway?”
“Calves, I think.” I looked in the cow’s eyes, hoping for some sort of connection. “Do you miss your calves? Are you looking for them?”
“Moo,” she said.
I pulled up an image of a calf on my phone, and held it so she could see it with her left eye. “Is this what you want? Your babies?”
I sighed. “Yeah. I don’t care about babies, either.”
Jeff shook his head. “I don’t think that’s it.”
I checked my watch. It was 2 p.m., and I had things to do before I went home. There were papers that needed to be delivered to the third floor, and I had to send a letter to my landlord, asking to add a new roommate. Plus, Ashley decided that tonight was our date night, and I couldn’t be late. She hates when I stay late at work. So the cow had to be moved, somehow.
Jeff sighed, stretching his back. “Shouldn’t we try to entice her away first?”
“What do you mean?”
“I think I have some leftover lettuce from my salad. Cows eat lettuce, right?”
I nodded. They do.
This cow, however, was not interested in Jeff’s lettuce. When we came back, she was chewing on one of my letters, the one for Ashley’s landlord. Her teeth made a terrible grinding noise, and some of the pulp fell out onto the floor. She did not react to the offer of lettuce.
“Don’t eat that, eat this,” I insisted, but she just kept chewing.
“I hope that wasn’t important,” Jeff said.
I grumbled. Ashley was going to be pissed.
Other snacks had the same effect. She didn’t want any of my lunch, or Jeff’s, or any of the abandoned goods from the communal fridge. She just kept eating the letter. A few times she would swallow it, and the chewing would be over, and then all of a sudden she’d be chewing again.
“Did you see that?” I asked Jeff.
“How is she still chewing? She just swallowed.”
“Oh. Cows have four stomachs. So they keep throwing their food up and re-chewing it.”
“That sounds really inefficient.”
Jeff shrugged. “I think so, too. But no one asked me.” He grinned, as though he’d said something funny.
I looked around at the other cubicles, trying to find someone else to help. No luck. The woman in the cubicle next to me had clunky headphones on. A man across the way stared intently at his screen, not looking up.
Someone walked by us, with a big chunk of papers in their hand. “Excuse me,” they said to the cow, elbowing by. She still didn’t move.
“I need to get back to work,” Jeff said. “It’s almost 2:30. You should just go to HR.”
“What are they going to do?”
“I don’t know. Maybe this kind of thing has happened before.”
The head of HR is named Henry. I know this because it’s my cat’s name, and because he wears a little gold name tag every day, just like everyone else on the fourth floor. Human Henry, not the cat. My cat has a collar.
Henry, Jeff, and I stand in the aisle. We regard the cow with furrowed brows and serious expressions. Henry strokes his beard.
“Well, this simply won’t do,” he says plainly.
“I agree,” I say.
Jeff looks like he wants to interject, but he stops himself, eyeing Henry’s frown.
Henry huffs. “Have you tried giving it snacks?”
“Have you tried telling it to move?”
“Have you tried physically moving it?”
Jeff holds up a finger. “According to Wikipedia, female cows weigh around 1,600 pounds. I don’t know if we could lift her.”
“It’s a female cow?” Henry asks.
Henry nods, contemplative. “I see.”
There’s a pregnant pause. I twiddle my thumbs behind my back, so no one else can see. The cow has finished the first letter, and she’s eyeing another one. I don’t know how I’m going to replace the ones from corporate.
Henry leans over to me. “There’s a position open on the fourth floor, you know. Are you going to apply?”
My hands are sweaty, so I wipe them on my pants. “I think we should deal with the cow first.”
“If you want. I hear that it’s perfect for you. Larry was asking for you directly.”
Ashley’s going to love that. If I get this promotion, she says, we can start trying for a baby. “Oh. That’s nice.”
The cow turns her head, looking directly at me. My pulse stills. I wonder if she’s going to charge at me, or eat something else off my desk. A report? A stapler? My keyboard? With four stomachs, she can probably handle anything.
“Moo,” she says, simply.
“Well, it talks,” says Henry. He looks at Jeff, brows furrowed. “Don’t you have to get back to work?”
Jeff nods, noncommittal. He’s lying; there’s nothing on his schedule today. But Henry waves a hand, dismissing him. Then we’re left alone with the cow.
Henry shakes his head. “I don’t know what to tell you. If you can’t get any work done, we’re going to have to dock your hours for this afternoon. I’m sorry.” His hands are folded tight across his chest.
“What?” My voice is a bit louder than I mean for it to be, and I can feel my coworkers staring. I lower to a whisper. “I mean, this isn’t my fault.”
Henry sighs. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s company policy. Just following orders.”
“I didn't do anything wrong! I tried to get work done, I swear. I did the insurance reports already and everything!” I groan. “Can’t I use a loaner computer or something?”
“They’re all checked out for the day.”
He looks sad, he really does. His eyes are downturned in a corporate show of pity. I take a deep breath, but my hands are balled into fists.
I stare at the cow, unblinking. I want to yell, or scream, or push her out of the way, but I can’t bring myself to do any of that. Her eyes are kind and innocent, but they look heavy. She’s exhausted.
“Can you please move out of the way?” I ask.
Her head tilts to the side. She seems to understand me. With soft, gentle steps, she walks down the aisle, and out toward the elevator. I sit down at my desk, amazed. She only ate one letter.
“Good work,” says Henry. “Hopefully you can catch up on your work.” And then he turns on his heel and leaves, gold name tag sparkling in the fluorescent lights.