Greg liked to brag about his cows.
Every morning, he told me, he’d wake up and meander outside for a fresh pail of milk. Every morning! Can you believe that? His words, not mine.
Anyway, Greg loved his cows. Ever since Eta passed, maybe even a little too much – he didn’t go a moment without thinking about them. Once, back when he still got out of the house, he came over to mine for dinner. But wouldn’t you know it, he left before we got to dessert, all to check on those blasted bovines.
Greg was always thinking about those cows. Always. So, it’s no real surprise that sometimes he’d hear ‘em too, even if they weren’t really there. And really, I think that’s what killed him.
It happened half a dozen summers back, maybe. Greg and I had gone on a little trip down south, past Hudsonville and on towards Langerton State Park. We got there pretty late in the afternoon, sticky from miles and miles of hot sun beating down on us like an all too overbearing wife after a night out. Greg started pitching the tents – we’d just gotten our hands on some of them new spherical sort, what that you just stick the poles in and stake ‘em to the ground, easy as can be. Way better than the old ones, he said. I wasn’t so sure, but figured we’d see later that night if the wind blew us both away.
I grabbed a couple St. Arnold’s out of the cooler, handed one to Greg as we started walking. He was always the show-off type with the weird little bodily tricks; surprise surprise, he popped the cap right off between the crook of his forearm and bicep. Now, I’m a stubborn man, but I wanted my beer right then.
I had him do mine too. He cracked it open, made some joke about a bull and its horns. I didn’t laugh, but hey, they can’t all be winners.
Beautiful day for a stroll, it was, and the place was empty save for us and a couple of park rangers lurking around, doing whatever they do when nobody’s looking. They wouldn’t want me to tell you more than that, and since I’d like to go back someday, I won’t.
Now, Greg and I had our trunks on and were on a collision course directly with the lake, so it must’ve been pretty obvious what we had in mind. Could be that’s why that one ranger stopped us, although to this day I do wonder if she didn’t just want to abuse what little authority she had.
She shouted at us to stop, demanded to see our park passes. We had ‘em, of course, and she knew we did, too, but all the same she waited with hands on hips as we patted around our pockets ‘til we found those little slips of waxy paper and fished ‘em out. Didn’t even bother to look at us, the little brat. Just shooed us away, like some midnight vermin.
But as soon as we’d gotten almost out of ear-shot, she shouted a warning at us, and you know, I can scarcely remember her words now. Something like, ‘Hey, you old boys better not be going out on that lake today! Ain’t y’all seen the signs? There’s gators in there, dozens of ‘em!’
We hadn’t, of course, but I doubt we would’ve cared even so. I know I wouldn’t have, and my buddy Greg weren’t never one to follow the rules exactly, neither. On we went.
Funny thing about gators, when nighttime rolls around and they start howling their mating calls for the world to hear, you’d be forgiven for thinking they sounded a lot like cows.
Anyhow, we got to the watering hole just after sundown. The mosquitos were out in force that night, and I don’t know if y’all’ve ever dealt with Texan mosquitos, but these ones fought like they remembered the Alamo every bit as well as the rest of us. We were swinging and swatting, must’ve taken out an army of the little buggers between us.
If we were cows, said Greg, we’d at least have had tails and movable ears to whack ‘em. I told him I was none too sorry to be humanoid instead of bovine. I suspect he may have felt otherwise inclined.
But bugs or no bugs, hooves or feet, damn it if it weren’t the most beautiful sunset you ever did see. Almost kept me from noticing all the gators laying around, soaking in those last few drops of sunlight. Almost, but not quite.
Must’ve worked on Greg, though.
We stood there, watching the sun dip low over the horizon, finishing off the last few drops of our beers, drinking in that golden hour. Greg pulled a flask, took a long swig. A bead of white dribbled down his chin and fell away into the grass below.