Elf Zwölf beaches his battered Ford 250 pickup on the shady side of Elm Street, across from the Liberty Mutual Bank and down the street from the county courthouse. Attempting to open the truck’s door, he finds it blocked by a Hereford bull.
Zwölf slides across the seat, opens the passenger side door and steps onto the sidewalk. Rubbing his forehead while scratching his behind, the big cowboy reviews three thoughts: 1. He is not standing in the home place pasture. 2. He is nowhere near the stockyards. 3. What the hell is a bull doing between the Liberty Mutual Bank and the courthouse?
A series of wet plops answers the question. The bull raises its tail and poops into the street. The cowpie (technically a bullpie, but no Montana native, rural or urban, would call it that) is already drawing flies.
By tomorrow a thin crust will cover a sloppy center. A week in the sun will dry it to the consistency of cheap felt. Tomorrow it might serve a fourth-grade boy as an organic Frisbee or home base in a game of one ol’ cat.
The bull’s tail relaxes. A sweep of this caudal appendage dislodges a cloud of flies from its flank. A black baldy heifer ambles past the cowboy to smell the bull’s rump.
It occurs to Zwölf that the streets have filled with cattle in the minutes since he parked. Cattle of every color and breed crowd downtown and fill North 27th Street from the Rimrocks to the Interstate Highway. Not a single animal has moved more than several steps but each has surrounded itself with several meadow muffins.
The growing herd awakens the rancher in Zwölf. “Two, three, four …” he conducts a bovine head count, “… five, six … .” A pair of Holsteins, as big as Humvees, splotched black and white, drop cowpies the size of manhole covers.
A brown Swiss, with the slender physique of a deer, tiptoes through a clot of shaggy Highlanders. There are black angus, red angus and Belgian blues, brahmas, betus, selembus and betizus. Dwarf lulu from the mountains of Nepal sniff Anjou from Maine. There are 800 breeds of cattle on this planet. Zwölf reckons half those varieties are represented at the day’s cowpie bakeoff.
He loses count but remembers once seeing 1,000 cattle in a drive from the Crow Reservation to the stockyards in Billings. He moved the memory of that image from place to place over his view of the cattle in front of him and calculated the presence of 100,000 bawling bovines.
“Were they bawling a moment ago?” he asked himself. He could not remember. He was almost certain that the noise assailing his ear was not there a few minutes ago.
Nor did he remember seeing any other humans. Now a police sergeant with a truncheon beats a Hereford steer, prodding it to move who knew where.
The mayor holds a yearling heifer by the ears, looks into its eyes and tries to reason with it. Three blue-haired old women occupy a bus stop bench on the curb next to Zwölf’s truck. He does not remember the bench, either.
Each of the women wears a hat scaled with sequins. One holds a shopping bag in her lap. The bag is labeled “Hart-Albin,” the name of a department store long defunct.
Zwölf asks the woman with the shopping bag, “Where did all the cows come from?”
“It’s Thursday,” she sniffs.
Zwölf smiles and nods. He remembers meatless Fridays from his days attending a Catholic boarding school.
“They will be gone tomorrow,” he says.
The woman with the shopping bag nods and smiles.
The rookie cop wanders by. He is smeared with manure on one side from ankle to armpit. He must have slipped on something.
The bench ladies “oooh” and dash to his side. Pitying this poor Eagle Scout, they dab at this uniform with small silk hankies.
The sergeant with the truncheon passes, growling at the rookie cop and his three saviors from the bus bench. The women ignore the growling sergeant.
• • •
One hundred and eighty-six thousand miles per second. Not just a good idea - it’s the law.
Hurrying home to write this column, I arrived two hours before getting back. I am in a hurry. On deadline, don’t you know. I stare at my computer’s screen until little beads of blood pop out on my forehead. Who is Elf Zwölf? Were there really cows on North 27th Street? Did I make this stuff up?
“What’s that? I just heard a noise, not a knock but perhaps an attempt to catch my attention.”
“There it goes again! Who’s there?”
“Of course it’s you, you ninny. It’s certainly not me or someone else. Who are you?”
“That tells me squat. Almost everyone is a reader. We carbon-based bipedal life forms read like the dickens. We read English English and American English, 37 flavors of Spanish, seven Mayan dialects and ancient Hittite.”
“I am one of YOUR readers. There are dozens of us. We know one another by name.”
“Did I create you?”
“Wow! You have a bloated ego, don’t you? Think you are the creator, eh?
No, you never created us, but when you press a key it makes a noise in our heads.”
• • •
Presently I heard a noise that was neither a keystroke or a voice in my head.
“Clock, clock, clock.” It was, of course, a clock. A clock eponymously repeating its own name. Hearing these household sounds could only mean that I was awake. I tested this conclusion by attempting to imagine a vacuum cleaner grazing the living room carpet. Nothing. I concentrated. Still nothing. Then, WOW! An epiphany nearly roasted the tangled gray matter beneath my pate.
It was so obvious.
I remember counting brahmas, betus, selembus and betizus, dwarf lulu among the cattle breeds crowding downtown. If I were really dreaming I would not have tried anything so complex and exotic without Spell-check. My computer has the program. My brain does not. My brain can’t spell “brahmas.”
Ergo: I WAS NOT DREAMING. I ONLY DREAMED I WAS DREAMING!
Consider, is a person who dreams of baking a chocolate cake really baking a chocolate cake?
Of course not.
The same is true of any other activity a might occupy person’s dreams. I might dream of campaigning for Vice President Eponymous Epiphany. But I would never dream of using those terms in a column.
I could dream of hunting orchids in the rain forests of Ecuador or being caught in a machete fight in an oil boom village on the banks of the Rio Agua Rica.
If someone tells you they just dated a movie star, you might say, “Aw, you were only dreaming” - meaning it never happened.
A person cannot dream he is dreaming. Dreaming isn’t doing, I don’t think.
Just in case, remember: Vote EE for VP.