It would be a long time before Seymour would know if being born with a bigger and better brain, his mother’s words not his, was blessing or curse. But he knew the difference, learned it that first year, watching everyone else loll out in the grass until the summer heat sent them all looking for relief. They found it too, every afternoon, under the big maple tree with leaves that erased the sky, close to the cool water of the small pond that never ran dry, even closer to the road where the big cars raced by with little children in the rear laughing and pointing. A blessing was a good thing, a curse was not, and curses came without warning. The others loved to sleep, and eat, and sleep some more while Seymour’s head burned with the fever of curiosity. He watched, he listened, he learned, and before long he knew so much that his friends would laugh and laugh until they fell down asleep.
It’s just Seymour, giving names to the strange fast cattle outside the fence, babbling about faraway lands where cattle are king. Just Seymour, silly Seymour, always Seymour.
Seymour looked like any of the other calves, rich chocolate coat and ears that protruded out left and right, white facial fur framing the pinkest of noses. Not yet eight months old and over five hundred pounds, he had that bigger and better brain and such curiosity that his mother had to retrieve him every evening from the rear of the farmhouse where he’d slipped through that hole in the fence again. While all the others slept in the emerging darkness of early evening, Seymour would tiptoe all five hundred pounds so close that he could see and hear the enormous television screen the Gardners were so fond of gathering around. That was how Seymour knew the Patriots always won the Super Bowl, that people were scared of zombies, ghosts, hurricanes, and Republicans, that there was someone named God who asked for money on Sunday mornings and promised miracles in exchange.
You would think that one of the Gardners might look outside just once and see one of their prize cattle pressing a face against the glass door. That Mr. G or Mrs. G, Charley and Bertie only to strangers, or one of the day workers who sometimes stayed late would run out scolding with a mind to chase Seymour away and fix that hole once and for all. But that never happened, not once. Maybe it was the light blue curtain that made looking through the glass so dreamlike. Or maybe it was that the Gardners spent so much time out there in the hay and stalks and manure and mud of a family farm during the hot sun of daytime that even glancing in that direction during evening family time was the furthest thing from their minds.
Seymour didn’t give it much thought because he would much rather wonder about the vast world beyond the highway than worry about the small world on his side. He did like to think that his favorite of all the Gardners, little April Gardner turning eight years old this coming Saturday, knew he was there every evening watching the same television they were. April, like him, was the youngest of her brood. Seymour felt certain she was looking at him through the curtain gauze, her large, almond-shaped green eyes growing larger even as her mouth slammed shut. Seymour imagined that if she had her way, she would invite him inside to join the rest of the family, all five hundred pounds of him stretched out on the big brown L-shaped leather couch. That’s what Seymour wanted to believe anyway.
One night’s program was more alarming than all the others. April and her older brother Zack finished helping Mrs. G clean up in the kitchen. Mr. G and Kenny from up the roadway took their coffee in the family room to watch Wheel of Fortune and whatever came next. The dishes done and the floor swept, April, her long blonde pigtails swinging behind, headed off with her brother to finish their homework. Whatever that is, Seymour thought. As usual, Mrs. G took a seat next to her husband and played with the remote control, flipping channels so fast that Mr. G had to beg her to please just select anything.
Seymour could hear his own mother calling softly but he ignored her, as usual. She would never come inside the fence and would wait just outside the hole for as long as it took her son to get tired or bored, or both, and return with her to sleep under the maple tree.
Farm to Fork was the name of the program the Gardners settled on tonight. It was so unlike the dancing letters of Wheel of Fortune, the unpaid rent of Judge Judy, the bombs dropped on unfamiliar places of Vice News. As Seymour peered through the curtain, he could almost feel his tired brown eyes grow larger than hen eggs, his large body suddenly paralyzed with frightful awe. Tens of cattle, looking just like him and his friends, were being driven into a large room with giant sharp blades. Masked people in white suits, covered in blood, were gathering up the slabs of dead cattle and placing them into big machines. Out came neatly stacked packs of ground beef in plastic wrap. Pianos and violins played pretty music, and the cattle were all gone, vanished into thin air. Well-dressed families who looked so much like the Gardners sat down to eat hamburgers with slices of tomato and onion on tasty sesame buns in their backyards. The narrator of the program happily declared Fresh Beats Frozen Every Single Time.
Seymour almost fell into the patio glass door. He took a deep calf breath and looked around, for the first time in his young life frightened, fearing the folks in masks might come up from behind and grab him for one of their machines. He saw nothing and no one other than his own mother, her head leaning against the nearby fence. The night was still, all around him the brilliantly beautiful moonlit stars of another evening on the farm. He knew what he had seen and couldn’t believe it. Sure, he had watched the Gardners say goodbye to some of his older friends, and he had rolled his head goodbye and wished them good luck as they were put on trucks and sent away, never to return.
But he also knew what Eldridge, Wise One of the Herd, always preached. When Eldridge spoke, which was not very often, there was total silence and all ears perked up to listen to the aged bull’s raspy voice. They were going off to another place, a better place, where it wasn’t so hot under the sun. Where there was crystalline water and tastier food in such great supply that you had to turn it away from the birds who delivered it to you. Where there were no flies buzzing about your ears as you lay about all day long. Where you could simply think about where you wanted to go and you would be there, just like that, without having to lumber in that awkward, pained way it took hundreds of pounds to move across high grass.
Seymour turned and headed off with his trailing mother back through the hole in the fence to the maple tree. He wanted to whisper to his mother what he had learned, tell her all about the cattle who disappeared and ended up on plates at backyard parties. But she was asleep so quickly, breathing loudly as she always did, and he had to keep the news to himself, rolling from side to side all through the night and never for one minute closing his frightened teary eyes,
Peter Brav is the author of the novels “Sneaking In,” “The Other Side of Losing,” “Zappy I’m Not,” and “331 Innings,” as well as numerous plays and short stories. Says Brav: “Although I’ve lived in Princeton for a quarter century, and around New York City before that, I am in the process of moving to a nearby farm hoping to meet animals like my protagonist.”