The Ballad of Owen Brady
by Rob Sears
The body of the cow was still warm, but its soul was cold, so cold the vet's hands stuck to it. The vet, whose hands had been warm like dying coals, but now had been cooled by the soul of the cow, tried to pull his hands away but could not. A bond must have formed, because when the vet tried that evening first to cool his hands, then to warm the soul, it still would not come loose. The next day the vet had to put down a turtle infected with foot and mouth. The cow's soul was still stuck to his hands, because of which he couldn't put on his gloves, and had to break regulations. He was glad that foot and mouth very rarely transfered to humans, although he knew they were vulnerable to an unrelated disease, hand and foot and mouth, which could be cured and did not necessitate a lethal injection. The symptoms were sores around the hands, the feet and the mouths.
The vet's mother was a psychoanalyst of farmers, and often after a savage cull the vet would refer tearful clients to his own mother for a treatment. The farmers felt his mother was to them what he had been to their animals, and they opened up straight away, often telling the vet's mother appalling secrets at their first session. The farmer whose cow's soul was stuck like a stubborn burr to the vet's hands was laid low by the death of his cow, and the vet, even while he was struggling with the sticky soul, standing on it and heaving, had suggested he go to see his mother, to see if she couldn't make him feel better about the painful death of a much loved cow with severe warts. The cow had been scrawny and a lame milker, and the farmer's hard wife had shocked the farmer by saying it was a good riddance. The farmer told the vet's mother, within fifteen minute of sitting on her couch, that it was at that moment he had fallen out of love with his wife. The vet knew this because his computer was networked with his psychoanalyst mother's, and he could access all her files, and she could access all of his, but she never did. To read the file he had to use the ball of his hand on the mouse, because his fingers were all tied up with the soul of the lame cow. When he read what the heartbroken, out-of-love, farmer had told his mother from the couch, he looked at the soul on his fingers with great dread, and cursed himself, because it was on his watch that that scrawny cow had died of warts. He cursed himself, and he poured lotion on his hands to see if the warty cow's soul couldn't be lubricated off onto a presentational plaque that he would present to the broken farmer as a commemoration of his dead animal. But it was in vain.
In his desperation, the vet, name of Owen Brady, went to see the average person, who was highly renowned in the region as a fix-it man and lived in a tumble down farmhouse no longer connected to a farm. As it happened, the farmland had been bought out by the heartbroken farmer whose cow's soul now adorned the vet's hands. Thanks to his mother's notes, Owen Brady knew the extra work generated by this land was part of the reason for the farmer's breakdown. The farmer's wife used to castigate him for laziness, as she came from a uniquely vigorous family and could operate on four hours' sleep. The vet Owen Brady put these points to the average person but he was unmoved.
In those days the average person had the best part of one testicle. He kept it in a fur-lined matchbox in the dresser in his tumbledown farmhouse, and Owen Brady, to whom he showed it, feigned admiration in order to secure the average person's services. The average person was a part jack of any trade, and used a combination of these at the vet's request, to separate the cow's warty soul from Owen Brady's right hand. By the time he had done the procedure, the average man was spent. He had been shoveling all day in preparation for winter, and he didn't have the energy to separate the soul from the vet's left hand in addition to doing it from his right hand. At least now Owen Brady could partially remove the jacket in which he had been trapped since the farmer's cow died of warts. No one could have stopped that cow from dying. When you have terminal warts, the average person consoled the vet, you might as well have no vet for all the good the best one in the region could do.
There was a mark like a newspaper impression where the cow's soul had been stuck to Owen Brady's right hand. Owen Brady held it up to the gilt mirror in his mother's foyer. For a minute he thought it was going to spell a word, and he tried hard to make something out, but he could only conclude that it didn't say anything at all but nonsense. He showed the nonsense to the bereaved farmer who was weeping at dawn over a batch of egg. Such a symbol of life was too much for him to bear, but when he saw the nonsense on Owen Brady's free right hand, he was so overcome with joy that he took off to visit his estranged, hardened wife, to see if they could patch up their marriage and start again as market gardeners. My cow is communicating with me! the farmer said. Give me your hand please that we might communicate always between two worlds. The vet Owen Brady had to say no. One hand was already disabled by the adhesive soul, and he needed the other for ornate surgeon's duties. Only this morning he had to stitch up a rooster in its perch--it would not come down and it had to be done there and then. Try doing that with one crabbed hand, Owen Brady told his newly invigorated client, who was disappointed but glad that his flinty, unforgiving wife had accepted him back into the bosom of their love. Seeing the elderly couple's new happiness, Owen Brady unrefered them from his psychoanalyst mother, and sent them on a second honeymoon to the south lowlands, where there were such cheeses to sample that man should never know.
The psychoanalyst mother was running out of disk space, because of her burgeoning thesis, and had to delete the records of her interviews with ex-clients, including the warty farmer whose marriage to a hard and vigorous woman had been resuscitated. So the only record of these local events was the soul on the vet Owen Brady's left hand, and even this, when he examined it closely under a clinical light purchased from a veterinary catalogue but that was really no better than a desk lamp, turned out to be nothing but an annoying piece of blue sticky tape.
Rob Sears is a freelance writer and journalist in London.
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