Ivor Nielson called her Louise. She was an animal of integrity, three years old, just gaunt enough after her first year of milk production; fine wide bony hips and a square udder with strong tendons at the back of it, tendons promising a long milking life. I couldn’t afford her. I can’t abide haggling with someone I respect; and, another aspect, as a woman I refuse to pull rank (low rank, I mean, the kind where you play on sympathy or cuteness). I don’t go the cheap route for a cow, especially Brown Swiss. I would rather have driven off and left her there. Louise’s head is magnificent, proud, with black nostrils, two blazes of white framing her ears, a splash of black down the middle of her face. A symmetric skull – a classic.
Frank paced, disgruntled, the true Holstein aficionado trapped in this modest Brown Swiss barn. Such a long time he’s been motivated toward resale value and current preferences. He always talks milk tonnage and low butterfat. He leaves out early death from burnout, like banking a fire too hot and ruining the stove.
Ivor Nielsen has a Dane’s merry eyes and angular nose. He and I stood almost mirror images across from each other on opposite sides of Louise’s shoulders, new to each other, at equal height and equal appreciation of our mutual ancestry. It is so thoroughly Danish, too, to name a cow “Louise,” a name which slides off the tongue. I felt warmth remembering the names my grandfather, that gentle person, gave his cows. Their names always reflected the cow’s personality. Just as some words are objects, other words are noises: “plunk,” “chafe.” (Redhammer! Laurence! Stella!)
I murmur in Louise’s ear, “What d’ya say, Louise?”
“Ah, I vas right,” nodded Ivor Nielsen. “I can tell as soon as you see her, your eyes light up. I can tell.”
“It’ll be Christensen, Christensen’s truck. The driver will give you my check. I deal through Christensen. Not that I want to. I’m in debt to him up to my ears so that’s the way it is.”
“Yah,” said Ivor. “Christensen. I bought already some cows from him. Some good. Some bad. They come to me sick. He never takes them back without plenty of boot, for sure.”
“He isn’t big on charity,” I agree. “He’s a businessman, what can I say? We’ll just pray about the bacteria and virus in the box of his truck.”
“Will you take four hundred even, Ivor?” asks Frank, as if he and Ivor had been old school playmates at Copenhagen Elementary.
“Four hnnert even?” Ivor looked at Frank, searching for a hidden joke. “Front legs? Or back legs?”
“The deal,” I said, “is already done.”
“Well, you didn’t shake,” argued Frank, turning his back on Ivor. “Christ sake, Putz, it’s the first animal you looked at.”
“Didn’t shake,” I said, “I don’t go around shaking. I’m not a kid. She’s mine right now. I have no need to play around with the price. I’m happy with the price.”
“Okay,” hooted Frank, raising his hands in resignation. “She’s happy with last year’s price, let her pay it,” rolling his eyes.
“She’s a good-blooded Swiss,” Ivor reassured me. “Her mama and her grandma were both top in the herd. You’re not satisfied I wouldn’t fuss to buy her back.” He spat to one side. The barn was empty except for Louise and the three of us. It was an old-time barn with small doors, a barn that required hand shoveling. It smelled of wet wood and ground corn and maybe a few rats. Being there gave me the eerie feeling of having fled home from city streets.
“I’ll let you know how she works out,” I told Ivor. “I’ll call you next week. Tuesday. In the evening, about seven. I hope your wife will be back on her feet by then.” Frank was strolling disconsolately toward the door, tapping at his snuff can. “When the truck comes,” I said, “will you give the guy Louise’s production records?”
“Yah, the papers,” Ivor said, nodding enthusiastically.