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2004 blew. It is the duty of all writers on current events to turn out a piece ushering out the old year, so here’s my duty discharged. With a slight variation in spelling, ‘duty discharged’ would also describe the preceding year.
Was it the worst year ever? Not at all. 1918 was a far worse year. World War One was barely winding down when an influenza epidemic came along and showed us how to really kill people in large numbers. The historical record is rife with awful years. I recall 1974 was crapola, too. But not for me. I was a wee bairn in short pants, playing with Action Man in the jungles of Tavistock, Devon, a sheepy place in the south of England. Wars, coups, famines, disasters, Nixon’s resignation, and a dead cow.
My school chum Eric and myself were strolling through the leafless forest of ash trees one Devon weekend, perhaps collecting ashen faggots for Christmastide, I don’t recall. But we discovered a dead cow. It was so swollen it looked like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon. Sputnik legs and a vast greasy belly full of gas. We examined the thing closely, then fled when it started to emit hissing noises abaft.
We did what any true leaders would do: we found a younger kid to do the dirty work. Not right away, though. It took us the school week to find just the right mug for the job. He was six years old, overawed that the local JD and the American boy were interested in his assistance. So come Saturday, the three of us trooped off into the woods. At last we spied it, away down a hill. It looked like a gigantic haggis.
The average cow is a miracle of cooperation between billons of grass-digesting bacteria and the cow itself. The cow operates as a form of gigantic brewery, and the bacteria sort of yeast it up in there until mutual benefit is achieved in the form of nutritious grass soup. When the cow perishes, especially of disease as this one must have done, nobody tells the bacteria. They’re like Italian postal workers, living in their own world. The cow had become an almost perfect sphere except for its legs and head, which badgers had turned into a Francis Bacon painting. But for some reason, they had left the abdomen alone. It was an immense, translucent greenish thing, ticking and humming with vast inner forces. So we handed the kid a pointed stick and bade him approach the cow.
We were thirty yards away. The boy advanced on it, once turning to ask us with trembling voice if it was really dead. Oh yes. Reassured, or ashamed of his own cowardice, the boy went right up to the cow, squared his shoulders, and poked it. Nothing happened but a ‘pung’ noise. The cow wobbled slightly. “Poke it again, hard!” We cried, starting to back away. The boy gave the cow a couple more jabs and there was a noise as of wind in the rigging of a four-master brigandine. He was feeling pretty bold by now, this kid. He drew back his arm and thrust his faggot of ash at the cow like Errol Flynn. We ran for our lives.
Over my shoulder I saw the stick go in. One moment the cow was there, and the next moment there was no cow, only a boy with his arm out in front of him and a gigantic brown cloud expanding Nagasaki-like before him, and a nanosecond later the boy was gone from view in the thunderclap of rotten meat and cow bowels and body liquor and methane gas. Lordy, how we ran, as the chunks of flesh pattered down through the branches above us and whacked slimy into the fallen leaves at our feet. We ran and ran and the stench carried us up the hill. We ran, and the last we saw of that boy he was stumbling after us, blinded, shrieking for help, covered from head to toe in a hideous stew of viscera and decay. We didn’t stop. Hell no.
That boy, ladies and gentlemen, is us. The cow is 2004, and the boys that convinced us to jab the cow with a stick are laughing themselves silly in Washington, DC. Or we are the cow and the boy is Washington, and the boy is 2004, or possibly I am the walrus. The point is, 2004 blew like a dead cow.
If we want to make it through 2005, we’d better put down the stick.
BEN TRIPP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, ‘Square In The Nuts’, has been held up at the printers by thugs but will be released as soon as hostage negotiations conclude.
See also www.cafeshops.com/tarantulabros.