Gwen and I turn to stare at the waiter, surprised at having our conversation interrupted. He looks directly at me. Heavily accented, he slowly repeats, “Embrace the cows.”
I turn back to Gwen, letting the waiter know he’s not part of this conversation and his unsolicited advice is not wanted. “Do you think that’s some kind of new pet therapy, Gwen? I swear, the things people will pay money for.”
Gently, the waiter sets down our designer lattes. Gwen’s is a fern frond sprinkled with cinnamon, mine a heart, swirled in cocoa powder. Its cheeriness mocks me. Next, he places our pavlovas, topped with whip cream and passionfruit. I crave the marshmallow gooeyness to soothe my soul. Then, with a slight nod of his head, our foreign philosopher departs.
Gwen and I are at our favourite java joint having a natter. I’m doing all the talking. Complaining, really. The BMW club – bitch, moan, and whine – and today, I’m its loudest member. Since we sat down, I’ve been ranting non-stop about my horrible week, the endless drama in my life, reliving each incident, each disaster, with my blow-by-blow account.
Gwen’s silent, but the coffeeshop listens and punctuates my diatribe. Tsk, tsk, tsk, says the clinking spoon, stirring in the china cup. The bean grinder empathizes, grrrrr. Like an Italian grandmother, the espresso machine disdains, Bah! Whooosh.
Apparently, Gwen and the coffeeshop haven’t been the only ones listening. I do tend to speak loudly when I’m on a roll. Fortunately, the few other customers are seated on the other side of the café, so it’s only the waiter who’s heard.
Embrace the cows.
What the hell does that mean?
Gwen’s talking now. Her turn. We are supposed to share in this club. I’m half listening as I try to decipher the waiter’s cryptic remark. Yes, I am that desperate that I search for meaning in the words of a stranger. Are there really places where people go to hug cows? I’ve heard that pets are therapeutic. Calming. After all, dogs are used in nursing homes, hospices. And horses heal post traumatic stress. But cows?
Well, they do seem gentle, non-threatening. The methodical rhythm of cud-chewing could possibly be relaxing. I imagine placing my cheek against the black and white hide, the cadence of its bovine breathing moving me up and down, up and down, rocking me like a baby. The cow’s tail swishes, tickling my face. Mooooo. I feel the vibration throughout my body. I’m one with the cow and, for the first time in weeks, I feel quiet inside. I smile.
“What are you smiling about?” Gwen asks indignantly. “It’s not funny, you know.” I try to refocus on what she’s saying, to get my head back into the game. Weird as it may be, I’ve decided to come back later and ask that waiter where I can go to embrace the cows.
Our attendant reappears and slides our bills onto the table, not saying a word. Probably because I was so rude earlier, I think.
I turn over my bill and notice he’s written a message. I squint at the distinctly European script.
“Embrace the chaos!” it says. I peer over at the waiter, eyes tear-filled. Embrace the chaos. Not the cows! I flash him a weak smile and he nods in return.
“Ready to go, then?” Gwen asks, but she’s already grabbing her purse and rising.
I leave a big tip and exit with Gwen, all the while ruminating on a hot new business venture.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Many thanks to friend and colleague, John Angrignon, whose text message inspired this short story.