The little girl woke up and the first thing she saw out the window were the bison grazing some twenty yards from the house. They confused to her. So big, yet so docile. Those curved, intimidating horns, yet they only ate grass and corn. They never showed any sign of aggression or hostility whatsoever, yet dad always warned her not to get too close to the fence. Especially in the spring she wanted to get close enough to touch them. In the spring their hair was thicker because of the winter winds, from their ribs up to the nose, and on the top of their heads, just below and in between those horns, a tuft of luscious, dark brown hair fluffed in a way that made it seem they were the softest animals in the whole wide world.
The clotheslines hung near the buffalo fence, and in the summer, she would hide behind the big, hanging sheets or her father’s long pants and pretend to play peek-a-boo with those buffalo that grazed just a few yards away. “But don’t get too close to the fence,” she always heard. One time, after she raised the sheet up fast and blurted out “peek-a-boo” one of the great plain animals grunted quotidianly. To any onlooker, it wouldn’t have meant anything, but to the Lindsey the buffalo had recognized her, even participated in her little play game. She remembered the buffalo—they all looked so similar except for the big alpha—and, waking up each morning, scanned the herd for it saying, “Momma, Giggles must be out in the pasture today because I didn’t see it up by the clothesline this morning.” And so she christened the grunting buffalo Giggles.
Five years ago her father had purchased the first batch of bison from a man with whom he hardly had been acquainted. Thomas, her father, loved America, and collecting Americana occupied the hours and days after planting season during which all a farmer can do is watch the seeds grow. He wasn’t a hoarder, however; his purchases were thought out and measured. And, of course, he always talked them over with his wife, for she was the home curator. That is to say that she curated the inside of the home, while he took care of the aesthetics outside. So, when he stumbled upon a conversation with this man at the Old Gas Tractor Show who was selling bison, what better investment in America’s heritage could one make? His herd began small, at about seven or eight head, but after five years, between reproduction and further purchases, his herd had grown to twenty-nine. Both the buffalo and Lindsey became part of the family that same year.
The little girl woke up and the first thing she saw out the window was her father standing between the clotheslines and the feeding trough, looking out at something with binoculars that she couldn’t quite distinguish, even from her upstairs, bird’s eye view of the whole pasture. Her clothes were on quicker than Christmas morning, and just as she reached the back room and the door her mother’s voice pierced her excitement: “Take your time, Lindsey! It’s not going anywhere. Come back, wash up, and eat your breakfast first.” She moaned and complained a little, but, just as any kid does, she got over it. “But what’s not going anywhere?” She still didn’t know. “Eat your breakfast and Daddy will show you when you’re outside.” The suspense made her eat even more savagely, which in turn made her mother scold her again. Finally, she tipped the last of the milk in her cereal bowl down her little throat, put on her spring jacket and shoes, and rushed out to find her father, who no longer stood with binoculars.
Belligerently she shouted for her father who must have been eluding her in and out of the various farm structures, busying with the morning chores. Eventually Thomas heard her, “What! What! What’s all this racket?!”
“Show me show me show me!”
Thomas walked his normal pace while Lindsey jumped and gamboled in excitement around him as they approached the fence barrier of the buffalo pen. “Now, it’s tough to see from here, but take the binoculars and look out at that buffalo out there. To the left… nop the next one… Yeah, that one. What do you see?”
“Can’t we get a little closer?”
“No dear, she’s out in the middle of the pasture. This is as close as we can get for now. Not to mention, you should never mess with a mother and her calf. They will do whatever they need to protect it.”
“But I just wanna see it!”
“It doesn’t matter. If we get close she’ll think we’re trying to get at the calf and she’ll attack us.”
“But our buffalos don’t attack!! They’re nice buffalos!!”
“They might be penned in, but they aren’t pets. They are still wild. I don’t want you getting too close to the fence now. Especially with the newborn. Be very careful, I prefer that you do your watching from your bedroom window. You can see better from up there anyways can’t you?” But it wasn’t the same and he knew it. You can’t hear their grunts from inside, and the smell of their poo. All the sensual details that fascinated her about having buffalo in her backyard in the first place.
Ever since her father added the buffalo to their farm cars began to stop on the country road when the herd was grazing nearby. Sometimes they got out and took pictures. Sometimes when they fed in the evenings they would come to the door and ask to show their children. Lindsey liked it when these rustic tourists would take a second. Those are mine, she thought. She felt like a local celebrity.
If her first grade teacher assigned a writing project, she would protagonize her buffalo in green fields that stretched forever over hills and meadows like an old Arcadian novel. Or perhaps it was a story about a momma buffalo caring for a newborn baby buffalo and how the momma buffalo would protect her child from the mean, invader buffalos that were trying to hurt it. If the teacher assigned at drawing project (or even if she didn’t assign it), Lindsey depicted a scene from the second stanza of Frost’s Invitation. She passed hours and hours on the small but important details of the buffalo drawings, and it always appeared that the buffalo were smiling or at peace—how to depict the smile of a buffalo was a secret she was proud to have discovered.
The little girl woke up and the first thing she saw out the window were big pickups and tractors and an ambulance and a cop car. She wondered if she was still dreaming as the ambulance’s fuzzy lights pulsated the retinas of her unblinking eyes. At this point she would normally throw on her cloths as quickly as possible and run down to see what the commotion was, but today she was more frozen than anything. While many grown, hard faced farmers stood at the fence, just past the clotheslines, looking out upon the pasture, she also noticed a series of tractors out among the buffalo.
In fact, there were three tractors among just two buffalo, for the rest of the herd seemed to be minding its own business some hundred yards away. One of the tractors was unmanned, while Thomas drove his trusty loader tractor, and Mr. Fredrick, their neighbor to the west, directed his John Deere. There were yells communicating among the men, spouting out directions and recommendations and suggestions. Intermingled there were other guttural sounds that the little girl couldn’t place. She knew they sounded somewhat familiar, but wasn’t sure. Until the realization came to her that those grunts sounded the same as those of Giggles. Those sounds from Giggles were happy sounds she had always thought, but as she distinguished the aspect of the two buffalo between the tractors, she realized that those grunts were frustrated and angry and aggravated.
Wanting to cry, it was then that the urge to run down to see what was happening hit her. Mother’s instructions were strict and by no means was she to allow Lindsey to go outside, but the little girl’s curiosity couldn’t be impeded and she spun right through her mother’s grasping reach, paying no mind to her yells and threats that she would be grounded. Soon she was out standing next to the big working men near the fence by the clotheslines, observing the blood.
Thomas had bought a new bull the day before. It was necessary every few years to bring in new bulls for breeding purposes. Everything seemed to go fine as they unloaded it yesterday, as it descended the trailer docilely and introduced itself to the herd. Per normal, the herd gave a few grunts and went along with their busy schedule of standing around and looking for a fresh tuft of grass to graze. Then during the night Thomas started to hear much heavier scuffling and banging coming from the buffalo pen, and when he went out to see what was happening the new bull and Giggles already were doing their best to gore each other, smashing their thick skulls together and trying to sink their horns in somewhere. They each succeeded, and both monstrous, one-ton animals were caked in blood and deep gashes.
Thomas quickly called up the neighbors, who offered to come over with their tractors. The plan was to try to get between them with the heavy machinery and perhaps lure one out of the vision of the other. But the bulls had no vision for anything other than their present enemy. All attempts to break them apart failed. In fact, Mr. Newby was the reason for the ambulance in the yard. His tractor was just too small to try to get between the natural strength of the beasts, one of which was able to use his massive neck muscles and almost tip the tractor over. It tipped just enough to eject Mr. Newby from his seat and hurl him to the ground, breaking his collar bone.
Thomas and Mr. Fredrick remained out there on their tractors, perhaps looking for any opportunity to jump in, but the bulls, by early morning, were still struggling together, impervious to human intercession. Lindsey looked on in horror until her father saw her. “You get back in the house, now!” Her unconscious told her this was not the time to be stubborn and disobey, especially among so many other neighborhood authorities, but her eyes were glued to the fury and determination of the bulls as she slowly backed up toward the house.
She kept quiet as her mother, trying not to appear concerned about the events outside, poured her a bowl of cereal and milk. Lindsey did everything she was told like an automaton, the actions took place but there was no mental facility behind them. After breakfast she got ready for school, but by the mid-morning recess her teacher already had to call home and ask what was going on with her, if she was feeling alright or if something had happened to a family member that had her so distracted and unfocused.
The next morning she woke up and, without looking out the window, steadily went down stairs for breakfast. Her father, wanting to make her feel better and having cleaned up the mess from yesterday, including having buried the carcass of the losing bull, sat down to cereal with her. “The newborn calf and its mother are feeding out near the clothesline. It’s a perfect opportunity to get a closer look, like you wanted. Would you like to go out and say good morning?”
“Daddy, when are we going to get rid of them?”