cows and grass
William Huang | Art by Joy Song
His father had told him about the breeze that would gently roll over a meadow of fresh, green grass, each row yielding to the steady movement of the air. The sun would slowly droop from its apex, gifting its viewers with dazzling, majestic splashes of rose red and ember orange filling the sky. His father mentioned once that feeling the wind upon his face made him feel alive.
Of course, when his father mentioned “grass,” he had to ask what that was. “Grass,” he said, with a smile upon his face. “Grass is a plant, quite like seaweed, except there were whole fields of tiny blades, billowing this way and that in the wind!” his father grinned.
“There were many animals like us that could walk on the surface, like cows and horses, that would spend their time enjoying the meadows and munching on the grass. The cows, they weren’t like fish; they had legs just like us, but with big fat bellies…”
He would giggle. Cows, what a ridiculous thought. He imagined a fish with black and white splotches, with a big, fat belly. From there, he imagined the fins being replaced with legs, with flat hooves at the end of them. There was no way such a mythical beast could exist, surviving off of miniature blades of seaweed that grew on the surface. And a sun? A fiery, yellow ball that ignited the surface with its brilliance? His father definitely had quite the imagination.
Unlike his father, who had captivated his imagination and let it run wild, he often struggled to keep up with his children’s imaginations. At the ripe old age of thirty-two, all he could think about was how on Earth he would answer all of their questions, despite having gained wisdom from thirty-two years full of memorable, meaningful experiences.
“Why can’t we swim to the surface, Dad?” his daughter asked.
“Honey, we just can’t. I couldn’t when I was five and now you can’t either.”
“Why not, Dad?”
“Because—” he paused. “That’s a silly question. I just answered it.”
“What’s on the surface, Dad?”
For a moment, he thought of the gentle, white-and-black beast, roaming around a sunny meadow.
“It’s a dangerous world up there. It’s unsafe, it will kill you, don’t ever go there.
“Having said that, once upon a time . . . You know, my father told me a little secret that I’ll pass on to you. Once upon a time, our ancestors lived up there. We lived very happy lives—”
“Dad, stop lying to us! Mama told us that story was a lie!” his daughter grinned.
“No, no, I’m serious. There were these blades of grass—”
“Grass, grrrrrrassssssss,” his daughter marvelled at the new combination of letters.
“—and these blades of grass, they were like little seaweed, and they would bend this way and that, and then they would get eaten by these creatures called cows—”
“Cow, ow, cowwwwwwww.”
“—but don’t be getting any ideas, going up there. It’s dangerous.”
“I know, Dad,” his daughter pondered for a moment. “Cows and grass, cowwww, graaassssssss.” She trailed off, lost in thought.
He went out for a swim to feel the nice cool water on his skin, thinking it would clear his mind of extraneous thoughts. With coordination, his muscles tensed and relaxed, causing the familiar sensation of swimming. Then, standing on the ocean floor, he oriented himself to feel the water coursing by his face, perhaps hoping to feel alive. The water trickled by dully.
Far to his left was a patch of lackluster seaweed, in some places wavy but otherwise featureless. Squinting, he could barely make out the line two adjacent leaves of seaweed. Moments later, the lines dissolved into monotonous gray.
At parental counseling, he offered some of his frustration. “I just feel I don’t have enough of the skills that parents need. Like my dad, he always knew how to answer my questions. I just don’t feel like I have the knowledge.”
“Yeah, I totally get it. It’s very common for first-time parents to struggle with this. But I’m sure you’ll do fine; even your father did not have all the answers. It’s an incredible journey for both you and your kids, and after a while you’ll get the hang of it.”
But that wasn’t it. There was definitely something his father had that he didn’t. Something that made the blurry, gray line sharpen into clarity.
“Do you think we will be back there someday? Will we ever go back to the surface?” he had once asked.
His father sighed. “Son, the surface is too dangerous. You know that.”
“That’s right. But will we ever go back?”
“Someday, we might,” his father had said in a strange, cryptic manner. “Right now, we aren’t ready. But one day we might be able to frolic with the cows in those sunny, grass-filled meadows.”
His father looked up. Following suit, he thought he saw a glimmer of sunlight. With a blink, it shimmered out of existence.