Donna Gagnon Pugh and Helen Whittaker

Helen Whittaker


Donna Gagnon Pugh
Were I That Cow

A photograph hangs above our fireplace, ponderous in a frame far too ornate for the subject matter. Sun dried, desiccated bone deserves lightness of air, freedom from the weight of dark stained oak and double charcoal/oatmeal matte.

Many things follow my husband home on Saturdays in the spring and summer. Broken bicycles, water-stained hardcover books, rusting bird cages and, occasionally, something halfway decent (like the picture over the fireplace) is actually allowed into our house.

Yard sales baffle me. Cast offs from strangers’ homes, things that were once useful but no longer wanted, spread out on makeshift tables, dusty and smeared with unidentifiable fingerprints. Everything going cheap and, if it doesn’t go cheap, sent off promptly to a landfill or tucked back into the dark recesses of a shed or attic. In my mind, there are too many sad stories behind these things and I couldn’t bear to have them on my shelves. But the cow photograph is somehow different.

“It IS a nice picture,” Martin says. “Excellent balance of light and dark. Look at that gaping eye socket. It’s as big as the world.”

Sometimes, while Martin sleeps, I stand awake and keep company with the cow skull. We discuss long desert days and the unbearable cold of night. The cow explains what it’s like to be skinless, free of blood and responsibility.

Oh, I say. That sounds so nice.