On a pleasant autumn day, Mitch Reynolds stepped out of the Department of Agriculture, his briefcase packed with papers. He attempted to take a deep breath of fresh air, search his jacket for his bicycle clip, descend the stairs, all at the same time. He heard the door open behind him, a voice call his name. He turned, backed into a young woman coming up the stairs.
Suddenly, Mitch was stumbling, falling. The girl retained her balance but scattered her files, all over the steps.
“Oh…oh…sorry…” Mitch crawled around, helped her pick up the files. The woman stuck her silent nose in the air, resumed her climb.
Bob Fagan joined him at the bottom of the stairs, laughing at Mitch’s misfortune. They turned to watch the young woman’s behind.
“Ooh, look at that. Hey nice move, buddy. I’m tellin you Mitch, never get married”
They turned to walk toward the parking lot.
“Hey, how come you’re out early?”
“New job. I finally got an outside assignment. How about you?” Mitch had found his bicycle clip again. Bob watched as Mitch gathered his trousers to apply the clip.
“Beth’s preggers again, I’ve got to take three of the kids to the dentist while she’s at the doctor’s” Bob waited for Mitch to unlock his bike. They walked through the parking lot.
Bob was a big man with five children. Beth was very fertile. Their brood seemed ever expanding. They parted at Bob’s van, Mitch mounted his bicycle. He took his time pedalling on the bike path, admiring the green fields in the autumn sunlight, giant trees blowing in the breeze. The path led him through the Experimental farm to the barn of The Beef Cattle Exposition.
The barn was surrounded by pens of cattle of different breeds, the office inside it. The walls of the small room were covered with posters about cattle. There was a rack on one wall which contained pamphlets, brochures and magazines about cattle. A small desk, covered with more cattle information, stood, with two chairs, at one end of the room. There was no one around. Mitch saw a door behind the desk which led further into the barn. He stepped through it. A stronger smell of cattle hit him.
Mitch looked down the length of the barn. He saw that most of the stalls were occupied by cattle, one, halfway down, also contained a person. Mitch made his way to it.
The sign on the open stall door read, VENUS. Walter James, the facility manager, stood leaning on one wall of the stall, beside a cow. He was a pleasant looking, balding man, much larger than Mitch, dressed in jeans and a work shirt, holding a brown, paper bag in one hand. He smiled, held out his hand.
“Mr. James?” Mitch, extending his hand.
“Walter. You must be Mitch Reynolds. Good to finally see who I’ve been talking about for the past few months” Walter James shook Mitch’s hand with his empty one. He was referring to the many conversations he he’d had with Mitch’s superiors concerning this new project.
“This here’s the star of your show” Walter indicated the cow.
Mitch stared at the rear end of the cow. He followed Walter toward the front of her, jumping into a cow pie, when she turned her head toward him.
Walter laughed. Mitch shook his foot in the air.
“Ha. You’ll have to watch out for that. Just scrape your shoe on some straw. Pistachio?”
Walter smiled at Mitch, offered the bag.
“Huh? No, no thanks” Mitch scraped his loafer on some straw, leaned against one wall.
“She won’t bite, but she might kick, so I wouldn’t stand behind her” Walter munched a pistachio.
“I take it you’re not really an expert on cattle” Walter watched Venus chew her cud.
“No” Mitch admitted. He was wondering at Venus’ big boned body.
“No, I could tell on the phone. I went along with all of them. Figured they’d send some poor junior clerk they wanted to get rid of, but this experiment is really dumb”
“Dumb? Is it? Why?” Mitch studied Venus chewing her cud.
“Why? Simple. We’ve already got a perfectly good breeding programme. No need for this” “Why didn’t someone mention that, in all these talks we’ve had, then?”
“Ha, we all went along with it. It’s somebody’s plan to spend all the money in the budget. You know how it is. Government. If you don’t spend it, you’ll lose it. Ce sera, sera”
They walked out of the stall, single file, Mitch following Walter, watching his step.
“Importing foreign bulls to breed ole Venus there, that’s just plain dumb. Everything’s artificial these days. She’s a grand champion, mother of five other champions. She could get hurt with this fool experiment” Walter spoke over his shoulder. He turned to let Mitch get by, shut the door to Venus’ stall.
“Hurt? You mean physically?” Mitch stopped. Walter turned to him.
“Yeah. Physically. Sometimes cows get hurt, sometimes bulls, sometimes people”
“Jeez. This sounded like such a … safe job, back at the office” Mitch didn’t want anyone, even the cows and bulls, to get hurt.
“Don’t worry about it. I won’t let them hurt her. If it gets out of hand, I’ll call it off and they can do it artificially” Walter was reassuring.
“That Texas longhorn they found in some rodeo? He’ll be here any day now. I’ll have to keep a close eye on him”
Walter answered the ringing phone on his desk. He got into a discussion about cattle. Mitch opened his brief case, put some of the papers on Walter’s desk. Walter sat down when he’d finished on the phone. He motioned, with the bag, for Mitch to take the other chair, pulled the papers toward himself. Mitch waited while Walter read through the papers.
“Hm. Yeah” Walter nodded his head with a knowing smile.
Mitch watched him. He didn’t look normal with the flimsy papers in his big hands. The granny glasses made him look even bigger.
“So, what we have to do is make sure that Venus gets bred by these foreign bulls”
“That’s it“ Mitch was happy with this job, away from the office politics.
“So you just take my results and make a report” Walter dug into the bag of pistachios. “Pistachio? Wife made me quit smokin. Now I can’t stop eatin”
Walter opened a shell with his teeth.
“And when she gets pregnant, we’ll wait and get another bull, when it’s time” Mitch could see this job lasting for years.
Walter gathered the papers together, opened a drawer in his desk, placed them in it. Mitch stood up to go.
“Don’t you worry. We’ve seen ‘em all here. Every crazy experiment they think of, it usually ends up here. Lots of ‘em end here too. Don’t worry about it. Keep in touch”
Mitch pedalled home with the satisfaction of knowing that his project was in good hands. Entering his house, on a west end street, he could hear the sounds of The Dating Game reruns. Mandy, Mitch’s fellow lodger, watched from the couch.
“Ok, now, Willie, the audience has met our three eligible bachelor girls. Now it’s your turn…go ahead with your first question…” the tv dominated the living room.
“Hi” Mitch passed through to the kitchen. He noticed that Mandy had an empty pizza box open on the couch beside her. He didn’t hear a reply, opened the refrigerator door.
“If I were the last man on earth and we were marooned on a desert island with just a little food left, would you give it to me so that I would make mad, passionate love to you or would you keep it for yourself and do without sex forever?” Sounds drifted into the kitchen.
Mitch searched through the fridge. He opened cupboards, looked in drawers. The tv audience applauded.
“I’d eat it and then take advantage of you, when you were weak”
Mitch gave up searching, entered the living room.
“Where’s all the bread?”
“Duane made sandwiches” Mandy stared at the screen.
“Sandwiches. That was my bread. Where is he?” Mitch, outraged.
“I’d give it to you and then murder you in your sleep. That way, you’d be fatter and I could live off you longer”
“Toronto. He’s gone for two weeks”
“Great. Why didn’t he buy his own bread? Did he pay his third of the rent?” Mitch was fed up with Duane. This was the last straw.
“Oh, yeah. This came today, too. The hydro bill”
Mandy held up an envelope.
“I’d just ask you to sleep with me, first. I’m sure that you’d beg me to share your food, after that” “There’s nothing to eat. We share the house, we split the rent. Why can’t he understand that we’re supposed to buy our own food?”
Mandy wrinkled her forehead, sipped her soft drink through a plastic straw. She leaned over to pick up the tv remote.
Mitch was on a mission. He headed into the shopping mall to buy some groceries and a lock. If necessary, when he had his talk with Duane, he would give him an ultimatum. One more chance, that was all. If Duane didn’t buy his own food and keep his hands off of Mitch’s, he’d lock it up. A lock, a simple hasp and a few nails would get the message across.
Mitch pulled over to pick up two female hitch hikers. They giggled in his passenger seat until they alighted outside of The Haybale, a country bar. Mitch pulled away, their heady mix of perfume lingering in his car. They were young and cute, with tight jeans.
Mitch saw another female hitchhiker going his way. He pulled over to pick her up. She was Jasmine, a small, delicate yoga instructor who recommended yoga to him, gave Mitch her card. She said that yoga was good for everything, that she read in his aura that he was troubled. Mitch thought about Jasmine all the way home.
Mandy was sitting on the couch with a cigarette and a Coke when Mitch got home. He had a book in the grocery bag, in one hand, the lock, hasp and screws, in a bag, in the other.
The book was about success with women. It recommended the go – getter attitude to men who really wanted to score.
“I don’t see how you can just lay around all day” Mitch passed through the living room.
“Bite me. You don’t do anything besides work and drive in your car and whatever it is that you do in your bedroom” Mandy removed her eyes from the t.v. screen long enough to give Mitch a disdainful glance.
“You just don’t know. I’m out there making things happen, don’t worry”
Mitch got the call from the barn, packed his briefcase, mounted his bike. Nearing the Beef Cattle Exposition, he passed a truck going the other way. It had a stars and stripes logo on the door, a big bovine passenger in the back.
Walter sat at his desk, talking on the phone. He had a red welt below one eye, a bandage on top of his head. Walter gingerly extracted jellybeans from a bag which he offered to Mitch.
“Yeah, ok, tell him I’ll talk to him when he wakes up”
Mitch shook his head to the jellybeans. He looked at Walter’s eye.
“What happened, Walter?”
“Well, like I said on the phone, that Texas longhorn arrived, but he nearly killed my best hand. He’s ok, but he’s in the hospital. Had to save Venus from the damn thing. Big, ole Texas driver just laughed and loaded him back on the truck. We couldn’t control him” Walter pointed to his wounds. There was dirt on his shirt, scrapes on his forearms.
Mitch made sympathetic sounds, consulted a paper from his briefcase.
“So, the next one is Spanish? Yeah, he’s being shipped from Spain to Mexico and stopping on the way”
“Whatever “ Walter snorted.
“If he don’t behave properly, like we want him to, I’ll send him packin too”
Mitch stared at Walter’s closing eye.
Mitch glanced at the date on the Playboy calendar beside his bed, finished reading about success with women. Getting off the bed, looking into his mirror, he smiled a winning smile. He got a box from his closet from which he extracted a new pair of cowboy boots. They matched his new western shirt and jeans. He slapped some Lariat shaving lotion on his cheeks.
The Haybale was quiet when Mitch arrived. He asked for a Blue, at the bar, while he surveyed the scene. A girl was singing a country song on the stage with a guitar. She was surrounded by band equipment, sang to an empty room.
Mitch climbed onto a stool at the bar, a few away seats from a single woman. He assumed the same position as the woman, back to the bar, facing the stage. He intertwined his new cowboy boots with the stool’s legs and spokes.
The woman finished her drink, put her glass on the bar, applauded the singer. Mitch applauded too, though he really didn’t like country music. He leaned over to the woman.
“Howdy, want a refill?”
The young woman switched her attention to Mitch. She gave him an appraising look, nodded, with a smile.
“Sure, two Black Russians, please”
Mitch relayed the request to the bartender who gave him a funny nod. When he turned back to the girl, she was standing, locked in a passionate embrace, with the singer. They accepted Mitch’s gift, toasted him, moved to their own table.
Mitch finished his beer, worried that he was in a gay bar. He rose to leave, his cowboy boot heels caught in the legs of the stool, he fell. He rolled in front of the bar as he fought to get free.
Mitch approached the barn on his bike, the next day. He saw a truck leaving the barn with a Spanish name on it’s side. He could hear Mariachi music coming from the cab. The back of the truck held a large, dark occupant.
“Oh, he’s such an angel”
“He’s so knowledgeable about breeding.” he heard two female voices.
Mitch locking his bicycle, saw two good looking girls load a camera and a tape recorder into a small car.
Walter sat at the desk in his office. He had a black eye, a cast on one arm. Mitch sat down, shocked.
“Walter, what happened?”
Walter offered a brown bag. Mitch declined.
“Peanut? They sent that Spanish bull. He was a fighter all right. He was trying to climb into Venus’s stall, so I waved my jacket at him. It was a red jacket, he busted my arm. Damn fightin bull. Just shipped him outta here”
“Who were those girls who just left?”
Walter picked up a paper, read aloud.
“Semi formal gala. Radisson Hotel. 8 PM Saturday, if you want to go. They’re makin a film about breeding cattle or something. Cute little things. I don’t go to stuff like that. Me and the missus watch hockey or wrestling on Saturday nights”
Mitch took the paper from Walter. He looked at it, put it in his briefcase.
“So the French bull’s next, the Charolais?”
Walter extracted a peanut from the bag. He cracked the shell with his cast.
“Hm. She better be gettin a visit soon, she won’t be in season forever”
Walter got up from behind his desk. He moved to the wall where he looked through some brochures in the rack. He selected one, gave it to Mitch.
Mitch looked at the brochure, followed Walter through the door, into the barn. They stopped at a stall with HENRY painted on the door.
“See, that describes the basic process. Venus is in season like a dog or cat gets in heat. You know?” Walter pointed at the diagrams in the brochure.
“See, what they need to do, is breed her with a nice bull like Henry, here. Not get all starstruck with these foreign bulls. Henry’s a grand champion himself, a real gentleman. He’s local. An Ottawa Valley Hereford. Good natured, as bulls go. Hmph. All these foreign bulls are no good for Venus. She’s local too”
Mitch laid on his bed reading about success with women. He reread the pamphlet Walter had given him about the reproduction of cattle. When it was time, he picked out a tie and jacket to go with his trousers.
A group of people hid the sign beside the door in the hotel which announced the Gala for the National Film Board, but Mitch was certain he was in the right place. He had just seen the girls from Walter’s office enter before him. They looked even better dressed up.
The people Mitch followed in, were dressed like him, talking about the National Film Board. He didn’t see many farmers but he thought anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of cattle reproduction would be welcome here. They might even be a celebrity.
Mitch took a glass of champagne from a waiter. He made for the group which contained the two attractive girls from Walter’s. He joined the circle who were listening to a distinguished gentleman hold forth. There were two older, expensively tailored women in the group as well as Mitch and the girls.
“I mean we need to get rid of this old process. We know the fertility’s there. All we need is the seed…” the distinguished looking chap spoke with fervour.
Mitch interrupted him.
“Yes, I was just thinking about this the other day. It’s all in the testicles, of course. We all agree on that” Mitch paused for his pronouncement to have the desired effect. He couldn’t decipher the looks on everyone’s faces, but was sure he had got their attention, especially that of the two girls. “Hormones from the pituitary give you those nice, big, full sized testicles” Mitch spoke with emphasis, remembering the tips in his book on women.
The older women looked shocked and amused. The distinguished looking gentleman’s jaw seemed to be dropping. The girls looked surprised. Mitch figured he’d keep going.
“We know that with one ejaculation of five cc.’s we can preserve six hundred doses of semen.” Mitch addressed the group with a modest smile. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the distinguished chap’s upper plate fall out of his mouth, into his drink.
“Now, in the female, it’s the anterior lobe of the pituitary, of course. Gives you that good, healthy mammary gland and that nice tone in the reproductive tract”
Mitch finished, rubbed his hands together, looked up. The group had scattered. The girls were giggling, walking away.
Mitch had been at lunch when the office got the call from Walter. He sat with a black eye, a bandage on his head, a cast on his arm and a pair of crutches leaning on his desk. He offered a brown bag to Mitch.
“Walter. You ok? What happened?” Mitch, eyeing the crutches. He shook his head to refuse the peppermints.
“Peppermint? French bull, Charolais got here in the middle of the night. Had to try him out with Venus right away, so I put them together. Damn French bull wasn’t interested. Couldn’t get him to mount her at all. Tried everything. Finally, I sat down for a rest. The damn bull looked like his mind was on other things. Wasn’t Venus‘ fault. In fact, that’s how I got this.” Walter placed his cast covered lower leg on the desk.
“The French bull?”
“No. Venus got sleepy. She laid down on me. I couldn’t get out of her way. Broke my leg.” Walter sucked a peppermint.
“What’ll we do now?” This job didn’t look so long lasting to Mitch, anymore.
“Dunno. No doubt, the powers that be’ll have another brainwave”
“So, this is it?”
“Probably. Venus was up for it, this last time. She’ll be out of season any time now, though. Probably go back to the artificial programme. I guess you’ll be goin back to the office. We’ll kinda miss you around here. I think Venus liked all that attention. Me? I’d like to see you stick around, no offence meant, but I’d probably be a little safer, you know, if we did some other kind of experiment”
Mitch walked down the stairs from his room, through the living room to the front door. He wore a t shirt and loose fitting pants. He paused at the door.
“How can you just sit there all the time?”
Mandy was sitting on the couch, watching tv with an open bag of cookies.
“Bite me” Mandy stared at the screen.
Mitch wiped a towel across his red face, limped along beside Jasmine. They had just finished a yoga class. Everyone else seemed to gain something as the class went along. Mitch got a cramp at the very beginning. He struggled to concentrate on the exercises with all the female flesh stretching around him. He wasn’t sure that yoga was his thing, but Jasmine was cute. She had given him her card, said to drop in. He had.
“…and because the cause of all suffering is desire, we meditate to free ourselves of desire…”
Jasmine was explaining some of the intricacies of yoga to Mitch. Her eyes were bright blue.
“I seem to get distracted easily when we meditate”
“I know. It was hard not to be distracted when I was in Poona”
“Mmhm, kundalini yoga” Jasmine wore a serene smile.
“Kundalini?” Mitch was absorbed in Jasmine. They walked down the sidewalk together.
“Mm, sexual yoga. It’s hard to ignore desire when you have some of the unions you can get in kundalini.” Jasmine looked over at Mitch who walked into a street sign.
Jasmine helped Mitch up, brushed him off. A motorcycle stopped behind her. She turned, waved. When the driver of the bike held out a helmet to Jasmine, Mitch saw skull rings on his fingers, tattoos on his arms. A bearded face smiled at him, Jasmine climbed on, they were gone.
On the way home from Jasmine’s class, Mitch parked his car at the Beef Cattle Exposition. He entered the barn from the back. He opened Venus’ stall first, then approached Henry’s.
“There you go, Henry, remember to be a gentleman, now”
He opened the door to Henry’s stall, made for his car.
Mandy sat watching tv with a Coke. Mitch entered the house with a large brown bag.
“Grasshopper, what have you seen?” the tv spoke.
“What’s that, Chinese food?”
“Yeah, want some?” Mitch looked at the screen, sat on the couch, placed the bag on the coffee table.
“Sure, whatcha got?” Mandy, sitting up, eyes locked on the screen.
“Master, I have seen desire”
Mandy opened the bag. She placed the containers around the coffee table while Mitch retrieved plates and cutlery from the kitchen. She watched him walk across the living room.
“And what did you learn of desire, Grasshopper?”
“Duane always tries to get me to go to bed with him. Why don’t you, Mitch?” Mandy filled a plate with fried rice.
Mitch hadn’t realized. He took some sweet and sour chicken balls from a container.
“Master, I have learned that desire is blind”
“I guess I never thought about it” Mitch glanced in her direction.
“Well, are you thinking about it now?” Mandy stared at the tv.
“Ok, after Kung Fu, then?”
“Sounds good, it’s a date”
“Pass the rice, please”