Hamilton Perez’s story “Bye Bye Skinny Cow” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 6 April 2018.
The title came first, though it wasn’t so much a title as a lament. I’d recently lost my dog, Jack (affectionately referred to as “skinny cow”) to a brain tumor, an experience completely alien to me despite growing up with all kinds of animals and having, on occasion, to say goodbye to them. But I’d never seen a seizure before, nor did I understand the variety they came in: the isolated muscle spasms, the divorce of body and mind, the confusion and fear in their eyes.
Once the dust finally settled, and the stress of being ever-ready for the next accident or emergency or call from the vet melted away, I was left with just this well of anger, confusion, and grief to contend with. People want you to talk when you’re grieving, but I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to force those feelings together and funnel them into story like some psychological meat grinder. I wanted to create something surreal and dark and unexpected, buoyed by whimsy and hope before pulling you under.
The idea of a mind-controlling brain fungus came pretty naturally from that. I wanted something that felt as alien and alarming as a seizure, something that tore you apart from the inside. And I wanted a false sense of hope, a sense that things were not just getting better, but getting better than ever, almost more than you could believe. And so Jack not only recovered, but learned to play the bongos, and Cash not only thinks his dog is safe but that they now have a path off the streets.
Ultimately though, for all the grief channeled into the story, that’s not where I wanted to leave it. To leave the story in just this place of loss begged the question: What’s the point? And that’s a terrible legacy for anyone to leave behind, be they human or any other animal. It was important then that the end be not just bitter, but bittersweet. Though Cash has to carry on without his companion, he’s still on that path to a better life. Though he weeps and dreams and aches, he also heals.
“Bye Bye Skinny Cow” is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It was the first time while writing that I wasn’t pulling something out of the story but the story was pulling something out of me. It’s a goodbye, a memorial, and a moving on.
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