Four green walls

It is hard to climb the stairs. Only four flights but they are narrow and steep. People piss in the entryway and offensive graffiti covers the walls. Back home early tonight. Another curfew. I stay at 45 Slaughterhouse Avenue. It’s not in the best part of the City.
From the window of my tiny one room flat, I can sometimes see fields of green far away beyond the City limits. My room has all four walls painted green. I did a good job. Slow but steady. I could have painted something similar to one of the works in the Art Gallery but painting in many colours is difficult work. And I like green! It would be nice to ask my friend to come to see my room. But I know that would never be allowed.
There is one painting on the wall. A motivational likeness of some poor Cow who had a record breaking yield of milk. It is meant to inspire me. Not something I picked myself.
On a quiet night like this I listen to the radio. I know it is mostly propaganda but the tunes are good. Sometimes I even try to dance to the music. Unfortunately that is almost impossible. I am exhausted and my body is too deformed to dance. I have been changed into a milk machine. But the frightened calf that the milk was for has been taken away from me. She will share the same life of torment that I do.
As usual, I have the windows shut tight. When they are open, the smell of death can be sickening. It gives me nightmares. I try to forget where I stay. Once I thought about ending my life. But Cows want to live. Even though we guess we will not die happy. I am polite but if someone tries to kill me, I will fight for my life. It is all I have that is mine alone.
I cannot give you my name. Well I could but it is only a long Bar Code list of numbers. It has nothing to do with the real me.
Last week I was invited for a meal at the house of a human friend of mine. I have one friend. She was kind enough to give me wild flowers and fresh grasses. Delightful! I never asked her what she ate. I was polite. As usual. But I was almost happy.
In the streets, sometimes, gangs of youths gather about me and shout at me, “Fxxking stupid Cow!” And they, at times, slap me hard. Then I move as quickly as I can, home. To cry in misery.
The only other time I cry is when I remember the time my calf was taken from me. Only two days old but the bond was strong. She was trembling and crying, like me. I shouted to her that I would come and find her. Give my milk to her alone. But I lied. When they make me have another calf, I will once more have to lie. Indeed, they did the procedure to me again and I am pregnant once more.
My udders are so sore tonight. They are always huge and distended. But in a moment I will have to take some drugs to keep down the infection. Infections happen a lot. And I have other drugs to take. They maximise my milk yield.
A few weeks ago, when I was at work, another Cow came up to me and whispered, “Don’t trust the humans. They mean you and all of us harm. They steal your calves, they steal your milk. You need to…”
The Police grabbed her and took her away before she finished what she had to say. I never saw her again. She would have been severely punished. I was re-assured by my Boss that I would never be harmed beyond was strictly essential. But he too lied.
So, I write down my thoughts. Perhaps one day a human will read them and realise, “Yes, a Cow does have passion. Does have meaning in her life.”


Circle of Compassion

All my short stories are copyright Ashby McGowan.





As a businessman I often visited the stranger parts of town, always on the lookout for new ideas and new customers. It was in an almost hidden corner of town that I noticed the shop, piled up against the remnants of an ancient play-park. It sold, “Antiques and Toys, Old and Strange”. Indeed, the salesman looked somewhat old and strange himself. Just as musty and cobwebbed.


He spoke to me while fixing an old musical box, the notes of “Old King Cole” playing through my mind as he spoke, “Hello, Brian. (It was only later that I wondered how he knew my name). The shop is quiet today. It’s always quiet on weekdays and weekends. See anything you like?”


The answer was an unspoken, “No”. I didn’t see myself as a collector of junk. There were piles of old books, heaps of toys, and candleholders so large that they seemed to fill the room. I made to leave the shop but then “it” caught my eye. It looked as if a cycle had exploded within a sofa. I started to laugh.


“Tell me Brian. What is the measure of a person’s greatness?” He answered the question himself. “It relates to your circle of compassion. The greater the circle, the greater the person. You can have it on a two week trial. It will extend your circle as long as you use it right.”


I found myself dragging this enormous hideous thing out of the shop. I thought to myself that the owner was probably just trying to get rid of something he couldn’t sell. It was the first time that I’d ever taken something home that I didn’t want.


A booklet was stuffed down the side of the “thing”.


The faded words on the faded pamphlet read, “Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of a Sirius 2000 Compassion cycle. Use with care! Do not attempt to use without completely understanding the safety points on page 5”. Of course, page 5 was missing.


I made myself coffee and I made myself tea. But my thoughts kept returning to the thing. I sat in it and idly pushed the pedals. It made a strange singing sound. It was astonishingly restful. I lay back, my eyes shut, and the room began to spin.


I seemed to see myself far below, pedalling but getting nowhere. Although I was fully awake, I saw visions of people who were sad and angry. I recognised them as various people that had once claimed that I’d cheated them.


Someone always has to get the better out of a deal. I made a fortune from manipulating people. It was my job. It was my life. Life is a struggle and someone has to win. Better a winner than a loser.


After another few minutes of pedalling I gave up. The thing needed a good oiling.


I tossed and turned all night. I woke more tired than when I went to bed.


The next day I read page 3 of the leaflet. “ Some people have no compassion beyond the boundaries of their body. Others can care for their family and friends. But there are few walkers on the bare earth that relate to the suffering of their fellow creatures. If you really want to extend your circle all you have to do is think kind thoughts and do kind acts.”


Against my better judgement I took its advice. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I thought of all the people that I’d cheated. All the precious antiques that I’d bought while claiming they were merely junk. That poor old woman who had no money in her house and only an antique bed to save her from poverty. The bed I’d got for a song. Feelings of sorrow swept over me. I made myself an inner promise never to lie or cheat again.


That night the cycle flew around the room then headed off into the night. The walls dissolved as I passed through them. Instead of being frightened, I cycled ever harder. The night was cold and dark but I kept myself warm with the effort of pedalling.


I cycled as far as the old, children’s play park. No children played there now. It was overgrown and full of rubbish. The rides were red with rust. I tried to cycle past, but it seemed as if there was an invisible barrier. I could not pass.


I went to bed dreaming about children wandering the streets looking for somewhere to play.


There were a few important tax concessions, however it was mainly out of concern that I gifted a rather large sum of money to the local community. I was worried about the money but I also felt happy. Happier than I’d felt in years. It had been ten years since my wife had left me. She’d not approved of my particular brand of salesmanship.


That day was longer than other days. Days are like that, they suit themselves. As soon as the sun’s fire began to fade, I sat in the chair and pedalled like mad. Within seconds I was whizzing over the play park. I saw images of children not yet born who would one day whoop with delight while playing on swings that I had bought.


My journey took me to the edge of town and then beyond. Without tiring, I headed over hills and out to the country. Although somewhat large in frame and short in exercise, I felt as fit as I ever had done.


After what seemed but seconds, the sun rose over the horizon and kissed the world with soft golden lips. Ragged crows were black holes in the brightening sky. They cried out to me as I soared past.

I saw calves nuzzling their mothers and lambs jumping into the fresh spring air. I saw men with cold hearts and white rubber boots. Blood was splattered all about them as they laboured at the hard work of killing. I saw people dressed up for dinner, smiles on their faces and flesh on their forks. Puddles of blood congealed on the Axminster rug.


A thousand ghosts of fish swam past me. I knew what they were thinking and I felt ashamed. They were the ghosts of all the fish that I had eaten. From unmarked tombs a hundred pigs and a thousand hens rose up out of the earth. They each spoke my name. They accused me of being their killer. There was little I could say. But there was much that I could do.


Two weeks later, I had some friends over for a meal. After they had ate and enjoyed what I had prepared, I told them the news, “Dear friends, I have changed over the last few days. You see before you a new man. I hope that I can listen more and listen better. As you may have realised, I’m now a vegetarian. I can never again eat the flesh of my fellow suffering creatures. Dead animals should be buried with reverence and a sense of loss. Not burnt and eaten.”


My friends were shocked but smiled out of politeness. Some conversions take longer than others. At least I was changing. I determined to change as much of me as needed changing.


In my work, I quite often purchased goods from around the world. I was responsible for the goods I bought and to the people who earned their living making those products. I now tried to buy wood from sustainable plantations and I ensured that I used fair trade dealers. The world was changing day by day. Just like me.


For some strange reason fear overtook me when I next went to ride the compassion cycle. It was another three weeks before the walls dissolved and my less hefty body headed off into the cool night air. Past the silvery clouds and over the shadow filled valleys.


I moved with awesome speed and before dawn had come I had travelled round the world. I saw sorrow and happiness and felt my hand in each.


I slept deeply. No fears or worries came to me.


When I woke, the cycle was gone. I had exceeded the two-week trial. When I returned to the shop the musty old man had gone.


I wasn’t worried. I no longer needed the cycle. Every day I would think kind thoughts and do kind deeds.


If you ever come across a musty old toy shop in a musty old part of town. Try out the compassion cycle. It’ll do you the world of good.