Fall 2010, Volume 9

Fiction by Joe Woodward

A Cow Walks Into A Bank

A cow walks into a bank, a man in a cow head, a brown and white Jersey. He gets in the teller line and works on a withdrawal slip. It’s the 1974 Bank of America at the corner of First and Yale, the one with the fake wood paneling and the dark brown Formica countertops and those tellers with their Dorothy Hamill hairdos. There is a border of yellow daylilies out front, and the muddy shadow of an American flag moving across the sidewalk. Anyway, it’s 11:00 a.m. and all the old people are just leaving their houses. Anyway, it’s sunny and warm and late, late spring in California.

Before I know it, the cow that was at the end of the line is now breathing down my neck. I suppose people think the cow head is a bank robber or something. Who knows what people think these days?  Anyway, someone needs to say something, so I do.

—Nice cow head.



—Yep, Brigadoon, the chorus, every year.

—At The Bowl?

—We open Friday.

—Getting into character.

—I can’t get out of it.

—The cow head?

—The cow head.


—You’re scaring the villagers.

—A fringe benefit.

—You’ve done this before, then.

—It helps clear your way when you’re in a hurry.

—Do they always scatter like this?

—Most of them, usually…what’s wrong with you?

—Long story.

—You’re the first person to talk to me in two years.


—I might as well take it off, if you’re not going to let me through.

—Not happening. Nope.

—Well, will you help me, then?

So, the cow head and I start to wrestle. He bends at the waist and I grab him by his droopy ears and he starts to back away.

—Ouch. Shit. Stop. Stop.

—What’s wrong?

—It’s really stuck this time.

—I can pull harder.

—It’s stuck on my chin. It must be swollen. It’s the trees.


—I have an antihistamine in my right pants pocket. Can you get it for
         me? The hooves.


I reach into the cow’s pants pocket and pull out two pink pills. I push them  through his tongue hole.

—Thanks. They’ll go to work in 15 minutes or so.


—Can you help me when we get up to the teller?

—Help you what?

—The photo ID thing might be a problem. Can you tell them who I am?

—Who are you?

—John Bradley. John Bradley, 4220 White Oak.

—Mother’s maiden name?


—They always ask.

—Peacock. Pearl Peacock. What’s your mother’s maiden name?


—You’re mother’s maiden name? What is it?

—O’Connor. O’Connor was her name. God rest her soul.

—Me, too. Me, too. God rest her soul, I guess.

John Bradley turns out to be an Eisenhower Republican just like me, an asphalter by trade—AAA American Paving and Asphalt Co. is all his. He works with hands in the sun. He fixes things. He connects sidewalks to front doors and driveways to garages, and so on. He’s not as ridiculous as his cow head first leads you to believe is all I’m saying: this is what I try to tell Dorothy Hamill.

—That’s a beautiful broach on your sweater. Rhinestones?

—Diamonds would break the bank, don’t ya know. Get it?

—Is that your initial, S?

—S for Stephanie.

—Well Irish Spring and top of the mawning to ya, then.

—Thank you sir, thank you. How can I help you and your friend here?

—This is Bradley, John Bradley over on White Oak.

—I do need to match a photo ID, sorry about that.

—Stephanie…it’s me, John, John Bradley.

—Ah, Mr. Bradley. It sounds a bit like you, but I don’t know.

—Why don’t you ask him about his account?

—Home address, then?

—4220 White Oak Lane.

—Last four of your social?

—Your mother’s maiden name?


—That’s right, all right, but I can’t, really.

Stephanie clears the bangs from the top of her eyebrows like a street sweeper slowly brushing against the curb on Thursdays. Stephanie straightens her rhinestone S. The cow head and I stand our ground, but so does that Stephanie.

—How much were you writing a check for today, Mr. B.?

—The whole balance.

—Say again, man?

—The whole balance. I’m closing the account.

—Why would you go and do something like that?

—I’m moving to Maine to live with my daughter.

—Why on earth?

—A cyst the size of grapefruit. They found a cyst where a cyst
         shouldn’t be. She told me not to tell anyone, but I can’t keep quiet
         about it. Could you?

—No, I couldn’t either. Sorry to know it, but I still couldn’t let you do
         it. Take all your money, I mean, not dressed like a cow. I’m serious
         as Irish whiskey.

I tell Stephanie top of the morning to you and all that stuff and take the cow head by the arm and lead him out to the street where we sit down on the edge of the cement planter box. I run my fingers through the fuchsia-colored azalea bushes without saying a word. Everyone who walks by us gives us a hard look, you know the one.

—Why did you say you wanted to drain your account?  I could’ve
         told you it wasn’t happening. We looked foolish trying.

—You looked foolish?

—I put myself out there. My integrity in this town. I’m staying, after all.

—You’re a nice person. I can tell. What’s your name, anyway?

—Richard. Richard Milhous.


—Not THE Richard Milhous. Another one.


—Good, what?

—We need ANOTHER Richard Milhous.

—Do we ever.

—He started out so full of promise.

—Did he? Maybe you’re right, but don’t we all.

—That’s a mouthful.

—What happened to him, do you think?




—No, no. A bowl of rotten milk.

—Maybe so.

—No maybe about it.

—That’s not you, right, rotten milk, I mean.

—I hope not.

—I know not.

—Thanks for knowing me.

—You’re welcome.

—What now?

—I have to wait this out. The antihistamine will kick in. I’m starting
          to feel better, but so sleepy, you know.

—Are you?

—Will you wait with me, until the swelling goes down, I mean?  I’ll
         try Stephanie by myself, afterward.

—Sure, I’ve got no one to see and nowhere to be.

—Who does?

—Who does?

—Why don’t you tell me about your daughter in Maine?

—Long story.

—Long story and hard to bear? She is everything, and then some, I guess.

—Everything, everything and then some. You’re right about that.

—Well let me have it, the whole thing, once upon a time, and so on.

—Okay, okay then.

And so just like that, me and this cow head live a whole lifetime. We travel the world, scatter our ashes, laugh and cry and pop some pills. By the end of all the stories, we both know what there is and what there isn’t. I love his whole life and he loves mine. You can’t say nothing better than that. I never did.


BIO:  Joe Woodward is currently a professional writer working in Los Angeles. After receiving his M.F.A. in poetry from CUNY Brooklyn College, he worked in literary journalism, covering such figures as David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis, and Tobias Wolff, among many others. He is now working on a literary biography of Nathanael West, which will be published by O/R Books in Fall 2010.

His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, Poets & Writers Magazine, Connecticut Review, Southern Indiana Review, and Zone 3, and has been recognized with two Los Angeles Press Club Awards (2006, 2007). An homage to Hunter S. Thompson was anthologized in the Thomson Gale Contemporary Literary Criticism reference series. One of my stories, “Earthquake Kit,” was a finalist for the Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award for New Writers.