Silver Bell by Evelyn Hampton

The trouble with the cow was the cow had an adumbrated esophagus, which caused a gastrointestinal incursion from its first stomach into its second, so that nothing from the first could flow into the second. After a while of living in this configuration, the cow began to regurgitate not cud into its mouth but unchewed food, which prevented its ever fully swallowing nutrients. In time this would lead — said the vet who came and spoke to Mimi — to a general perplexity of the cow’s amygdala, which in turn would cause the cow to stagger over the field and possibly to fall into the pond. We called it a swamp, but others, trying to be kind and respectful of our forlorn property, often chose pond, or in less certain times, for instance when the weather was dry and most of the pond water evaporated, depression. The cow seemed sad, forlorn, uncertain, and staggered over the tufts of grasses past the swamp, or pond, or depression, searching, it seemed, for something that its eyes would not anyway be able to see. And it seemed to know this. It seemed to know with the perfect lucidity that all dying animals possess that it was searching for its own death. And when Mimi brought home that trumpet we both knew what it meant. I watched her take it out of its case which was lined with purple velvet and was like a coffin, and Mimi taking out the trumpet was like the dead rising up, and when she put it to her lips it was like she was swallowing a specter, for we both — I am certain she knew it too — knew that something slipped up from the dented silver bell and through the twisted silver pipe of the horn, whose shape made me think of a pristine intestine, past the valves and out the mouthpiece into Mimi’s mouth and down her throat. And when she blew into the mouthpiece it should have shocked us but it didn’t, how the sound that came out was a perfectly mellifluous C, not sharp or flat, not tilting to either side but coursing purposefully over the floor, out the window into the pasture where the cow was standing puzzledly. I stood at the window and looked out at the cow and when Mimi blew again the cow stepped forward, holding two opposing feet, front and back, aloft, like a horse stunned still mid-trot, and when Mimi blew a third time the cow tipped to one side and fell to the ground very lightly and delicately, barely disturbing the earth, not even sending up a bit of dust, because by then the cow weighed almost nothing, was practically just a hovering image, it had been unable for so long to swallow. That was the day Mimi swallowed the shadow of the perfect C note, we both knew she did, and when you swallow the shadow of a perfect thing, it’s true you are going to die soon.

Evelyn Hamptonis the author of two story collections. The most recent, Famous Children and Famished Adults, won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and was published in 2019 by FC2. More about Evelyn and her writing can be found at

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