you really want to know everything. Police say they want to know
everything, but it’s not true. The moment they bring an old lady
in and she starts to tell them everything, they are sorry.
“Or rather, really, don’t worry about telling me everything.
Just tell me what it was. Something outside? Or did someone
break in?” Sergeant Maldonado wasn’t sure what he wanted to
hear, and a little nervous about how much. He had other cases
to work on as well, after all.
He was, curiously, suddenly nervous, though he tried not to
show it. Was it better to hear everything, even if it took all day? Or
better to hear a boiled-down version, and depend on the teller to
choose the important details? There was no winning in this, he
thought. Or else the answer was clear, but not what he, or anyone
else for that matter, wanted to hear. Listening to everything, start
to finish, was the only solution. But the time it would take — who
had the time for time like that?
“No, nobody broke in, not exactly like that. But someone did
“Ah,” said Sergeant Maldonado, and thought, now we’re getting
“But don’t think that will answer anything,” said Doña Clotilde.
“It won’t. And that’s the thing. This is a little bit, well, a little bit
delicate, I think. Am I able to confide in you?”
“Of course, Doña Clotilde, of course,” said Sergeant Maldo-
nado, but he said it more as a reflex than as something true.
“It’s just, well, someone took my cow.”
“Well that’s something, something very clear. We can do
something about that,” said Sergeant Maldonado, invigorated by
such a clear-cut state of a=airs. A stolen cow, that was serious, and
reasonably easy to solve, at least if past history were any indica-
tion. Stealing a cow, that was serious business.
“A milk cow?” he asked, to be sure. Otherwise, he thought,
somebody would be enjoying a good dinner tonight, perhaps. It
happened, from time to time, people taking, or rather finding a
cow or some cattle, and proceeding to make short work of things.
A little extra in the butcher shop or a truck driving around o=
ering some “surplus” meat — he had seen this before.
“Yes, my cow, Paquita. You’ve seen her, I think. Maybe you
remember her? She’s been here a long time, though I keep her
in the backyard.”
More than that, thought Florencio Maldonado. He had
once—how could this be said?—he had once borrowed some
milk from her. One cow gave enough milk for many people, af-
ter all. He was sure she hadn’t missed it. And there was more.
“I’m sure you remember her,” repeated Doña Clotilde.
“Someone stole Paquita?” asked Sergeant Maldonado, surprised. People stole animals in the abstract, as far as his experience went. They found cattle, or they shot something from the
road and ran away with it. But someone’s personal cow? He had
never heard of such a thing.
And Paquita. Of all the cows in the world. He had a history
with that cow. Florencio, Florencio, he thought to himself, loud
enough that he was afraid Doña Clotilde had heard him. His
story was something more than the milk he had borrowed. That
cow had been a part of his life.
THAT COW, as things turned out, had been part of everybody’s
life. Everybody knew Paquita, but not for any regular reason, not
because people could see her grazing by the fence or because she
was paraded around town or anything else like that, not any of
the ready reasons one might know a cow in this town. Quite the
opposite. Everybody knew Paquita because they were not supposed to. She was a secret cow, and everybody knew it. That’s
how secrets were around here.
Nobody really knew why Paquita was a secret, however, simply that she was one, and that they had to take care not to say
anything. That’s what they said to each other— don’t say anything. Otherwise, of course, everyone would know. The fact that
everyone already knew was not the point. Everybody was always
interested in keeping a secret.
Paquita was a handsome cow, as only small-town people can
understand. A dull white with black continents on her back, she
wasn’t used up or on such a production schedule that she became a machine more than a cow. She had time for talk, which
is what everyone understood her flicking of the ear and quick
raising of the tail to be. She had time for thinking, which is
what they understood her idling into the field after a particularly
long conversation to be. She had time to understand happiness,
which is why people milked her, which was an additional benefit
of the moment, and saved them a little bit of money. Most importantly, however, she had time to listen, which was the point.
Listening was everything. And curiously, that sense of listening
was in her eyes.
Who else had the time, after all? Finding someone to listen,
really listen, someone— or in this case something— who could
take in all manner of confessions and make no judgment, whose
flick of the ear, in fact, suggested that the person keep on doing
what brought them there to begin with — finding this grace was
an enormous boon to people. The priest, Father Gagnon, should
have been the one everybody confided in, and he was, to a point,
but not to the extent that people bared their souls to Paquita.
Father Gagnon knew everybody, and could not, on occasion, stop
himself from raising an eyebrow at one thing or another. His
raised eyebrow, it was clear, was not the same thing as Paquita’s
flicked ear. One was a blessing, more of a carry-on and it’s all
right, it’s all right, while the other was simply what it was, a raised