[Prompt: The Mad cow disease outbreak of 1986 never happens. Instead, Rational Cow Disease spreads rapidly, significantly increasing bovine intelligence ]
I had never tasted the legendary ‘burger’. By the time I was born in 2006, the Bovine Ethics Collective had been in place for nearly 15 years, and any evidence of burgers had been deemed culturally insensitive. When my buddy, Simon, had drawn a picture of what appeared to be a really fat sandwich, I didn’t initially realized we were breaking the law, again.
“You really don’t know what it is?” Simon asked, raising his eyebrow incredulously.
“It looks like a PB&J with a hockey puck.” I replied breathily, unsure as to why we were whispering.
“This,” Simon pointed at the crude drawing as he continued in a hushed voice, “is a burger.”
I bit my lip and looked around to see if anyone was listening. Mr. Green had his back to us, preoccupied by writing on the board and drawling instructions to the rest of the class.
My gaze shifted back to the drawing, then to Simon’s smirk, “How do you know?”
Simon snorted, causing Mr. Green to pause momentarily, when it remained silent, Mr. Green continued with his work at the board.
“I know because my dad showed me,” he replied, a seriousness in his tone.
I stared at Simon as I considered how to respond. You see, I genuinely like Simon. He always chose me first for his kickball team, and in turn I made sure to always laugh at his jokes. My lack of coordination and his horrible sense of humor were masked by our mutual, unspoken agreement. It was comforting to know I had someone to watch my back; that’s why I didn’t immediately question his latest revelation.
“That’s crazy, man. I can’t believe he actually showed you.” I replied, lauding him as best I could in a low voice.
Simon beamed appropriately, satisfied with my reaction. He pulled the paper back to his side of the desk just as Mr. Green turned to face the class.
I was conflicted with how to handle the new tidbit of information Simon had given me. My allegiance to him was strong, but not as solid as my duty to my family. Although I was only ten years old, maintaining order was a task we all had a part in. Things had always been a certain way. As far back as I could remember, I knew my place, my expectations. I knew when to tell my parents that something was off. But as I was getting older, the line separating right and wrong was getting fuzzy.
My parents always said, “Things aren’t like they used to be.” A statement that was meant to appease my curiosity. It felt as if they were implying I didn’t have the mental capacity to grasp the world they had known. Sometimes, I felt the cool chill of bitterness creeping up my spine when they uttered the words to me. Yet another empty explanation to my growing suspicions fueled by Simon’s revelations.
Two weeks back Simon had told me about another item his father had shared with him. He had called it a milkshake. Simon’s father had been drinking at the time, so I wasn’t sure if this item ever existed. I had kept the discovery to myself, opting not to rat Simon out to my parents. Sure, he was a friend, but I think part of the reason I didn’t turn him in was because I was selfishly hoping for more leaks.
My parents believed in the work of the Bovine Ethics Collective. They had declared themselves meat and dairy free in 1989, joining the growing movement that was splitting the nation. As the Bovine’s intelligence grew, they were man’s new best friend by 1987. In 1988 the Bovines had begun to communicate, mostly with gestures and simple sounds. But by 1990, they were speaking all languages of the globe and had gained basic Bovine Rights in most countries. Here in America, a civil war ensued, some accepting the Bovines as an equal species, others condemning them and refusing to stop the garish treatment of ‘cattle’.
The nation divided into different sections, whole cities choosing one side of the cause. My parents had been forced out of Texas, the entire state refusing to accept the Bovine Movement. They had moved to Colorado, selecting to live in harmony with the Bovines and become vegetarians. My parent’s lives were now dedicated to the education of Bovine rights and ethics, they spent hours trying to reach those across territory lines and change their perspective. Although it was their life mission to promote peace and understanding when it came to the Bovines, there was a zero tolerance policy for anyone who disregarded the Bovine Ethics Collective guideline.
One of the cardinal rules of the guideline was to never speak of past atrocities done to the Bovines. This included but was not limited to their past treatment, products they produced, or the lineage of their ancestors. The word ‘cattle’ was also a derogatory phrase that was never used by anyone who respected a Bovine.
There was a certain thrill to hearing about these products of the past from Simon, but I knew deep down I was doing the wrong thing. Like my parents, I respected the Bovines and honestly didn’t want to do them harm. I knew that I was going to have to tattle on Simon. So, being the responsible ten year old I was, I made sure to get as much information about steak, veal, cheeseburgers, chocolate milk, and the like from Simon before his family was deported to another territory.