October 3, Field Trip
Meghan Phillips


We went to look at the see-through cow. It wasn’t really see-through, even though that’s what Ms. Rosenbaum told us in the van. It just has a hole in its side.

The hole is called a fistula, said Dr. Pete. He’s the scientist from the college where Marigold the cow lives. He didn’t look like a scientist; he was wearing a flannel shirt and rubber boots. It bothered me that he wasn’t wearing a lab coat.

I liked the word fistula, though. I wanted to write it in my notebook when we got back to the van. I liked that it made sense. The hole kind of looked like it was made by a fist. Like if someone strong—my dad? the Hulk?—punched the cow, it would make a fistula. There aren’t a lot of words that sound like they should, which is confusing and sometimes makes me mad. I always write the good ones in my notebook.

The plastic thing that keeps the hole open is called a cannula, Dr. Pete told us, and it keeps Marigold’s food from leaking out. I didn’t like this word very much because the cannula looked like the bathtub stopper at home—not like a can—except that stopper has a rubber ducky on it. And the bathtub isn’t alive.

Rider asked why a scientist would need to put a hole in a cow. I thought this was a good question and wished I had asked it first. Dr. Pete said that the hole lets him and the other scientists study how Marigold’s stomach works. He said they were trying to figure out what foods cows can digest easily and still get lots of nutrients. He said this was important for feeding big herds of dairy and beef cattle.

Madison L. asked if the hole hurts Marigold. Dr. Pete promised that the operation only hurt a little and that she didn’t even notice the hole now. Everyone seemed happy about this, even Ms. Rosenbaum.

Then, Dr. Pete gave each of us a long plastic glove that went up to our armpits and a smaller glove on top of the long glove. The extra layer made my arm sweaty. The little glove pinched my wrist. The tightness made me nervous.

I was the last one to stick my hand inside the cow. I guess I thought that if I hung back we’d run out of time or maybe no one would realize that I hadn’t done it. Ms. Rosenbaum saw me and pulled me forward; she’s always pulling me somewhere—away from the bookshelf, up from the grass by the playground—and nudged me onto the stepstool.

I had to rest my face against Marigold’s side, so I wouldn’t lose my balance as I reached inside her. Her hide was warm and scratchy, and she smelled like grass and hay and sunshine, even though she hadn’t been outside the barn in months. I could feel her big cow heart beating.

Her stomach muscles rolled and contracted around my hand. I squished a fistful of chewed up food; it was like squeezing a blob of wet paper towels. I thought about what it would be like to have a big hole in my side like Marigold. I thought about scientists with clipboards and flannel shirts studying my insides. I thought about kids lining up to put their hands in me, wriggling their fingers in my mashed up breakfast. As my head rose and fell with her breath, I started to cry. Austin P. and Austin R. pointed at me and called me a baby.

Ms. Rosenbaum took a picture for the classroom bulletin board before we left. I was the only kid that didn’t smile.


Meghan Phillips lives in Lancaster, PA, where she works at a public library and reads fiction submissions for Third Point Press. You can find her on Twitter @mcarphil.