Did That Ever Really Happen?

There are sometimes events in your life (well, in my life …) that I remember clearly but wonder if I ever really experienced. In retrospect, they seem like hallucinations. One of them is this: When I wrote my first novel, I lived in a modest house on the south side of Madison, Wisconsin. I was a widow with four small kids. It was a suburban block of ordinary places, a block from an elementary school. One day, I opened the door to a knock but I didn’t see anyone. Then I looked down and there was a woman standing there, a very beautiful woman who was very, very small, no more than three feet tall. She was dressed unusually, in a long elaborate blue dress with some kind of mirrored spangles sewn into the hem. “Hello,” I said and she returned my greeting and held up a copy of my first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, which then was very popular, and asked me to sign it. I did. Her name was Estrella. I then looked out into the front yard and there was a man standing there, wearing a dark green coat that looked to be made of some kind of velvet, and he was holding a cow with a rope attached to its bridle. It was a red Ayrshire cow, which I only knew because I’d been helping one of my kids with a project on dairy farming. After I signed the book, the couple walked away with their cow. They didn’t walk toward a livestock trailer or a van; they simply walked down the street toward the corner. I felt as though I was watching characters from a fairytale and that they would presently disappear … but they didn’t. Where were they going with the cow? Were they performers or just people out strolling with their cow? How did they know where my house was? (This was more than 20 years ago, in the time when it was by no means a given that anyone could find anyone with a few keystrokes …) Sometimes, I doubt this really happened and I was reminded of it when a student of mine told me a story about his father, a political dissident in another country, who went into a café for an espresso, sat down on a bench outside to have his breakfast drink … and woke up 24 hours later, sitting under a tree in a mountainous part of his country, about 200 miles from the street where he lived – unharmed, a little dusty.  He still has no idea how he was drugged or why.

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