Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Up and Down (04/02/09)
TITLE: Animal Husbandry
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I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not.
Song of Solomon 3:1 (ESV)
Underneath the floodlights, Beth watched Avery attach the pressure cups to the four teats of the first four cows. Ten minutes and twelve gallons of milk later, he would prod this group down and lead the next four up to the platforms. Not far from him, her father tested the milk and set the lines and temperature to the holding tank. In two and a half hours they’d have the entire herd of seventy-five Swiss Browns milked and grazing in the east pasture under the rising April sun.
It was amazing what two people could accomplish.
Avery had joined her father in the milking enterprise with a fervor that kept the farm from the auction block when her brothers had said, enough. She’d been glad to return home. They wanted children, and the city was no place to have them.
Apparently the farm was no place to have them, either. A year of Avery laboring sun up to sun down, and Beth began to wonder if she’d always be the heifer and never the milking cow. She kept herself busy with the house and the barn and the fields. In theory, she should have been as exhausted as he was. But she wasn’t.
Maybe it was the way he talked when they were alone.
Like when he described digging the post holes for the new fence using a hydraulic piece of equipment he said worked via two strokes—one up, one down. The stages repeated until the post was buried in the earth.
Beth—it’s so cool, he had said.
If it was so cool, then why had she needed a fan? His constant talk of bulls and breeding, zerk fittings, and hydraulic bottle jacks kept the blush high in her cheeks. His farm vernacular was much more interesting than his computer talk had ever been. And the way his overalls draped up over his trapezius and came back down his expanded chest—how his biceps flexed when he lifted the hay up into the loft—all left her pulse wildly syncopated.
But the reality was that her father saw more of her husband than she did.
The tangerine sun was working its way up through the treetops, tinting the sky as it traveled. Everything on the farm seemed to be in the process of ascending or descending—not stationary and waiting.
That’s when it occurred to her that she’d been going about it all wrong.
She ran to the house, kicked off her boots in the mudroom, and began making her father a grocery list. He did enjoy running to town on errands. She scribbled items like capers and Pickapeppa Sauce and porcini mushrooms. She made a note in the margin suggesting he try Martin’s or Kroger’s—if he had trouble finding something at Food Lion.
Her father raised his eyebrows when she handed him the list. “What’s wasabi?”
She patted his shoulder. “Check the international aisle.”
He left after lunch which gave her three hours before the afternoon milking.
Avery was working on the tractor when she toddled up to him, keeping her weight on the balls of her high-heeled sling-backs. She kissed his ear. “Hey Beth,” he said without looking at her. “I was using this slide hammer to—”
“Shhh,” she said. “It’s my turn to tell you what I was doing. I was fixing my hair. I couldn’t decide whether I should wear it up or down.” She gathered the wavy length into a high twist. “What do you think?” As Avery turned from the tractor, she released her hair and it rippled down, reaching the top of her strapless dress.
“Then I couldn’t decide if I should wear something with a neckline up here, or down here.” Her finger trailed to a hint of cleavage.
“Well, yeah—that looks nice.” Avery dropped the slide hammer. “You smell good, too.”
“Does it smell better up here, behind my ear, or down here at my wrist?”
“Uhhh—where’s your dad?”
“Out looking for fenugreek—one point six ounces.”
Some of her smugness dissipated later during dinner when her father reached over and plucked pieces of hay from her hair. He said nothing, but from that day on, he offered to do the grocery shopping.
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