MILK COW BLUES
(originally published in MASQUE
OF THE SMALL TOWN ODDBALL)
Mama gets mad at me because she says I don’t pull my weight, I don’t help out
enough around the farm. She says I should spend more time on my chores and less time
daydreaming. Maybe she’s right. All I know is that I hate being out in the barn filling those
pails full of milk and listening to the cows bellow and moan and stomp. I just don’t like
touching ‘em and when that milk spills all over my hands it just about makes me sick.
I guess I’m naturally squeamish.
Like daddy says, you either got it or you don’t.
My brother Roy doesn’t have that problem. He’s a natural-born dairyman and he just
loves being out there milking the stock. You should see him--working them, adjusting
harnesses and carrying pails around, spreading the feed and cleaning up the pens. A
natural, all right. He likes to torment me, though. He throws milk at me and cowshit,
sometimes he holds me down and bites me.
I think daddy understands my problems.
One time he said that in me he sees himself. And I wonder if he ever dreamed of
being something other than a farmer with dirt on his hands and the stink of manure in his
nose. I just wonder.
Roy takes after mama, though. And mama…oh boy, you don’t want to get her mad at
you. She hasn’t left her room in two years now, but that don’t mean she doesn’t know
what you’re doing or who you’re doing it with. She’s like some all-seeing eye in the sky. If
I try to take a nap in the straw or get lost in one of my daydreams, I hear her start to
positively roar. I swear she could peel the roof off way she carries on. Gets the stock real
nervous when she does that and me and daddy have to calm them and it takes time.
Anyway, if I screw off, she says, “Danny! Goddammit! Don’t you make me get up!”
Which in itself is kind of funny because mama hasn’t gotten up in two years. She just
lays in her bed and drinks milk and gets bigger and bigger. Daddy says she’s pretty much
trapped in her room now because there’s no way she could get out the door, not even if
she turned sideways. Besides, I was in there the other day bringing her her buckets of
milk and you can’t really see her legs or arms anymore, it’s all lost in this white, flabby
sea of mama that ripples like a quarry pond whenever she moves this way or that. Maybe
oozes is the right word here. Just that round, sucking mouth and something that might be
eyes. I’m not sure. Maybe those are dimples.
Yeah, she’s hard on me and just loves Roy to death and I don’t like to go in there on
account she’s more than a little scary. You know, what with those slurping, slithering
sounds she makes and all them weird little things growing off her that dance and wiggle
when she gets excited.
Regardless, she’ll never get up again, I know that much.
I remember her laying down in there two years before, saying to us, “Sometimes, I
just take a notion. I certainly do.”
And never a truer word was spoken. No, she’s down for the count and maybe it’s for
the best. That’s what daddy says. When she was mobile she used to go out into the barn
and drink right out of them cows. She had a wicked taste for milk even then. I suppose
it’s almost unhealthy to be obsessed like that. I know daddy was more than a little
concerned. It was pretty strange. I’m just glad none of the kids from school ever heard
about that or I’d never hear the end of it.
I had a brother named Donny once.
He was a good kid, but he was just too much like mama. Had that same taste he just
couldn’t control. We had to pull his lips off the stock more than once and it wasn’t long
before he took to bed and got bigger than a beach ball. But he was a kid and just too
restless to lay there on the soft sheets. Too much energy for his own good, daddy said.
More than once he got out and we found him rolling down the road. And then the last
time, well, he caught himself on that loose nail and popped like a water balloon. It was a
real mess cleaning that up. I mopped for hours.
Anyway, at night, mama gives us all the creeps when she starts making them awful
sounds, bellowing and gurgling and lowing. Daddy says not to pay attention because she’s
just growing, but I don’t care for it none. I just keep wondering how big she’s gonna get.
How long before she spills into all the rooms.
I can hear her right now, making that low, wet growling sound like a hungry belly but
loud enough to rattle the windowpanes. I know that means it’s time for breakfast. So off I
The cows are all starting to look sluggish and they can barely drag themselves out of
the straw. We got a new cow and I figure I better milk that one first. The new ones are
always a little skittish. He was our mailman until daddy caught him in that snare out by
the main road. He’s nice and fat and full of milk. Poor thing. It’s real hard on ‘em the first
time you put the needle in ‘em. They whimper a lot and yank at their harnesses. Ssh, ssh,
bossey, it’s okay, ssh.
Some kid at school told me milk is always white, but I know better.