Shelby woke up and placed her feet on the wood floor beside her bed. She slid her feet back and forth on the grainy wood. The sunlight crackled her tight blonde curls. She put her palms over her ears and pulled her hair back into a bun.
The kitchen was quiet, and Shelby ate a bowl of cornflakes at the kitchen counter. She stood at the open window over the sink and the wet morning air lit upon her nose and forehead. The sky was gray. Dry leaves were crumbled in brown piles in the corners of the porch. The ceramic tiles were cool under her feet, and she ran her big toe against the sandy grout.
Shelby could hear the calves waking and moving in the yard. They lowed quietly. Her house was quiet. Her father had taken the truck somewhere. Her mother was outside. Her sisters were still asleep.
Shelby placed her bowl in the sink and turned on the faucet. The cloudy water poured over the sides of the bowl. The door swung behind Shelby’s thin mother. “You’re awake. Time to feed the calves. Bottles are on the fence.”
Dust rises around the worn ankles of the fence. The calves have thin legs, and they carry their ribs like airy birdcages. Hardpacked dirt lines the yard. The sky is the color of bathwater. It gives an illusion of gray, but there is no color to it. No clouds mark the sky. Trees don’t break the expanse. The sky is high and forever. It is a colorless tent. Cowlicks line the spines of the boxy calves, and a light wind combs the hair. The calves stand in groups, flexing their ankles and pawing at the ground with their hooves. Their ears flap like wings beside their eyes, and their tails switch at flies.
The calves have been separated from their mothers recently. They are bottle fed. The milk is cool and thick, and the calves cannot drink until their bellies hang low. They don’t rest their foreheads on their mothers’ strong side. They take short walks around the yard, lowing quietly.
In the barn, the cows’ necks are caught up in green cages. They stand on metal. Their breasts are round, and a sheen of sweat lights their flanks. Machines begin to hiss, and the lines run white. The cows unfurl their tongues, and tiny gray birds fly from between the long pink curl. Thin beaks pull the birds into flight, and the barn’s eaves fill with drumming wings. The cows eat grain. The small birds fly to the barnyard in a straight line. Calves prick their ears and flutter their nostrils. Beating wings fill the sky. The birdcages shake, and the tolling of the metal resounds in the barnyard. The calves’ wide eyes are intent even as they realize that the drumming wings are carrying the birds out from under the tent and away from the barnyard.
(Definitely got sidetracked.)
Calves shake on skinny legs. Their ribs swing in airy birdcages, like bells without tongues. Storms of dust rise around the worn ankles of the fence. In the barn, cattle stand with their necks caught up in cages. Their large bodies tremble, and a sheen of sweat lights up their flanks. Machines click into action and begin to hiss. The cattle keen. They uncurl their tongues and tiny white hummingbirds fly from their lips. Thin beaks pull the birds into flight, and the barn fills with drumming wings. Birds rise on a cloud of dust and fly to the barnyard in a straight line. Calves prick their ears and flutter their nostrils. They take up a wail. Ribs rattle, and hips heave as they sweat in an effort to still the shaking birdcages. Their wide eyes are intent even as they realize that the thrumming wings are carrying the birds away from the barnyard.
On Friday and Saturday nights we were relegated to the basement so my father and mother could watch Rated R movies. If we needed to use the bathroom, we stood at the bottom of the steps and called up for permission to come upstairs. My father yelled down the steps for us to fill his plastic cup at the keg stored in a fridge behind the paneled basement wall.
We tried to curl our small bodies into the cracked leather sofa, but it was a mean piece of furniture and never gave under our weight. Rough tears in the sofa pressed seams into our sweaty legs, and getting off the sofa was like peeling a box of bandaids from our thighs.
Crickets hopped into the basement every summer. They were black and shiny and prehistoric. They could survive a nuclear fallout. They were armored and they jumped quick and high and far. The males pulled their wings across each other behind the walls, scaring us even when we couldn’t see them. Their bodies were heavy and imposing, their back legs were freakishly thin. They wore Darth Vader helmets, and they had long, thin antannae. When we watched TV, they leapt across the floor, appearing out of nowhere.
We teetered on the sofa holding heavy black textbooks over our heads. We swayed under the weight and threw the books at the crickets. Occasionally the book smacked over the cricket, killing it. More often, the book landed near the cricket, scaring the cricket into a high, desperate leap into the air. We screamed and bent at the knees, scampering across the sofa, our feet slipping between the cushions. This was not the fun fear of children playing. This was terror. I believed they could eat my face and kill me, and those hours spent with the crickets in the basement have left me petrified of crickets into adulthood.
Oh man. This is lame, but we had company and I am exhausted so going to do a quick one.
- friends for dinner
- Indian food
- friends who make me laugh
- happy bunnies
- Sufjan Stevens
- clear glass bowls
- when someone else cleans up the whole kitchen!
- I can sleep late tomorrow.
- when Katie does MJ wii
- I saw my mom and Mandrew today
- We have wifi. Didn’t for a long time.
- the buunies are tucked in
- we have NO plans for tomorrow. love that!
- Katie cleaned the whole house today
- we had a great lunch
- goat cheese rolled in cranberries
Kelly was tight at the joints. Her arms and legs were screwed to her chest plate and pelvis with heavy silver bolts. Thin white blonde ponytails sat behind her ears. They hung lank to the middle of her back. The summer air didn’t stir them, and they ignored the ceiling fan in the hallway.
Kelly stood against the kitchen counter in her plaid uniform jumper and made the salad for dinner. A bed of iceberg for the face. She peeled waxy carrot curls for the hair and cut cucumber moons for the eyes and a pulpy wedge of tomato for a wet, bleeding smile. Mom flickered around the stove, stirring pots, a candle brightening and darkening as the summer air filtered through the open window over the kitchen sink. Kelly lifted six heavy plates from the cabinet and carried the shifting pile to the kitchen table. The lithosphere chattered its false teeth under her feet. She slid open the silverware drawer. Forks and knives shivered in cold silver stacks, a humming tussle to slide to the bottom of the pile. There was a tiny din in the drawer, and it unsettled Kelly to see the silver so shaken. She quickly drew out what she needed. She took a stack of empty plastic cups from the cabinet, light as a handful of salt. Mom’s hair was pulled back in a red bandana. Her forehead was shining under the light of the oven’s hood. “Call them,” she said, as she scooted limp vegetables around the pan with a spatula. Kelly walked to the front door and opened it, pushing against the resistance collecting on the porch. “Dinner!” she yelled.
Mixing it up a little, and tomorrow I go back to the real way of doing things.
10 sad things
- My brother got jumped today and spent a couple hours in the police station. He’s okay, but still.
- Katie’s fish, Annie, died last weekend. We bought two bonded black fancies today and tried to bond them to Annie’s mate, Kate. Didn’t work. Kate bullied them. : (
- Michi seems lonely.
- I’m anxious about going back to work tomorrow after being away all week.
- I often miss Sadie.
- This Joe Paterno stuff makes me sad. I can’t believe how many people are defending him.
- I also feel sorry for his family.
- I sometimes feel that I bailed by not teaching in an urban area where the level of need is arguably greater.
- I’m worried about many people I love who are going through difficult times.
- I miss how simple things used to be.
10 happy things
- I slept until 11:00 and needed it.
- I had a great day with Katie.
- I had lunch with Katie, my mom, my sister, and the babies.
- Liam says “turtle,” and it’s too cute.
- The older people at the diner loved K and L, and it was so sweet to see.
- Get to sleep in my bed again tonight!
- One more day and then the weekend. I can handle that.
- Katie filled my gas tank while I was away.
- Alma and Esther are sleeping together, and it’s adorable.
- Peach has a case on Katie.