Dad’s head was nestled in close to Bossy’s flank as he sat at his milking stool, listing slightly because Bossy had kicked the legs off at one time and they’d been hastily replaced. I listened to the soft squelching of the milk as it hit the pail and its sweet smell and the heat of the barn condensed with the molding hay in a pungent haze.
I was perched beside the cream separator, alternately hypnotizing a chicken which I clutched to my breast and seeing how fast I could make a piece of straw whirl by placing it in the notch on the top of the separator. This activity was fascinating for the chicken, for it was also easily amused.
I had spent long hours with, if not this particular chicken, then chickens in general, as it was my job to collect the eggs. Every morning, I would run out to the chicken coop, unlatch the door silently, and sneak inside. I believed that one day I was going to catch the chickens talking because from a distance, it always sounded like they were conversing in about the same way my parents and their friends spoke when I lay in bed listening to them play cards. Of course, when I got close to the chickens, they’d revert to their inane clucking and coaxing noises. Many times I squished into a corner, and shrank into myself until I felt I couldn’t be seen. Even after an hour passed, the chickens never let down their guard. They had more patience than I did, but I knew one day I’d catch them.
When I wasn’t spying on chickens, I enjoyed taunting several of the hens who had reputations for being ornery. I’d snake my hand in under their pillowy breasts and grab the warm eggs while they pecked away at my arm and cackled. If I couldn’t defeat my two older brothers at much of anything, at least I was queen of the chicken coop.
Dad seldom talked while he milked. It was a very soothing time although it was fraught with an edge of danger because Bossy had her moments. Dad too. That evening the cow suddenly heaved forward in the stanchion, skipped giddily into the milk pail and swung her enormous hips against Dad, pinning him to the wall. Fortunately, she was off balance because of her foot getting stuck in the pail and Dad got his hands up between himself and her body and gave a mighty shove to escape. The stool got broken then too, because he grabbed it and smashed it off her butt until the legs broke and she stood trembling. He squatted and finished the milking while I sat in the corner and whispered to my chicken.
Outside the sky snapped with stars.