Act I Scene I
I wake up early on Fridays because Fridays are when we milk the cows and the colostrum is fragrant and bubbles in my nose. I drink half a glass, then Mr. Tiller drinks a half. “Labor to labor,” he says and squeezes another glass. Then we load up Mr. Tiller’s red truck and he delivers milk to the corner grocery where it sells for two dollars a quart. Sweetest milk I ever tasted, but I only tasted it on Fridays.
Next I feed the sheep. The air in their shelter made me breathe through my mouth, until I remember Johnny boy telling me that if you hold a chunk of bread in your mouth while cutting onions, your eyes won’t sting. I asked him why and Johnny boy said the bread soaked up the fumes and saved your eyes the burning. I tried it once when I was cooking for mama and I didn’t tear up once. I tasted the bread afterward and almost yakked in the soup. So I close my mouth and I feed the sheep.
Tops and Barley—the Tiller’s Shepards—rip and howl after crows in the fodder corn fields. Mrs. likes if I keep an eye on Tops for a few hours each day. He is fourteen. He is deaf like me and starting to slow down. That’s not like me I guess. Top’s has arthritis in his hips and sometimes put to rout the crows so fiercely that his back legs tighten against his belly, and he won’t move for anything. Those times I would pull out the red snow scoop and slide him to the farmhouse across the farmyard.
Arthritis is curable in dogs I think. Not in humans though, and mama’s pain wasn’t just in her hips, it grated her at every toe and finger without mercy and we without insurance. Pain medication was precious. Mama didn’t think I could work, but the Tiller’s, they go to mama’s church and when they announced they needed help, I asked Mr. Tiller for a job before mama could stop me. I was only fourteen then. I tried explaining about mama’s joints and my strength, despite being four foot two and frail as old Rocinante. Tiller smiled sad and rubbed my shoulder. The next day, mama tells me he gave me a job on the farm. Tiller made me a hand and assigned me odd jobs throughout the farmstead. Johnny boy was the other farm hand. He had worked with the Tillers for years, since he was about my age, and he showed me how to survive on the farm.
I tell you this because I want you to understand what the meaning of these events had on me and where I stood, be it on the right or not.
Anyway, Fridays are also the days for combing the fallow. The sun burned the evening into my bare pale hands. The dirt is moist and crumbles with my scooping. The claws bury deep and easily and with each pull, the brown grows richer and the worms smell more alive. It was my favorite job. I was returning from the fallow to return the rake to the machinery shed. But before I passed the corner post of the unsown land, there—golden flutes of straw flipping in the sun—dripping from the second story of the barn, swollen with salt. I dragged the hot scents of the barn deep in my nose. I smelled the dirt rust of the alfalfa and quiet hum of wet hay.
I smelled—sweat—tart berries—like the pink Hawaiian sherbet mom sucks on when her knuckles get too loud. I wish I never went in the barn. I wish I never climbed the ladder. I wish I wasn’t born into silence, to step unwittingly before the blaring horn of a car.
Stay tuned for Act I Scene II, coming soon …