Defeat

Ma now wears dresses and goes to work to teach important things to fifth
graders. When she’s home, she puts on overalls and does farm work. Milking cows,
fixing fence, feeding calves, shoveling manure. She doesn’t have time to make donuts
anymore. Pa’s heart is wearing out, and he has “bad spells”. That means when his
chest hurts, he goes to the hospital, and sometimes I don’t see him for a long time.
Ma says kids can’t go to the hospital. Pa’s “bad spells” happen a lot. This year he was
in the hospital during haying. The neighbors helped us get the hay into the barn. Ma
says she and us kids couldn’t have done it by ourselves. Most of those who helped
said it was the neighborly thing to do but one asked for money. Ma couldn’t pay him
until the milk check came.

One Saturday morning a few weeks after Pa comes home Ma says the cows
won’t go out to pasture after the morning milking. They stay in the barn while we
finish chores. Holding my tattered black and white teddy bear tight under my arm, I
follow my brothers back and forth helping gather hay from the barn floor to toss
into the manger in front of the cows. Pa scatters fresh sawdust under the cows as
the mother cleans the gutters, pushing heavy shovelfuls of manure down the hole in
the barn floor.

Two big farm trucks rumble to a stop in the yard. Pa drops the bucket of
sawdust and kicks it against the wall. “Might as well stop what yer doing.” He says to
the boys. They stand silent, their arms full of hay.

I scuttle behind Ma as two men step inside the barn. The tall man smiles as he
hands Ma a piece of paper. “A bit chilly today. Looks like an early fall.” He says.
Pa stomps away to the stands beside Ma. “Damn it,” he swears. “Damn it to
hell.” He stomps away.

The tall man frowns, “Is there a problem?” He asks.

Ma takes a deep breath and blows it out with a soft huff. “No – no. We knew
you were coming. Just earlier than we expected.”

The short man shrugs. “The early bird gets the worm, you know.” He moves
to the first cow just inside the stable door. It’s Ada. The man opens her stanchion
and leads her into one of the trucks. I’m happy to see Ada leaving. She’s mean. She’s named after my Aunt Ada aunt. “Just like my sister.” Ma says every time someone
gets kicked.

As the afternoon sun disappears behind Pierce Hill, Pa sits by himself in the
kitchen, staring out the window. Ma is in the bedroom. She hasn’t said much all day,
but once in awhile I hear her baby-talking to the cats. Lance and Ward are playing in
the gravel in the front yard. Lance piles plastic animals onto the back of his toy
truck, muttering, “Git up there. Git up. Hurry up. You’re all sold! ” Ward pushes the
truck in circles and dumps the load of elephants, giraffes, pigs, and cows into a heap.
Lance loads them up again.

I tiptoe across the kitchen floor trying to be quiet. Pa doesn’t see me even
though I am right in front of him. I pull the heavy dish of spaghetti left from last
night’s supper from the refrigerator. I love spaghetti even though they all laugh at
me because she can’t say it right. P-p-pisgetti.

Holding tight to the dish, I carry it outside and crawl into the tall grass
growing against the side of the house. The muddy barnyard is empty where cows
should be waiting for the barn door to open for the afternoon milking. Using my
hand I scoop spaghetti from the bowl. Tomato sauce drips down my arm as I shove
it into her mouth, eating until my belly feels like it will burst.

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