Morning Milking: a short story

Happy February and Happy Birthday to Me! 

This is a the first short story I’ve written since I was in Elementary School. I entered it into The Berkshire Women Writer’s Contest today. 

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       Josie woke two minutes before her alarm went off at 5:10 a.m. On the mornings she was responsible for milking at the farm, her cat, Oliver, would stay nestled in bed. Most other mornings he would walk over her head until she got up to let him outside. That high pitched, “Meeuuu,” was impossible to sleep through.

            Pulling her flannel lined Carhartts on over long underwear and wrapping a wool blanket around her torso, Josie stiffly walked to the woodstove. To her surprise there were just enough glowing coals for a low effort fire to be reignited and soon her cabin would be above 60 degrees.

            She placed the kettle on the stove and laid her hands on top of the handle. The warmth gave her the chills. Her body stood motionless, not quite sure if it wanted to be upright yet. She thought about how cold her hands would be in a few minutes as she walked the goats across the road and fed them fragrant alfalfa.

            Josie slipped on muck boots, grabbed a headlamp and whispered, “C’mon Ollie.” The moon reflected off the snow so she decided not to turn on her headlamp until she got to the gate. Stars competed with the moon for brightness. Even in her twenties, Josie still wished on the brightest star in the sky. Usually she wished for big things that seemed impossible in her lifetime like world peace or halting climate change. More often than she would ever admit, Josie found herself wishing for a handsome man who shared her love for farming. This morning, the cold air kissed her neck as she lifted her head to the stars making her brief prayer.

            “Please let the goats jump up on the milking stand swiftly and let the snow hold off until I move hay to the other barn,” whispered Josie.

            The gates piercingly squeaked as she opened them. Disturbing this peaceful morning felt like a sin. Not even the birds were out yet. The sun would not rise for another hour. How could one person make so much noise while 40 other animals of her size stood waiting quietly? As she looked out to the field, her headlamp reflected over 80 eyes staring at her. “Hey sweet ladies, you ready for milkin’?” Josie asked. A chorus of enthusiastic bleats sang in response.

            Following behind the thumping hooves, she locked the gates and headed for the milking parlor.  Josie paused before opening the door. She heard a low toned owl in the distance. “Whooo cooks for yooou? Whooo cooks for yooou?” Josie smiled as she took a deep breadth and closed her eyes thinking, “I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything, not even my warm bed.”

            Setting up the hoses and milk pumps felt like muscle memory. There was something comforting about a routine to be kept twice a day for 270 days a year. While each day at the farm promised its own blessings and challenges brought on by weather, herd health, hay and grain deliveries, there was always the faithful rhythm of morning and evening milking the way we count on the sun to rise and set.

            “Rita and Audrey stop fighting so one of you can join me in here!” Josie yelled to the stubborn goats. “Don’t make me come get you!”

            She thought about changing the radio from NPR to a Wailin’ Jenny’s album. Some of the goats did not care for the harsh voices on the news and they would rather listen to a soothing female singer. Classical music was their top choice. How could she blame them? All the news started to sound the same to her anyway. Her root cellar was full to the brim and freezer packed with fruits and meat, which to Josie meant real security. She could care less if the Dow Jones dropped an all time low or rose higher than ever before. There were still 27 goats to be milked and cheese to be made this afternoon.

            Outside the window Josie caught a glimpse of the sun rising over the mountain. The stillness and pure beauty of the morning light moved her attention away from the groaning vacuum pump in the background. She poured a full pail of milk into the bulk tank and stepped outside. For a brief moment, everything slipped away except her inner knowing that this was her calling- to be deeply rooted in the land, which gives her life. 

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