I Had to Catch

By Kim Chinquee

I knocked on the door eight times. A cow bellowed on the other side of the door. I pushed the little board up over the latch. It was an old barn, gray and wooden, one my grandparents had built, or maybe even the ones before them.

My breath pushed into the cold air. I had on a hat, mittens, and the boots I wore when I fed the calves every morning before I had to catch the school bus. I knew what it meant when a cow was separate from the others that roamed indoors and out—I’d spent a lot of time up in the hayloft, tossing the bales of hay that I helped my dad harvest—every summer, after picking stones from the dirt and throwing them into a wagon to get tossed onto the stone pile that had existed since whenever—the fields would grow, and once it was time again, we’d go out with whatever the machine was called, and I’d catch the hay straight from the baler that would wrap them in the twine. The baler would throw them, and in my shorts, I’d do my best to catch them, using my arms, and on the wagon, I’d put them in the stacks. My hands were calloused. I was tough—and though I was a girl, I didn’t care that my legs were scarred from scratches. A few times, my dad ordered me to drive the tractor, but I got so bored just sitting there, worrying I was driving crooked; then just like I imagined, my dad came at me yelling, taking over, not even trying to correct me.

After the wagon was full, we’d toss the bales onto another machine, an escalator that carried the bales up to the loft, dropping them in random places that we’d have to mound up later.

I loved the loft, where there was an opening looking to the cows, to their indoor feeders. Sometimes I’d just sit there, watching them as they roamed, pooping, laying, chewing up their cuds. Sometimes I dropped them extra bales of hay. I’m not sure why I did that.

I imagined jumping down myself.

We were all about producing.

After unlatching the door, I saw the special cow who always ate my extra hay. I had named her Starlight. She stood with her back legs spread.

I think I heard her moan.

Bits of corn lay on the ground. All around me creatures scattered.

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Kim Chinquee

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