Newcastle Herald short story competition finalist 2018: Fresh Milk

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

“GEORGE, get side, GET SIDE!”

“Bloody stupid cow.”

“Ben, hold firm, she’s getting ready to kick.”

“Goawn, move. GIT OUT!”

“Hold that side, George. Flaming’ stupid cow …”

“Pull hard. Don’t you step on my boot, you fool of a cow.”

“JEE-SUS. Stop pushin’ me …”

“Turn the head. TURN THE HEAD …” 

“God, she’s strong …” 

“This is one crazy cow, Lochie.”

My brother and I are perched in the tall gum tree outside the pen watching with a mix of fear and fascination as George, Lochie and Dad tug, push, and yank trying to unload the stubborn cow. She refuses to budge.

Straw and dust escape through the slats in random waves as the truck bounces and sways. Frustrated voices shout above the thrashing hooves and full-throated bellowing.

Dad has built a pen in the backyard with log railings and a small enclosed milking shed covered in offcuts of tin left over from the grain shed. The feed and water trough are halves of a forty-four gallon drum nailed to the back wall. The promise of fresh, creamy milk, instead of lumpy, powdered milk is snorting and kicking her way down the tailgate.  

“She looks really mad,” I say to my brother, scrambling up to a higher branch as a fresh surge of fury explodes from below. George is gripping the halter, the muscles in his large arms tight against his rolled-up sleeves. Sweat from the three men sprays to mingle with the dribble from the cow. She shoves her backside around and it throws Lochie off the side and into the dust.

“She's a bit jumpy,” pants Dad, grasping the rope on the other side as he and George are dragged down the ramp and into the pen like beginner water skiiers. Lochie slides the rails across while George and Dad vault out of the pen.

“Her mum is nice and quiet. Never a bother,” Lochie says.

“Musta been the trip,” says George.

“Dad, is it safe to come down?” I shout from my top branch.

Three scruffy faces look up into the tree. “What are you flamin' kids doing up there?”

“The cow, Dad, it's mad.' said Ross, swinging his way down to the fence. My descent is careful. The cow is chewing chaff from the feed bin, but I am afraid of another temper tantrum.

“Come on. Climb down and I'll catch you. Best to keep away from the cow for a while,” says Dad as we walk back to the house.

“She's still a bit jittery.”

“I thought we could call her, Daisy,” I say. “More like Crazy Jane,” offers Ross. 

“Or maybe Mad Mazie.”

“How about we leave the name for the moment,” says Dad. “Now, a bloke needs to quench his thirst after all that activity. My shout, fellas.”

In the night, the sound of non-stop bellowing, pierces through the thin walls of our house and the pillow I have over my head. Cows don't get sore throats, it seems.

In the morning we rush outside, eager to see the milking. Dad's already in the pen. He's finished washing the teats and is starting to milk, pulling and squeezing the teats.

The cow has a leg rope on and her head is buried in a feed bag, gently chewing chaff. A contented cow. Just like the one on the powdered milk tin.

“Hello, Daisy,” I say. We clamber onto the top rail and watch in fascination as the squirts of white, frothy milk fill the bucket to half full. I can taste it on our cereal already.

“Where'd you learn to do that, Dad?” I ask. He looks like a farmer, sitting on a four-gallon drum, leaning against the cow, concentrating on the rhythm of milking. “When I was a boy.”

Squish, squish. Each stream hits the side of the bucket. “Did you have a cow, too?” asks my brother. “When I was a boy, we didn't have much …” 

Oh boy, here it comes. The lecture. He would set forth on a reminder of how easy it was for us. I didn't understand, because it seemed to me, we did our chores, didn't have many toys and were respectful of adults. My brother and I would listen in glazed silence as he waffled on and on.

Without warning, the cow kicked the bucket over, ending his talk.

“Bloody hell.” 

Dad jumps back as white, frothy milk sprays on his overalls and cascades across the floor, mingling with sticks and dirt as the bucket flies up in the air and lands in the corner.

At the same time, my brother and I jump off the rail and stand back as Dad darts around the pen to avoid being kicked.

The halter rope breaks as the cow lashes its hooves at everything, to free the leg rope. The rage from yesterday is back, only this time Dad is trapped and we are helpless to do anything but stand, terrified.

The pen is being demolished, kick by kick.

“Bloody stupid cow! She is crazy!”

When the side gate splinters and Dad dives in the opposite direction to avoid getting kicked, his leg is tangled in the cow's rope. A final kick and they both take off.

Dad, unable to free himself, follows doing seven-league hops, cursing the cow and the bloke he bought it from with words we have never heard.

We watch in horror as he is hauled through the thistles and prickles, his voice fading as he disappears over the hill.

A moment later, the publican’s ute hurtles past in the same direction.

Dad arrives home an hour later limping and groaning, with overalls, face and arms covered in scratches. Ross and I stand aside as he goes into the kitchen, his glare telling us – no questions.

When Dad’s limp is less visible and the bruises are changing colour, we ask about the cow.

“She’s gone,” he says. “Powdered milk's fine.”


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