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Friday Fiction – Small Miracles

6 June 2014 No Comment

The first of once-monthly free fiction, we’ll start with the story of a young woman, pregnant and overdue, trying to run a small hobby farm. With the help of her family, she learns to believe in small miracles once more…

Small Miracles
© 2014 Jodi Lee, all rights reserved
Written for the Hint Fiction, New Moon, and Genre Stretch Challenges
National Novel Writing Year
Image credit – tatoo_cw, FreeImages

smallmiraclesMy Muscovy duck hatched seventeen ducklings – along with four chicks from eggs the hens snuck into her nest.

I’m still waiting.

Massively pregnant, six days overdue, and waddling around a hobby farm doing chores on my own was not how I envisioned my life when I left college at 21 to get married. Jack was a great guy. He was fantastic, always attentive and helpful, doing whatever he could to get my dream of living in the country off the ground. The twenty minute commute into the city didn’t even bother him, but I knew the drive home did; at least for the last six months. Jack seemed to hate coming home since I started to show.

Let’s have a baby, he said. I’ll help out, he said. Think of how beautiful our baby would be, he said. It’ll be fun, he said.

I just can’t take any more, Jess, I’m sorry, he said.

Jack handed me a separation agreement leaving me the farm – which he’d paid off entirely with mystery money– and a note that spousal support and child support were to be agreed to at a later date. He wanted no visitation with the child. He left his job, too, and now I had no idea how to contact him, other than through his attorney.

Not that I wanted to.

I set the bucket of feed down at my feet, pushed my hands into the small of my back arching as best I could with a fifty pound watermelon stuck inside my body. The baby kicked; self-defence I suppose, considering when I stretched his little home became a tiny bit smaller.

One last trough to fill, and then I could go put my feet up for the evening.

The horses were appreciative of the little extra care I gave them. Molly nudged me, rubbing her silky nose against the bump of my belly. Horace snorted the oatsy scent coming from the trough before coming to bump the bump as well. These two were the real reason I had been dreaming of having my own farm since I was a little girl. I just wanted to have horses. Molly and Horace were the first purchases we’d made for the place; two two-year olds, a filly and a gelding. Three years later they were both broke to ride and drive, and had the gentlest of temperaments that even new riders felt at ease on their backs.

“You two be good for my dad, you hear me? He may be gruff, and he may seem angry, but he’s good people.” They knew that already, of course. Molly followed my dad around like a puppy every time he and Mom visited. Now that they’d taken up residence in the ‘Granny Cabin’ between the house and barn, she’d often slip the gate and tap their door with her hoof. “When I get back, you’ll have someone new to love, what do you think of that, hmm?” I rubbed each of them between their ears, a good scratch in the forelock.

A mournful lowing came from the loose housing on the far side of the barn. Mabel Moo, the middle-aged Jersey cow, was still missing her baby. The calf had slipped under the fence and since I thought she wouldn’t go far from her momma, I figured it’d be okay to let her wander a bit. When she disappeared, that’s when I realized I couldn’t do this on my own anymore.

We thought someone grabbed her out of the yard, probably thinking they could have her done up for veal. The police refused to do much other than put a notice out among the local farmers, which was of no help. My mom said that in the meantime Mabel would need a calf to foster over the summer, that we needed to go next door and see if they had any abandoned calves she could mother.

I wouldn’t go over there, so Dad went. He came back angry, vowing to never set foot on the property again. I’d warned them the old lady over there was weird.

Mabel watched me approach with her huge brown eyes. Even sadder than they usually were, she seemed resigned, tired. I knew if we didn’t do something for her, she’d start to fade and her milk would dry up. Worried about my own ability to lactate, I didn’t want Mabel to do that. I refused to put my child on formula when he could have good old-fashioned farm fresh, if need be.

“What are we going to do with you, old lady?” I whispered. She lowed quietly, but stayed in the back of the pen. I checked her water and made sure she could leave the pen and go out to the pasture if she wanted – sometimes she’d bump the gate down when she came into the shelter – and headed back up to the house.

Halfway up the path, the contractions started.

* * *

Two days later, I brought my little bundle of joy home. As much as I loved my new son, I felt a tiny tug in my heart that he’d grow up without a father. On the other hand, a man that can abandon his wife and unborn child with no way to contact him or keep in touch, is not father material.

At least Thomas would have my dad.

Both of my parents had been acting weird since they picked us up at the hospital. They were very mysterious, and when I asked about it, all they would reply was “wait and see” over and over again. I knew it couldn’t be the nursery, as Mom and I had finished it months ago. It couldn’t be anything in the house, and it certainly wasn’t Jack coming back. If it had been, my father would have been a storm cloud of barely contained violence, and my mother… well, she would have been burying whatever body bits were left after the pigs had eaten their fill.

Nope, this was something happy.

I was exhausted by the time we arrived at the farm. Settling Thomas in his room, all I wanted to do was take a nap, but I could hear my parents down the hall in the kitchen, snickering. Snickering!

What the hell?

When I walked in, Dad took one look at me, and probably realized it was best not to toy with the new momma any more. “You okay to come out to the barn with me?”

I nodded, then followed him down the path.

“You’re going to have to be good and quiet in here right now, she’s a bit skittish.”

“Who’s a bit skittish? Mabel’s never been…” As I rounded the corner to peer through the door of the stall, I saw Mabel contentedly chewing cud, while a very tiny spotted baby slept at her feet. “Is that… is that a fawn?” I whispered.

“It is,” he replied, pulling me away. “Her mother was hit out on the highway, and I found her curled in the grass when I was mowing. I didn’t think this would work, but the rescue people couldn’t come out and suggested I put her down. I couldn’t do that… And you know what? That old Mabel, she took one look at that little thing, and took over.”

“But is her milk right? I mean, it can’t be the same as deer milk?”

“It’s not. Your mom adds a duck egg and some honey to a bottle of milk, she says we’ll have to do it once a day for about a month. The rest of the time, she nurses from Mabel. So far, it’s working.”

I couldn’t believe it, but there it was.

Over the next weeks, the fawn grew and seemed to thrive. Mabel was back to her old self, and I think she thought she needed to produce milk for everyone. She went into overdrive. Soon enough though, the fawn as much as weaned herself, and grazed with the old cow when she was in the pasture. She didn’t seem to imprint on us, so my dad was hopeful she’d be able to integrate into the wild again in the fall. I hoped so too, I didn’t need a Game officer down on me.

Thomas thrived too, growing like a weed. I needn’t have worried about my lactation, though I felt it was time to wean him earlier than my mother would have liked. By the time fall came around, he was already nearing 20 pounds, and his hair had filled in; a rich, dark red just like my dad’s. Thankfully, at least for me, he looked nothing like Jack.

In late October, the final divorce papers arrived, and I began receiving monthly checks for Thomas and I. Although the farm was self-sustainable to a certain degree, we still had utility bills, vehicles and staples such as flour and sugar to buy. Bambi, as we called the fawn – of course – stayed with us, even though Dad had taken her out to the bush several times, and left her there. I don’t know if it was Mabel’s mooing or just some sort of homing beacon, but within 24 hours, Bambi would be back in the pasture, next to her adoptive mother. We gave in finally, and to keep everything on the level, we documented two last trips to the bush, the final one was even witnessed by a Game officer we’d invited down to make sure we wouldn’t get in trouble for having her.

Since she was as much as wild, running from everyone except my dad and being able to fend for herself, the officer had no problems writing out a notice for the property. Bambi was, for all intents and purposes, a legal deer. Whatever that meant.

My parents were worried about the winter, thinking it was going to be a harsh one. Dad brought in more and more straw and feed for the animals, and between the two of us we had the barn and loose housing ready for anything. Soon enough, the time came to slaughter the older chickens and ducks, and send the steer and pigs off to the butcher. We’d be keeping a half of the steer, and one of the pigs. The butcher would keep the rest in payment for his services.

The first snow began to fall in mid-November, and we tucked in for the duration. Thomas’ first Christmas was celebrated in grand style, the proud Grandpa videoing everything with his new camera. Before dinner, I harnessed Molly and hitched her to the sleigh, and we went for a drive into a nearby town to hear the church choir sing in the park. Bambi was waiting at the end of the driveway for us when we returned, bounding off down to the barn and then back to us, actually bleating as she approached. Dad was off the sleigh like a shot, running down the little incline and barely taking time to open the gate. I left Mom and Thomas at the house, and drove down to unhitch Molly and bring her into the barn. After I’d taken off the harness, rubbed her down a bit and made sure she had some warm water, I checked to see what the fuss was about.

Mabel was down in the straw, not resting, but all out stretched on her side. I watched her sides heave as she struggled to breathe. Dad was rushing about, from the office to the stall and back again, carting various tools and whatever equipment he thought he might need. “She’s had a bit of cockle, it was mixed in with the hay from the feedlot. I should have looked closer when I bought it, but the guy was in a hurry, and the price was right. You make sure the horses didn’t get any of that bale there…” he pointed to a bale he’d obviously broken open earlier that morning.

“What’s going to happen to her, Dad?” I was scared. I didn’t get attached to the animals we raised for meat, but Mabel was different. She wasn’t just our milk cow, she was… well, she was like part of the family.

“I don’t know, Jess. The only thing I can think to do right now is what my father did if the cows got into something. Flush out their system with lots of water, forcing it if need be. The vet can’t come out until late tonight.”

I helped get the stomach tube into her, and the first jug full of water down her throat. Dad sent me back in the house while he sat with her, Bambi pacing outside the stall.

Mom and I kept busy prepping our Christmas dinner, but both of us worried about old Mabel. Once the potatoes and veg were ready to go on, and the turkey was nearly cooked through, I headed out to help my dad give Mabel another dose or two of warm water.

I was surprised when I entered the barn. Mabel was standing again, shaky, but on her own legs. Dad had slung a hammock-type contraption under her after she’d stood up with much coaxing. Securing it to either side of the stall, she was supported if anything happened. “She’s been good about it, even though her bellies are a bit tender, still. Her breathing has calmed, and she seems settled, so I think we can go and have our dinner once we give her another round of water.”

I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was to see her like that, even if she was still a bit lethargic, she was up.

Dinner wasn’t as celebratory as I’d hoped, with being late and all. Thomas had already been bathed, fed, pj’d and tucked in by the time Dad and I made it in from the barn. Both he and I were exhausted, so the meal was cut short. Mom sent chased us both into bed, saying she’d check on Mabel before she turned in. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, and in what seemed like no more than a breath or two, Dad was shaking me awake. “Jess, the vet finally got here. He’s out there with her now, did you want to come out and talk to him? I can, if you’d rather.”

“No, no… I’m up now.” I sat up, swung my legs over the side of the bed, and changed my mind. “Maybe, could you go? Thanks, Dad.” He smiled, tired as I was, but still making sure his little girl came first.

“Of course. I’ll let you know what he says.”

I don’t remember laying down again; the next thing I knew, Thomas was crying in his room, and I could hear pans rattling in the kitchen. The smell of coffee drifted up to me, and I knew I had to drag my butt from the warm confines of my bed.

I changed and dressed Thomas, then carried him down for breakfast. Mom took over, sending me out – in my pajamas – to check on Mabel. Dad was still down there, where I learned he actually hadn’t gone to bed the night before. “Dad! You can’t be out here all night, that’s not good-”

“I know, I know, but someone had to stay out here with the vet and the old girl. Look at her, Jess. She’s going to be fine.” He smiled, pointing over to the stall. Mabel stood there, chewing her cud, looking almost right as rain again.

I scratched the little black mark on the top of her head. “You gave us quite a scare, old girl. I promise, no more crappy hay for you, just the best!” I was taking that load of hay back to the feedlot, and demanding my money back, not to mention they’d be paying for our vet’s visit.

“He said it was nothing short of a miracle that we came home when we did, because she would have kept on eating the hay. Mabel isn’t the first cow he’s seen in the last few weeks that’ve had some form of poisoning from the weeds in the hay. And they’re all from the feedlot.”

“Tomorrow, Dad, we’re loading it up and taking it back. We’ve seen this cow through two miracles, and I don’t want to risk a third.”

Mabel lowed as if she understood.

Maybe she did.

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