Jessie’s mother always called the cows “my ladies.” She said a cow was a soft creature, with no malice. They showed malice to Jessie often enough, kicking over the pail during milking, but it was true that under her mother’s hand they stood patient as nuns. She sang to them, and sometimes Jessie swore she heard the cows sing too, soft and secret. Jessie wondered if those cows were the softest things in her mother’s life. Years of working in the sun had made a dried apple of her face, though she said her first young man had called her his lily of the valley. So fair I was, she said.
Jessie had never known that young man, and no pictures of him existed, nor any of her mother in her young beauty. Married at 17, Jessie’s mother sailed with her husband one weeping day, left Aberdeen and its misty rains forever. But that first husband died. Jessie’s father was old, older even than her mother. He didn’t sing, to cows or anyone else. She’d never known parents who were young and carefree. She’d never seen them kiss, never saw her mother put her arms around anyone except Mehitabel the cow. Jessie was only sixteen, but she’d already made up her mind: her life would have plenty of kisses in it, and none of them from cows.
KATHRYN KULPA is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash collection Girls on Film(Paper Nautilus). Her work is published or forthcoming in Flash Flood, New Flash Fiction Review, Superstition Review, and Pithead Chapel.
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