Artwork by Clinton McKay
The milk this close up is such a pure white, it's almost not there at all.
He loves the whiteness of the milk, and I pretend to agree because it's easier, but staring at its nothingness makes my eyes ache morning after morning. The white of the milk is so different from the dirty white patches slapped haphazardly on the cow's backs, which remind me of a smudged jigsaw. I'm only sitting this close to the milk pail so I can be farther away from him, farther from the dirty smell of his blue overalls, caked in stinking mud and shit.
My mornings begin so clear and clean at five a.m., so shiny and new with the rising of the sun in the summer, or misty and magical with the gleam of the hung-over moon in the winter. It wasn't my childhood dream to become a milk maid, but I wasn't allowed to go to school—being only a girl—and my brain is filled with nothing but farmyards, cattle, and udders. So I'm faced with the blank whiteness morning after morning.
I pull and squeeze the milk from the cow's underbelly, leeching the goodness from the tamed animal, forcing something that in nature can be so intimate into something impersonal. But she stands there unconcerned, just swaying her head and gently flicking her coarse tail crusted with brown muck.
As the last drops of whiteness pool in circles in the pail, I take my leave from the farm. I near the gateway to the footpath leading to my hamlet, and a weight is released from my shoulders. I feel the anchors of his eyes on my back release as I move away.
The tall, green grass squashes flat beneath my heavy boots as my feet pound across the field. I look behind and see the resilience of the meadow springing back to its original formation, as if my footsteps were never there. The sun shines down on my face, my cheeks rising red with the heat of the warm day and the exercise of my brisk walk. I close my eyes for a second—and then everything changes.
The weight of my body is brutally lifted away as my legs are knocked out from under me. I hit the softness of the grass, which considerately cushions my fall. I smell overalls, caked in stinking mud and shit.
My nostrils flare at the stench. The anchor digs deep as his gaze roams unchecked and unabashed over my exposed face, although I keep my eyes tight shut so he cannot see into me, he cannot reach me in here.
I feel rough hands pulling at my tunic. I feel dirty, blue overalls on my clean, freckled, bare skin scented ever so faintly with the smell of pure white milk. I grab a handful of the considerate green grass and cling to its kindness, lying in its soft cushion. I feel the individual blades gently stroking and soothing my cheek, now red with shame.
When it's over—when the unsanctioned scraping of rough hands across my intimacy has stopped and the smell of the overalls has faded from my nose—I remain there in the grass, cradled delicately in a soft cocoon until the exposing sun leaves the sky and I can creep home in shameful darkness.
My morning begins murky and soiled at five a.m., and the rising sun exposes my shame in the full light of day. I'm faced with the blankness of white milk again.
The cows kick out and whip me with their coarse tails crusted with brown muck. They must know something has changed deep inside of me. The dirty smell of blue overalls hangs behind me, eyes anchoring me down.
I try to hide so close to the cows, I'm almost not here. So he cannot see me amongst the haphazard dirt of the cows' smudged, jigsaw backs.
The milk is no longer pure. It is murky and sour. But the nothingness remains.