Lucy Gregg Muir
She wandered the barren fields exhausted, every step an effort. She fought the suction that nearly pulled the ancient Wellingtons off of each foot as she slogged through the ankle deep mud.
Stopping to catch her breath, she railed at the fallow fields around her. “Where’s the promise of spring?” The sound of her voice dissipated without echo in the cold dry air. She strained to hear a response.
“If you scream at the top of your lungs,” and she was screaming, “and there’s no one around to hear you, does it matter?” The sound of her voice left a trail of cold mist behind it. She laughed. Evidently not, she thought.
She pulled her dead husband’s old barn jacket close around her. He had been a big man, and she was a small woman; the jacket could have wrapped around her two times. But she still wore it, zipped up to her chin and with one of his narrow ties around her waist as a cinch. Pulling the collar close around her neck, she held it tight against the wind.
Squinting, she scanned the late afternoon horizon.
“Stupid cow, bustin´ down the goddamn gate again.” Putting her head down into the wind, she walked on toward the sun. “Just stay in the goddamned barn. That’s all I ask.”
A rooster crowed behind her. She stopped and looked back at the barn in the distance, and at her house. The lights she had left on were beginning to brighten in the first floor windows as the afternoon light faded.
“I just want to go home.” She wiped a gloved hand roughly across her eyes, watery from the wind. “Damn cow.”
She turned and attempted to walk again toward the horizon, to the field at the top of the hill where she thought the errant cow might be. She tried to pull her boot out of the mud, but it was stuck hard this time. As she struggled to free it, her stocking foot shot out of the boot and landed forcefully in the muck.
“Damn it to hell!”
Wiggling her muddy toes, she jumped up and down inside her other boot, shaking the batter-like muck off of her sock, and tried to keep the foot high off the ground. She felt like one of the chickens in the yard when it used to be chased by Boo, her black Lab, waving her arms ridiculously around her like flapping wings, attempting to find her balance. But she didn’t. Instead, she fell full force into the cold mud on her hands and knees.
Pulling her hands up out of the mud, she sat back on her ankles, knees still firmly planted. She wiped her fingers on his jacket and then covered her face with her hands. “I can’t do this.” She inhaled deeply the clean scent of the fresh mud and smelled spring, life. Taking her hands from her face, she looked at her mud-encrusted fingers.
"´Where is the Life we have lost in the living?´" Her hands fell to her side at the thought of the long forgotten poem, her gaze slowly taking in the fallow hay field around her. “Huh, Mr. Eliot? Can you tell me that? Where is the life?”
Exhaling sharply, she stood. She put her muddied foot back into her boot, held onto the top of the boot with both hands, and pulled her booted foot out of the mud. She did the same with the other foot, bending and pulling each foot, up and down, forward by steps, until she found a row of matted hay to walk on.
At the top of the low hill that marked the horizon lay the cow.
“Oh, no.” She walked over to it, standing beside its bloated stomach. “Not you, too.”
She sank down and sat on the cow’s bony ribs.
“I hate spring,” she said, planting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.
Wiggling herself between the ribs to get comfortable, she paused and looked at a star glimmering in the darkening eastern sky.
“I hate spring and you know it.” She shoved a foot between the cow’s front hooves and pushed them a little to the side. “Don’t try to tell me about the promise of new life. That’s crap.”
She angled her head as far back as she could to stare into the sky. "You always said I was too impatient for spring. Remember the year I yelled at the lettuce? ´Grow, dammit! Grow!" She chuckled. "You always said I was more into reaping than sowing."
"But what´ve I got left to reap?" Evidently not much.
“You’re dead!” she yelled. The sound of her voice circled her, then was gone.
She sat quietly and stared at the sky
“Shut up,” she whispered. “I’m sitting here on a dead cow. You’re dead. I’m not going to listen to you. The only promise of spring is work, hard work.” Another star appeared in the east. "And being alone."
She pulled her foot out of the boot and then shook it violently. Mud splattered across her face. “Crap. Why don’t I just up and die?” She spat mud.
Wiping her face with the collar of his jacket, she breathed deeply as it brushed by her nose. Holding the collar to her face for a moment, she then buried her head inside the jacket. “You’re in here, you know. It’s why I wear this stupid ugly jacket of yours.”
She coughed and lifted her head, tears sending muddy rivers down her cheeks. As she wiped the tears from her face with his sleeve, she looked west toward the horizon, the sun continuing its slow descent behind the hills.
“What am I going to do without you?" she asked the sky. "There’s no more promise.”
She rubbed her bare foot between her hands to warm it.
“I like winter. I like the cold. The dark. I liked that we could milk the cows and feed the chickens, get all the chores done early, and then sit by the fire looking at the seed catalog, or picking out dream tractors. I liked that.”
She flopped on her back, lying on the dead cow, resting halfway between night and day, watching as the sky in the east grew dark. The stars began to shimmer one by one as, east to west, the afternoon slowly turned to early evening.
“I can’t do spring by myself. You knew that." Her voice was quiet. "Spring was yours. Mine was fall. We shared summer, though.” She smiled. “For forty years, we shared summer.”
Taking one of his handkerchiefs from his jacket pocket, she wiped her nose.
“And winter. I loved our winters.” She begged the stars and the sky for a return to winter, to the long warm nights together with his arms around her.
Still lying on the cow, she wrapped her arms tightly around herself, holding his jacket close, as the wind grew stronger and the sky blazed sundown in the west.
Quickly she sat up, watching the sun as it threatened to disappear.
“Where’s the goddamn promise of spring?” She yelled as the last sliver of sun disappeared.
“That’s right,” she said quietly. "Leave me here alone, again.”
She put the sock back on her foot and shoved it into the cold and muddy boot.
She stood, taking a determined swipe at the cow hair on the back of her pants. “It’s not like I can’t do this all on my own.”
Pulling his jacket around her again, she retied the cinch at her waist and trucked back through the dark field, trying to stay on the matted hay. The lights of the house were brighter now, her beacon. Her eyes slowly grew accustomed to the advancing darkness.
Walking past the barn toward the back porch of the house, she stopped suddenly. The lights from the kitchen made square patches in the yard, illuminating a sprouting daffodil, and the snow that was starting to fall in thick large clumps.
Pulling off her gloves, she shoved them into his deep pockets and then held out her arms, watching as each enormous flake turned to water in her hands.
“One last snow?” she whispered.
Raising her face to the sky, she smiled as the snow melted on her cheeks.
"I can do this," she said. "Did you hear me? I can do this. I´ll do spring. I promise."