by Sally Simon
The dry straw scratches at Mia’s legs beneath her Miss Kitty PJs. A new lantern is hanging from a hook on the wooden beam above her head. She saw Daddy take it out of the box last week. It runs on batteries, not the smelly liquid the old one used. Its light is super bright, making the stall look like an angel’s bedroom. The air is still, making the barn smell more like old bread than usual.
Violet is lying on her side, a heap of black and white rising up and down. Her utters are jiggling like jello with every breath. The steam pouring from her fat nose reminds Mia of the cartoon bulls preparing to attack. She may only be six, but she knows it’s just the fall air. Mia blows a cloud of air from her own mouth just to be sure. She wants to giggle, but in the kitchen before they slipped on their jackets, Mama reminded her she has to stay quiet if she wants to see the birthing, at least until Violet stands.
Mia scooches herself closer, away from the corner, to get a better look, but Mama gently pulls her back, holds her hand tight.
“Let her be, Mia,” she whispers.
Daddy is standing at the far end of Violet’s butt, staring. Waiting. No one says a word as they watch the rise and fall. Once, twice, three times. Her Mama and Daddy always tell her to count to three when they have a surprise for her, or when she has to do something nasty like swallow cough syrup. They’ve counted to three a hundred times and still nothing. Mia feels like a baby bunny is inside her hopping up and down to get out.
“It’s coming,” her Daddy calls to the corner.
Mia cranes her neck. Two hooves that look glued together and a nose peek out from Violet’s behind. More up and down. A head. It’s wet and covered in slime. More up and down. Daddy told her this would be quick, that you can’t look away or you might miss it. Mia is trying not to blink. A head and two front legs are sticking out of Violet, her back side heaves up and down. Daddy is on his knees. Mama is squeezing Mia’s hand tighter. Her fingertips are turning red.
“Dan,” she yells. Mia puts her finger to her mouth, reminding her Mama to shush.
“I know,” Daddy says as he grabs a loop of rope from the ground next to him, and ties each end to the calf’s hooves. He stands and pulls like he did when Mia got the wheelbarrow stuck in the mud at the edge of the pond last summer. Violet sends out a long, low sounding moo that makes the hair on Mia’s arm dance. The calf is yanked from Violet, landing on the straw in a pile of slobber. One, two, three. A faint moo.
Mama lets out a breath, loosens her grip on Mia. Daddy takes the rope of the calf’s front legs, and backs off. Violet stands and starts licking the slime off the new calf. Mia jumps up and down. Her heart feels like a fireworks finale.
“Mama, Daddy, look! Look at Violet! The calf is so cute, can I name it? Please, please, I wanna name it Buddy, is it a boy or a girl?”
Daddy calls Mia over to the side of Violet, nods his head, “You can pet Violet now. Real gentle.”
Mia hugs her Daddy’s leg. He bends down to kiss the top of her golden hair. She holds her hand out, touches Violet’s side with a flat hand, slides her palm along the moist, dirty hide of the new mother. “Mama, is this how I was born?”
She turns to her Mama who has joined her Daddy. They’re holding hands.
photo credit: Polska Mazury