I awaken when the cock crows, as I have for the last sixty years. Before rising, I stretch my limbs, hoping to alight without pain. The soft 'tick tick tick' of the wall clock accompanies the cricks and cracks that are the hymns of my legs and arms. Jonathan used to joke that we sounded like breakfast cereal when we'd get out of bed. The thought brings a bittersweet smile to my lips, and I ready for takeoff. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, I silently count in my head. And I'm up. One small step for me, one giant leap for my haggard old frame, I grimace, not for the first time. I don't bother looking at his side before dressing, for I know he's not there.
Down in the kitchen, I make myself a light breakfast of toast with grape jam and two softly-boiled eggs, along with a little coffee for my cream and sugar. As the percolator percs, my eyes fall on the calendar, and I remember this date last year; the day that Jonathan did not wake up. At 87-years-old, he'd lived a long life, and what better way to go than in one's sleep? My heart, however, doesn't subscribe to such logic, and it leaps in my chest as I turn away, towards the sink. Retrieving my "Meg" mug, I pour my cup of caffeine and settle in to eat.
Breakfast over, I leave the dishes in the sink and head outside. This is the time, years ago, that Jonathan and I would start on the chores, and I don't want to be late. First, I head to the chicken coop. I don't collect eggs anymore, but I still like looking in on the hens and Henry, the rooster in charge. The hens look at me, their heads cocked, but they stay silent, watching and waiting for me to make a move. George, the other rooster, stretches and preens himself. I can almost imagine him removing his comb to arrange his feathers. Thinking of preening brings a smile to my face, as Jonathan would always comb his hair while standing at this coop watching Henry and George. His wavy brown hair was nearly always immaculate, save for a cowlick that just wouldn't quit. My husband..er, late husband...his hazel eyes would always crinkle at the corners, and he'd bite his bottom lip, trying to get that lick to stay down.
Speaking of cows and licking, I slowly make my way over to the cow pen to see how Moo'ria and her new calf are doing this morning. As I walk the few yards to the pen, I look around the farm once again, picturing Jonathan on his tractor or using his plow or working the riding lawn mower. It was hard work, but he was devoted to tending the farm until he turned 75. And I tended to him. Passing by the corn shed, I trail my fingers along the sides, running my fingers in the grooves, remembering the times Jonathan would work his way into my groove inside the shed. One of the great things about living on a farm is the numerous places that a couple could know each other, biblically-speaking. A tear trails down my left cheek as I think about all that I’ve lost. His gentle touch on my shoulder could brighten my day, no matter how dreary it began. I hurry along at the end of the shed, quickly walking by the now-empty water-pump shed. I refuse to even look at it, lest I fall into a complete deluge of tears. I keep going.
She doesn’t know that I’m here, but I watch as Meghan makes her way past the water-pump shed. I know why she hustles by it, and it pains my heart still, though my ghostly body no longer houses such an organ.
It was just outside of the shed that she lost our child so many years ago. She was a mere seven weeks along when the fetus let go of its tentative hold on her uterus and slid out of her body. Even now, I can picture her lying on the ground as blood seeps from her lower body. There were no cell phones back then, so I hollered for Philip, our hired hand, to run back to the house and call the ambulance. While we waited, I held Meghan in my arms, cradling her head, and assured her that she’d be okay. She didn’t care; she wanted the baby to be okay, and I couldn’t promise that it would be. As much as I love her, I was never one to dish out false hope.
When she left the hospital 72 hours later, she came home and went right into the bedroom. I followed behind her and watched her grab some luggage out of the closet.
“Meg! Baby! What are you doing? Where are you going?!” I cried.
“I’m sorry, Jonathan, but I just can’t stay here anymore. Not after-” Her words caught in her throat, and I ran to her, trying to hold and comfort her. “Not after-” She couldn’t complete the sentence, so I nodded.
“Don’t say it, baby, don’t say it.” I tilted her face up and looked into her green eyes. Her eyelashes were so long that I sometimes had trouble seeing the irises beneath. Now, they were swimming in tears, leaving sad trails of mascara on her cheeks. I ran my hand over her hair, a mixture of auburn and blonde at that time. “Please don’t go. You can lean on me…we can lean on each other. That’s what couples do.”
She shook her head and pushed away from me. Looking at the floor, she insisted that she had to go. Unable to change her mind, I asked where she’d go. She said her sister had an extra room after the divorce, so she’d stay with her. She’d arranged it while in the hospital. I told her I’d go with her, but she insisted I stay and tend the farm.
“Meg, please. I don’t want to lose you too.” I didn’t cry often; that’s not what men do. But that day, a torrent released from my eyes, soaking into my goatee.
Too upset to talk, she shook her head, walked over to the bed, and continued packing. I offered to help, but she wanted to do it alone. Heartbroken, I went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge. An hour later, she came out, bags in hand, a light yellow sweater on her bare golden shoulder. I tried again. “Meg, please. Don’t let this tear us apart. We promised for better and for worse; let us be here for each other during this worst!”
She shook her head and hurried out the door, where her sister sat in her car. Her sister got out the car and helped her with the bags. Seeing me looking out the front door, she grimaced and waved, looking at me with a look of apology. I mentally willed her to speak on my behalf, but she finished helping Meghan with the bags and then they were off.
It took me six months of visiting and begging before my wife came back home. And even after she agreed to return, I had to promise not to speak of the miscarriage. I didn’t think it made sense; she had to let it out, I thought, but she refused to return without my promise. My promise extracted, she returned, but things were never the same again. Our sex life dwindled such that we barely shared kisses anymore. Eventually, her sister suggested we seek counseling, and after another three months of coaxing, she agreed to go. It took a year of counseling, but we managed to get back on track, though the track itself had changed.
All of these memories play before my eyes as I watch her petting Moo'ria and checking out the calf. The wee one is just like her mama, white with random splotches of black – like most Holstein cows – but she also shares a heart-shaped spot over the right eye. I walk up and rest one hand on Meghan’s shoulder, one on the calf’s head. Meghan starts and looks around, as if she hears something. I smile at her, swelling with love, wishing that she could see me. I whisper in her ear, “I love you, Meg” and watch a tear grow at the corner of her left eye but refuse to drop. I hold her as I had so many times in life.
Mommy can’t see Daddy, but I can. I guess it’s a gift that God just gave to dogs; kind’a like we can just sense certain things. I see them both petting the cow and her baby, and I walk over to them. I stand on my hind legs with my front paws on the bottom half of Mommy's dress, begging for some attention since the cow has had a lot. She smiles down at me and rubs my head, and I wag my tail fast enough to shake it off if it wasn’t attached. I roll over and accept belly rubs from them both, though Mommy thinks she’s the only one rubbing on me. She stops after a minute, and her and Daddy go back in the house. She doesn’t let me inside, but I know Mommy’ll be back out soon cuz it’s time to feed the pigs. She doesn’t do much around here, but she does take care of them. The other people that Daddy hired work here and keep everything else going cuz Mommy can’t.
Mommy comes out carrying the bucket and I jump and twirl, hoping my dance will earn me some of the treats inside. She laughs and pulls a rib bone from the pail. It’s dripping with goodness from the wet food stuffs inside, so I grab it and set it down, licking off the juice. Then I bite off the end and eat it before I catch up to Mommy and Daddy. I carry the bone with me while all of us go see the pigs. I look at Daddy again, and he’s smiling at Mommy just like he used to when he was still alive.
At the pig pen, I settle down with my bone and keep working the little bit of meat off it. Sometimes I look at the pigs, too, and think of bacon. I LOVE bacon! Mommy poured the slop already and now she’s talking to the biggest one. She calls it Matilda, so I guess it’s a girl. She pats it on the head real quick like she always does, and I wonder why she does so. I’m cute and stuff, and it isn’t, so I dunno why Mommy pats it. I sigh and go back to my bone, waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish. Mommy will go back inside the house and she might take me with her, so I keep an eye on them but work on the bone too. It’s so good!
After a little bit, Mommy and Daddy leave, and I go with them, me and my little bit of bone that’s left. Along the way, they stop at the little pond in the field and I think of fish, but Mommy hasn’t fished since Daddy died. Mommy cries some more and her tears go into the water, which I guess makes sense. Daddy is still here, and he holds on to Mommy, but she doesn’t know it.
After we leave the pond, we go inside, and Mommy goes in the bedroom. She’s walking a little slower than usual, and she’s got her hand on her chest, moaning. She does that a lot, but I sense that something is different this time. She lies down and calls out Daddy’s name. I start whimpering and nuzzling her hand cuz I don’t think Mommy’s going to get back up. Maybe that’s why Daddy is here and sitting on the bed now, rubbing her face. She smiles, and I wonder if she can see him now. I whine in his direction, and he looks over at me and murmurs something that I think is supposed to make me feel better. Then Mommy tells me she loves me and pats me on the head. I lick her hand, and it’s cold. I know Mommy’ll be okay since she’s gonna be with Daddy, but I’m gonna miss her a lot.