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Inspirational Fiction

   A tendril of smoke coiled and wafted through the air of the farm. Lazing along with the earthy scent of new corn silage, cows and manure. The movement of the cows through the milking parlor shifted the pong into her working air space.

    Abby startled when she got a whiff. She gave herself a shake as she continued to prep cow udders and attach milking machines. The rote work provided a chance for her to figure out why the smell bothered her beyond all of the other smells on the farm.

    As the final cows in the group finished milking, the milking units retracted and Abby applied post-milking disinfecting teat dip. She walked the cows down the exit alley and back out to their area of the large freestall barn. As she rounded up the next group, she noticed the smell of smoke was stronger in the upper barn.

    Halfway down the concrete walkway, pushing the new group to the holding area so she could finish the night milking, it finally clicked. The fire, she thought, and immediately her eyes filled with tears.

    Back in the parlor, she apologized to the cows and turned on one of the ventilation fans despite the forty-degree evening. While she waited for the first set of cows to milk, she visited the animal health closet for a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. She dribbled some on a pad of paper towels, then used the locking forceps to attach it to the neck of her work shirt.

    That smells better, she thought. Her brain focused on the acrid tang of the alcohol as the air flowed through her nasal passages. Breathing through her mouth was the alternative but never a good idea around the cows. The opportunity to swallow a fly or a flick of manure was too likely to make an open orifice practical over the long term.

    Her shift ended after midnight with clean up and paperwork, Abby turned off the fan and shut down the lights before trekking across the yard to her car. She took a good sniff of the alcohol towel still attached to her shirt before she opened the outside door. Still she needed to take a breath before she reached her vehicle.

    The heavy smoldering smell sank into her brain like a spike driven into the center of a tree. She clutched at her car door handle, wrenched it open, entered and slammed it all in one motion. Her head dropped to the steering wheel as tears began to slip down her cheeks. The smell brought the fear back. The helplessness of a young girl confronting an impossible crisis.

    Collecting herself, she drove home. After food and a shower, she eased into bed next to her sleeping husband, Kevin. She lay staring up at the ceiling while she relived the scenes from more than twenty years before of the fire which destroyed her life.

*****

    “Honey, are you OK?” The soft question from Kevin interrupted her silent contemplation of the bottle of jam on the kitchen table.

    Abby looked up, “Of course. Why do you ask?”

    “Well, you’re not eating anything, you look beat and you kicked me most of the night.” Kevin smiled, “That’s fine. I just think something isn’t right.”

    “Just stuff that happened at work.” Abby brushed it off as she reached for the jam to spread it on her toast. She was not going to replay for him the technicolor nightmare she had. The years which passed between when the fire occurred, and the present seemed like a blink. Everything was there behind her eyelids. The previous night was an IMAX theatre binge of flames, screams and flashing lights with her father suffering a fatal heart attack during the middle of it. Kevin didn’t need to know all of the gory details.

    “If you need me, I’m around.” Kevin pecked her on the cheek as he headed off to work. She usually liked to get up with him when she could so they could have some normal together. This morning was not normal though.

      After letting the images run around in her brain a little longer, Abby dialed the phone to call her mother. She mentioned the current burn situation at the farm.

    “You should mention it to Wayne,” her mother said. “I am sure he would do something about it if he knew it was bothering you.”

    “Bothering me?” Abby was almost in tears again only imagining smelling the smoke. “I don’t know how I can work in the same area as that…that… smell. It’s awful,” she wailed into the phone.

    “So, tell him. He’s the owner. He can do something to help.” Her mother paused, “He won’t think you’re crazy.”

    “I’ll think about it,” Abby said before signing off. That would be just my luck, giving my boss ammunition to consider me a nut job, she thought. There was one more night shift before her weekend off. She hoped she could survive it.

   Arriving at work a smidge early, good fortune was on Abby’s side. Wayne was standing in the driveway talking to an agri-business salesperson. She got out of her car and stood waiting holding a bag and her lunch cooler. After a brief chat, she continued onto the barn to punch in and start her shift.

    It wasn’t too bad. The wind direction was opposite of the night before so the burn pile was downwind of the barn. However, Abby still found dead air pockets around the barn where the smoky smell lingered. She tried to breathe shallowly and use her scent patch to distract her.

    As the day ended for the regular crew, she watched the payloader make a trip out back of the bunker silo area. The equipment spread the smoldering pile out and then drove back and forth over it damping down the embers. Wayne had told her he would have the day crew bury it once it was out.

    When Abby walked in the front door, she found Kevin waiting for her. “Are you ready to tell me what is going on?” he asked.

    Over food, she explained what happened and what she remembered. Her voice mirrored a virtual announcer relaying the specifics on the news. No emotion. Just tiredness.

    He bundled her into the shower and then placed her wrapped up into a warm bed to talk. While he tried to cuddle her and warm her up, he started asking her questions about life after the fire. What she liked about college, how she got her current job, being god mother to her sister’s baby. He reminded her she wasn’t responsible for the fire and wasn’t the only one there to attempt to save her dad. First responders were on the scene.    

    As they lay there in the dark, she began to cry and then answer. His insistent questions made her realize that despite the life she had planned being taken away, she was valuable. She was important to her family and community. She was achieving something.

    A shaft of sunlight speared through the edge of the curtain to illuminate the bedroom. Abby rolled over and stretched feeling better than she had in weeks. She heard a noise and looked over to the bedroom doorway.

    “Are you good?” Kevin asked, standing there with a toothbrush in his hand.

    “I am,” Abby said with a smile.

October 02, 2020 23:33

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