Jimmy didn't know the names of most of the barn critters. Every doe kid more than three days old had been solemnly named. They could not keep most buck kids so Michelle did not name them. She valiantly attempted to sell whichever buck kids were offspring of her finished champions. A dairy goat kid who happened to be a boy was lucky to see six months of life. The does usually hung around unless they had a basic incorrectness, a third teat for instance, which happened occasionally, that doomed them to meat. Tight breeding for favorable characteristics produced weirdnesses, too. Most years Jimmy drove the rejects to the flatlands for the Easter Market, an unpleasant detail. Michelle worked the Easter Market like a scientist, and sometimes Jimmy, the disgusting despot, came home with a thousand dollars or more. A dreary story. When he stopped to fill up, the children, hearing the kids bleat and fuss, gathered around to look through the windows of the truck cap at the cute babies hopping around. Inevitably, one would ask, “Where are they going?” One time he was in a bad mood. He grumbled the truth, one of the children started to cry, and Jimmy had roasted himself for it ever since, it was such a stupid, unnecessary thing to say.
Animals came and went, that was farming, and for Jimmy sticking a body with a name made the departure worse. When he noticed they had survived the cut and were still hopping around the barn into the next year, he eventually learned the name. But that was much later in the process. He'd hang around the barn, doing something or maybe doing nothing, leaning on the fence, and not knowing the name yet, as many times as Michelle had told him, he'd explain to her, “The white face one.”
“The white face one with the little brown spot?” He'd point to the top of his head.
“She is down a lot.”
Shortly thereafter loose paper would flutter, dishes rattle, door open and shut, as she went outside to check on his observation.
Jimmy was an innocent lost in the dark woods of farming. Take Ray Beliveau, up toward Bethel, the organic dairy farmer. He hadn't taken a vacation of any kind in twenty years. “Can't,” he said. “Can't explain to anybody how I do things.” Beliveau knew every imaginable detail about his farm. Jimmy had gone up to buy calves from him. The calves were inevitably big and growthy and active. The farmhouse, though elderly as far as houses go, was a monument to order and light. Jimmy could run into him on Sunday afternoon. He'd be fussing in the barn, chores long done, listening for cranky vibes. While Beliveau remembered every blade of grass he had ever baled, Jimmy scratched his head.
He knew Michelle's friend, Deanna Parker, would drop by to check on the girls and field observations. But everybody seemed happy, now that he was showing up on time.
Jimmy had spent so much of his life working strange hours that he ceased feeling discomforted. Though tired, that perked up his senses. But sometimes he'd arrive home from work after a long shift, a fight with somebody or somebody was having a hard time, and he'd swear he could drop on the ground dead asleep. And then he went into the barn where darkness oozed off his heart, taking with it nameless stresses. Animal voices, animal faces came to the fence, expecting him to jump through hoops. Michelle, a rugged force of nature, dark eyes wide spaced, came from the house, doors slamming behind her, with the stainless steel buckets. “Hi, Pop. Good night?” “All right.” She approached to be kissed and hugged. No sweet upward glances from her; she was tall for a girl; she was direct no fooling. He always kissed her on the lips, no trouble creating the necessary enthusiasm. They did without verbiage. This was their ritual. Her people were big, and they kept themselves in good shape. Estelle, though looking skinny and smallish from a distance, was not when you got close to her. Ted, Michelle's older brother, and Jerry, whom everybody called Bones, her baby brother, were both sturdy. Relatives were big. Michelle did the milking. She insisted on a room divided from the barn space to milk in. Numerous hoops to jump through in order to sell the milk, complicated mysteries to Jimmy. She sold milk, she made cheese, butter, and kept over enough for cows and pigs, or any bottle babies that happened to show up for cheap money, which when weaned she could sell at a profit. Greetings past, they both went into the barn and he switched on the milking machine, for they used to have thirty goats in milk, and once he set to work, the energy came from a strange place—an oddball uplifting whose source he could not analyze. Jimmy had always had animals, cats and dogs and tamed squirrels, when he was a kid in the park before the fire. His grandfather Shem Freeman, whose farm Jimmy had lived on for two years, raised crops and sold hay. He kept beefs to clean up the fields. Jimmy had gotten along with his Grandfather and Grandmother, but when he left the farm, he could not remember feeling anything. He said good-by, and then he went away. But something must have gotten under his skin. Look where he was now! Michelle would shout to start sending them in.
Now there were only ten in milk and no Michelle. Easy to milk ten by hand, no milking machine made a racket. Milking done, the girls cleared out of the barn in a herd and made a pretty picture browsing in the dry, green grass of late summer. The barn was eerie quiet. He cleaned pens for awhile. Yellow sunlight fell across the pens in broad, dusty swaths. “Why is it I feel so stupid?” Jimmy thought. “This world is such a mystery. I had better call Dawn because if I get overwhelmed in all this mystery, I'll jump off a cliff.” There was a cliff at the top of the Pinnacle two or three miles up the logging road behind the house. Once he had gotten mad at Michelle for some reason, he couldn't remember what, and he had gone for a walk. He climbed the Pinnacle and stood on the edge. That was awhile ago, but he thought he remembered it was steep enough. He sighed. There was a funny end for a philosopher! He tried to think of a philosopher who had jumped off a cliff. There must be one. The number of suicidal creative writers were legion. Philosophers tended to mold. Karl Marx developed boils. After molding or boiling, they died broke and in obscurity. Then he finished morning chores. When they first moved here and started goating, they worried about being on the edge of sparsely populated forest. No doubt there were prowling carnivores. Jimmy had seen bears, foxes, coy dogs. The goats had gotten more and more numerous, too numerous. Michelle researched every possible breed of protection dog, then she studied lamas. One day a long necked thing showed up in the field with the goats. She was white, about twice the size of the average doe, and not taking any funny business from anybody. Took awhile the lama got used to her charges or the charges got used to the lama. She led them around in workmanlike fashion. They trusted her and followed her into the brush nearby the woods. Jimmy named her Daisy. Seeing her, proud and watchful, among a herd of browsing goats was to Jimmy a beautiful sight. He didn't know if Duns Scotus or Aristotle would think it was a beautiful sight. He didn't know if anybody in the entire world but himself would think it was a beautiful sight. You had to know Daisy and you had to hope she was in a good mood before walking into the field to join the group. Jimmy stood by the fence watching does and Daisy browse. The complex relationships that transpired between him and them amazed him. Then he went into the house.
Michelle sold milk to Deanna, who made cheese from it, so Jimmy filtered milk into the bottles for her, and then he put the rest into the big freezer for Michelle. There were dishes to wash, in house chores to take care of. It was mid-morning before everything was done. It was both too early and too late to call Dawn. Then he wondered if he should call Michelle this early. Estelle had a habit of staying up till all hours. In fact, she often didn't seem herself till ten when the cheerful werewolf came out in her. Michelle was early to bed, early to rise, but she'd keep her mother company till late for the first few days. He thought he might have a beer. Then, as he sat half asleep in his recliner chair in the living room, in the silence of his solitude, a great tumbling disturbance of memories bubbled up with a force that he was powerless against. Jimmy felt swept off his feet as if by a flood.