Edna’s bones are looser this morning. They rattle inside her skin like teaspoons standing in a cup.
The hem of her silk dressing gown brushes the floor. Eugen—still in bed—says she looks haunted. Scraggly hair, hooded eyes, face as pale as the milk she flavours with mint to cut the taste. He says she needs the calcium.
Through the open window, the bawl of the Guernseys drift across the field, their want bone-deep as her own. Her gown flaps behind her as she stumbles across the yard, past the laurel tree, to the barn. Her slippers sink into the spring earth; dewy grass brushes her thin ankles. She heaves open the red-planked door, and the pair of cows raise their massive heads.
A cloud curls from her lips in the dim interior rife with warm breath, muck, and dung. The Guernseys track her with mournful whisky-dark eyes, and Edna presses a palm to a wither. The animal shuffles and moans, eyes rolling. “There, there,” she whispers and strokes its shoulders pied creamy-white and wheat-brown.
She pulls a stool over to its flank, folds her gown between her knees, and tucks the hem under her thighs. Steam rises from the pail as she milks one cow, and then the other, the teats soft and warm like the dough she forgot to knead yesterday and will forget to knead today. With each pull, the creature’s bones relax like clay.
Eugen calls to her from the house. She lifts the pail and hurries across the field to the farmhouse. The milk sloshes with each step.
She smooths her hair, wilder now, in the mirror at the base of the stairs. She sees herself on the floor one day. A woman with bones narrow as a child’s slumped at the bottom of the stairs, motionless. A puddle of silk.
Doctors. Eugen. Her sister. They all warn her. Shove promises into her mouth. Warble in her ear like ruby-throated kinglets and brilliant yellow goldfinches.
She removes her dressing gown and covers the mirror. Goes from room to room and drapes each one with blankets and tea towels, silk scarves, and sweaters.
At the mahogany bar, she sits on a high-top chair. Her fingers curl around a cup of fresh milk; the verdant scent of the Guernseys clings to her nightgown. She scribbles the day’s schedule on a sheet of paper, each dose laid down like the words of a poem: Nembutal. Benzedrine. Codeine. Morphine, her script fine as the Guernsey’s lashes.
Tomorrow the Guernseys will bawl, their need ripe as the magnolia blossoms that reach for the sun. She takes her first dose. Her bones lengthen and unfurl—an awakening knocks along each notch of vertebrae. The rattling stops and her bones press together.
© Dawn Miller
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty. Read Dawn’s interview]