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Buck Me Cowboy
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I can’t pay him with money. So I pay him with something that’s all mine.
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I can hear Betsy lowing in the barn, long and low, an agonized, “Moooooo!” My cow has a foghorn for lungs, and the sound rings in my ears.
“Coming Bets!” I call out, almost running towards the barn now. “Coming!”
You’d think that my heifer was the master and I was the cow, with the way I scramble at her beck and call. But it’s the truth, because if I didn’t have Bets, I wouldn’t have much.
You see, I’m alone at the Double H. This place used to be a huge corn farm with five hundred acres, and Ma and Pa labored together to make it run. It was good times back then, with plentiful sunshine, plentiful rain, and lots of good harvests.
But those times are gone now. Ma died a couple years back, and Pa just last month. So it’s just me now, trying to operate the Double H on my own, and it’s not going too well.
“Coming Bets!” I call again, struggling mightily with the heavy barn door. “Coming!”
Finally, it inches open enough for me to squeak inside, and I run to Betsy’s stall. The poor thing turns to look at me with reproachful eyes, milky and sad.
“Moooo!” she lows again.
“Sorry, sorry,” I pant, grabbing my stool and sitting next to the cow. Oh god, she must be in pain. Her udders are tight and swollen, already dripping milk. So I reach forward and began squeezing with all my might.
Pshhhh! Pshhhh! streams the white liquid, warm and frothy. Psssh!
The milk hits the tin bucket in steady splashes, white and bubbly, almost hot. And finally, Betsy stops mooing. But she hasn’t forgotten. The cow turns her head to look at me reproachfully again, those big brown eyes blinking slowly.
“I’m sorry Bets!” I protest, hands getting a few last squirts. “I’m sorry, you know I’m trying to run this place on my own. It’s not easy, the Double H is huge.”
Bets just shakes her head, lowing again.
“What, you think I need help?” I ask during this imaginary conversation. “Of course I need help! But I can’t afford it Bets. After Pa died ….”
My voice trails off. Because it was only after Pa passed away that it became apparent that the Double H was in bad shape. I’ve been working on the farm since I was a little girl, helping to gather eggs, milk the cows, and even bale hay. But I’ve never seen the numbers. I’ve never been involved in any of the financials, and it was only after Pa crossed to the other side that our trouble became apparent.
Because the bank came knocking one day.
“Miss Jones?” called a scrawny man in black through my screen door. “Miss Jones?”
Wiping my hands on a kitchen rag, I approached cautiously. I’m a single girl alone on the farm now, so any visitor was suspect, especially someone wearing a suit. But this guy looked like Where’s Waldo, his glasses as thick as Coke bottles, hardly dangerous. So I decided to answer.
“Yes, I’m Maisie Jones,” I said slowly, pushing the door open. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Wilfred Moses from the Bank of Kansas,” the scrawny man said, bowing on the front porch. His balding head gleamed sweatily under the harsh sunlight, pink with burn. “Do you have a minute?”
As a matter of fact, I didn’t. There were a million chores to be done, from cleaning the chicken coops to tending my vegetable garden. So internally I sighed, but what choice did I have? If the bank comes calling, it’s best to answer. Stepping back, I let him into the house.
“Yes, come in please,” I said in as pleasant a voice as I could muster. “Can I get you some water?”
“That would be wonderful,” the short man said, wiping at his gleaming brow with a handkerchief. “Just the thing.”
And with quick movements, I poured a glass from an ice-cold pitcher, setting it in front of him. Wilfred took a couple grateful gulps before turning to me.
“Now Miss Jones,” he said busily, putting his briefcase on the kitchen table. “Let’s see what we have here. Was Walter Jones your father?” he asked, scrunching his nose at some papers.
“Yes, that’s my Pa,” I said slowly. “Why?”
Wilfred looked at the papers again, then back up at me, his expression sorrowful.
“Well the good news is that Walter left you this property in full. No problems with the title, no problems with the transfer,” he said. Leaning forward, the small man confided, “Sometimes these things are complicated, there’s a wife, an ex-wife, and five stepkids all fighting for their share. But in this case, it’s all you.”
I nodded, relieved.
“Yes, I’m my parents’ only child, so there should be no doubt,” I said. “But surely you didn’t come to tell me that? Is there something else?”
Wilfred sighed mightily, pausing to honk noisily into a handkerchief. Eew, that thing had to be filled with all sorts of unsavory body fluids, and I made a mental note to scrub the table after he left. I couldn’t afford to get sick, not with me being the only person left at the farm.