I have shared a little of this story in the past, but have been working on it over time and will be working on it again as it goes on. As with other stories, this is mainly unedited so typos and left out words are definitely a possibility.
To find more of this story click HERE.
I also shared part of a novella I am working on yesterday.
A New Beginning will be accessible for a little longer on the blog since I don’t know when I’ll have reliable internet to upload it to Kindle. Quarantined, the short story I wrote, is also available in full at the top of the page.
“You have got to be kidding me!”
Molly Tanner’s life was stuck in proverbial cow poop in the same way she was standing knee-deep in literal cow poop.
She had imagined so much more for her life but here she was pulling hard on a rope connected to the harness of a Jersey cow, trying to convince the animal to move the 300 yards from the cow pasture to the barn, when she could have been traveling the world or exploring all life had to offer while working an exciting job somewhere exotic.
This battle of the wills, which so far the cow named Cinnamon was winning, had been going on for fifteen minutes and Molly had had enough.
She lowered her head and looked Cinnamon directly in the cow’s right eye. “Listen here, girl, it’s time to get in that barn. I’m tired. It’s been a long day of milking and cleaning out all that mess you and your friends make. And I’m not done yet. I still have to help Mom bake cakes for the church rummage sale next week. You know how much I hate that bake sale, so come on, give me a break, okay?”
Across the field, at the top of the hill, Alex Stone, the Tanner’s farmhand, casually leaned back against the door of the barn, chewing on a piece of sweet grass and watching Molly struggle.
“Whatdya think she’s doing down there?” he asked, nodding in Molly’s direction, arms folded across his chest.
Molly’s brother Jason spoke from inside the barn. “Looks like she’s arguing with Cinnamon again.” He poured a bucket full of slop for the pigs into their trough, then set the bucket down and walked over to stand next to Alex.
“Should we help her?” Alex asked.
Jason leaned against the door next to Alex and accepted the piece of sweet grass Alex handed him. The men chewed together and continued to watch with amused expressions, neither making a move to help.
If Cinnamon felt any remorse for her actions, she wasn’t showing it. She chewed her cud and turned her head toward the empty field behind her, then swished a fly off her backside with a flick of her tail. Molly groaned and tightened her grip on the rope.
“You are going into that barn for milking,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “I will not be defeated.”
In the same moment Molly pulled, Cinnamon jerked her head back and with that movement ripped the rope from Molly’s hands, sending her staggering, off-balance, to one side before she tripped over a pile of manure and fell, face down in the cow pasture. A scream of frustration gurgled out of Molly as she pushed herself to her hands and knees and sat back in the mud, glaring at the cow.
Well, if this isn’t apropos of where my life has ended up in the last few years, I don’t know what is, she thought bitterly.
Jason shook his head. “Good grief,” he said, tossing the sweet grass to the ground and turning to walk back into the barn. “She’s a mess. You’d better go rescue her.”
Alex grinned, his gaze drifting over the mud clinging to Molly’s figure, glad Jason didn’t know he was admiring the view. “Yeah. I guess you’re right. She is pretty pathetic right now.”
He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hey!” he shouted. “What’s going on down there? We’re ready to start the milking! You gonna get that cow up here or what?”
Alex’s voice booming across the cow pasture brought a curse word to Molly’s mind, which she immediately felt guilty about. Though it wasn’t the worst curse word she could have said, it wasn’t in her usual verbal repertoire. She’d been used to one annoying older brother her entire life, but five years ago Jason had invited his college roommate Alex to come work on the family farm and now it was like she had two annoying older brothers, always ready to harass her.
She stood, trying to wipe the mud from her clothes, and grabbed the rope again. “If you’re so impatient then you get this stubborn cow moving!” she shouted back up the hill.
She turned and tugged on the rope again, silently pleading for Cinnamon to move.
Boots thumped heavy in the mud behind her as she pulled. Alex reached over her shoulder, taking the rope and Molly watched in disbelief as Cinnamon dutifully dropped her head and walked forward.
“Are you kidding me?! I’ve been trying to get her to move for 20 minutes! What did you do differently?”
Alex looked over his shoulder and smirked. “I guess the ladies just like me.”
“You wish,” Molly grumbled loud enough for him to hear, even though she knew what Alex had said was more than true. She’d watched more than one woman in town follow him down the street like a cow looking for her feed. He certainly wasn’t hard on the eyes, but his obnoxious personality left a lot to be desired.
Mud and manure squished under Molly’s feet and slid off her clothes as she plodded toward the barn, frustration seething through her.
“Molly, why don’t you just head in and get cleaned off?” Robert Tanner said to his daughter as she stumbled through the barn doorway. “You can start helping your mom with those cakes. Alex, Jason and I can finish up the milking.”
“I think I’ll take you up on that offer,” Molly said. “Maybe I can even manage a shower before bed for once.”
Jason’s face scrunched in disgust as he leaned close to Molly and sniffed. “That would definitely be a good thing. You smell like the pigs.”
Molly shot a glare at her brother and turned to walk back toward the house.
“And you smell like the gas that comes out of their behinds!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“Always have to have the last word, don’t you?”
“Whatever back at you!”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Robert said. “Now the last word is mine.”
Walking back toward the house, trying to wipe dirt from her face, but instead only wiping more onto it, Molly paused to look out the fields of the farm. The green of the corn was starting to peek up from the soil and soon they’d be harvesting it, if the rain would ever stop. It would be the third year of harvesting without her grandfather, the first since he’d passed away.
Molly had been sure that by now, eight years after graduating high school, she’d be out on her own, with her own career, her own life. Instead, she was still living on her parents’ farm in rural Pennsylvania, still sleeping in her old room, her mother still cooking her meals and washing her clothes. Working on a farm was all she’d ever known and all she’d ever wanted, at least until a few months ago when she’d started to wonder what else the world might have to offer a 26-year old with no college degree and little knowledge of the world other than how to milk a cow and sell produce at her parent’s small farm store.
She walked into the chicken coop to look for eggs she knew her mom needed for the cakes.
The eggs retrieved, she paused outside the chicken coup and watched the sun begin to slip behind the hills hugging the Tanner’s 250-acre farm. The sunset, a mix of orange with a streak of pink, made the fields of the farm look almost mystical. She knew she’d never get sick of this view, of these sunsets at the end of a long day.
Her mom’s laughter startled her and she turned to see her mom standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips.
“Good grief, what happened to you?” Annie Tanner asked her daughter.
Wearing faded blue jeans anda red and white checkered button up top with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, Annie looked much younger than her actual age of 47.
Molly sighed and looked down at her own mud and manure covered clothes. “Cinnamon happened to me, I guess you would say.”
“Being stubborn again?” Annie asked.
“Well, are you going to stand there all day or are you going to bring those eggs into the house and head up for a shower?”
Molly sighed. “Sorry. I was just admiring the sunset.”
“It’s beautiful,” Annie agreed. “But I need to get those cakes started. A sunset will wait. Mavis Porter won’t.”
Molly inwardly cringed at the mention of Mavis, the woman who had overseen the Spencer Valley Methodist Church rummage sale for 20-years straight. Mavis had a knack for making anyone feel less than, her thin face pursed into a permanent look of disapproval. Molly hoped she wouldn’t be roped into manning the baked goods table again this year. Mavis seemed to think it was ironic to have the fat girl guarding the cakes and cookies at the annual rummage and bake sale.
“I can’t believe there are any cakes left,” a middle school-aged boy said one year during the bake sale, looking Molly up and down from across the church basement while his friends laughed.
“There were probably even more before she came in,” another boy said, as they all snickered.
She pretended she didn’t hear them as she counted the change in the money box.
Molly handed the basket of eggs to her mother and headed into the house.
Molly wasn’t proud of the weight she’d gained over the years, but no matter what she did she couldn’t seem to get back down to her high school weight. She missed when she was in junior high school, thin and limber and not the butt of little boy’s jokes.
With long, reddish-brown curls that fell to the middle of her back and plenty of curves, she possessed a clearly feminine shape. She was not what some might call grotesquely obese. Still, she wasn’t happy with the extra cushion to her belly, backside, and thighs. She wished she’d never heard the term “saddlebags” beyond what was hooked to the actual saddle of a horse. Drying off in front of the bathroom mirror she kept her eyes downcast, hoping to avoid a full view of what her body had become over the years. She’d heard more than one sermon over the years about God loving her no matter what but there were days she struggled to love herself, at least when it came to her appearance.
Three more cakes were baked and cooling on the dining room table, ready to be added to the six other cakes Molly and Annie has baked the day before, when Molly heard her father’s truck pulling into the driveway of the house.
Her father’s red Ford needed to be replaced. The old truck was Robert Tanner’s pride and joy and a gift from his father when Robert had taken over the majority of the farm operations 20 years ago. Annie kept urging him to invest in a new one, but each time she did he responded with: “It gets me where I need to go and when it won’t no more then I’ll get a new one.”
Molly watched as her dad climbed out of the driver side, more gingerly than he had even a year ago. He’d been up since 4 a.m., overseeing the milking of the cows, the shoveling of the manure, the preparations to mow the field. She knew the last few years had been as physically rough on her dad as it had been emotionally.
Alex, the Tanner’s farmhand, slid out of the passenger side easily and walked toward the house. He wore the same style of faded blue jeans and brown work boots he did every day. A white t-shirt was dirt-stained under a blue button-up, shirt sleeve plaid shirt. His brown hair was ruffled but in a good way, as if it had been styled that way somehow. Molly couldn’t deny Alex’s rugged good looks quickened her pulse, but he was four years older than her, obnoxious and preferred the bar when she preferred solitude with her journal and Bible.
Jason pulled up in his own truck, spitting at the ground as he climbed out. Gross, Molly thought to herself. He is so gross. I don’t even know how Ellie stands him.
But Jason could also be sweet, at times, cared deeply for her and the rest of his family and was proud to work on the farm and help put food on tables across the country. He lumbered across the yard like an ox and he was as big as one too, at least around the shoulders and neck. It wasn’t all fat either. Jason lifted heavy hay bails and worked hard on the farm every day but he also spent every morning after milking at the gym for a 90-minute hour workout. Molly knew his determination to keep in shape was left over from playing football during high school and college.
His coaches urged him to pursue a professional career and two NFL teams had courted him, but Jason had never wanted a career in football. He’d wanted to come home to the farm, to his cows and his corn and to Ellie, who he’d been dating since his senior year of high school. When he’d graduated college with a degree in agriculture engineering and economics, he did just that — came home and a couple years later he convinced Alex to come with him.
When Alex had first arrived Annie would ask if he’d like to come to dinner. Now Alex came without an invitation because to the Tanners he’d become part of the family. Annie often told him she felt like she had gained another son when he’d moved with Jason into the house she’d grown up in. Her parents had moved out of the house when they had decided to retire from farming and move into a retirement community in town.
“Good day in the fields?” Annie asked after the prayers had been said and the food was on the plates.
“The John Deere finally broke down,” Robert said, breaking a piece off a chicken breast.
“Will John come and look at it?” Annie asked.
Robert nodded toward Jason. “Jason and I can take care of it in the morning after milking. It will make a late start, but I hate to spend the money if I know we can fix it here.”
Jason grinned. “Dad forgets I’m not good with the tractors, just the trucks, but I’ll see what I can do.”
“I have faith in both of you,” Annie said with a smile. She winked at Alex. “And in Alex. He’s learned a thing or two about tractors over the years.”
Alex laughed softly and shook his head. “Just enough to keep my job but not enough to give me too much work because we all know I couldn’t handle that.”
Molly knew that wasn’t true. Jason liked to rib his friend about his laziness and Alex playfully agreed, but Alex was a hard worker and knew almost as much about how to operate the farm as her dad and brother did, even if he had been born a city slicker.
Quiet settled over the dining room. The clanking of forks against plates was soon the only sound. Molly felt the tension in the air like someone wanted to say something but didn’t know how. Her dad finally cleared his throat and she felt apprehension curl in her stomach.
“We got a letter from the co-op today,” he said.
“How bad are the numbers?” Annie asked, spooning more potatoes onto Alex’s plate.
“Worse I’ve seen in five years.” Robert was somber. “It’s going to hurt a lot of farmers. Even with the organic market, I think it may even hurt us. There were also more farms that went out of business this year.”
Molly felt sick at the thought of even more of their friends being forced to sell their farms. She had attended too many auctions last year, hugged too many farmers’ wives, watched too many farm families weep as their lives were sold to the highest bidder. Thinking about driving past even more empty fields that had once been full of corn and hay left a dull ache in her chest.
“I don’t understand how the buyers can keep getting away with this,” Jason said, shaking his head. “It’s like the harder we work, the more we get punished. We make the milk, they raise the prices and barely pass anything on to us.”
Molly pushed her potatoes around her plate as silence settled over the small group. Alex coughed against his hand and took a sip of his tea. He wished he could say something to make it all better for this family who had taken him in as their own, but he knew he couldn’t.
“We just have to give this over to God,” Robert said softly. “It’s all I know how to do anymore. Keep plugging ahead somehow and pray God shows us which direction to take. We’ve got the store, we are offering organic meats and products, something many people seem interested in now. It’s all we can do.”
The small family nodded but they all felt the dread and worry hanging heavy on their shoulders. Each one knew what the other one was thinking: how much longer would they be able to live this dream of owning and running their own family business?
Jason finished his meal first, crumpled his napkin and tossed it onto the plate. “I’m going to head up for a shower. Elsie and I have tickets for a movie tonight.”
Jason had been dating Elsie for three years now. Molly wondered if her brother would ever get the nerve up to ask her to marry him. At the age of 30, neither of them were getting any younger. She could tell he loved Elsie and she knew Elsie adored Jason, though it was hard for her to understand anyone swooning over her obnoxious brother. Sometimes Molly wondered if it was the uncertainty of the farm’s future that held Jason back. Sometimes she wondered if it was that same uncertainty that had left her considering a life outside of farming.
There had to be something better than dragging herself out of bed at 4:30 every morning to milk the cows and collapsing in bed at 9 every night, so overwhelmed with exhaustion she could barely have a life off the farm. There had to be something better than putting all this hard work in and seeing little return, in so many ways, not just profit.
There simply had to be more to life. Molly sighed as she cleared her plate and carried it to the dishwasher, deep in thought, overwhelmed with a sudden determination to find out what more there was to life off the farm.
She didn’t know Alex was watching her from his seat at the table, wondering what thoughts had her so consumed that they had turned her captivating smile into a concerned frown. She also didn’t know this wasn’t the first time he had watched her and wondered what went on inside that beautiful head of hers.