Willy sat in the corner of the barn with her back leaned up against the wall. Her eyes were gritty from lack of sleep. Her watch blipped ticking off the eleven o’clock hour. She’d been awake and working for going on nineteen hours. Her nostrils were filled with the scent of straw, cows, and the stronger sweet stench of birth. In the past three weeks they’d been witness to almost one hundred and fifty calves coming into this world.
Her eyes wandered to Lee who was the only other one still working this evening. He looked rough. He had a disrespectable two days worth of hair growth on his face, his coveralls were dirty, and the hat he’d pulled down over his brown hair had seen far better days. He had just come back from checking on a particular heifer that he thought might give them some trouble. He’d been anxiously keeping an eye on her for the past couple days.
Willy suspected there was something else bothering him lately, but she didn’t know if she should ask. Lee hid his emotions well. “She’s going to need help. She’s in labor, but we have to turn the calf.”
Willy heaved to her feet and followed him to where the maiden heifer stood in the stocks. Lee gloved up and for many long minutes he worked at righting the calf in the cow’s uterus. When it became obvious the cow wouldn’t deliver on her own he ended up attaching the calf puller and ratcheting the baby from the womb.
Lee and Willy each took the calves legs and hauled it to a short but safe distance away from the mother. The calf didn’t move. They set about desperately trying to revive the calf, but after several minutes with no response it was obvious the poor thing was dead.
With an exaggerated half yell of frustration Lee tossed the calf puller away where it banged violently against the side of the building. Willy jumped. Lee could be temperamental but the response was so out of character that she knew something was wrong. It sucked to lose a baby, but in the livestock business it happened. Lee knew that. His reaction spooked her.
Lee continued to kneel beside the calf. Willy dried her hands on a towel and then laid a hand on Lee’s back. “Are you okay?” There was no response. She rubbed her hand up and down his back willing him to respond.
“The cancer is back.”
Willy’s hand ceased its movement. “What?”
“Dad’s cancer is back.”
Willy’s heart dropped. Lee’s father had beaten his lung cancer over a year ago. They’d been warned that it could and would mostly likely return, but they’d hoped they’d have more time. She wanted to scream in denial. “I thought he’d beaten it.”
“Apparently not for long. He’s just finally started to feel good and get some of his strength back. He’s only been in the saddle a dozen times. It’s just not fair!”
She put an arm around his back and hugged him. “We’ll get him through this.”
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