Captive(Behind the Stars, Vol. 1)By: Leigh Talbert Moore
(Behind the Stars, Vol. 1)
Mid-May, and it was already hot. And wet. Sweat pasted the few strands of stringy blonde hair that had escaped my ponytail to my damp neck, and I tried not to stir up dust as I walked fast down the old dirt road.
Today was my last day working with Dr. Green, the only large-animal vet in Dabb Creek, and it wasn’t much different from my first. Except on that day it had rained. Stormed more like it, and Doc had said to meet him at Mrs. Blalock’s barn.
My boyfriend Jackson and his best friend D’Lo had to tag along, of course. They didn’t think I’d go through with it, and I think even Dr. Green was skeptical, which was why he’d said I’d have to palpate the widow’s best milking cow before he’d agree to make me his assistant.
Palpate. I knew what that meant. Fancy word for sticking your arm up a cow’s backside to see if she was pregnant. They didn’t think I could do it because I was so little. Years of stretching and drinking milk had only got me up to five-foot tall, but I climbed up on that stool, set my jaw, and plunged right in.
Dr. Green stood close by me, holding up Elsie’s tail. His man-sized plastic glove went all the way over my shoulder to my neck, and it was slathered in lubricant. It kept me clean, but I was getting the full experience of hot, smelly cow butt.
“Make your hand like a wedge, Prentiss,” he said. “Now slowly reach all the way to your elbow.”
Thunder rumbled low outside, and the hiss of rain grew louder. I closed my eyes and followed his instructions, focusing on what I was trying to find rather than where I was trying to find it.
“Let the contractions pass,” he said, referencing the muscle spasms I felt around my forearm. “Now feel downward to locate the uterus, not forward. Careful... see if you can detect the embryo.”
I heard D’Lo snorting behind me, but I wouldn’t look at him. I wouldn’t look at anything. My throat was constricting like I might throw up, but there was no way I was doing that.
“Feel it?” The vet asked.
I shook my head, eyes still closed, unable to speak. The cow seemed as tense as me, but whether it was from the growing storm or my arm sinking deeper into her hindquarters, I couldn’t tell.
“Keep feeling... gently,” Dr. Green urged. “Anybody can learn palpation. It’s the most accurate procedure for determining pregnancy in dairy cows. And the cheapest—”
“I got it!” My breath rushed out in a gush.
I did. I felt a definite lump spilling over the pubic bone. Elsie’s calf.
“Now. Make a mental note of the size,” he said. “She’s about 90 days along.”
“I feel it,” I repeated, my legs shaking as my muscles started to relax. “It’s a little lump about the size of my palm.”
“Good,” Dr. Green smiled. “Now ease your arm out slowly.”
I remembered Jackson’s smug look and D’Lo’s expletives of praise. Dr. Green sent them out while we discussed the miracle of life and my new schedule.
That was nine months ago, back when senior year was just beginning. Now graduation was right around the corner, and I’d learned enough about delivering colts and impregnating cows to handle anything that might come up on a farm. On our farm. The one Jackson’s daddy’d give us after we got married.
Jackson and I’d talked about it for a while, and working for the doc was part of our plan. Soon I’d escape my broken home and start a new life. A better life.
A cramp stabbing my ribs brought me back to the Here and Now. I was late, and last day or not, Dr. Green would fuss.
“My assistants must be punctual,” he’d say. “It’s difficult being the only vet in a farming community.”
I exhaled slowly as a bead of sweat tickled a path down the middle of my back, and I tried to keep the dirt out of my Keds.
Back when the 911 service came through, most of these roads got numbers or real names besides “Shortcut to the Creek” or “Road Where the Broke-down House Used to Be.” But there were still a few like this one, “Old School Road,” that you only knew what to do with if you grew up in our little town of less than a thousand people. It didn’t matter, though. Strangers never stopped in Dabb Creek.