Bertha says I shouldn’t have told anyone. But I need to know what it all means, and I can’t work it out on my own. Mind you, it’s not as if anyone else has come up with any sensible suggestions yet, so perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut. At least that way we wouldn’t have had to deal with all these religious types.
The Hindus I can handle. They’re nice, peaceful guys and I think they have the calf’s best interests at heart. Well, that’s obvious really: they’re Hindus, right? Bertha complains about the bells and chanting, but y’know I kind of like all that. And the food they give us is wonderful. No, the Hindus are no trouble at all. It’s the Christians I’m having trouble with.
I guess I should have expected trouble when I told everyone that we’d had a calf born by immaculate conception on Christmas Day. A grotesque parody, they called it. Tasteless. Vile. And even when I pointed out that most of the animals on Hightop Farm tended to be born in mangers, they were having none of it. For a few weeks we actually had our own picket from the Westboro Baptists, although they eventually lost interest when I managed to convince them that the calf wasn’t (as far as we could tell) gay.
But if there is a religious angle to it, I reckon you’d have to go a lot further back than that. I’ve been reading up on Hathor the Egyptian cow goddess lately and she seems cool. She’s all about love, motherhood and joy, and – y’know what? – I kinda think we need a bit more of that in these troubled times. Then again, Bertha says I’m full of shit. If the world were left to hippies like me to run, she says, every farm on the planet would be full of unmilked cows with sore udders. She’s a practical woman, my Bertha.
So what really happened, then, that morning in March?
Well, we were just about to set up for milking when there’s this strange light in the sky. Shortly after that, the phone lines went down; and Hightop being where Hightop is, that meant that we were completely cut off. Then the power failed, and Bertha and I began to get a little nervous. In fact, Bertha went so far as to arm herself with a pitchfork, saying she didn’t want no alien coming at her with an anal probe.
So when the knock on the door came, we both feared the worst. Bertha crouched, pitchfork in hand, ready to spring. We waited. And we waited. Then there was another knock – more insistent this time. So I gently opened up. But instead of the tentacled alien that we were expecting, my eyes were met with the sight of eight buxom blonde-haired milkmaids.
“Hello,” they said in unison. “Do your cows need milking?”
“I … well, as it happens, they do,” I said, turning to look at Bertha. She was still holding her pitchfork, but it now seemed to be aimed more at me than the newcomers. I shrugged at her, but all she did was narrow her eyes. She’s never been the most trusting of women, has my Bertha. But as I’ve said, she’s a practical one, too, and after a while she gave a little nod. After all, the herd needed milking, and we were without power.
So I took the eight of them girls into the milking shed, and they stood there for a moment, looking at the cows as if they’d never seen one before. Then they went from one to another, laying their hands on them as if they were searching for some kind of sign, until finally they arrived at Daisy.
“She is beautiful, is she not?” they said, tilting their heads on one side.
“Ha!” I said. “She’s good for nothing, that one. Never produced a single calf. Hardly ever delivers as much a teaspoon of milk either.”
“And yet she is beautiful,” they said again.
“Well, if you say so,” I said, not really following any of this.
“We do,” they said. “But now we will milk your herd. Please provide us with buckets.”
“Ah, yes, buckets,” I said, glad of something practical to do. I fetched eight pails and gave one to each. “You know what to do?” I said.
“Of course,” they said. “We are milkmaids.”
“Of course you are. Of course you are. Right. Well, I’ll leave you … to it,” I said, wondering how long it was going to take them to milk an entire shedful of cows. They could be there all week.
As it happened, they finished milking the entire herd in an hour. And then they were gone. And as soon as they left the farm, the power came back on and the phone lines to the outside world were up again.
Bertha and I didn’t talk much about what had happened until Daisy went sick a week or so later.
“You let them touch Daisy?” she said.
“I let them touch all of our cows, Bertha,” I said. “They were milking them, remember?”
“Yeah, but poor Daisy.”
“Well, looks like she’s going to miss her date with the inseminator, either way. Can’t risk her falling pregnant in that state.”
So that’s how we knew that Daisy had never been inseminated. And why it came as such a surprise when she brought forth that calf on Christmas Day – the calf that everyone wants to come and see.
Sometimes, y’know, I go and sit in the shed late at night and look at that magical calf of Daisy’s. And she looks back at me with a sad kind of look in her eyes, as if she knows everything that’s wrong in the world and that she could fix it all if she could just speak to us. And sometimes I wonder if one day she will do just that. Why not?
BIO: Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and – despite having so far visited over forty other countries – has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His work has won several prizes, and he has been published in such diverse publications as Litro, Every Day Fiction and Necrotic Tissue. His unimaginatively-titled yet moderately interesting website is at www.jonathanpinnock.com, and you can follow him on Twitter as @jonpinnock.