The full moon above him proved the old man right. Its colorless iridescence
imbued the snow with an inner glow and touched the ridgepole of the barn ahead
with a near electrical intensity. To the southeast, over the pale and
featureless field next door and the trees barely visible beyond, the blackened
smudge of a distant ski mountain was pinpricked by the tiny quivering of
crisscrossing snow-grooming machines, crawling through the night like earthbound
Try as he might to keep his anger stoked against Marianne, Bobby felt it
dying down. If she was that eager to do all that seeing of other people, did it
make any sense for him to want her for himself?
But then the image of her in the arms of some anonymous other flared up in
him again. He resumed walking toward the barn across the dirt road dividing the
The entrance they used most was down the far embankment and through a tiny
door into the milk room, an oddity given the size of the overall structure. This
was technically a bank barn, built against the lower edge of the road to allow
direct access to the second floor. It towered forty feet at its apex, ran ninety
feet in length, and included a hayloft so vaulting that Bobby's father,
Calvin, had made room for a small, rough-floored basketball area to accommodate
the occasional pickup game.
Bobby stamped his feet out of habit as he entered the sweet-smelling, warm
milk room, although no fresh snow had fallen in over a week. Winter was on the
wane, even in these upper reaches of Vermont's northwest corner, and
tonight's cold notwithstanding, he knew from long experience that the year's
first thaw was not far off, and with it the accompanying flurry of the
region's fast and furious maple sugar harvestalong with the gluey mess of
By the glow of one of the night-lights placed throughout the barn, Bobby
glanced at the glimmering steel milk tank sitting like a rocket's spare part
in the center of the room. This was nothing newthe use of milk cans and
individual deliveries to the local creamery were long gonebut Bobby still
found the holding tanks and their tangle of umbilical tubing disconcerting. In
contrast to the rest of the barn, filled with livestock, hay, insects, and the
smell of manure, the milk room was representative of a faintly menacing
futurethe tank looking more like an alien incubator than a simple repository.
Bobby quickly passed into the long, low stable where he spent most of his
time, his nostrils instinctively flaring in the damp, cloying atmosphere. In the
half-light, he could make out the rows of cows, tied in their stalls, many of
them settled on their flanks, back sides overhanging the full and gleaming
gutters running down each aisle. A cheap battered radio played softly on the far
wall, soothing the cows with an endless cycle of innocuous love songs.
Bobby unconsciously let out a sigh at the sight of the room, its floor
permanently wet with urine, near-liquid manure, and the water used to routinely
wash it all away. Everything was encrusted with manure and/or mud, administered
from floor to ceiling by the flickings of cows' tails and the rebound
splashings from their round-the-clock voidings. Had it not been for the almost
seductive nature of its odor, this whole place by rights would have smelled like
a sewer. Instead, to Bobby as to so many others, it ran from being almost
unnoticeable to pleasantly familiar.
He glanced over his shoulder at the several portable milk suction units
hanging beside him, designed to be moved from cow to cow with a minimum of fuss,
and made sure they'd been properly stored. Bobby Cutts might not have been
directly in line to inherit all thishis sister and brother-in-law, Jeff, were
before himbut he still had a family member's proprietary interest in making
sure things stayed shipshape.
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