Christina Sanders

Photo Credit: scjn/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: scjn/Flickr (CC-by)

Her hands could hew stone, knead dough to crusty loaves and straddle the moon. At night she lowered her hips to the pelt of her husband’s belly, pulling him deep inside. He carved a crib from an old byre, sanding wood silvery smooth. She knitted blankets soft as catkins while rain beat down the barley and puddled in the yard. When New Year passed and still her belly refused to swell they drove to Bury to see a doctor. There were tests; to Colchester; more tests.

“Defective sperm ducts, nothing to be done,” she wept down the phone to her mother. Through the window she watched her husband lead the bull from the field, its muscles straining against the leather halter. The stone barn turned black in the rain.

Adoption was discussed. In a Home in Bury he held a baby, kissed her coffee-coloured face, her body soft as a fish against his chest and smiled at his wife.

“Cuckoo babies,” she said, “cuckoo babies without a nest.” She’d wait in the car.

That night he killed a hen, trailing back feathers and blood across the flagstones. She followed him to the sink with a rag.

Snow hardened to ice. He dreamed of children threshing channels through the corn, clutching blackberries in their sticky palms.

When it was time he brought the cows stamping and lowing to the barn, waking her one night to help with a breech calf. She gripped the halter fast while the cow, white-eyed, bucked between her hands as he reached deep inside to free the calf with his saw, the ancient reek of blood and birth filled the dark and the calf’s head, white lashes, pink wet snout fell to the straw, and the cow reared, thrashing its pink tongue to reach it.

That night she took him to her breast, rocked his body to her own. Sleet thudded heavy on the metal roof. All day and night she nursed him, through snow and thaw, the bluster of spring and spiky shoots of new grass until inch by inch his body shrank, limbs softened, his hair thinned to thistledown and blew into corners. One by one his teeth loosened, tiny chips of porcelain fell between the boards.

When he could no longer speak or stand she slipped him from her breast and laid him in the cradle. Up on the top pasture cows roamed wild, udders dry.

pencilChristina Sanders has been writing short stories for over ten years. She has had short stories and flash fiction published in literary magazines including: Litro, TFM magazine, Writing Women, QWF, Peninsular. She has also worked with The Nightingale Theatre in Brighton on ‘live literature’ performances. She has recently completed a collection of short stories on the theme of ‘compromise.’ “Milk” is from this collection. She is currently working on her first novel, for which she recently received an Arts Council bursary, for a literary appraisal and recommendations to take it to a second draft. Email: chris.sand12[at]

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