Daphne is pregnant.
She is no longer my teat sucking, sun frolicking pet calf, she has matured into a fully grown cow. She doesn’t even look like my Daphne anymore – but I know it is her because I recognize the familiar black and white patchwork pelt she wears and she still walks up to me in the paddock, something no other cow will do.
I no longer feed her milk from a bottle, nor offer my hand to her once willing, hungry mouth; the welcome teat substitute she liked to suckle in a noisy rhythmic motion, her rough sand-paper like tongue producing sticky foam milk bubbles from the sides of her mouth. She is almost ready for milking now. We will be digesting the warm, nutritious contents of her udder with our Weet-Bix very soon.
When I say she doesn’t look like my Daphne anymore, it is her face that I am referring to. When she was a calf she had an eager, yearning sort of facial expression, a hungry face, hungry for her next feed and starving for my affection. Now she has a mature cow’s face – I’ve noticed that with all the calves, when they grow up they stop smiling. Something happens as their facial features mature that makes their grown up expression more like a frown than a smile, they no longer exhibit the contentedness of frolicking calves, high on powdered milk and the scent of fresh spring pastures.
So Daphne has a mature grown up look now, but despite this I know she remembers me, even though those baby calf memories of less than two years ago for me, are the equivalent of nine cow years ago for her.
Sweet scented Daphne is both my mother’s favorite fragrant, flowering shrub and the name of her mother, our Nana. I have always loved this name and thought that everyone would understand and appreciate the gesture, to name my pet calf after my very dear grandmother and something sweet-smelling and adored by my mother. Unfortunately my parents didn’t agree, though they allowed me to keep the name, they just made sure that Nana was never to learn of the esteemed honor I had gifted her.
Daphne is really fat now, she has a baby calf inside her and this morning at breakfast Dad announced she is ready to drop. At lunch there is a call from a neighbor to say he has seen a cow in distress down by the airstrip gate. Although I don’t hear the words myself, I can tell from what Dad is saying that it is my Daphne. I know because I feel this terrible pain in my chest and stomach, my heart is beating way too fast, there is a dry lump in my throat and I can’t even finish my favourite cold roast lamb and home-made chutney sandwich. I haven’t experienced a feeling like this since Annie died.
“Better go take a look” Dad says, placing the receiver of the party line telephone back on its cradle and ringing off one short to let callers know the line is free. There are few secrets in this neighborhood when four families share one telephone line and bored operators sit with nothing better to do than listen in. I imagine by tonight everyone will have heard about Daphne.
“I’m coming too” I say, pushing back my chair and getting up from the table.
“No, you stay put for now, finish your lunch and help your mother clean up first. I’ll bring ‘er up to the yards next to the shepherd’s cottage. You can meet us up there. It’s best not to have too many people around, you know they’re warrant to get a bit spooked and we don’t want ‘er taking fright and bolting off down by that big hole.”
“Alright” I mutter, slumping back in my chair, arms crossed, appetite ruined. I know what he says makes sense, though I don’t believe she will be scared off because of me. More likely those yapping dogs that never listen when you shout ‘Shut Up!’ or ‘Get in behind!’ I’d like to say, but don’t.
Animals’ giving birth is a common and natural event in the spring, although here it is more common to see thousands of sheep giving birth, not so many cows and a very large pet giving birth is a new experience for us. Pet lambs always go back into the main flock before they became adult sheep, so we never know whether they give birth or not, but despite the familiarity with animals giving birth, I am worried about Daphne.
I too have matured in these past two years, I am about to go off to boarding school in the city away from my family; I know I am old enough not to become attached to farm animals, but somewhere in a dark chamber of my mind, a closed-door of slumbering memories has drifted open and I cannot stop the rush of disturbing flashbacks which enter my mind and begin to replay that terrible thing that happened to Annie.