It was almost gone now, faded from deep purple through every stage of blue, and now was a smudge of yellowish green bleeding into her cheekbone. She and L’Oreal had done their best, yet still it remained, a painful echo tattooed onto her eye socket.
It was her first black eye ever. Avery swore it would be her only, and a lesson in codependency she hoped would last a lifetime. She pulled her scarf a little higher around her neck. At least those marks were easier to hide…
It was noon as she left Amos, bound for a three-bed rental east of town, cottonwoods, six acres and a fresh start. Curtis would never find her here. Ever. Amos, Kansas, the back of beyond. County nowhere. A blip on the western Kansas skyline. She patted her left breast, reassuring herself that the wad of cash she held there remained, and she took a shaky breath.
Was it her fault Curtis’ team had dropped him from the PGA tour? Was it her fault he had resorted to drink and then coke, and finally whatever pill he could find to ease the pain and disappointment of failure? Didn’t he know there would only ever be one Tiger Woods, and that someone – SOMEONE – would always be at the bottom of the leaderboard?
That someone had been Curtis, way too often. The golden boy from Arkansas was but a little fish in a massive pond, and had been swallowed alive on his second tour. Most men would have been smart enough to walk away. Most men would have taken a job at their local country club, settled down, had kids, got on with real life. There would have been a designated parking space, free golf until he died, a steady salary, and a future as the biggest fish in his local puddle.
But for Curtis, there could be no life after the tour. No real life anyway.
She thought of his once handsome body, wasted and laid out flat in a Missouri motel room. It was a far cry from the man he had been less than a year ago – the blue eyed golf pro who had swept her waitress heart off its feet and pulled her into his game.
She wondered if he would wake up this time.
She hoped he would.
And she hoped he wouldn’t.
Using had led to dealing. And while Avery had been conditioned to accept the reality of their slow landslide into financial ruin, even she knew when to draw the line. Curtis had crossed it the day he decided to use his fists on her. She shuddered as she recalled how he had seemed to enjoy laying his hands around her neck and how close to death she had come.
Never again. Never again.
Avery pointed her Dodge in a straight line East of town, following the black ribbon that led to her freedom. She could almost taste it. And while the greening fields and merciless wind of Western Kansas were a far cry from the quiet hills of northern Arkansas, she relished it. Freedom of any flavor tasted sweet.
As the scenery rolled past, a seemingly endless series of spring grass and fence posts, her eye snagged upon something in the distance. The corpse of a dead cow blighted the landscape, her legs starting to rise as her body baked under an unseasonably hot April sun. Avery shuddered and switched her AC to re-circulation mode. Passing the scene, she glanced in her rear-view mirror at the downed fence and the carrion. It was like smelling soured milk – she couldn’t help herself.
It was then she noticed movement. Only slight, but she could swear she saw movement in the grass behind the bloody bowels of the cow.
She didn’t quite know why she did it, but Avery hammered down on the brakes and fishtailed along the gravel shoulder to an eventual halt. She reversed her car through a cloud of white dust and pulled up on the roadside.
It was a calf, half in and half out of his afterbirth sac, panting, barely moving. Its eyes were crusted with flies and its tongue hung loose from its bare gums. The cow, her rear foot caught up in barbed wire, had apparently gone into labor at the roadside and expired post delivery, the poor soul. Her face was a frozen contortion, mouth open in her last scream for help, Her eyes were already beginning to shrink beneath the black weight of flies.
Dry mouthed and heart pounding, Avery flipped on the hazards and got out of the car, kneeling in the bloody grass beside the calf. She tore at the scabby afterbirth with her bare hands and released the calf, a male, from the sac. He was so hot, his ruddy coat still and silent as she felt along his ribcage for signs of life. Wiping away the flies from his eyes, Avery felt tears springing to her own. “Poor little man… poor little dude,” was all she could say. The panting had stopped. Certain he was gone the way of his mother, Avery sobbed and collapsed back onto her heels, swiping at her own eyes with bloodied hands.
And then there was movement. Just a twitch of a foot, but enough to give her hope. She was galvanised into action. “Come on, baby,” she began to chant, “come on, buddy!” Avery lifted his head, and his eyes opened under snowy lashes. The calf’s eyeball, slightly shriveled, fixed on her and he began a struggle to rise.
“Oh, baby!” she said, laughing through her tears, “come on… come on…”
Avery wrestled the hot bundle to its feet, and though she found him to be shockingly heavy, she somehow managed to bundle the bull calf into the front seat of her Charger. He lay limply against her black leather, his front half on the seat, his butt in the foot well. He reeked of blood and manure.
Opening her water bottle, Avery doused his head and mouth with tepid Evian and turned the AC on low. She knew nothing about livestock, but she did know that cooling down was a good idea, and, given the state of his pasty eyeballs, he needed fluids.
She should have taken him to whoever owned him, but she didn’t stop to seriously consider it. This was her calf. Her baby. She had saved him. Avery stroked his head as she drove, willing him to live. She didn’t have a clue how to care for him, but she decided she would find out. Her calf closed his eyes and fastened his mouth softly around her fingers. Avery melted. Any thoughts of tracking down his owner died in that moment.
She would call him Baby.
Feature photo: Shutterstock
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