Flash Fiction: Feeding by Miranda Williams

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I’ve been monitoring the Farm again. My roommate, Maia’s. While she’s at work, I press my nose to the glass and make smudges with my skin, pretending they’re clouds. I smell the aging hay and tiny hills of manure. The tank sits on the floor, hugging our living room wall. Its roof reaches my knees and, if it were gone, there’d be another sofa or a coffee table squatting in its place. I measure the animals’ food with a teaspoon. Maia cooks homemade slop for the pigs. She’ll spend Sunday mornings cradling a food processor, watching the blades putty vegetables and small fingers of meat into brown milk. She stores the slop in decorated mason jars with colorful ribbons.

The cows just eat grass. This is upsetting. They look up at me with their watery, begging eyes rimmed with black goop as I reach into their tank—feeding the pigs, pouring slop into their miniature wooden troughs—and I worry they feel less loved. Sometimes, to make up for it, I pluck one from the farm and hold them in my palm. Today, I pick my favorite cow. I name her something new every day. She has soft dark brown hair and two dull horns crown her head. She licks my thumb with her doughy pink tongue as if to say it’s okay, I understand. Before putting her back, I lay down on the stained carpet and let her walk along my stomach. Her hooves press light on my flesh like the fingertips of a baby. As her face—lost, longing—comes closer and closer to mine, I smile and swell with tears.

***

A week later, a pig slumps to the ground and doesn’t get up. He’s turned bloated and slow. They all have. He lays on his side, squealing half-heartedly as the other pigs pass by. From afar, he looks like a wet wad of bubblegum stuck in green grass hair. Maia paces around the house, calling every vet in the city, her voice shrill. Between calls, she turns to me, red-cheeked as though she’d just come in from the snow, as though she needed to be warmed.

Why were you feeding them? She asks. 

I gaze at the farm. One of the cows—my cow, I am sure it is her—has her two front hooves pressed to the glass, staring back at me, shiny-eyed.

They look hungry, I reply.

But by the time I say this, she’s on the next call.

Maia gives the pig Pepto Bismol later. She drowns a toothpick in garish pink liquid. Spreads it on his nose like warpaint. Watches him swipe it off slowly, hesitantly. The next day, he spits up. His insides splash onto the field, hot and tangy. Sewage. The day after that, he dies.

Maia video chats with her mother to tell her about the pig. She looks ugly with her face crusted in tears and her mother is a beige blob from far away. Still, I can see her nodding. Listening. Caring.

***

The more I hold my cow, the more indifferent she is. She became used to the warmth of my hands, the strokes on her head. Now, when I take her out of the Farm and place her on my stomach, she abandons me. She slides down my side, stretching and shriveling my shirt, and crawls into the kitchen or ducks under the couch. Sometimes, she eats shreds of carpet or trips over a lone sock. I should tell her no. Instead, I quit taking her out of the Farm. After a few days, she returns to normal. She loves me again.

Maia brings me take-out one night and tells me she is sorry about getting upset over the pig. I don’t respond but I still eat with her in the kitchen, pinching Mongolian beef and ramen with chopsticks and twirling it into my mouth.

Dabbing teriyaki sauce from her crimson lips, she says, I know you were only trying to care for them.

I nod. It is like we are married. We are angry with each other. This would be the part where I march out the door.

After we eat, Maia feeds the pigs and pets them all with a single finger. Then, she pets the cows. My cow—today, she is Mary—is the farthest. Maia has to stretch across the Farm to reach, her body like an overwhelming sky of flesh over them. I smile and there’s pain in my eyes. Mary is mine now, I understand, not Maia’s.

***

I imagine the possible moments of my cow and I’s life—Maia earning her love, Maia’s mother buying baby trees and wheelbarrows for her, laying on the floor with my limbs spread, waiting for embrace, looking at her through the Farm glass with both love and resentment—and it feels unbearable.

There is no one to talk to, no one’s face to stare at through a screen, when I take my cow out of the Farm for the last time. We walk to a park while she’s nested in my cupped hands. I can feel her heartbeat crawl, then walk, then run. The park is swaddled in cold. Me and my cow are both shivering. A mother observes her toddler rocking back and forth on a swing set. A homeless man with a rounded belly naps against a tree trunk.

I stop in the center, where the grass is thick and damp. Look at my cow one more time. She’s only a swirl of fur in my hands, small, horns buried under fluff. For a moment, I think about when I first leapt into the world: eighteen, with boxes and boxes of childhood but no bed frame, knowing my mother’s angry orange hair and nothing more. I lean down and place her on the grass. She takes her first step. Then, another. Then, I can no longer see her.

Miranda Williams is a student and writer from New Mexico who now resides in Arizona. She received her BA and MA in English Literature from Arizona State University. Her work appears in Blue Earth Review, Breakwater Review, Third Point Press, and Ghost Parachute, among others, was selected for the 2021 Best Small Fictions anthology, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Additionally, she is currently working on a novel inspired by the movements of jellyfish, Rachel Ruysch’s paintings, and the horrors of working at a movie theatre. Find her on Instagram @mirandaiswriting. 

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