The night is already giving way to the grays, and pinks, and peaches of dawn as I head toward the barn to start the ritual milking. The impatient, nasaled bleats of the goats vie for my attention in the chorus call of cricket clicks, goose cries, and hen cackles, implying urgency. The seeming cacophony only heightens the descant of the swallows and jays in their morning worship.
The stubborn latch rattles the aged and weather-worn barn doors as I struggle to open them, empty buckets in hand. The sickening, wet sweetness of decaying hay, manure, and musk, gush forward like suction when the doors are released from their nocturnal sentry duty. My girls push forward in the stalls at the sight of me, clacking their cloven hooves against the wooden slats of the pen, bleating louder their discordant chants, in the hope of being the first to receive relief from my hands. Bobbing white heads, black slits set in amber eyes, bulging pink sacks, all cry for my attention.
I look for snow. She is my favorite giver. Sallow streaks across her ivory back distinguish her from the other Saanens, though they all are
known by name. She greets me with a bleated blessing and tugs me toward the milk room as I grab her collar and remove her from the pen.
The milk room is small, claustrophobic, and muggy. Snow leaps onto the milk stand in assurance her relief is near. The milk is heavy in her udders, full and taught, like the firm, flexed buttocks of a mature woman. I wet them down with warm water to clean them, as well as to encourage the milk flow. Warming my hands with my breath, I massage the nipples and udder to hasten the milk further. I position myself on the low, wooden stool and roll my bandana into a rope band around my forehead. Her teats, like long, puffy fingers, are full, and feel smooth and soft and supple, like latex gloves filled with water. I station one of the battered, gray metal buckets, strategically, to catch the flow, and nestle my head into her sturdy rump.
Her musk is her perfume, and it wafts up into my nostrils with her every movement. Gently, I encase my hands around her teats, lightly pinching off the top nearest the udder, with my thumb and index finger. Methodically, I encircle the rest of the teat with each individual finger, massaging the milky-gray fluid out, with a deliberate focus, like a five-fingered piano exercise. Psssst. Psssst. Psssst. The hollow sound echoes into the empty bucket. Right, left. Right, left. In a lethargic military time, my hands alternate from teat to teat. I am mindful that these
are goat rhythms. Cows go, Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh! when they milk, in a pull - slide, pull - slide motion.
Snow turns her head to smell me and belches in appreciation and release. Her moist breath baptizes me with gases from sour, rancid, regurgitated hay. The room is heavy with a water-bottle heat. I feel my head band losing its battle with sweat, as the coarse, grizzly hairs of snow's rump prick me like tiny gnats around my ears and eyebrows. Poooosh! Poooosh! Poooosh! The bucket is filling and the foam gurgles up like beer into a beaker.
Snow's udder has retracted, and the teats have shriveled into flacid flesh, flapping at her slightest movement, like the loose skin of an aged woman's underarm. As I move away and tossle the matted wet hair from my forehead, Snow flits from the milkstand and nudges my arm in wet-nosed affection. I swat her rump lovingly as I hold the door for her to the outside pen. Covering the milk, its musty warmth moistens my face. I pick it up in both arms, its weight now a transferred extension of myself. With ease I release Snow's docile donation to the outside cooler. I have many more girls still waiting.