Milo is sitting on the cot, tousled, shirt flung on over unfastened bibs, holding a wet sock up like a flag as I close the door behind me. I tuned on the fire under the coffee. “I’ll get you some socks,” I say, “in my drawer. They’re men’s stretch kneesocks, better’n women’s any day of the week. You’ll like them.”
“I guess I dozed off,” he says, the masterpiece of understatement. He is as shamefaced as the boy in the barn. We meet at the bedroom door, where we trade dry socks for wet. “Here, no, I’ll take them damn things home,” he grumbles, grabbing them back to fling them into the direction of the exit.
“Home to George?” I asked snappily. “That’s where I got the name George; from the house girl Bob and the Seabees had in China in 1943.”
“He grunts, reaches for my shoulders and steps up to me, his jawbone against my cheek. “How long was I out? You have to do the cow alone?”
“I hate waking people, it’s okay. You don’t know how much I hate waking people. It went well, wasn’t that bad. I had to be there. I was the one who had to do it.”
“Tough cookie,” says Milo, his hands tight on my shoulders.
“That’s the way I wanted it. She’s sensitive. Start out right.”
“I’ll help you milk tonight,” he says.
“You don’t have to,” I assure him. I gently break from his hold to get cups for coffee.
“Well, maybe not, but I will,” says Milo. He sits in a chair and pulls on the black knee socks I wear in the winter for social events. I don’t do many social events, and the socks are like new. They stretch into a fairly-right size for him, and he moves his toes to display them.
“You can stay if it’s to preserve your self-esteem,” I say, “but if I had to write the ticket I’d like it to be for fencing tomorrow, if you could.”
“Boys coming over tonight?” He is looking at his steamy coffee, held in his hand, too hot, transferred then to the table.
“Boys?……I don’t think so. Being alone doesn’t bother me.”
“Is that right?” He’s looking out toward the barn.
“Well, it’s only that fencing is more a four-handed job than milking.”
“Is that right?” Words clipped, like a cold taunt.
I take his coffee from the table. “Can we go to the cot? I have some time. Chairs are cold and nervous.”
We sit together on the cot we have recently lain together on. We sit shoulder-to-shoulder. Milo says, “Y’didn’t put on too much to go out there for the cow fellas.”
“Put on? Skipped the underwear. What’s the deal? Who’s to care?”
He holds up his cup and looks at it. He drinks from it.
“Okay,” I say to him. “You want to talk about the boys?”
“No, I don’t want to talk about the boys. Just wonder if, in your opinion, they shuck off their pants one leg at a time like me.” He drinks more – coffee is hot and I can’t get near mine.
I let some minutes pass; then I get up from the cot, Pull out a chair in front of him, and sit. He looks at his cup. He takes no notice of me. The faucet drips. The clock makes a slight grinding noise. Out in the yard, the wren is going at it. My coffee is finally becoming somewhat drinkable. I turn and put the cup behind me on the table. Then I say to Milo, “Maybe you came to the wrong place. This here’s a dairy farm. You sound like breeding stock.”
Then long and hard we look at each other. Coffee turns tepid.
“That’s how guys are,” mutters Milo. “The big takeover.” He sighs, looking away, and looks back. “You want to come back here by me?”
“We need to put it straight,” I say. “Lay off each other. Be thankful for what we get. See how far that goes. Life is tough.”
“You got it,” he says, nodding his head. Reaching out his hand.