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BLOOD AND BONES/Frances de Pontes Peebles FERNANDO LISTENED FOR the cow's labored breaths. Something within him said a calf would be born that night and that the birth would be a hard one. His father had trained him to sense what was around him, to listen to his instincts. Instinct and a good pistol, his father had said, were the only things a man could count on. AUghtning bug bumped against the rafters, and he foUowed its glow with his eyes. The room next to the cattle pen was dark, but sitting in his wooden chair, Fernando knew that there were shreds of dried manure accumulated in the corners of the concrete floor. He knew there was a medicine sheUjust above his head that held blue antibiotic spray, udder cream, de-wormer, syringes and hormones for the heifers to expel placenta . He knew that near his right arm there were pegs on the waU with two coils of worn rope and one coil of new. And he knew that his son lay on a dusty twin mattress in front of him, his head only inches from Fernando's foot. The cow moaned. Fernando leaped up and prodded his son with the toe of his boot. "Wake up, Mero," he said. "She's ready." Fernando sensed his son staring through the darkness at him and it made him uncomfortable. He heard Romero get up, stumble, then curse. His son had been against staying the night at the ranch. Romero had pleaded with his father to let him skip the birth. Mero's child support hearing was scheduled for the next morning, and he argued that he needed a good night's rest before making his court appearance. It was a logical request, one that Mero's mother, Tuta, supported. But Fernando said no. He could not explain why, only that he felt it would be best if his son stayed with him—stayed in his sight—the night before the trial. Fernando remembered the girl. She had a bony face and wet, tightly curled hair. There were circles under her eyes. Her beUy was big; she was already seven months gone when she had knocked on their door and asked to see Mero. When Fernando went to find his son, he caught him slipping out the back door. Fernando grabbed Mero by the collar and told him to take care of his responsibilities, to honor his obUgations . But Romero did neither, and after the child was born, its mother went to the courts. Fernando hadhad trouble sleeping since the summons had been delivered to their home. He'd opened the thin envelope and read the page The Missouri Review · 175 inside with its crooked typewriter script and complicated Portuguese, naming acts and amendments and numbers of laws in Roman numerals that Fernando could not decipher. His face had turned so red that Tuta asked him to take a walk and calm down, for fear of what he might do to their son. Fernando came back thirty minutes later and threw the crumpled summons at Romero. "I have never set foot in a courtroom." Fernando shook as he spoke. "You should have handled things." He kept the summons in his back pocket. Each night, after a few whiskeys , he smoothed it out and reread it. Each night he lay awake in bed, Ustening for his son's comings and goings until it was time for him to wake and knock on Mero's bedroom door at four A.M. so that they could supervise the milking. The cow moaned again, and Fernando saw its light-colored shape move around the pen as it looked for a concealed place to give birth. "Turn on the light," he ordered Mero. Two bats swooped in opposite directions when the yeUow bulb came on. "Go put the kettle on." Fernando nodded toward the room. The cow plopped down onto the dirt floor, looking as if her legs had given way under her. "It's aU right," Fernando whispered to her after Mero had left. "It's aU right, honey." Mero thought it was best to let one of the farmhands handle births, to have...


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pp. 175-192
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