NWR Issue 101


It was the tractor he heard first, the low groan of its engine as it laboured across the far slope of the valley towards him; and then, a moment later, the dull clank of the trailer it was towing. He was peeling potatoes, hunched over the sink in the kitchen, his hands wet to the wrists and red with cold. The tractor veered round towards the gate and came to a stop a few feet short of it. The farmer’s lad jumped down from the cab, stumbling on the untrodden snow. He fumbled briefly with the catch and then the gate swung away from him and banged back against the fence.

The man put down his knife and peered out through the window. He’s too young, he thought, too young to be at the wheel of a tractor. The boy climbed nimbly back into the cab and eased the machine gently forward between the gateposts. Once clear of the gate, he pulled into the lee of the hedge; then he killed the engine, jumped out again and went round to the back of the trailer. The man heard a muffled thump, saw the trailer rock sideways; then the boy let down the tailgate and stepped quickly aside.

The cow came slowly down the ramp and onto the frozen field, moving with obvious difficulty, clearly in pain. What struck him most forcefully was the intense darkness of her angular form against the snow: her underbelly and the insides of her legs were white, but everything above, with the exception of a small, irregular blaze on her forehead, was black as night...

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