The girl was called for supper around the same light of evening, every day. In the throes of imagination—violent sticks, tender grass—she cursed this time as best a child’s tongue could. Instantly, as her mother spoiled the backyard with an absent half-shout of her name, the picture of the wretched glass struck with a pang. Stomping her shoe like a garage-ridden father, she told the summer to give her just a minute, with a strange politeness usually reserved for strangers. She paused in thought, sulking at the little house from her place behind the bushes. If she were rude, the sky might leave, or worse, prefer the company of clouds over her. It was capable. She started for the little house, rubbing strands of sweaty straw hair across her forehead.
With her small boots dodging river-gull droppings in the grass, lividly yellow, she started practicing better faces on her way to the backdoor. She opened the screen door that her father was constantly fixing, careful to make a little more noise than necessary, and sat in her place at the table. Her hunger was roused by vigorous play, and she ate each portion on her plate in quick clockwise regimens, like a soldier. She had hardly looked at either her meal or her parents. She noticed that they, too, chewed their food in order to swallow it. She looked up to face, once again, her never-ending enemy—that glass; her mother mentioned something of growing girls. The growing girl was not allowed to leave the table until she had finished all of her milk. Each supper refreshed this daily anguish, and she vented this in her breath, reaching into her pocket for the rock. The glass of milk was sweating like her, and this made the girl hate it even more.
Her parents had grown tired of hearing her chattery fantasies of the milk farm: the silly-looking cows, with their udders floating about in the gulf, obedient to the wild spasms of the tide, and the marvels of hardworking men, salt-stained and sunburnt, working so hard so that she may have her milk. These special farms were very distant, and so the milk was flown in on pelicans. “Godspeed!” The farmers cheered them on with mighty cries from their milk skiffs. The girl further lectured on how the filtration system was complex—amazing that the farmers could separate the water, the salt, sea urchins, and barnacles to yield the rich, white liquid, through nets of newly discovered magic.
When first proposing the rock, they had many objections, and some questions. It was healthy, she explained to them. A big rock would soak up any excess water or salt left in the milk. The leftover urchins and barnacles would cling to it. Sometimes small rocks would pass through the milkfishers’ nets, too, like harsh imposters. The big rock would ask them sternly not to fall down the girl’s throat and choke her, and the small rocks would listen.
Her mother stared into her vegetable medley of dullness, wishing that they were easier to keep on a fork. The corn, peas, and slivered carrots did not speak. They were the color of army men.
The girl was a clever girl. They were eventually convinced. Her mother no longer filled the glass as full, to leave room for the milk rock. No longer did they oppose this idiosyncrasy, so long as she would quit talking about it. To her surprise, her mother had even taken to washing her rock with the rest of the dishes in the sink.
The clever girl did not believe any of these words she spoke. She put the large rock inside the milk because she had learnt of displacement from a television program, and learned not as much milk could fit in the glass if the rock was there. She wrangled with this fact, and was reminded of those poor farmers, sloshing around her seas—the currents she herself had created.
Her dress became wet with milk residue from upon her lip. Her mother gave her a look. Excusing herself, she collected all that was hers onto her plate: a small fork, the glass, a stained napkin. She placed them in the sink, quietly, as if keeping a secret. The screen door squawked at her back as she rushed outside. She thought that it must be the pelicans delivering more milk.
The trees and the sunlight had not yet left her.
Goldkamp lives in Saint Louis & New Orleans with his wife and three dogs. Most important to him is the spirit of gratitude and realizing how damn lucky this is. His work is in Mudfish, Hoot, Straylight, and others; his public art has been covered by Time and NPR. For more about his work, google “henry goldkamp” with a fresh drink of your choice.