The farmer put his hand on Esmerelda’s neck and shook the feed bucket in front of her nose. She stuck her head in the bucket and followed him. Hector shifted his hooves and grunted. Mr McGinley looked up and noticed the great bull there near the barn; he led Esmerelda quickly through the gate. Hector stamped his hoof and bellowed, then lowered his head and pointed his horns forward. Mr McGinley dropped the feed bucket and left Esmerelda. He shouted to the truck driver and then hurried to shut the gate and secure it with its heavy chain. The truck driver came over and took Esmerelda and led her up toward the trailer. Hector bellowed again then charged. He ran past the calves and the hay bales and made straight for the gate. Mr McGinley turned and ran up the hill, pointing and yelling at the truck driver. Hector slammed his head into the gate’s thick wooden top rail; the wood shuddered, the chain squealed and rattled, but the gate remained shut. Hector looked up and saw Esmerelda was nearly at the trailer; he stepped back and rammed the gate again. The timber cracked this time, but the chain held firm. Hector hammered the gate with his horns, then backed up for another charge. He looked up the hill and saw Esmerelda and the truck driver climb the ramp to the trailer and disappear inside. Hector stood frozen. Blood trickled from his forehead where the fence rail had split and cut him. He stood there until the truck driver came back out of the trailer alone. Hector lowered his head and gave a long, agonised bellow. He turned and walked away, past the remaining calves, who had huddled by the barn in terror of the raging bull. He continued out into the paddock, head hanging low and groaning to himself. Mr McGinley stood at the gate a long time, scratching his head and talking to the truck driver, until he was satisfied the great bull had calmed. Then the two men resumed their work and soon had all the calves loaded onto the trailer.
The truck roared to life again. It rolled slowly down the hill past the cow paddock, then around below the horse yard and back to the long dirt path. Down the path it crept, and then out the farm’s wide front gate. Mr McGinley shut the gate and waved to the driver. With a rumble, the truck headed back up the road and away for another year.
Mr McGinley let the cows out of the barn.
That afternoon the cow paddock was sombre and silent. A cold wind blew. Hector stood at the bottom of the paddock, barely moving, staring at the grass. When finally the sun set, the great bull followed all the cows into the barn. He stopped at his stall and looked at the drooping mass of spider webs covering it—the remains of Esmerelda’s gift to him. The great bull had crawled in and out of his stall every day so as not to disturb those webs, even though the spiders had long ago left. This time he walked in. The old webs broke and sagged and stuck to his hide. He waved his head side to side, swished his tail and raked his horns against the corners of the stall until he had cleared every last web. His face and sides were speckled pale with the fine, sticky silk. Hector laid down with an unfamiliar heaviness in his belly. He looked over near the milking stalls, where Esmerelda used to sleep. The floor there was bare tonight. Hector turned and stared at the timber slats of his stall. It occurred to him he had heard Esmerelda’s happy voice for the last time. He laid his head on the straw and tried to recall the last thing she had said to him. He could not remember. Hector lowed quietly, then squeezed his eyes shut and slept.
The soft hum of little beating wings descended.
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