The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[20] “The Cow that Milked Herself”

on February 17, 2013

mm bergman

A breast pump is an awful lot like a vacuum milking cup, my husband said, untangling the gifted contraption. He held the suction cups to his chest.

Soon, she will be the cow that milked herself, he said.

So, as if the stories in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s first collection Birds of a Lesser Paradise weren’t enough to make me swoon, one of the first pictures of her that popped up was her with a goat. A GOAT. Maybe this means nothing to, like, all of you, but as a feckless-dreamer-future-farmgirl, this floppy-hatted picture of Megan made me girl crush. Hard.


To be honest, I’m a little ashamed to have put that GIF in a post dedicated to Megan Mayhew Bergman, because she seems like too classy a lady for that – but clearly it’s still there, so lets move on shall we? “The Cow that Milked Herself” is the second story of the collection and, like the rest of the stories, depends deeply on human-animal relationships to talk about just so many things. In this story, our narrator is pregnant and she and her boyfriend (husband?) Wood, a veterinarian studying frozen jaguar sperm, are basically just preparing for the arrival of the baby. Wood is, like, creepily clinical, and many times throughout the story our narrator and her child are referred to in very animalistic terms (her birth is compared to the kidding of goats, her breastfeeding to the milking of cows, the cries of her baby likened to the wails of a hungry cat) and, by doing so, Megan likens so much of how we operate as humans to our original animal ancestors.

Because this story isn’t really about pregnancy. Or about a vet. Or about any of the things that the plot really talks about. It’s about fear and trepidation and hope and all those things that pregnancy really brings to the forefront. And it’s about feeling the kind of cold calculation that passes through your body when you hear Wood talk about childbirth in such clinical terms and you realize that, while he’s not wrong, it still sounds so off to make it sound so…National Geographic. That’s quite possibly the most striking thing at the heart of Megan’s stories (others will, of course, be talked about soon): while none of them speak false, there is something strikingly, disturbingly true about just how animalistic we humans are at our core.

This story is only, like, ten pages long. But as I’m learning more and more with the short stories I read, the length or page number doesn’t really matter. The joy of the short story comes when the story is able to distinguish itself in however many pages it takes up. And Megan’s stories do that. Very, very well. I first heard about this story from three of my favorite podcasters over at Literary Disco, and it made their top reads of 2012 list, which I wholeheartedly endorse. And I’m not even fully done with the collection yet.

Tell me again about jaguar reproduction, I said.
The baby gestates for a little over ninety days, Wood said. If her cubs are taken from her in the wild, the mother will chase them down for hours, roaring continuously.

I would do that too, I said. I promise.

Rating: OMFGZ!


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