Toxic odours (fiction)

The woman arrived, half an hour before the meeting started. ‘Hello?’ the woman called. ‘Hello?’

Eva was still organising everything in the kitchen, having discussions with Pauline, the sponge cake baker, about which was the best plate to serve the cake on. I walked to the foyer, following the direction of the voice.

‘Good morning,’ I answered. A woman stood in the foyer of the hall, with a cow on a lead.

‘Hi, you must be Captain Eva Oliver?’

‘No,’ I responded. ‘My name’s Michelle. I’m here on training.’ I offered my hand to greet her, but I couldn’t drag my eyes from the cow. Its huge brown eyes were the size of saucers. It was brown and white, with a long hairy tail, and had brought in a combined stench of moist mud, grass and stale shit. It filled the foyer and brought tears to my eyes.

‘Oh, phew, I thought you looked a little young.’ She stared at me. ‘Oh, sorry,’ collecting herself, ‘where are my manners? I’m Ruthie Lewis, dairy farmer’s wife.’ She held moved to shake my proffered hand, the rope holding the cow around her wrist, pulling the cow’s head at the same time. The cow mooed in protest. We shook hands, after which she continued, ‘And this is Bessie.’ She gave her nose a rub.

The cow was big. I was wondering what to say, where to take them, when Eva thankfully appeared.

‘Oh, hello,’ Eva said, then stopped in her tracks. ‘You’ve brought a cow.’ I wanted to say something about stating the obvious, but the atmosphere seemed heavy – not only due to the smell surrounding us all.

‘Yep, I’m a dairy farmer. I thought we could milk her. A little late in the morning, but Bessie’s such a good girl, she won’t mind a bit.’

‘Right,’ Eva nodded, although she was clearly befuddled. I was quite certain, watching this unfold, that Eva had not planned for the cow to be a part of today’s Home League meeting. I stifled a giggle, as Eva went on. ‘Well come this way then.’

Before Ruthie could take a step, Bessie’s tail lifted high up behind her, and shat, right there in the foyer of Bannock Salvation Army.

‘Arrrrrrgh,’ was all Eva could manage.

I laughed.

Ruthie shrugged her shoulders, and said, ‘Part of bringing a cow along. Sorry. Got a mop and bucket?’

‘Yes, but what do we do with that?’ Eva gawked at the cowpat steaming on the hardwood floor. The smell of rich, fresh shit was assaulting, we both covered our mouths and noses with our hands. I gagged.

‘Well, I’ll go see if Pauline needs any help setting up,’ I mumbled, trying not to vomit through the words, and ran off through the hall to the side door that led to the Young People’s hall.

When the clock ticked 10.30AM, Eva was still nowhere to be found, so I had no choice, but to improvise.

‘Welcome everyone,’ I said, clearing my throat to gain their full attention.

‘Where’s Captain Eva?’ a voice shouted.

‘Most of you know me by now, but for those that mightn’t, I’m Michelle Lawrence, here for about another eight weeks, for my training to be an officer.’

‘Where’s Captain Eva?’ the voice repeated. I looked in the direction of it, but couldn’t tell who it belonged to.

‘Thank you. Yes, you’ve noticed that Eva is not here with us. She is here in the hall but has been detained. I can assure you she will join us as soon as she can.’

Sighs from the ladies filled the room. I continued, ‘So ladies, let me introduce you to our guest speaker, Ruthie Lewis. Ruthie and her husband are dairy farmers in the area. Ruthie has brought along another guest, and I’ll let her introduce her to you all.’

This time, murmurs from the ladies went around, like a game of Chinese whispers. They gained in intensity and volume until Ruthie walked in, with Bessie following her, hooves clopping on the floor. Silence fell with a thud. Someone yelped; all of the women looked shocked and horrified that an animal was in the house of the Lord. Pauline’s best friend, June, got up and walked out and didn’t return.

Ruthie carried on nonchalantly. She talked about her life as a farmer. She grabbed a milk pail and asked if anyone wanted to have a turn at milking Bessie.

‘Anyone?’ she repeated, after her first request was met with deafening silence.

I went cold. In no way did I want to touch a cow’s udder, but I assumed that it fell to the officer to lead the way in such circumstances. I was just about to stand, gulping a ball of repulsion and fear that had gathered in my throat, when Eva appeared, walking in smoothing down her uniform skirt. Her white shirt was missing the brooch at the neck, parts of the shirt were wet, with sweat or water, I was unable to tell. Her hair had frizzed out of its neat bun, damp tendrils stuck to her forehead.

‘Hi again Ruthie,’ she said, giving nothing away about what she’d been doing, how she came to be a bedraggled mess. ‘Sorry to be so late, but I had a bit of an unexpected delay.’ She smiled cheerfully at the group.

‘You right Captain Eva?’ It was the same voice. This time I saw it came from Dot, a nasty unkind woman who complained incessantly.

Eva ignored the question, and continued, ‘I’ll milk Bessie.’ Under her breath, to me in hearing distance, I heard her mutter, ‘I’ve touched worse than her tit today.’


In response to daily prompt: toxic


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