To the Cow, the Trees by Georgina Parfitt

First Prize, Annual Ambit Competition 2021, with the theme of Metamorphosis. Published in Ambit 245

“When writing is good, it writes us. I love the earthy evocation in Georgina’s story, in which words metamorphose into textures, smells and sounds of the living earth and a sense of experiencing and feeling what it is to live when we let go of the duress of time.” Judge Michael Salu

Something has the people’s attention. For a moment, the sun over the village stops. Brand new light slides over the flint roof. The field turns.

A shudder of life takes cow and leads her towards the trees. To the cow, the trees are living. They are the most moving thing; they make her eyes wander. Otherwise she looks down, or gazes nothingly at the boundary. But now that the boundary has been breached, the trees move and she follows. There is water in the trough still, but it is still and blank-green. The trees are endless water. They are telling her everything she needs to know. Her backbones shift and the meat of them presses down around her shoulders. Her whole neck and ears are numb — she is older than she was before. She was lighter and now she is heavier. She was milk and now she’s bone. She crosses the boundary like it’s nothing and is out the other side, where tracks snake from the village. A ridge of fat grass; a furrow of cracked earth; all cinched to a ditch, which holds these bits of the world together.

To the cow, the ditch speaks. Its gasping voice reveals nothing, just a smell, a slick smell of leaves, frosted and dissolved. There had been another smell before. Her woman smell with felt hands and tiny sniffing nose she sometimes pushed coldly into cow’s forehead. That one is long gone. Flapped away with one flag of the wind. Cow doesn’t miss anything. Everything she loves is either gone or right here. Her hooves tip in towards the water. Her line swerves. Something wants her to fall. Her sides are heavy as sails. They lean. She finds her voice, or her voice finds her again, and pains the air with one long groan. Her hooves trip towards the ditch. She drops and her rock knees crash into water. Cold, old water rises to meet her. She remembers it. This is her water. She began here, or she ends here. Either way, this is where she ought to be. The cold is complete. It is not a question. So she sinks down and lets her lowing go.

To the trees, the sound is a bird. Another warm thing clinging like a clot to their soft branches. Light billows. The hedgerow is full of nests; everything is rattling, shuffling, with life, trying to make home. Something has the people’s attention.

Born and raised in Norfolk, England, Georgina Parfitt moved to the US at 18 to study at Harvard University. She fell in love with short fiction under the kind mentorship of Amy Hempel. Since then, she has worked as a speed-dating hostess, an actor, a ghostwriter, and now teaches in Liverpool. Her work has been published across the UK, Ireland and the US, in such publications as The CommonThe AtlanticThe Dublin Review, and The Southampton Review.

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