The Shouts Echoed More Than the Tumble

Michaela Chinn, Smith College, Northampton, United States

Every Wednesday of that summer in 2000, my papa and I would take the old blue pickup with the crate on top down to the sale barn to find some good live meat. The lure of the place came a half-mile before reaching it when I could smell the ammonia and dirt from the cattle. When we got close the trees would disappear and buildings would emerge. The road became more refined and less bumpy, too. The truck would make its way through the labyrinth of quaking, mooing, and squealing, towards white pavement. We would always park in the back of that colossal brown building we called “The Meat Dealer.”

I remember how, with the rust of the truck’s door stuck under my fingernails, I would crinkle my hands under the sale barn doors to open them, which were withered, heavy, and oiled by the hands of others. I recall, whenever we climbed the stairs to the main door, how papa would be consumed with attention, bombarded with many firm handshakes, ripped to a person’s side for a thank you, and forced to answer the questions being screeched to him like how to get cows to come when called or on how one should handle that terrible man on the corner of Berrytown who liked to poison farm animals. Newcomers would gag at perfume of animal blood and they wouldn’t understand how we all could stand the human heat.

The mooing of cows and squeals of pigs were never ending, and the sale barn was so old, built when my papa was a young boy, it was always creaking and cracking under the slightest movements, even a sneeze! The gritty sawdust all over the floor would get into my mouth somehow. Skinny men in oil-drenched overalls who were scattered in between the forty rows of seats, would be sucking on hot dogs covered in chili or yelling at their wives to take control of their grubby kids. My papa and I would take our same spot, sitting in the middle, smack dab in front of the arena where the animals would be shown.

I would either be chowing down on some spicy pickles or a small hotdog smeared with mustard brought to me by Anna, a pathetic street dog-looking southern woman, ribs in all with nasty yellow hair. She’d shuffle along the sale barn with a greasy yellow tablet taking orders from grubby kids and exhausted mothers. I recall the “cha ching” of the register behind me. The shuffling of Anna who looked like she was going to break every time she moved was always present. Once the sale started, people really began to yap but not me. My eyes would be fixed on the two blonde brothers. The weaker boy had his cattle rod ready and on while his younger but stronger brother, with drops of sweat latched like leeches to his face, would take the first swipe barehanded at whichever beautiful dairy cow got too close for comfort, smacking her right in between those big polished eyes. That cow would make a theatrical tumble, would get covered in the sawdust, and cause even more of it to become airborne, dimming the lighting to a strange woody tint. I remember the place would shake with voices. The skinny men in oil-drenched overalls would raise their numbers after hearing the loud thud of all that weight.