Emma Barnes

Milk for Money

You are the moon, have been a tree,
you have seen me. This time outside
I stand with my feet apart. I am the 
master, the linesman, the light house
keeper. I was born 40 years ago in a 
tiny house to a midshipman’s wife. I
squalled like a storm and grew like a
he. After ten bowls of soup, and five
of rice I was tall enough to leave the
house. I left a girl, walked younger,
grew older, fell down, crawled up. I
found you wound up backwards. We
spent the next years of our life, walk-
ing. You had five children in between
five consecutive summers. I smoked 
a pipe and it chattered between my
teeth. I was the best impression of a
man you had ever met. I won bread. 
I bought home choice cuts of pig. I

had a shadow that was happy to be
following me around. And then I was
left at a bus stop like a small ball of
rags. Scrunched up I reacquainted my-
self with my feet. They were smaller
than I recalled. I stood up and started
walking again. Somehow I had always
been walking. This time when we met
you were facing the right way. I was
tempted to count all your fingers and
toes. Instead I held up my head and
thought about my own small feet. Our
children grew and grew. They grew
into the image of me as a man and
you with a bowl of fruit. Eventually
they grew taller than the house and 
their faces would float in the upstairs
windows. You and I stayed inside with
bread, butter and the dog. We passed,

weeks passed, you became an old, frail
woman. I became a wall, a wardrobe, a
child of a midshipman. But once again
I found myself at the side of the road.
This time I had a handkerchief tied to
a stick. You had packed me a lunch to
release me. I imagined your wrinkled
elbows being touched by someone I
couldn’t know and my insides made a
sound of deep longing. But I walked on.
Bravery was something that I could fake.
I wandered down stream and through
trees. I kept a close watch on my six
and left 3 and 9 to themselves. At the
close of a day I walked into a room of
women and lay down on a bed. They
bathed my body free of sweat and only
asked about you when they saw your 
face in my chest, between my breasts.

I woke alone as a newborn. The smell
of milk and money filled my nose. The
rest of your life unknown to me, made
a small thing for me to cry over. As a
baby everything was relative. Waking,
sleeping. Cradled in hands the size of
yours I was fitful. Aching. How to know 
anything when your voice is that of a
lamb. I spoke and instead I yowled, a
cat, a kitten, a dream of speech. Lifted,
cradled, taken from hand to bed and 
bed to hand. I grew dim. I was com-
forted, cooed, swaddled to sleep. Sleep.
My final thought picked up and rattled,
the sound of your voice at night. As
babies grow and grow, you were less
and less. My body, spreading arms 
and thighs, left little room for you. I
loved you just once, just one love.

Author’s Note


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