The Favorite Calf

So many people came that we had to set up a cordon — Dad used some old twine and fenceposts hammered into the ground. The people backed up all the way into the street and Mrs. Avery called the police. But when the officers came they just laughed and whistled and patted Dad on the back, like he had given birth to the two-headed calf himself.

The calf got all kinds of special accommodations. His body was runty and weak, and he couldn’t suckle, so Dad fed him from a bottle. The two heads tried to fight for the rubber nipple, jerking their shared neck back and forth. Dad just cooed and switched off mouths every few minutes. And every morning he washed both heads with baby shampoo, while the other calves blundered dirty-muzzled around the yard.

Naturally we started searching our own bodies for freakishness. Mary’s right eye was a little bigger than her left. Jon had a divot in his chest, big enough for an egg. My left little finger was crooked. It might’ve been from a baseball accident back in first grade, but I preferred to think my whole body was slowly twisting out of whack.

We showed Dad what we’d discovered, but he wasn’t interested. He was too busy looking up other two-headed animals on the Internet, trying to find out if the calf’s wheezing was normal.

“A dime a dozen,” Mary said. “That’s what we are.”

The calf died on the first cold night in September. Dad made us all stand out in the yard with him while he buried it. He was crying. At the time we kicked the dirt and made faces at one another. But I’ve come to have a little gratitude toward that stupid calf. Without it, we never would’ve known what kind of love Dad had in him.


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