The light in the stables was a little more dim than usual. She stood hesitantly on the stoop and let her toes dance in the oversized moss-green rubber boots. Her gaze passed over the lamps suspended irregularly from the ceiling like retro fire engine rescue lights from the 70's. One more burned-out bulb behind its fly-poop covered glass housing was getting on her nerves. She thought about going back to the house and breaking open the package that sat on a wooden shelf in the cave-like storage pantry in the cellar. 100 spanking new light bulbs were waiting there for duty – since last Christmas. The parents always did love practical gifts best, and Father had developed a hate with a vengeance for those new EU-sanctified energy reducing bulbs. He had given her an awkward, yet ardent hug as the light bulbs became visible from beneath the gift paper. This kind of gift made him far more happy than any kind of expensive knick-knack.
She ignored the impulse. There were more important things to do and the light would be enough for now. She felt like a wreck, whipped by life that could be so merciless and moreover crushed by the day which had been exhausting and tedious. The drive into the city had officially brought nothing new to light. Her father's will, read by the bald notary as though it were the instruction manual for a washing machine, said what they all already knew: he wanted that the life which he had known should continue; he wanted that both of her brothers should be satisfied with the humble balance in the account at the bank; he wanted that she continue to run the farm. He had told her that often enough; even as a young girl they both had felt that the farm was dear to her. Without a complaint, he had let her go – far, far away in his eyes – off to university, because he was in his own way an open person, and because he knew for sure that she would come back on her own.
Whenever he felt himself confirmed, Father had always nodded a short, abridged nick of sorts, two or three times in a row. It was a habit that he could allow often in the past few months, since she was continually more at home than in the city. Certainly, he needed someone to care for him since Mother's death in the the beginning of the year, but she was also home so often because her shaky career as a freelance journalist for various PR magazines did not fulfil her deep down. When she herded the cows into the barn in the evenings, she knew that she could easily do without that world of lies out there. Not only in this aspect was she exactly like her father.
Bruno and Paul were different. They also helped out when needed, not entirely willingly, but still not devoid of a sense of duty. However, for them the farm was more of a dead weight shackled to their legs. Today they had once again spent half the afternoon trying to talk her up: she should be reasonable and sell off the livestock and machines that were not yet completely rusty, tear down the barn and rent the house if someone were ready to pay money to live in such a dark hole of a valley.
“If only that € 65,000 were still around from earlier, then maybe something could be saved. What did the old man do with all that money?” asked Bruno, the engineer and stirred his Latte Macchiato cautiously. The story was that, a long while back, Father had received € 65,000 from the county for a certain piece of woodlands in which a natural source sprung, the county being in urgent need of more water reserves.
“If I had € 65,000 I would do something completely different than stick it into this run-down farm,” said Paul, the vocational school teacher. And she, without even realizing it, nodded twice in quick, short succession, just like her father had always done, but not in this case to agree with Paul.
She grabbed the pitchfork and breathed in the barn air deeply. She loved this mixture of warm cow together with the pungent odour of manure and muck that they produced. As she walked down the corridor that separated the individual compartments, she began – whether because of or in spite of her exhaustion – to daydream: if she were right, she could install a modern box stall for the cows here. And a new milk machine. And renovate the house.
Just as she reached Vroni's box, the pain came back. Here he lay, Father; here is where she had found him one week ago. For the death of Mother, who had been sick for a while, they had at least been a little prepared. But with Father, who had worked the farm up until the end in his knotty and seemingly invincible way, it had been a total shock. The heart attack ripped him out of life within a few minutes. Utterly pale, he lay in her arms and couldn't say another word. With his last breath of strength, he pointed his bent hand towards Vroni's box. She thought that he had simply wanted to tell her that he had been cleaning her box out; she tried to calm him down with words and catch his eye contact again. She opened the metal latch and turned the weathered door open all the way. “Hop, make room,” she said as awake as she could and shooed Vroni and her 700 kilos out of the stall. As the cow paused half-way out confused and mixed up, she grabbed the pitchfork energetically and started looking.
Ten minutes later she had broken through the hiding place in the floor and was kneeling over the money. She didn't need to count it to know that it was exactly € 65,000. With one hand she rolled in the bills, with the other in the manure that she had excavated, lifting it into the air. Her eyes wandered here and there from left to right and back again. “A little money and so much manure,” she heard Father, as dry as always, say in her head and as she looked straight ahead, a smile swept over her face.