It was a scorching summer night, which meant we had two choices: keep the window closed and fry in our own sweat, or open it and allow the stench of death and decay to wrap itself around us as we tried once again to make a baby.
When we moved into our dream home at the end of a lane deep in the countryside, we never considered that someone might build on the empty plot of land next to us, let alone that they might erect a slaughterhouse. We thought about selling up again and moving on, but an abattoir next door murders the value of a house just as much as it does herds of cattle. We were stuck.
Our days were accompanied by a soundtrack of panicked mooing, hollering of workers and threatening clanks of menacing machinery. At night, there was a thick, dark silence somehow worse than the noise, and, twenty-four seven, a putrid odour that infested every nook and cranny, a stench so foul it seemed almost sentient.
Amid all this, we attempted to start a family. We had, in fact, been trying to do this since long before the slaughterhouse was built, to no avail. We’d stare at pregnancy tests then shrink inside ourselves at each negative result, thrill to each phantom flutter in Janine’s stomach, then crumple each time her period arrived, regular as clockwork.
But that night, at the height of midsummer and with the smell at its most intense, something was different. The stench felt more alive than ever. It danced around us, squeezed between our bodies, became entangled in our hair, seeped into our pores and slid with delight into our lungs as we gasped in climax, an uninvited, but, somehow, not unwelcome partner in our lovemaking. Afterwards, I held my ear to Janine’s stomach, and I knew, she knew, that this time we’d succeeded. A few days later, she took another test. It was positive. We both screamed, momentarily drowning out the incessant sound of slaughter from next door. Then, almost unconsciously, I took a deep breath, drawing the stink deep inside me once again as a thank you.
When the time came, we had a home birth, in a pool. It’s what Janine had always wanted. I’d tentatively suggested that the crashing machinery and squealing of cows may not be the most soothing of births for our new little one, but I was told that as the baby would have to live here, it may as well get used to the noise from the start.
The moment came. On the final push Janine screamed loudly, coinciding with a particularly violent cacophony from next door. Amid death, life emerged. The midwife darted down, scooped up the infant from the water, and whimpered, ‘Oh!’
I stared at the newborn calf in her quivering arms. Its big brown eyes gazed back at me. It opened its mouth, revealing an impossibly long tongue. ‘Moo,’ it squealed. The midwife thrust it at Janine and fled. The door slammed loudly behind her, leaving Janine and I alone. The baby cow wriggled its hooves at me and squealed again.
The stench draped itself around us, a proud father embracing his family.