In early March, when the snow melted, the dank maple leaves formed a mat over the yard, sealing the hibernating grass from the first breath of spring. The brother who stood on the front porch looked at the unraked mess and flicked his cigarette and sucked on his coffee. The sister came out of the farmhouse with the keys and extended them toward the brother on a flat palm.
The brother did not look at them, or her, but eventually past the leaves at the swaybacked barn and the cows in the lot, wading off the cement pad through their own shit into mud and gravel to nibble at sparse shoots of grass.
The sister withdrew the keys and stood beside him to watch the cows. Their haunches were caked with shit. The sister said: “Someone needs to clean that barn.”
The brother said: “It'll be hell to do it now. You'll just get the spreader stuck.”
The sister folded her arms. In the yard a robin hopped and pecked at the mat of leaves and came up without a worm. The siblings watched it with two pairs of keen brown eyes as it hopped and pecked and then fluttered into the bare maple to chirr, as though calling to the buried worms.
“This place needs you,” she said, rounding on him, “and legally...”
“Oh, legal.” The brother swatted his cigarette at the air. “What do I care for legal? Did Dad ever care for legal?”
“That will is legal. He took care of that.”
“Yeah, to saddle me with this dump. He took care to do that. Of course! So I can continue his legacy of neglect?”
“You could do better.”
“Shit. I'm no farmer.”
The sister shifted the keys to her far hand and reached for his shoulder. The brother shrugged away. In the lot a cow lifted her tail to piss, the white of her water bag just crowning.
“You're his son.”
The brother who saw the cow strode to the porch steps and pointed. “You'll have a calf by morning.”
“Oh, it's Beauty! I knew she would be first.” The sister beamed like a sun. “Oh, stay, won't you? We need to pen her up.”
“I have a lecture to prepare.”
“Do it here. Your desk is still upstairs.”
“Covered in rat turds, no doubt.” But the brother watched Beauty grazing. Another cow butted and shoved her away from the tuft of grass she had found. The sister saw his eyes narrow. She put a hand to her mouth and with the other clutched the keys against her stomach.
“Is the pen clean?” he asked.
“No. But it'll just take a minute to shovel. I'll get my boots.” The sister whirled and her hand had grasped the doorknob before the brother spoke.
“No. No, I've got to go. Just leave her in the pasture. It'll be better out there. I'm sure she'll be fine.”
At the door, the sister watched him snuff his cigarette and toss it in the bushes. He put one foot on the porch steps and looked at her. She dangled the house keys.
“These will be here for you,” she says.
“You can't make me take them,” he says.