A mother gently hums the melody to “Three Blind Mice.” Her infant son his at her breast. She is nursing. The baby boy suckles as she rocks him back and forth. The mother adds her own lyrics to the song:
“Drink your milk. Drink your milk. It tastes good, oh so good. Drink you’re milk and you’ll grow up to be, as big and strong and tall as a tree, and so you better listen to me and drink your milk.” The infant continues to suckle as his eyes slowly close. He falls into a peaceful slumber. The mother smiles warmly as she continues to rock him, her voice humming softly.
The woman and her baby slowly drift out of view.
(END OF SCENE)
It is a hot summer day. 7 years have passed. The mother’s son is outside with his two friends. They are playing a game of catch in the backyard. The playful game soon turns into a game of keep-away as the other two boys begin to throw the ball over his head, teasing him as he jumps in vain, trying to catch it.
Sylvan: “Throw me the ball!”
Molo: “We are, you’re just not jumping high enough.”
Kan: “Guess we’ll have to find someone taller to play with us.”
Sylvan: “Come on you guys!”
Kan: “What do you think, Molo? Should we give it to him?”
Molo, smiling mischievously: “Yeah, I think we should.”
They continue to throw the ball over Sylvan’s head. Suddenly Molo winds up, pitching the ball clear over the neighbor’s fence. He smiles at Sylvan’s shocked face.
Kan: “What’s the matter, Sylvie? Too far for you?”
Molo: “Run and get it.”
Molo: “Spoil sport.”
Kan: “I thought you wanted it? Don’t you want to play?”
Sylvan: “Not anymore.”
Molo, turning to Kan: “He’s scared.”
Sylvan: “Am not!”
Kan: “Then prove it. Climb over the fence and get it”
Molo: “I knew he was too little to play with us.”
Sylvan throws down his glove and walks straight up to the fence. He begins to scale it as his friends taunt him.
Kan: “Don’t fall!”
Molo: “You climb like my sister!”
Kan: “Do you need mommy to help you?”
Sylvan, nearing the top of the fence: “Shut up!”
Suddenly he slips. He falls towards the ground, landing with a crunch. His arm his broken. Molo and Kan gasp. Their faces turn white with shock and fear.
Molo: “Oh shit!”
Kan: “Are you okay?”
They both rush over to him. Sylvan is rolling on the ground in pain. Tears well up in his eyes.
Molo: “Jesus Silvie! didn’t think you had the balls to do it…this is all your fault Kan!”
Kan: “What!? You’re the one that made him do it!”
The mother, sensing something is wrong, rushes outside to see her son lying on the ground in agony. She sees his wrist is broken. She looks at the two boys angrily.
Mrs. Bainne: “Did you two do this!?”
Molo: “No, Mrs. Bainne, we would never…”
Kan: “He did it himself.”
She studies their faces to see if they are lying.
Mrs. Bainne: “Go home! Both of you!”
Kan: “We were just…”
Mrs. Bainne: “Now!”
The boys run off, leaving the mother and her injured son. The mother gathers the child in her arms and quickly carries him to the house. Taking an ice pack from the freezer, she carefully wraps it around the boy’s arm.
Mrs. Bainne: That should help with the swelling, but we still need to take you to the doctor.
Sylvan: “Why? Can’t you fix it?”
Mrs. Bainne: “No sweetie, I can’t. What were you doing climbing that fence?”
Sylvan: “They dared me to.”
The mother closes her eyes and sighs, shaking her head back and forth in anger.
Mrs Bainne: “Those boys…I don’t want you playing with them anymore. Do you hear me?”
Sylvan begins to cry. His mother takes hold of him.
Mrs. Bainne: “Don’t cry dear. You’re alright now. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Sylvan: I just wish I was taller…if only I was taller, they wouldn’t tease me.
Mrs. Bainne: “Oh sweetie! You’re perfect just the way you are.”
Sylvan stops crying. The pain subsides. He sniffles a little.
Mrs. Bainne: “Yes dear?”
Sylvan: “Can I have a glass of milk?”
Mrs. Bainne: “Of course you can, sweetie. But just one. After that we need to go to the doctor.”
Sylvan: “Okay mom.”
His mother makes her way to the fridge and grabs the carton of milk. She pours him a glass and hands it to him. He starts drinking. The mother moves in closer, taking her child into her arms, hugging him tightly. She sings a familiar song:
“Drink your milk. Drink your milk. It tastes good, oh so good. Drink you’re milk and you’ll grow up to be, as big and strong and tall as a tree, and so you better listen to me and drink your milk.”
(END OF SCENE)
Sylvan is in 4th grade now. His class is taking a field trip to a local dairy farm. Sylvan is very excited. The rowdy bus packed full of children bumps and rolls along the country road, passing several corn fields and silos along the way. Sylvan talks to the boy sitting next to him.
Sylvan: “Do you think we’re close?”
Garvey: “We have to be.”
Sylvan: “Have you ever seen a cow in person?”
Garvey: “Oh yeah. My dad keeps a few of them.”
Garvey: “Yeah, I guess. They’re kinda stupid.”
Sylvan: “What do you mean?”
Garvey: “They just eat grass all day and poop on each other.”
Sylvan: “Gross. I still wanna see one, though.”
Garvey: “I don’t know why they didn’t take us to the zoo. Zoos are better.”
Sylvan: “Yeah…oh well. At least we’re not in class.”
Garvey: “True. It could be worse.”
The bus begins to slow. The chatter dies down as the bus skids to a halt on the loose gravel. The children press their faces against the windows, looking out at the farmhouse in the distance.
Bus driver, enthusiastically: “Here we are!”
They exit the bus and walk down a path leading to a closed metal gate. They remind Sylvan of the bars of a prison. There is an arch over the gate written in bright, happy green letters that look like trees: “Shady Oaks Farms.” The gate swings open and the children walk through in single-file, following their teacher.
Teacher, gleefully: “I think you guys are really going to enjoy this!”
Sylvan smiles in anticipation as they approach the farmer. He is standing outside a large, oddly-shaped red barn with windows on it. The teacher joins them. The children gather around the farmer in a semi-circle. The farmer begins to speak.
Mr. Garvin: “Welcome to Shady Oaks Farms! My name’s Mr. Garvin and I’m a dairy farmer!”
All children at once: “Hi Mr. Garvin!”
Garvin, laughing : “Glad you all could make it. I know it won’t be as exciting as your classroom, but I bet you’ll come away learning something new. Heck, you might even have fun while you’re here!”
All children: anxious chuckling.
Sylvan: “When will we get to see the cows?”
All children: An excited chattering.
Garvin: “Hold your horses and I’ll see to it that you will. In fact, we’ve got a special treat for you. There’s a momma here who’s expecting a little one any minute now. Why don’t you guys follow me to the birthing barn?”
The children follow him into the oddly-shaped barn. On a pile of dirt and straw lies a large female cow. She appears to be sleeping. One of the children suddenly shouts, pointing at her rear-end.
Excited student: “Look! Something’s coming out of it!”
All children: A loud gasp.
Garvin: “Yup, she’s starting to crown now. First the feet come, then the legs, followed by the head. It’s the miracle of life.”
All children: looking on with rapt attention.
Teacher: looking queasy
The baby is born.
All children cry loudly all at once: “Eeeeewww!”
Teacher, looking rather green: “Calm down, guys…It’s only natural, you know.”
Teacher, quickly turning to the farmer: “So what’s next?”
Garvin: “Next? Haha! I thought you’d never ask! C’mon over here and we’ll show you where we milk them.”
The farmer walks them into a separate building. Rows of cows stand alongside each other on an elevated platform. They are hooked up to strange machines with hoses attached to their udders.
Garvin: “Here’s where the action happens. It’s all automatic as you can see.”
Sylvan: “So do the cows make milk automatically?”
Garvin: “Good question! No, they have to be pregnant first before they can produce milk.”
Sylvan: “Oh…so the male cows…they have to, you know…”
Garvin: “Well, we’ve actually simplified the process. Instead of relying on bulls to impregnate the heifers, we take the semen from the bulls and inseminate them by hand.
Sylvan, visibly alarmed: “Don’t they mind? I wouldn’t want someone sticking something strange up into me.”
Garvin: “Hah! I suppose you wouldn’t. But cows are different than people. They don’t mind one bit.”
Sylvan looking skeptical: “So you just keep getting them pregnant forever?”
Garvin: “No, just until they can no longer have babies. Then we sell them for slaughter.”
Sylvan, visibly uncomfortable: “Okay…so, where are the calves?”
Garvin: “Good question! We separate them from their mothers a few days after they’re born.”
Sylvan with a heavy heart: “Then…how do they get their milk?”
Garvin: “Well, they nurse for the few days before we separate them. The rest of the milk goes for sale.”
Sylvan, now feeling guilty: “Oh…but don’t the mother cows get worried when their calves are away?”
Garvin: “They cry at first, but then they get used to it.”
Garvin, turning to the others: “Anyone else have any questions?”
All children: a sudden barrage of questions.
The noise is soon muffled as the rest of the children drift out of focus. The spotlight remains on Sylvan.
The farmer’s matter-of-fact statements had left Sylvan feeling rather stunned. He thought back to the mother cow that gave birth just a few moments ago. He thought of her calf who would soon be taken from her and her milk. He then thought about his own mother, always having to be pregnant, hooked up to a strange, alien machine. He imagined what it would like to be separated from her, and he couldn’t bear the thought. Suddenly Sylvan wasn’t enjoying the dairy farm anymore. He wanted to go home to his mother. He wanted to give her a hug and let her know that he missed her.
After what seemed like several painful hours touring the rest of the farm, the children walked down the road toward the gate. When they reached the gate, the farmer said goodbye and thanked them again for coming. The teacher said something about what they’d all learned that day, but nobody was paying much attention.
As the large mental door opened to release them, Sylvan couldn’t help but think how it wasn’t fair that the cows were stuck inside while they were allowed to go free. But as he turned around to look back through the gate, it had already closed, it’s prison-like bars forever obscuring his view. He stood there feeling helpless, watching the farmer walk down the muddy path toward the oddly-shaped barn. To his surprise and horror, the farmer began to sing a familiar song:
“Drink your milk. Drink your milk. It tastes good, oh so good…”