When she's changed into her uniform and boots, Momma makes me sit down on the floor, pulls steel-toed boots onto me, too, then leads me out to a rectangular cement yard.
It's open on two sides, with a long, chute-like tunnel and a steep opening, like a service elevator, on the side farthest from me now.
The cement floor's slick and shiny, stained black and red in parts.
"The animals come up through those," Momma says, looking at the chute, and flips her red hair out of her eyes.
I know what she means...but I still can't picture it.
"But you don't kill any animals," I say, trying to formulate a question though I'm terrified of the answer...the truth is that I've never let her tell me what she does.
"No, baby," she says, and eyes a bucket that's been placed with nine or ten others against a wall. "I don't kill the animals. I just clean up...the leavings."
"Then...what's this room for?"
"It's an offal room."
There's a little bench on one end of the room; I decide to go sit.
Momma seems to be waiting, though I don't know for what.
"We'll get going here any second," she says, as if apologizing. "Sometimes it takes a while."
I'm thinking very deeply about all this, about what Momma does; she stands there, watching the chute.
"So," I say finally, "what kinds of animals are killed here?"
"Cattle," Momma replies.
"Only cows? No chickens, pigs?"
"Only cows," Momma replies, more firmly now, and I guess she must know.
The next question's harder. "How...are they killed?" I ask, and rub my left ear.
She stares at me thoughtfully; then, she glances back toward the chute, as if she were monitoring it; I can't see a thing that's happening inside, though maybe she can, because she's closer. "Baby," she says, finally. "Why would you want to know a thing like that?"
"I want to," I insist. "The truth's always better. I mean - you tell Lissie and me never to lie."
Momma sighs, crosses her arms over her chest. "There's a bolt stunner," she says. "A thing called a bolt stunner. Kind of like a gun. It shoots a metal rod into the cow's brain, then the rod pulls back into the gun, and the cow is dead."
"Always?" I ask, looking down at my fingers.
Reprinted with permission from Marie, Marie, Hold On Tight by Terri Brown-Davidson. For more information and to purchase, visit LitPotPress.com.