Keeping Sheep

October 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

I kept sheep for many years. I’m not sure why – they are both adorable and immensely irritating! They have a habit of needing attention when you’ve got your best clothes on and just about to go out; or you’re driving home late at night and wondering who the idiot is who let their sheep loose onto the main road – until you realise they’re yours!

This short story is based partly upon a series of events that happened, but I have woven the pieces into a kind of fiction!

Any criticisms or comments always helpful. Perhaps you have some experiences of your own to share…

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Every Friday after school Kate and her dad went to buy maggots. She felt ambivalent about them – fascinated and compelled to touch, yet the thought of them wriggling all over her skin gave her the willies. The man in the shop dyed them different colours, and it was Kate’s job to choose. She picked pink and purple and orange, and her dad always insisted they got the blood red ones that squirmed faster than the others and were best for catching pike. When he put them in their plastic tub they would rearrange themselves in a surging kaleidoscopic mass which Kate poked at with a stick. If he had any left on Thursday nights she would inspect the box. They’d always grown a boring, brown carapace and stopped wriggling. She knew they weren’t dead, because if she squeezed them they squirmed between her fingertips then went quiet; and in any case, the week they went on holiday he forgot about them, and when he opened the lid they’d all turned into flies. Kate never did take to fishing, particularly the bit where her dad speared the wrigglers onto his hooks.

      But some years later she did take to keeping sheep. Rare breeds with horns, a propensity for jumping fences and no fear of the Border Collie. There is a shepherds saying that sheep have only one ambition in life – and that is to die; but Kate knew of another – to jump fences. To thwart their ambitions she took to watching them closely. She would lean on the gate for hours laying bets with herself as to who might be sickening or working up to the next great escape.

      Sheep don’t like being by themselves unless they’re about to give birth or are preparing for the next life; so Kate saved herself a lot of trouble by prolonged loitering. Last autumn she had hired a huge and impressive ram – a charming and chivalrous gentleman who clearly lacked the gene of misogynous rapist commonly carried by the male of his species. This urbane gentleman had transformed the routine of the lambing season. Instead of the usual leisurely morning count of newborn twins and contented mothers, her life turned into an exhausting round-the-clock vigil, rescuing dozens of prostrate ewes as they lay comatose with a single oversized lamb stuck half in half out. The lamb often died, and sometimes, so did the ewe.

         Flora’s mum didn’t make it. She bled to death as her uterus fell out when Flora did. But the orphan, well fed on a bottle every three hours in front of the old Aga, grew like a good ‘un. She liked to sit on the sofa littering it with rabbit sized droppings whilst watching the BBC News. She was the archetypal fluffy sheep. Thinking of nothing but food, with no spare brainpower for thoughts of anarchy.

Six weeks of so after shearing, the heat and the rain came together, bringing fresh grass, loose bowels and dirty tails.

And flies.

It was a humid July morning and Kate was leaning on the gate watching Flora flicking her tail and scratching herself madly on the pendiculate oak. Normally she had the aura of a yogi – today she was behaving like a coke addict on cold turkey. It hadn’t rained since yesterday but Flora’s back was wet. Kate gently separated the soft fleece with her fingers, and the sickly, sweet stench of faeces and decay hit her nostrils. Flora flinched but stood still. Kate thought about throwing up. Hundreds of maggots wriggled for cover. Flora was being eaten alive.

As Kate inspected the damage, chunks of stinking, bloody fleece came away in her hands, and what remained of Flora’s skin was a seething mass of blood filled, fat, hungry maggots. The exposed flesh had turned a purplish-green, and some parts were almost black. It was like napalm damage. Flora retched convulsively, held her breath and began to cut away the loose fleece following the line of the backbone. Each cut revealed more maggots – some the size of pinheads and freshly laid; others fat and turgid, preparing to pupate. Kate tried to brush them off with the point of her scissors, but many wriggled to the dark safety of clean wool. She caught what she could and cut them in half. They wriggled on the ground for a few seconds oozing Flora’s blood, then lay still.

Snowy the bantam appeared cackling loudly, and the other hens came running with their wings splayed, pecking viciously, feasting on the dying maggots. Flora stood there quietly, blinking and twitching her ears only when Kate cut her by mistake, for she knew Kate was trying to help her. She cut up and down the backbone until she reached clean flesh – she had cut nearly half the rotting fleece off Flora’s back.

The hens scratched at the bloodied wool hunting for maggot remains, then, realizing the feast was over, began to wander off.

Kate rubbed a disinfectant salve on what remained of Flora’s skin and she shivered convulsively. She wiped her stinking, bloodied hands on her jeans and allowed herself to be sick. She was revolted by what the maggots had done, yet shocked that anger had provoked her to kill.

Kate leant on the gate, and lighting a cigarette began to cast her eye methodically over each ewe. There were others now – itching, rubbing and flicking their tails. Snowy appeared from nowhere, crash landed at her feet and pecked at Kate’s breakfast. She sighed, walked back to the house, and called the vet.

***

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