December 9, 2013 § 13 Comments


His mother was a wild creature and knew how to run. With the brown hair-like fleece of her feral descendants, she was living archaeology to the ancient sheep of the Asian mountains. Her son had slit yellow eyes, and slid into my world in the long grass when no one was looking. He was a good size and already at the teat when I found him. Feisty and proud with sharp, thick horns, I kept him as breeding stock.

That was eleven years ago. Every November he did his job. I put him in with the ewes, and five months later each one scraped a shallow bowl in the home field, lay down, and pushed out his lambs.

He stayed wild – he never let me know him. And he hated the sheep dog – teaching his brothers and sisters to scatter. Eleven is old for a sheep, and he knew. His age could be counted on the rings of his horns – his battle scars shiny and white on his forehead. He was a fighter – and had been fighting again with his younger brothers to keep his place in the flock when I found him. His body looked wrong, his neck crooked. Perhaps dislocated.

The man came with the captive bolt in a black case. I made myself watch. I thought the killing would be easy, but his skull was old and thick. The ram fell forward when the crack came. Then he got up. Teetered. Shook himself. The man fetched a bolt strong enough for a cow. A louder crack, and the blood came like a bung lost from a barrel.

I walked away to be sick.

Soon after, the lambs came. A brown ewe scraped and lay down to push her baby out. All day it wouldn’t come. I washed my hands and put my fingers inside. Legs. Two back ones and a tail. Sticky yellow shit and blood stains on my hands.

I waited for her to squeeze and carefully twisted the lamb out of her. Long and thin, it stretched out on the ground. With no breath.

I cleared the mucus from its mouth, its nose. Rubbed it gently. Spluttering. It shook itself to life.

The mother heard the life noise. A lick, a snicker. The only sound she ever made.

Any suggestions for improvements much appreciated…

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§ 13 Responses to Circle

  • Miranda Stone says:

    This is so beautiful in its straightforward simplicity, Rachael. The death of the old sheep is brutal, and I found myself cringing while reading that part of the story. But then there is renewal in the birth of the lambs. I actually don’t have any suggestions to make this better; I think it’s very strong as is, and I love the minimalist style in which you wrote it.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Miranda. This started off as a rather poor poem. It was very painful to rewrite the bit where the ram is killed, as it’s true. It made me feel quite sick. But I’m pleased you thought it was successful. Thank you.

  • I think that this short works really well, Rachael. The power of the scenes (particularly the killing) is palpable, and I really like the way that you have made the ram the focus of the story, rather than ‘yourself’. The closing line, too, completes the idea of cyclical life very well. I wouldn’t alter anything in this.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Chris. I’m not sure it’s balanced, but your comments will inspire me to work on it a little more.

  • This is excellent, and full of character and cross species connection which is made more powerful because the animal is wild. I love this kind of stuff, and this is very good

  • Really involving, I would like to see more! It was interesting that they seemed detached, making themselves watch the killing but there were under-tones of repulsion in the descriptions of the animals. It was very visceral and very interesting.
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

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You are currently reading Circle at Changing Skin: modern haiku and other stories.


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