He tilts his head up towards the sun, looking through the trees as light filters through their branches. The sheep looks around the pasture, luscious and glowing golden. He is swaying in the quiet breeze that brushes past him in a gentle embrace.
He remembers many years ago, when the hurricane came through and destroyed this place. One of his back legs broke when a tree slammed against his side. It is still supported by a stick to prevent him from wobbling around, though if that is the worst thing he faced, he is lucky; many of the other sheep from the herd did not survive.
When the hurricane finished, the farmer cut the coats loose from many of the dead sheep and wrapped the bloodied fur around the smallest in the herd, to help keep them warm.
The sleep blinks, looking over the rolling meadow. He is the last one left with red-dyed fur, from where the blood soaked into his skin and saturated his coat with the stink of death.
Maybe when the summer comes and spring has worn itself thin, the farmer will finally cut the top, dyed layer of his coat loose.
He looks up towards the farmhouse at the top of the hill. It’s quieter now since the young boy moved out, but, still, the farmer and his wife remain, overlooking the endless acres of land, making them a safe home for the sheep of their meadow, though they are all bred for food and for wool.
Tomorrow, the farmer could see the sheep’s age, his build, his meat and decide, “That sheep would make a good meal.”
But, for now, if only now, he looks through the trees, breathing with the beautiful slumber of the meadow, watching as an older woman lumbers towards the pasture, her limbs moving slower with her age.
The sheep approaches at the sight of the farmer’s wife. Faintly, he remembers the time when she fed him an apple, when she groomed him even though her husband was scared of looking at him and his diseased fur, which reminded almost everyone that a sacrifice, however unintentional, can perpetuate the world.
The woman’s face contorts happily at the sheep’s approach. She recognizes him and bends down to brush the fur behind his ears.
Though he will not understand it, she speaks to him, saying, “You’re special, do you know that?”
The sheep melts under the scratches she gives him. The farmer’s wife smiles, joy rushing through her as she feels the sheep’s pelt underhand.
She continues, “I have wondered many times about what happened to you. Why you were so young when you were stained with this blood.” She brushes her hand along the sheep’s back. He shivers under the gentle fingers moving down his spine. “I like to think it is because we are only here now. Tomorrow isn’t known before it happens to us. So, for now, we just are. Bloody or not, we are here, doing what we can.”
She looks down at the sheep, who has fallen to the ground. He sits in the warmth of the sun. The farmer’s wife joins him, laughing as she looks into his face. “Ah, but why am I telling this to you? You are a sheep. You don’t have the words to understand; though I imagine you already know this. You have lived it.”
The sheep looks up at her. He watches as her hand presses itself against his head, scratching all of the spots where aches have started to form, as if she knows that no other sheep will care for him the way they care for each other. Normally, he is an outcast; the herd sees his bloodied pelt and wonders, who has died for him to get here? And then they run, not wanting to be another sacrifice.
But that does not matter. For, now, the old woman and the sheep sit together, pressing against each other, taking part in the beautiful allure of the pasture. Under the warmth of the spring sun, the farmer’s wife cleans the sheep’s fur, pulling out all of the annoying burrs and removing the ancient, matted clumps of blood that have lingered on his coat for too long.
Now, they breathe with the breeze of the world, which brushes over grasses, swaying as the sun moves across the sky and as the moon pushes and pulls at the waves of the nearby pond, creating chaos in the otherwise perpetual stillness. Though it will not be their world forever, for now, they act like everything on this earth belongs to them.
When tomorrow morning comes and the farmer decides that the sheep will make a good meal, it will be okay. For, soon, the leftovers of his carcass will feed the worms. Flowers will grow through his bones. And the old woman will remember, even if only for another day longer, that he existed, and his fur was soft despite it all.
Poetry and photography by Hazel J. Hall.