Tuesday, May 5, 2009

“Among the Missing”

“Have you seen the white ewe lamb?” our heroine asks her sagacious and renowned (at least in her mind) father.

He strokes his beard and shakes his head.

“Not since yesterday. I turned the ewe and lambs out to graze so the others didn’t bother ‘em. Didn’t think the lambs were getting enough to eat.” Their mother is a smooth mouth ewe, old enough all her teeth have fallen out, and probably doesn’t make a lot of milk. They’ve had this conversation before. But they weren’t missing one of the twins before and momma doesn’t seem very concerned that her weaker lamb is missing. They both know as they go to search that the search probably will not end well if the mother has already given the lamb up for dead.

“There’s a reason,” our heroine says. “They smell something. They know.” Calves and lambs both, when the mother, formerly interested and attentive, gives up on them, don’t have much hope.

The white lamb crawled behind the wood pile in the barn to die. Our heroine and her father find it after they check and recheck the horse stalls, under trailer and camper, and all the corners in the barn. It’s a sad moment. But there’s nothing to be done. Even the mother knows it was for the best. Or at least that her stronger lamb will be better off and she’ll have an easier time raising one lamb instead of two. The lambing season has not been kind to white lambs this year for our heroine, as evidenced in the black cross-bred lambs frolicking in the field.

The cattle moo and complain at our heroine and her father as they walk out of the barn, somber and ready for lunch.

“Hay won’t last until grass comes on,” they agree. “Think they’ll plan a jailbreak like last year?” Last year, the farmer and our heroine came out to find all the cattle moved across the road, gates wide open, mouths chomping as full bellies ruminated. But horses and bulls are in that pasture this year. The swap will be different and a jailbreak…well, a real pain in the ass. A hemorrhoid. A kidney stone. It will really suck. So they cross their fingers and hope the cows are less clever than they look.

Essential chews her cud thoughtfully as she watches them walk away.

To be continued…

Next time: Jail break!