~the following is part of “Prompted Prose,” a series of posts from the prompts I’m working with during my Spring 2016 online writing course
Wanting to learn how to spin wool, I found a sheep farm in Vermont, and began an apprenticeship with Lois and Babs. Lois owned the farm, offering me a modest, cozy shepherd’s room. Babs was the farm manager, caring for about a hundred ewes, and a select five rams, kept for their docile nature. No aggressive males were allowed on this farm, owned and run, by lesbians.
Lois had been married over twenty years, but she recounted an unhealthy relationship, which now had her “done with men forever.” Babs was kind, and down-to earth, with sun-browned wrinkles by her eyes, that winked when she whispered “the best kept secret is life after 50.”
My first day on the farm involved learning the protocols of moving in and out of the barn, and feeding the sheep. After the work was done, I left to go on a hike, returning before sunset to feed again.
When I opened the barn door, one lone sheep lay on her side, heaving in the aisle of the stalls. I ran for assistance, then returned to the sheep, which was gasping for breath as I held its head in my lap. I felt the weight of a 300-pound animal, heavy in my hands, then suddenly releasing to stillness in my arms.
Lois was convinced it was my negligence that had allowed the sheep to escape its pen, overgrazing itself to death. I was certain I had secured everything appropriately, but her doubt in me had me questioning myself. As a natural consequence, to what she was sure was my careless oversight, she insisted I assist with an immediate autopsy.
We loaded the sheep’s body into a wheelbarrow, and made our way outside. It was dark by now, and I was to hold the flashlight while Lois cut into the soft pink of the sheep’s belly with a carving knife. Within was a warm, red pool, housing flesh and organs. Lois’s hand gripped a mass of tissue and pulled forth the lifeless, wet weight of a lamb. In the beam of my flashlight, she reached inside again, bringing forth a second limp body. The sheep had been pregnant with two babies, both of which had died inside, never delivered.
In the sadness of the loss, I was suddenly vindicated. It felt good to be absolved, but I couldn’t forget the feeling of bitter anger Lois had shown in her quick assumptions.
We both tried to shake it off, as she quipped, “Well, welcome to the farm!”