Inside the barn, the light is honey-yellow from the heat lamp over a box of straw—a bed for two orphaned lambs, brothers. Adam had placed bags of oats against the sides of the box to provide more warmth. He feeds a lamb with milk replacer—the lamb’s jaw and the bottle are small in his hand.
I take the other lamb, wrapped in a fraying, orange towel, and he smells sweet, newborn. He is trembling. He stops. It takes me a minute to peer down at his face and his eyelids flutter—he is not dead. I shout inside my head—he is not dead!
That lamb flounders. I move him inside the house and keep him alive with electrolytes and antibiotics. He sleeps in a cardboard box beside the fuel stove. We try everything. We even put the lamb together with a ewe in an enclosed section of the barn, hoping the ewe will take the lamb as her child. It is called re-mothering.
It takes me a minute to peer down at his face and his eyelids flutter—he is not dead
I ask our neighbour what we should do. She laughs and says, “A sick lamb is a dead lamb”.
Adam takes the shotgun from beside the fridge, but returns an hour later, smelling of whiskey, saying, “I couldn’t fucking do it. How does anyone?”
In bed, Adam’s hands close over my throat and there is pressure, hot and tight. I am speeding, on the brink of stars. He drops his hands from me, pushes my hair behind my ear and kisses my mouth.
I don’t say—why did you stop?
You do not have to be good.
That is how the poem begins.
I bury the lamb. First, I wrapped him in the orange towel. It seemed too cold in the ground to not have something around his body.
Adam dug the hole and left me to it. I was afraid our neighbour would find me.
“You don’t bury an animal,” she’d say.
I didn’t want to know what I was supposed to do with it.
Adam turned my arm so that the pale inner faced him and he traced my bright blue veins up and down, slow, goosebumps rising and spreading all over me. I thought, I am so lucky to have you. I didn’t say it. His smile—I feel it still.
This happened—I returned the lamb to his box of straw, his bed. He huddled close, rib to rib, against his brother. I tucked the towel around them.
He huddled close, rib to rib,
against his brother
We stood in the doorway of the barn and the dawn was dark grey. The snow fell, drifting. It was spring, but still the snow came. Adam drew his hoodie tight. I loosened it around his jaw, under his chin. I held his face and his beard was soft. Soft one way like velvet, and the other way it scraped.
We stepped outside and it was quiet, so quiet. I heard the lambs. I still do. They bleat and bleat and bleat.
Photo by Conner Baker
2018 Flash Fiction Contest
Melissa Goode is the 3rd Place Winner of our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! ‘Lamb’ was chosen by guest judge Lara Williams. Read our interview with Melissa here, where she talks inspiration and a love of flash.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, WhiskeyPaper, Split Lip Magazine, Forge Literary Magazine, and matchbook, among others. Her story ‘It falls’ (Jellyfish Review) was recently chosen by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018 (Braddock Avenue Books). She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at @melgoodewriter.