I am forcing myself to write more often; because I am a kind woman, I am not forcing you to read. But with looming prospects of a proper job and with nothing else to do but worry about all the proper jobs I might actually get, I am squeezing out whatever is at hand, today it’s a short story. Or as much of a short story as I can be bothered to write while feeling like I’ve accomplished something, and knowing it is better than yesterday’s. Tomorrow, tomorrow it will be nothing I’d have thought …
On a small farm in Devon an even smaller herd of sheep lived, and routinely died.
In 209 million bc Devon had “actually been a part of Gondwana” and situated “somewhere around the equator,” so Michael Goragg’s girlfriend at college had told him. She had also told him 9/11 was an “inside job” and that “we all grow gills in the womb so fish-humans living at the bottom of Atlantis was really more likely that not”.
This year of Our Lord, 2013 (Our Lord had been cracking through the years recently) Devon was firmly in place between Cornwall and Dorset, and Michael Goragg had 23 sheep, all of which had lineage on the farm dating back to 1586.
The Goraggs had always prided themselves on the lineage of their sheep and at not having to join the others at the rowdy sheep auctions in town. This pride and respect for the Goraggs was limited to the family, as the rest of the farmers didn’t take the Goraggs seriously, and hadn’t since Giles Goragg – Michael’s father – sold the last of the heifers back in 1983. Since then, the family had lived off the land more than the few remaining animals; they converted the barns and let them out for more than they needed to comfortably survive; slaughtering lambs every autumn to ensure a new car every other year. In 2009 Michael Goragg, still under vague supervision from his father Giles Goragg (who lived like a fat Miss Havisham in the extension off the old manor house), had had a wind turbine installed on his land, and now received an extra £10,000 a year to watch the thing, like a giant rosary cross spin, spin and spin – or, as was often the case, stand petrified in the shallow breeze that slid through the hills.
Still, the energy that it refused to convert was of little concern to Michael, as long as it stayed standing, kept paying; the white façade was more than welcome. They were to build a nuclear power plant about 70 miles east, but Michael had bigger things on his mind. Last week he had paid two young teenage boys from the village of Down Martin – about 2 ¾ miles from the farm – to sheer his sheep for him. Feigning too many responsibilities to do it himself (Michael had shorn sheep as a child and knew that at least 3 sheep per herd would have maggots, which involved a rather gruesome ceremony of scooping and washing and retching) he had told Giles Goragg it was part of a local apprenticeship scheme. Giles didn’t believe him but now drank Fosters out of the can and ate Battenberg for breakfast. He had lost the will to keep his mind in check when Mandy Goragg died and had no intention of finding it again, in case he found all the pain.
So, the two young ‘farmhands’ as Michael bequeathed them, much to their amusement, had set about sheering his sheep. Under his instruction for the first 7, but for the other 16 Michael was in the house under the white strobe lights “making tea”. When they’d finished the two ‘farmhands’ came to Michael’s door saying they were done, the sheep were in the top field and could they have their money. Michael laughed loudly which alarmed them a little, and coaxed them out the door where the notes could exchange hands without Giles Goragg finding out. Deep down Michael knew he was fooling no one, had he accepted this reality life would’ve been easier for him, but he didn’t like who he was in reality, so he kept pretending, only half-fooling himself and weirding out everyone else in the process.
For the next few days Michael carried on as normal, he fed the sheep, then did as little as he could for the rest of the day while pretending to be busy. This would involve being irritable around a computer, which Giles Goragg didn’t quite have the knack of yet, so had no idea the myriad things Michael could be doing while shouting that he was “emailing the council regarding the wind turbine”, always. He was always emailing the council regarding the wind turbine.
This time what Michael had actually been doing on the computer was booking himself on the London Marathon. He had seen pictures of men he’d gone to school with finishing the marathon earlier in the year; they had always had something Michael hadn’t, but Michael could have that – the London Marathon, and then maybe no one would notice Michael didn’t shine like the others.
These images combined with isolation and a feeling of complete insignificance – exacerbated by exploring the expansive universe of the internet from his kitchen table – took Michael down a wormhole self-pity and reproach, at the end of which was a mirage of glory and fulfilment. A vision. He would be fulfilled. He would be released from the fear that pulled away at him in the breaths between the chattering of Jeremy Vine and Simon Mayo. He would start training next week. Tomorrow he would buy new trainers and a lot of whey protein. He would get a personal trainer.
“Oh!” Michael jumped up and clapped his hand over his mouth. There was someone on the radio talking about having run the London Marathon; how strange. Almost like it was meant to be or something. Michael could be as good as someone on the radio now – another accolade to distinguish himself with down the pub. His friends wish he’d just give up and rest in who he was – lazy, self-involved, massively insecure but nice enough, nicer still if he could accept who he was and stop trying to be something more. None of them told him this though of course, so, they were blissfully unaware that while they carried on with their lives until their next pint with Michael Goragg, he would be spending his time conjuring stories of coincidence and significance and why it was so special for him to do the marathon. Aunty June had died of something once, he was sure. He’d find out what that was and say he was running for that. Then it couldn’t be about him, or no one could say it was, to his face anyway and that was all he was interested in. His back was puckered with other people’s words.
On this morning though, when he went to feed the sheep, as he tipped the feed in the trough, dodging the stinging nettles and thistles that jostled for his attention; he noticed one of his sheep hadn’t been sheered. As it trotted closer Michael realised that actually, no, he had been sheered, but only his face. The sheep’s visage was completely bald, grade 0, beyond army cut. Michael was so shocked he laughed, then he noticed there were no nicks on the sheep’s face, and slightly resented the boy’s dexterity. As the sheep timidly drew up to the trough, without the hair covering him up, Michael was sure he could see shame, or embarrassment – it was hard to tell which one, it being a sheep.
Inside the farmhouse he called “the boys”, stripped of their respective title of ‘farmhand’, but neither answered. Michael left what he felt were a couple of stern voicemails and expected a swift response. He imagined he struck quite an intimidating figure to two jobless young teenagers, and in fact everyone he deemed to be lower down the money rung than him. He was wrong.
Michael hadn’t realised until too late in life that one does have something to prove, at least to other people. So now all his last-ditch attempts, though triumphs to him, were just trinkets for his conversations with others, that they would forget and then pretend to remember a few years later when they were drunk. Michael couldn’t quite see who he was.
The next day as he fed the sheep he watched the one with the shaved face, his bare features a mark of disrespect, against him. Him! Michael Sinjon Goragg!
He quickly forgot the cross the sheep had to bare and instead martyred himself – why had they not replied to him? Why were they even daring to disrespect him? Had they no respect? Or just none for him? Which was it for fucks sake?
He could hire a hit man. Check out the deep web …
No, not yet.
Over the next few days Michael drove around Down Martin looking for the boys, not knowing what he would do if he found them but imagining various violent incidents in which he would be the victor. Meanwhile Giles Goragg had been surveying his livestock when he noticed one of his sheep had been left unshorn. He took it upon himself to sheer it and so stored another ounce of resentment for his son in his Adam’s apple, to help him swallow the Fosters that he would drink to forget him. Michael was a wet blanket, the soggy end of the line.
Oblivious, Michael sat in a lay-by and watched the grey submerge the sky. As he watched a flock of crows scatter from one of the wintering trees, he thought of the bird lore someone had taught him long before and wondered what it meant; according to his phone they were flying from the …. East … North. Yeah, the North.
Maybe something horrible, maybe the sheep’s face was just the beginning? All the things he had done. Where would it end? Human sacrifice?
At the end.
As wing mirrors broke, new phones came out and offers for the land came in, Michael forgot about the sheep and his vendetta, the mortal threat he might be in, the curse he might be under. Life moved on. The bridge in his fathers mind eventually collapsed and blended drink and dementia together. Michael put him in a home that he had no plans to visit – “it’s not like he would remember it anyway”.
He had all the sheep slaughtered, ending their line in 2014, the products of 468 years of inbreeding gone in a lorry one October morning. Then he put a games room where his father had lived.
At night Michael would watch the wind turbine and convince himself he was a pioneer of progress. Plans to divvy up all the land would let him live comfortably for the rest of his life and Michael didn’t think past that. He wondered if he had things like arthritis or diabetes, but smothered greater fears, and with them the face of his bald sheep and how it had made him feel.