Part of the Family
Premise: A family tersely raises a sheep that may or may not talk, which they then adopt as their own.
Mother sloshed water into Bethany’s pail. She spread new woodchips in Bethany’s stall. She petted Bethany, her hand disappearing in the sheep’s fine, tightly crimped wool.
“Almost shearing time,” Mother said.
“Over my dead body, bitch,” Bethany said. “What?” Mother removed her hand from its soft resting place.
“Baaaahhh,” Bethany said.
Mother returned to the cabin. Normally she would put the kettle on, mix the oats, set the table, but today she sat in the corner and stared.
“When will morning repast be served?” Brother said.
“I’m starving,” Sister said.
“I can prepare breakfast if you aren’t feeling well, dear,” Father said.
“Over my dead body, bitch,” Mother said.
Brother assumed Mother’s Bethany duties. He let Bethany out into the pasture, watched her nibble on clover.
“Do you think I’ll ever escape this place?” Brother said. “I want to go to the city and become a writer. My ambitions are so stifled by this stifling life. But I’ll never forget my prairie roots. Wheat fields shimmering in the sun. Good, thick cream in a sturdy pitcher.”
“Rot in hell,” Bethany said.
“I fear I already am,” Brother said. A lover of Aesop’s Fables, Brother was not fazed by the prospect of a talking animal, though he hadn’t expected such salty language.
Bethany stared at him, her eyes vibrant with a dark, inscrutable power.
Brother never came back from school that day. Money had gone missing from Father’s drawer.
Bethany’s care fell to Sister. She trimmed a section of Bethany’s wool and shoved it down her pants. She waggled her crotch sweater at Bethany.
“The girls at school will think I’m such a hoot,” Sister said.
“They think you’re fat,” Bethany said.
Sister threw the ball of wool at Bethany. “You stink. You smell like feces.”
Bethany rolled on the ground, her shorn wool sticking to her unshorn wool.
Sister refused to eat breakfast, refused to eat lunch. She shrank and shrank and shrank.
With Sister too weak and listless to help, Father attended to Bethany. Father sang Bethany sweet hymns and fed her carrots out of his hand. Bethany sucked on his fingers, rubbed her wool against his legs.
“Aren’t you a delight!” Father said.
Bethany batted her thick eyelashes at him.
“A great lady,” Father said.
Bethany slurped her water. She put her snout in Father’s corduroy pocket, searching for more carrots. She followed Father back to the cabin. At the threshold, Father hesitated. Mother was sitting on a chair, scowling at the fire. Brother’s books lay unread on a table. Sister whimpered on the floor, her thin body drowning in her gingham dress.
“After you,” Father said. Bethany stepped inside. Catriona Wright is a writer, editor and teacher. Table Manners, her debut poetry collection, is forthcoming from Véhicule Press in April 2017. She lives in Toronto, ON.