Part of the Fam­ily

Premise: A fam­ily tersely raises a sheep that may or may not talk, which they then adopt as their own.

Geist - - True North Lit - CATRIONA WRIGHT

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.

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