She has quick hands. She hangs from the ceiling, holstered, her back supported. The razor is a hair too close, starts at the skin of the belly and shears it smooth. My feet are over my head. I am making it easy while imagining what her life must be, the only woman amongst cowboys. Do they watch her as I do, bent-over and adept at man-handling? She has me shedding my wool four seconds in without so much as missing a bleat. I can only imagine how quickly they fell for her. I think even now her face is hardening, with the air of winter in her cheeks. I will be cold once she releases me, but for now I am glad to give her my heat, because she seems small in her big boots, too-big hat over her shorn head. When all the cowboys came down with lice, she decided to chop it all off, and that has made her a sight: tall smooth forehead, eyes sloping like a sole, her cracked lips and chapped hands the only indication that she is anything less than steady, anything that can be weathered. She should be all face, shapely cheeks and dark gouging eyes; she could be mythic if she wanted, or an artist’s conception of face, that raw molding of human features, regardless of sex or gender. She could be a man or a woman, but here with the shear she has chosen something more difficult.
Editor’s Note: This is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read. It’s narrated by a sheep, for one thing, and a very calm and thoughtful sheep at that. I love the way the sheep knows what a sole is, drops a music-related pun, and tosses off the rhyming phrase “here with the shear” like it was nothing. But mostly I like how the sheep has a heart, a huge heart full of understanding and pity. And I like how the story works its way into the source photo, so it comes as a revelation after we’ve forgotten to be looking for it. (Ben Loory, MMR Prosetry Contest Guest Editor)
Ruth Joffre‘s fiction has taken 3rd in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open and has won the Arthur Lynn Andrews Prize.
Guest Editor | Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles. His fiction was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers Contest and his story, “The TV,” appeared in The New Yorker. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day coming soon from Penguin Books. As a screenwriter, Ben Loory has worked for Jodie Foster, Alex Proyas and Mark Johnson. He is a graduate of Harvard College, holds an MFA from the American Film institute, and is a member of the Writers Guild of America west. Interviews at The New Yorker and The Emprise Review. Non-fiction at TheNervousBreakdown. Read Ben Loory’s short story “On the Way Down: A Story for Ray Bradbury” in Moon Milk Review.
*Photograph, Hands of an Artist, by Clarence Alford.