Saturday 27 June 2015

'Lambing Season' by JJ Toner

It was Danny who first heard the cry. He scratched at the door and whimpered. Outside, the wind roared, driving the rain in waves against the windows.

Pat knocked back his whiskey, levered himself from his chair and straightened his back.

Eileen shook her head. “It’s black as tar and blowing a gale out there, Da.”

He shrugged on his yellow oilskin jacket, took the rope from its hook. “We can’t afford to lose a lamb.”

She said, “I’ll ring Foley.”

He turned on her. “When your mother died, God rest her, I swore I’d build up the farm for you. After thirty-five years of sweat I’ll not see a Foley lay hands on it.” He stepped through the door, Danny bounding out ahead of him into the storm.

Eileen made the call.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” said Foley. “Have you told him?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, don’t go taking any risks. Remember what the doctor said.”

By the time Eileen had her parka and boots on they were already out of sight, swallowed by the dark. The wind whipped the hood from her head, the rain stung her face. She called Danny and he answered her.

A sheep had stumbled into a bog hole, everything but its head below the waterline, panic in its eyes.

Pat lowered himself into the water beside the ewe. The terrified animal kicked out as he tied the rope around its midriff.

“Take the rope,” he called to her. “Wait for my signal.”

She wrapped the rope across her shoulders and took the slack. He worked his way around behind the sheep, placed his hands on its rump. “Now, pull,” he shouted.

She pulled while he pushed. The sheep tried to help, seeking some purchase with its hoofs in the mud. Over and over they tried, but it was hopeless.

“You’re not pulling,” Pat shouted. “What’s the matter with you?”

Danny barked and wagged his tail as if the whole thing was a great game.

“We need Foley’s help,” Eileen called back.

“You’ve had enough help from that scoundrel already,” her father shouted.

Foley appeared out of the dark. He took the rope from Eileen and the two men hauled the sheep to safety. Then Foley helped Pat out of the bog hole and they trudged back to the house. Pat was soaked to the skin from head to toe. Eileen and Foley were nearly as wet from the rain and sea spray.

When they were dry and had the fire stoked up, Foley pulled a bottle of whiskey from his pocket, handed it to Pat and said, “Eileen has some news.”

“Fetch some glasses, Eileen,” the old man said.

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