The Wee Mad Road
When people - especially preachers - talk about the "innocence" of lambs, something in the back of my mind rings an alarm bell. For once, in Coigach, I was almost victimized by a sex-crazed sheep.
As these things do, it all began innocently enough. Our friends Wilf and Wendy were planning to go away on holiday, and asked if Barb and I would "sit" their little flock of pet sheep for two weeks. "There's nothing to it, really," chirped Wendy. "Mostly, they'll be up on the hill eating grass. Just put out a bucket of food for them once a day."
"Aye," said Wilf, "but mind Freddie doesn't eat it all himself, the cheeky devil - you'll do better with two buckets..."
"We've plenty buckets," she added. "You can have one for each of them, just to keep it fair."
"And we'll give you a bag of those nuggets."
"Oh, they do love their nuggets. Just keep a few in your pockets and they'll be eating out of your hand."
"You'll hardly know they're there, Jack," Wilf beamed.
W&W brought the sheep up this afternoon. They are off to England for a fortnight to visit family – and we are to keep their sheep from being bored and give them water and oats. W&W act like parents leaving their children behind. Last I saw of the sheep tonight there was one lying on each step in front of the house. They’ve all blown up like balloons chomping on the long green grass in the yard.
For the first few days, all went well. The sheep grazed happily on the slope below Castlehill, ignoring us as we came and went during the day, crowding eagerly around us when the feed buckets came out. The only inconvenience was their choice of resting place on the front steps. We had to dodge, wade and push our way through the livestock to get to our front door. Duck inside quickly and slam to door to prevent them from cheerfully following us in. And take off our wellies, which kept picking up evidence that their digestive tracts were in good order.
But one morning, something changed in Frieda. Maybe a hormone kicked in. She had never been wooed and won - Wilf had always sequestered his little band of sisters when the breeding rams called ‘tups’ were abroad in Coigach at year’s end. So she didn’t know exactly what it was she suddenly yearned for. But yearn she did. And her little ewe’s heart began beating for me.
I first noticed the problem when I came down for breakfast.
"Ba-a-aa-a-aa!" There was Frieda, her nose pressed against the kitchen window, her tail spinning wildly.
"Ummm - what’s she after?"
"I don’t know." Barb poured the tea. "Maybe she’s hungry."
"Ba-aa-a-aa!" The voice more insistent now.
"It isn’t feeding time yet. She sounds distressed. I’ll take a look." I started to open the back door, and the ewe charged at me. I leapt back and slammed the door. "God, she’s gone aggressive!" I peered out the window, trying to see if there was anything wrong with her. She peered in, yellow eyes fixed on me, tail still spinning. "She looks okay - just acting odd."
Frieda kept up her end of the conversation throughout our breakfast. Whenever I spoke, her tail spun; when Barb spoke, it was still. And after, when I went out to work at the typewriter, she raced around and pressed her big nose against the office window. "Ba-aa-a-aa!" I got up and stepped into the lounge. "Ba-aa-aa-aa-aa!" Everywhere I went in the house, there was Frieda calling at the nearest window, persistent as Mary’s little lamb.
Later in the morning I went out to run some errands. Frieda was at the front door. I had to force my way past her, and she chased me down to the gate. The other sheep ignored us and continued grazing. When I returned, the bunch had moved up the hill toward the back of the house, but Frieda’s head shot up when I came into the yard, and she came joyfully down to greet me. She butted her head against my hip, and tried to cut me off as I climbed toward the house. I had to shove her back hard to get the door closed behind me, and she cried forlorn on the doorstep.
For the next few days, Frieda stalked me. At the gate. At the doors. At the windows. Where I went, she went. At the sound of my voice, her tail spun. She paid no attention to Barb. Or to anyone else who came to Castlehill. I alone was the object of her affections, and this was one true-hearted ewe.
Now, a little attention from the opposite sex is always flattering. And a man couldn’t ask to be mistaken for a more macho creature than a breeding tup, whose melon-sized testicles can service a dozen females without even noticing. But Frieda’s intentions had become all too obvious, providing endless amusement to Barb, to the neighbors, to everyone but me.
The fourth day of Frieda’s love siege was cold and windy, a day when we needed every bit of heat to fend off the chill from Castlehill’s thick stone walls. "The coal bucket’s empty," Barb reminded me.
"Oh." I knew the ewe was lurking outside somewhere. "Uh - would you mind getting it?"
"Can’t - I’m in the middle of this." She was kneading bread dough.
I picked up the coal bucket and tiptoed to the kitchen window. No sign of Frieda. Gingerly, I slid the bolt, pushed the back door open and peered out. No Frieda. The tumbledown stone shed was only a few steps away. I eased silently into the narrow passageway between old wooden boxes, barrels and coils of rope. Gray light filtered in through holes in the walls, barely reflecting off the black pile at the back of the shed. I put down the bucket, picked up a shovel and bent forward to thrust the steel blade into the coal.
That’s when Frieda got me. Approaching silently, she rammed her big hot nose into my backside and thrust her passionate weight against me. I dropped the shovel and wheeled around. The ewe’s woolly girth filled the passageway, trapping me. And she wasn’t about to back out. I sensed, in the darkness, that she was smiling. "Ba-aa-aa-a!"
I braced my hands on barrels on either side and vaulted over her back in a mad scramble to flee. Before Frieda could turn around, I was out in the open, into the kitchen and leaning breathless with my back against the door. Barb had watched the whole drama, from stalk to escape, and her gales of laughter blew away in tatters whatever was left of my male dignity.
The wind died down that night, and it was quiet next morning at breakfast. Unusually quiet. Outside the kitchen window, birds flitted in the rowan tree. No sheep in sight. I went out to the front of the house. Wilf’s sheep were grazing in the yard, Frieda among them. I stepped outside. Fred and Barabel looked up for a moment, then went back to their munching. Frieda never looked up, or said a word to me. Nor did she ever again.
In a way, I felt a little - well - rejected.
Illustrations copyright Barbara Maloney 2007