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Old 1st Apr 2011, 15:11   #1
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Default Lambs - Short story

“Do you know what sex it is?” Joseph asks above the bleating. He tries to clutch the four hooves against his chest, but one keeps escaping to kick him in the ribs.
The nurse avoids his eyes. They have all been doing that, he realises: avoiding him. This nurse, older, wrinkled around the eyes, battle-hardened, is the first person to visit the room in fifteen minutes. Nobody seems willing to help him.
“A doctor will be with you shortly to discuss your concerns,” she says, placing a roll of paper towel on the worksurface. “You can use this to clean it up.”
The lamb’s wool glistens in tight bunches against its pinkish skin. Joseph’s white shirt, his best, specially selected that morning after his wife’s waters had broken (I should look smart for the first photographs, he remembers thinking), is drenched in a brownish mix of amniotic fluid and blood. When the Caesarean surgeon had thrust the lamb upon him, after it had been dragged bleating out of the curving incision at the base of his wife’s abdomen, the initial brown stain had immediately spread to engulf his entire shirt like the slow explosion of a wet tea-bag on tissue. He had stood there aghast and in tears, while an eight-man surgical team, two nurses and a paediatrician had stared on in silence.
“Aren’t you going to sew her up?” he had managed to gasp between sobs, nodding towards his wife’s gaping wound. That had jolted them back into action. The older nurse had led him to a private room further up the corridor to wait for his wife.
Now the nurse leaves for a second time and he tries to lay the lamb on its back in the cot provided. It bleats with renewed urgency and thumps its legs against the transparent plastic of the cot’s sides, writhing and wriggling until he picks it up and lets it stand. But every time he attempts to reach for the paper towels, the lamb tries to jump out of the cot. Joseph eventually takes the lamb under one arm like a roll of carpet and brings the towel to the cot.
The inadequacy of the paper towels soon becomes clear. They wilt on contact with the oily fluid and disintegrate when he tries to rub them against the lamb’s wiry wool. In the end he wraps the lamb in the cot’s mattress cover and puts it on the floor. It shakes the cover off and starts to stagger round the room on fragile legs, leaving a trail of oily hoof-prints on the blue tiles. Joseph sits down in the visiting chair and it sighs softly under his weight.
What the fuck has happened? thinks Joseph.
A doctor arrives. Joseph is surprised by the ease with which he plucks up the lamb and lays it on its back, holding its front legs in one hand, its back legs in the other so that the animal cannot struggle.
“I grew up on a pig farm in Uganda,” he says by way of explanation. “Pigs have a very similar anatomy to sheep. That’s why the other doctors sent me to have a look.”
He tells Joseph to hold the legs in the same position and puts a stethoscope to the lamb’s chest. He times thirty seconds on his watch and nods, then pushes a wooden stick into the lambs mouth and wedges it open, shining a small torch into the dark of its mouth.
“It’s healthy,” he says, throwing the stick into the bin on the other side of the room.
“It’s a sheep,” says Joseph.
“It is part sheep, at least. Look closely at its face. I’ve never seen a sheep with a nose like this.” He takes the lamb’s face between his hands and begins to point out details. “Usually a sheep’s nose is at the same depth as its mouth, and they are linked by a division in the upper lip that we’d call a cleft palate in a human. But this nose protrudes like yours or mine. The underside of the nose, the columella, does not occur in sheep. Its eyes are positioned facing forwards rather than slightly outwards, and he has round cheeks. In fact, the ears are the only parts of the head that are definitely sheep-like.”
Joseph looks closer at the furred face before him. The eyes are inexpressive, but that could be true of human babies too, he reflects. The doctor is right: it has cheeks, a nose, and an unbroken lip bounding the mouth. Brilliant, thinks Joseph. He’ll be a freak among the sheep, too.
“How could this happen, doctor?” he asks.
The doctor leans back against the bed in the centre of the room and crosses his arms. “I don’t know, to be honest, and nor do my colleagues. Medical science has no explanation for such an occurrence, no recorded cases, no existing body of knowledge. We’re in unknown territory as much as you are.”
But it’s not your fucking child, thinks Joseph.
“But it’s not your fucking child,” says Joseph.
The doctor smiles. “That is true, my friend. Well said. But perhaps it isn’t your child either. My first demand would be for a paternity test, because from where I’m standing,” he moves his glance ostentatiously between Joseph and the lamb, “there doesn’t seem to be much of a family resemblance.”
Joseph feels suddenly irritated by the presumption of this stranger. “That’s a matter for my wife and I to discuss, thank you. Before you leave, could you tell me the gender of the child?”
The doctor apologises and takes the lamb’s two hind legs from him. “When you’re bathing it, be sure to get it firmly by the hocks, like this. Otherwise it’ll kick you black and blue.” He pulls the legs apart and gives one to Joseph.
“Can you see here?” he says and points to a protruding piece of flesh. “Unless it’s a mutation of the mullerian duct, that’s his penis. Not much, you might think, but then he’s only built to fit an ewe’s vagina. Congratulations. You have a son.”
A son, thinks Joseph. That means his name is Richard.
The lamb starts to bleat again and the doctor shows Joseph how he can calm him by stroking his brisket just below his neck.
“What he needs is milk, of course. It’s imperative we get him on his mother’s breast as soon as possible.”
As if on cue a nurse arrives to inform the doctor that the mother has been transferred to the recovery ward and is able to receive her child. She does not look at the lamb or Joseph before leaving.
The doctor leads the way while Joseph pushes Richard along the corridors in his cot, using his legs as steering levers. Other patients and their visitors, medical staff and cleaners all stop to stare as they pass.
“What are you looking at?” shouts Joseph. “Why don’t you mind your own business!”
At the doors to the recovery ward, the doctor puts a hand on Joseph’s shoulder.
“Listen,” he says. “I wasn’t completely straight with you before, when I said there were no recorded cases of such an occurrence.” He moves closer and lowers his voice to a whisper. “Where I grew up in Uganda, there was an old story of a woman who gave birth to a lamb. People said she was a witch. They burned her alive. I dismissed it all as the superstition of simple people at the time, but now -” he looks at Richard “- I’m not so sure.” He pats Joseph on the back, wishes him luck and walks away. Joseph takes a deep breath and pushes the cot through the double doors of the recovery ward.
Miranda lies shivering in a silver blanket. An oxygen tube plugs both her nostrils. Her eyes are closed.
An Asian nurse approaches and runs a hand over Richard’s back. “Boy or girl?”
“Boy. His name’s Richard.”
“He’s beautiful. You must be very proud.”
Joseph doesn’t reply. He looks at Miranda.
“She went into shock. Her abdomen was open for an unusually long time in the cold of the operating theatre. Usually the best stimulation for the mother’s recovery is being reunited with baby.” She offers her arms to Joseph and he slides Richard into them.
“The doctor said he should be put on the breast as soon as possible,” says Joseph. He stands back and watches as the nurse puts Richard on the visiting chair by the bed so that his head is level with Miranda’s breast. She pulls the silver blanket back. Miranda stirs and opens her eyes. Joseph thinks she looks at him for a moment before turning her eyes to Richard, but he can’t be sure.
“They’re both here. Now we need to feed this baby. I’m going to pull up your T-shirt, ok? You don’t need to move.” The nurse rolls Miranda’s top above her breast and guides Richard’s mouth towards her nipple. He latches on and begins gulping. Joseph doesn’t know where to look.
“I’ll leave you two alone. If you need anything, I’ll be at the nurse’s station.” The nurse walks away.
Joseph slowly gets over his initial disgust and stands watching Miranda coo and stroke the top of Richard’s head as he sucks. A conversation is needed, he realises, perhaps even a confrontation. He runs through its permutations in his head, all his possible reactions and her responses to them.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Calm down, Joseph. This is as surprising to me as it is to you.”
“I very much doubt that! Siamese twins might have been surprising, or a hermaphrodite -”
“Let’s look at this rationally for a moment. What could have caused this?”
“A cause . . . mmm, let me see . . . how about you fucking a sheep behind my back!”
“Now wait a minute -”
“Did you get down on your knees for him in a field somewhere? I demand to know!”
“Joseph, stop shouting at me and get a hold of yourself. Do you know how ridiculous you sound? Me, having sex in a field? You know how bad my hayfever is. I’d be too convulsed from sneezing to even masturbate.”
“So it was at our place. In our bed! Did you entice him in with some grass from the back lawn?”
He feels trapped. He’s damned if he knows how to begin.
“What do you call a lamb’s mouth? A beak? A snout? Maybe I should go and ask the nurse.” He makes as if to walk away but stops when Miranda looks at him properly for the first time.
“Don’t you want to talk about this, Joseph? It must be pretty surprising for you.”
He puts a hand on the lamb’s back and runs his fingers through its wool.
“You don’t seem surprised, Miranda. Why is that?” He asks softly, not shouting, not shrill.
She tells him of a dream she had before she knew she was pregnant. “A man came to our room one night. It was dark, but I could see from his shape that it wasn’t you. I put my hand out to wake you, but the sheets on your side of the bed were pulled back and you were gone. ‘Who are you?’ I asked the stranger. ‘I am Gabriel,’ he said. ‘I’ve come to deliver a message. You will have a child in 9 months time, but it will not have a human father.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘You will bear the son of God,’ he replied. Before I could say anything else, he put his hands upon my abdomen and I felt a scorching sensation under my skin. At that point I woke up. I still felt a strange heat inside me, but I put it down to indigestion and thought no more about it.”
Joseph looks at Richard. He has stopped drinking and is trying to lie down in the narrow chair to rest. Joseph lifts him onto the base of the bed where he folds his legs underneath himself in the gap between Miranda’s feet and the bed’s end.
“So you think Richard is the son of God?”
Miranda looks frustrated. “Think about it, Joseph. Lamb of God. The innocent one, free of all sin.”
There’s a squelching sound and Joseph sees that Richard has shit on the silver emergency blanket.
“You think the second coming of Christ is an actual lamb?”
Miranda shuffles over and pats the space on the bed next to her. Joseph gets on, careful to avoid Richard’s shit, and rests his head against her shoulder.
“John 1:14 – ‘the word made flesh’. This is just a case of a metaphor being made flesh. Flesh and a bit of wool.”
Joseph lifts his head up and looks at her. “Hang on – you’re not a virgin! Not even close. Why would God choose you to bear his son?”
Miranda shrugs. “The church is innovating all the time. You can have female vicars, even gay ones. Not being a virgin is hardly a crime nowadays.”
“But what about bestiality? Is that a crime?” says Joseph.
Miranda giggles. “Of course that’s a crime. You don’t seriously think I would . . . with a sheep?”
Joseph laughs. It does sound ridiculous, when she puts it like that.
They lie together and talk for an hour, making plans to transform the back garden into a space inhabitable for Richard. Their conversation is only broken when Richard bleats himself awake. Joseph stands up and brushes the wool from his clothing.
“I’m going to go home and google raising sheep. Then I’ll head to B&Q and ask about garden sheds suitable for lambs. I’m determined to be the best Dad the son of God has ever had.”
Miranda smiles. “I’m sure you will be, Joseph. And can you buy a manger while you’re there? I have a feeling we’ll be receiving some wise visitors any day now. And vacuum for once, will you? We don’t want them to think we live in a stable.”

After Joseph has cleaned up Richard’s shit and left, Miranda sees the double doors to the recovery ward swing open. From her position on the bed she can’t see anyone enter, but she can hear the quickening click of what sound like high-heeled shoes on the ward’s tile floor. Richard’s head pops up and he sniffs, then bounds down from the bed and disappears behind the bed to her right. Miranda looks in the direction he has gone and sees him return into view followed by a hulking, lumbering ram. The ram trots up to her side and she bends to kiss his snout.
“He believed it baby!” she says. “Baaah! Baaah! Baaah!”
“Baaah! Baaah! Baaah!” says the ram.
Richard bleats. They all laugh.
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Old 2nd Apr 2011, 1:08   #2
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This is hilarious! It's a beautifully self contained short story (or whatever) on it's own, but I am desperate for chapter two!
currently reading: The Secret History, Donna Tartt
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Old 2nd Apr 2011, 18:13   #3
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Thanks! There is no chapter two though. I'd have to really rack my brains to see where it goes from here.
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Old 13th Apr 2011, 20:18   #4
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Default Re: Lambs - Short story

Thank you, marracash. Did you google 'Uganda' and end up here? Welcome.
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Old 8th May 2011, 0:33   #5
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Default Re: Lambs - Short story

Hello fanshawe,
A very funny story and extremely well told! It's like a joke you can tell to yourself over and over and still get a laugh out of. Kudos!
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Old 11th May 2011, 18:00   #6
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Ta, kjml. Welcome to the Palimp!
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