My sheep bleat, a rambling reminder, a yodel of life.
I’m chasing a phone signal, trying to catch it with the net, like bugs.
Strong green lines are more pressing than the warm breath of my woolly flock, of herding them to the next field. They’ve chewed the grass almost down to its roots. The adjacent field is green and overgrown. It glistens with dew, alive in its being. Lazing on the wall of the round brick well, in the middle of the open land, I use the heel of my boot to scrape the sheep droppings from the side the other boot. I give up and frown, staring, holding up my phone.
My sheep are stoic. They stare at me, blank, mimicking me. They’re waiting. They are further away from me than usual, distant.
I was a happy farmer. Before. I can’t place the defining moment. The moment I was abducted. It was slow. I was stalked, crept up on. It was persistent, skilled, like my sheep herding Collie. Where is he? I’ve been infiltrated, kidnapped by a web of lies, a knitted network of social euphoria, lavish opinions and narcissism.
“Border!” I look for his shaggy black coat, his white chest. He’s absent. I’m absent. He’s unfollowed me.
The weak signal has disappeared. I look back at the sheep and have the urge to do something strange. A comical jig on the well? They seem to want to be entertained. I could learn some moves on YouTube.
I need Border to do his thing. To run the width of the field, side to side, behind the flock, gathering momentum, inching them forward. Every so often he centres himself mid field, lowers his white chest and skulks behind them, creeping, focused, nipping their hooves if needs be, influencing them to follow the sheep at the front of the group. I used to love watching him.
I sigh. I wonder if I have received approval for the ‘Are you wasting your Life’ group. I answered the questions as best I could. Feisty, go getting. Strange one needs approval. I can’t remember the reasons I gave for wanting to be part of it. I check my phone again. It’s hard to see the screen, the glare of the day is blocking it. There aren’t any green lines.
And where’s Mammoth? The friendliest sheep. The one who’s old and greets me with more of a growly moo than a baa. If I can get him moving the rest will follow.
The post by a banker is on my mind. I could be a banker, I was good at maths at school and quite ballsy. I could trade Cryptocurrency. I need to watch that saved video. I could write a book, not just read one. I must fix my old Yamaha dirt bike. I should compete in the Motocross. I want to learn about the star constellations and how they affect me. I know Gemini’s get distracted, that’s what Ken said. He waffled on about it when he served me a pint the other night. Who’d have known he was into that? I want to do more photography. Funny pictures of my sheep on Instagram? Everyone’s a photographer. Everyone’s ordinary is epic.
I need followers though. Shots of the sheep by the turnstile, the conker tree. I could show them grazing and running free, could call it Little Bo Peep. Big Bo Peek. That’s good. But she hasn’t lost them. It would need to be changed to He, too. They’ll need a wash. Dirty sheep aren’t pleasing to look at. At least they can’t smell them.
The sheep look a bit underweight, Their coats, flat like a carpet on their sides, like a cardboard box, instead of plump like a teddy bear. The ground is bare. I should have moved them a week ago.
I yawn, my eyes heavy. I’ve quite a headache too. I’m full of stolen ideas and dreams. Filched by the ones I follow. I ache for their accomplishments. Why, I don’t know. Keeping up with the Jones’s never seemed so endearing. Now it’s keeping up with the whole world.
Where’s Border? Mammoth?
I turn around on the spot. I give it a shake and get one weak line.
I look at someone’s inane timeline. I look at the celebrations of others that I don’t care about. I don’t mean to be unkind but it’s true. They don’t care for mine either. I wish them well, but it’s not important to me. And it would be weird if it was. But it flashes at me. Joyful events. Generic. So common, so usual, they’re no longer celebratory. Standard comments. Universal remarks, flippantly posted, hollow, but it steals attention. Love you. Congratulations. You’re the best.
“Baa!” I bleat. They still stare. Expectant. I’m doing nothing, “shoo” I say, my arms flicking them away.
Everyone is special. Everyone is the same. Each of us funny. All of us projecting, performing, creating. We mould into one. Regurgitated. One life. One way. One web. I’m following. I’m nipping at their posts. They’re nipping at mine. But it’s not a full bite is it, like a piece of chocolate cake?
“Mammoth!” We used to be friends, there was an understanding, a relationship between us and where on earth is Border?
Where are the days when I lived my life and others lived theirs? Ignorance keeps our fortune in check. If I was meant to be something else, fate would intervene. Social media isn’t divinity. It’s the waning moon, a dark foreboding authority, opening vaults with treasures that aren’t mine. I’m in the wrong space. Free will has censured my purpose. Renounced it. Its say so is soliciting social supremacy. I’m in command. Self-determined force has destroyed my karma. It’s not a choice, it’s interference. It’s latent propaganda. Pollution.
“I was born to farm.” I affirm weakly.
Mammoth head-butts my shin and I stumble, knocking my wrist on the well. I loosen my grip. The phone bounces once and somersaults down into the well.
“For fuck’s sake.” I didn’t notice him sneak up.
I kick him away and lean over the well. It’s dark. I can’t see anything. Seconds lapse before I hear the faint clunk as it hits the bottom. I knew there wouldn’t be a splash. It’s as dry as providence not pursued.
The sheep are bleating loudly. I turn around. They’re prancing. Mammoth is only feet from me and looks stern. He can’t be frowning. Sheep don’t frown. Is he lowering his head? He’s going to ram me.
Skirting the wall of the well, I slink round, until I’m behind it.
Sheep aren’t aggressive.
They’re gathered together. I’m blocked by the well.
Get a grip. They’re my sheep.
A bark in the distance is extremely welcome. The sheep disperse, frantic, unsure which way to go. I can see Border’s white chest through the gap.
He’s legging it. On a mission. There are others behind him.
“Hello boy” I say, down on my knees. He looks a little sad. His eyes. I’m not sure.
“I’m sorry,” I say and hug his dirty fur, a smell of sweat and mud. He wags his tail. I’m not sure what I’m apologising for.
“Oi!” shouts Ken, waving, “I thought you would’ve moved them by now!”
Behind him is Gary, our local hairdresser, Sarah the baker and Marge who owns the garden nursery and dabbles in fortune telling at the weekend. They’re struggling with the long, flapping rectangle sign, ‘Summer Fete.’
Marge gives me a whack on the head.
“Nice to see you too,” I scowl.
“What’s up with you these days?” she says
I don’t know.
“All and sundry will be turning up in a few hours. There’s tons to do.” She strokes Border and looks back at me.
“I got distracted, Sorry.” I glance back at the well.
“Nothing down there for you love,” she says
“You’re right about that,” I give her a hug. She smells of lavender, “My field’s all yours.”
“You’re a star,” she says squeezing my shoulder.
“I’m a Shepherd. That’s what I am.”
The whistle is on my lips. I don’t need to blow. Border knows what to do. I stretch my arm out, strong and straight, stiff as a wooden signpost towards the adjacent field. Border follows its direction and woofs. He’s got it.
We herd. We’re working. I’m leading. Mammoth is right behind me and the rest of the flock follow. Border is at the back, keeping us straight. We move in unison. We’re in time. We’re in the same space.
It didn’t take long. We saunter back into the field, and I marvel at how much they’ve done. Each to their own. It looks fantastic. The smell of locally brewed beer and sausages soften my taught brow.
Gary asks if I want a free haircut and possibly a shave. It’s for charity. I nearly thump him one but I just laugh. Sarah is doing dog washes, Border included although we need to allot more time for him. We enjoy some pampering and settle down to fill our stomachs. Sausage and potato salad for me, a steak for Border.
Ken is taking photos with his old Pentax Camera. I look over his shoulder and watch him carefully set up the shots.
“Got some good ones here, I think” he says, “Half the fun is not knowing how they’ll turn out.”
Marge is using a polaroid, taking pics of flowers or bushes, anything with foliage. Each potted plant for sale gets one. It’s balanced between its leaves like a gift card. One off photos, no duplicates.
I circulate, chat to friends I haven’t spoken to for a while. It’s nice. I don’t need to catalogue it. I’m too busy enjoying it. No need to record it. It’s a day for the community. We’re all here. We won’t forget it. You never forget how something makes you feel.
The sun is sliding towards the moon, the change-over will be soon. I whistle at Border all fluffy and clean and we head over to the adjacent field to check on the sheep. I rest my elbows on the metal gate and Border sticks his head through the rungs.
“They’re alright, aren’t they boy?” I say, and watch Mammoth close to the fence.
He sees us and stares. I shouldn’t have kicked him. It wasn’t hard but.
I’m waiting. He treads carefully towards us and he brushes my knee with his cheek.
“I’m a Shepherd.” I whisper.