François-Xavier Lalanne, Agneau, from the Nouveaux Moutons series, 2006. Design London.
Written by Meg Pokrass
In the beginning, Grace sent him playlists, and he listened to them up in the hills, riding his bike past fields of love spies. “There’s hope for you placid double-agents,” he whispered to the sheep in the early morning light, when they looked like grains of rice, dozing on blankets of grass.
They met up on virtual dates while he was riding his bike, and it was July. There were some older, solitary lambs standing quietly as if no longer needing their mother. He took photos of them for Grace and she sent him sheep GIFs.
“How did you know I liked Ram?” he typed. “How could you not?” she replied.
Rain, and he huddled over the songs, hugged his wool sweater tightly to his body, imagining her breath like mist on his neck. He thought of her in a house piled high with her late husband’s T-shirts and jeans; her heart cracked open like a seed. All of those songs pouring out of her.
He imagined how empty the world might suddenly feel to a solitary animal such as Grace. Tempting to fill the void with music. Easier to listen to familiar love songs than to remember the sound of her husband clearing his throat, and hearing only the sound of a barking dog down the block.
Who does Grace really think about when listening to these songs? he asked himself. But he loved it when she sent him the playlists.
Let’s say that he was flying down from the hills on his bike, heading home to where he spent every waking minute alone. Let's say there wasn’t anyone to be with where he lived, in the land of meat pies. That his new dog was jittery, not gentle like his old dog. That the people in town had accepted him by saying nothing and leaving him be.
And then there was the day when he started to think of the dissolving of dreams that can begin in a person’s throat, when they swallow hope the wrong way, or when they don’t say anything about what matters. And what comes to him is a story he once heard about a singer who lost her voice. He asked the friend who told him this story if the singer had ever gotten her voice back. His friend shook his head. Told him about the day her voice disappeared, how he had been right there at her house.
“She was telling me about someone who vanished from her life,” he said. “And her voice just stopped working.”
After Grace stopped sending him playlists, fingers of light landed less softly on the sheep. The weather in his part of the world was harsh; rain stuck to his face. Why did he follow her into the field if her affection could wither like a transplanted sapling in the wind?
I don’t know how it happened, anyway, he talked to himself about it, feeling duped, feeling mislead. We were tuneless, lonely, dumb.
It’s better, he decided, to admit that he had been grazing as a means of avoidance.
Maybe one day he’ll park his bike on a sheep-saturated hill and move in with the double agents, give it all up. But the lamb inside his heart can so easily forget about everything but Grace.
Let’s say she had been on his mind all day, years later, all day up in the hills flying past new lambs, and that was a surprise to him, how a day could turn into a song. How a Friday can feel like a Friday, say.
How, during that Spring, when she sent him her heartbroken music, his circular pen felt like an open field, and the carnival in his heart started up again — and it lit him up.
Meg Pokrass is the author of seven flash fiction collections and two novellas-in-flash. Her work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Electric Literature, Washington Square Review and American Journal of Poetry. Her flash fiction is widely internationally anthologized and has been included in two Norton Anthologies of the flash fiction form. Meg serves as the Founding Co-Editor of Best Microfiction.
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