Guest contributor: Crash Barry
categories: Cocktail Hour
[We begin with a flashback To refresh the reader’s memory of Crash’s sheepish neighbors.]
With my typewriter in the exact center, the table fit nicely in front of the large window on the east wall of the room. The view featured a deserted isle a mere hundred yards from Edwin’s wharf. Wheaton’s Island, forsaken 50 years before, was ten acres of rock and spruce, with a foursome of weather-beaten structures built so ruggedly that neglect and abandonment couldn’t destroy the ancient pylons, pillars and braces that held the buildings perched on ledge and seaweed. All the windows and doors in the mini-fishing village had been stolen by Matinicus thieves decades before.
A flock of six sheep called Wheaton’s home and lived among the ruins, grazing on the scrub grass above the tide line. They foraged and browsed among the vegetation that grew in pockets near the small stand of trees able to take root on the boney island. The sheep wandered freely, leaving droppings everywhere. They stayed out of the largest building, though, a long, two-story, rickety boat shop filled with broken glass, old net and an ancient and beautiful 20-foot vessel sitting in a cradle, left behind and long forgotten.
The sheep were owned by Captain Red. It used to be common to leave sheep on Maine islands to grow ‘em into mutton. Even though I couldn’t stand Captain Red, a lying, stealing, thieving son-of-a-bitch, I appreciated that he put the sheep on Wheaton’s. From my vantage point, they lived a pretty awesome life. They were curious and carefree and a little numb. They were enamored with a long piece of frayed rope, tied to a davit on the old wharf, that fluttered and flapped whenever the breeze blew over 20 knots. So on windy afternoons, I’d sit in front of the typewriter, ignore my writing, and smoke herb, hypnotized by the sheep hypnotized by a wiggling piece of rope.
My window was a picture frame around Wheaton’s. A living, moving, breathing portrait of land and sea in constant flux, thanks to the winds and tides and the sheep. Better than any painting, television or movie, that’s for sure.
The Gut, the name for the narrow channel separating Matinicus from Wheaton’s, was another distraction. During the incoming and outgoing tides, the sea flowed fast through the Gut like a river. The width and velocity of the water changed with the passage of the tide. At the lowest of low tides, the Gut was barely a foot wide, a mere trickle, and the tideland of the Lower Harbor’s seascape turned lunar. A temporary land bridge made it wicked easy to walk between the two islands. But when the tide turned, the bridge disappeared.
I knelt on one knee, grabbed the sheep’s head with both hands and pushed down, intent on drowning her in the rising tide. For a moment or two, nothing happened. Then the fight began. She bucked and flailed and kicked, frantically trying to free herself from my grip. I stood and tried to drag the thrashing beast to deeper water to hasten the execution, to end her suffering. But my boots were heavy with ocean and I staggered and slipped and fell.
The sheep had been attacked by a pack of Matinicus dogs that crossed the Gut at low water to invade Wheaton’s Island. After a long day hauling traps, Edwin and I were coming ashore from the mooring and heard a bleating wail of distress from Wheaton’s. I dropped Edwin off at the ladder, then rowed across and landed on the island’s stony beach. The tide was halfway to high, the wind was whispering from the southeast, and a sheep was screaming.
I followed the cries toward the island’s southern tip, where there was a series of rock shelves and crevices. Her hind legs were jammed in a crack between two ledges. Her face mauled. Her wool blackened with blood from a gaping chest wound. Her front legs dangled at an impossible angle.
I bent and wedged my hands behind the bleating sheep’s shoulders. I tugged and tugged, but the ledge wouldn’t let go. I shifted my grip lower and tugged again. Suddenly, she broke free and the two of us tumbled to the ground. I got up. She continued to squirm and weep.
She needed to be put out of her misery. What could I do? Row back to Matinicus and find a gun to borrow? Or grab a sharp knife from my shack? Then what? Slash her throat?
I bent again to pick her up and slung her over my shoulder. She was lighter than I expected. I walked to the shore and into the sea, right up to my boot tops. I dropped the animal into the water, on her back. She barely moved, other than her mouth, which was opening and closing below the waterline. Chewing, almost.
Then I tried to drown her. She struggled. I stumbled. The sheep, suddenly free of her attacker, bobbed to the surface, wheezing and gasping for air. I was soaked, chest to toe. I grabbed and dragged her closer to shore. Standing above her, in a couple feet of water, I lifted my right boot and placed it on her skull. She bared her teeth as I shifted all my weight onto her head. Then I placed my left boot on her neck.
I stood still, as the tide climbed to my knees. And the poor sheep, exhausted, barely struggled. Don’t know how long it took, but she finally died. I stepped backwards, and her head surfaced.
Couldn’t leave the carcass floating in the surf to be picked at by gulls. And now that the dogs knew cornered prey lived on Wheaton’s, they’d be back for more. If they found this corpse, they’d eat it. At least her guts, and that was too painful of a thought to handle. So I decided a burial at sea was necessary.
I found a crushed and twisted lobster trap on the beach with 10 fathoms of rope attached. I half-filled the trap with rocks for extra ballast, put it in the stern of the skiff, and lashed the sheep to the trap. I launched the boat and rowed out through the Gut and into Old Cove. Rowing wasn’t easy, against the tide and with the extra load of rocks and sheep, but I pulled and pulled until I was several hundred yards off the shore.
I half-stood and, without ceremony, wrestled the corpse over the side, followed by the rock-filled trap. For a couple seconds, the dead sheep floated on the surface, a lone eye staring at me. Then the rocks took over.
I cried as the trap sank, pulling the sheep to the deep.
The next day I was on the wharf, watching the remaining five sheep graze. Three men and a young island boy, who suffered from a serious respiratory illness, gathered about 50 feet away from me. The uncle handed the boy a rifle with a scope. He aimed and fired. A sheep dropped to the ground. Her colleagues continued to graze, oblivious to the danger. More bullets flew. One by one, they died.
When the shooting was over, one of the fellas yelled to me: “MUTTON!”
Crash Barry will be appearing at the Jessup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor on July 24. More info about Crash’s summer tour in support of his new book Marijuana Valley is available at crashbarry.com.