Fiction · 12/11/2019

RedDog

The sheep gather in the middle of the field. Their whisper rises: Furze. Whin. Gorse. The green is at its greenest this month; the dandelion clocks wait to sound the hour; daisies and buttercups jostle for notice. Furze. Whin. Gorse, the sheep bleat, while the plant they esteem glows like sunshine.

A vixen, teats pimpling her underbelly, dashes across the field, scatters the flock. Furze! shouts the ewe. Whin, says the tup. Gorse, sings their lamb. The fox stops, listens, then slides under the fence. The hungry keck-keck call of her cubs echoes in her ears, but the chickens are all cooped today; she will have to find a fat vole or a rabbit to feed her young.

The lamb comes to the edge of the field—a tiny manikin, his legs quiver—and he sniffs along the perimeter, warbling Furze. Whin. Gorse. The vixen stays belly-wise to the ground, goes under the fence and springs at the lamb from behind. Gorse! he screams as fox-jaws champ his neck. The ewe and the tup gallop over. Whin! roars his father. Furze, his mother. The lamb bucks, making the fox lose her grip and fall backwards; she lies stunned, the taste of blood on her tongue. The ewe butts the vixen and she jumps up and runs, a russet streak against the green, the dark tip of her brush disappearing into the hedgerow.

The sheep gather once more in the middle of the field. Their whisper rises: Furze. Whin. Gorse. They huddle closer: Furze. Whin. Gorse.

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Nuala O’Connor lives in County Galway. Her short story “Gooseen” won the UK’s 2018 Short Fiction Prize, was published in Granta, and was shortlisted for Story of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. In 2019 she won the James Joyce Quarterly competition to write the missing story from Dubliners, “Ulysses.” Her fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was published to critical acclaim in 2018 in Ireland, the USA and Canada; it will be published in June 2019 in the UK by Little Brown. She is currently writing a bio-fictional novel about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce.