by Erik Priedkalns
When he died, his father had two requests. The first was for Barry to do the best he could, and the second was for Barry not live the same life he had. Barry stood in the transport thinking of what his father had told him and his brothers. “Zero for two,” he thought to himself. His failure to live up to the second request meant that the first was impossible to accomplish due to his self-loathing for what he had become.
“It actually hurts to be here,” he thought. “How can simply being alive physically hurt?”
Barry stood next to Joe in the crowded work transport. The vehicle rhythmically bounced and rocked, and occasionally there’d be a bigger jolt which sent them up and almost off their feet.
“Another day, eh Barry?” said Joe.
Barry wondered if it was a question he needed to respond to, or just one to nod to. “Bah,” he said, “I hope Rex isn’t pulling the supervisor’s duties today. He’s such a hot head. He kept barking at me last week.”
“You’re not kidding. He kept snapping at me too.”
There was another jolt, and Barry bounced off Joe’s side. The transport filled with tiny dust particles which rose from the floor. “Sorry ‘bout that Joe.”
Barry looked through the tiny slits between the slatted wall of the transport. Blurred stripes of green and grey landscape whizzed by.
“Boy, what did these guys roll in this weekend? They smell worse than usual,” said Joe.
“No kidding. How hard is it to stay at least a little clean?”
“Did you check out Dolly, though?” asked Joe.
“I bet she went out with Sam this weekend, probably took a nice stroll through a lovely meadow. That guy is all about being Mr. Romance.”
“Ha!” said Barry. “Talk about Mary had a little lamb.” As soon as it came out of his mouth, Barry realized it made no sense.
“What does that mean?” asked Joe.
“Shoot.” Barry said to himself. “He noticed.”
“I’m not sure. It was a silly joke,” said Barry.
“Oh,” said Joe, “I thought Mary was another one of Sam’s females.”
Barry shook his head. “Nah, I’m just not feeling well today. I’m tired of this.”
“Tired of what?” asked Joe.
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“No Barry, tell me.”
“I don’t know. We’re the good guys. We get up every morning, no matter what we did the night before. We get on the transport, come to work, and do our thing. Nobody cares. Working ourselves to death every day. Just blindly going where they tell us, getting barked at, snapped at. Move here, move there. What’s the Why, Joe?”
“Yeah. Why are we doing this? Who for? What for?”
“Hey, relax Barry, don’t take it too seriously. It’s a job, so we can eat.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
The doors started to open. Barry took a long breath. “I swear, if Rex starts with me, I’m going to….”
“To do what?” asked Joe.
“I don’t know. Why should I need to do anything? I should just be able to go to work, do my job and leave.”
As they were shuffling off the transport, a black and white figure charged up.
“Oh great,” said Joe, “It’s Clyde.”
Clyde was worse than Rex. Clyde had a crazy, wild look in his eyes, the look dogs get when they are hopped up on the smell of fear and fields. Clyde thrust his black and white face within inches of Joe’s face.
“Uh, good morning Clyde,” said Joe.
“I reviewed the numbers last night. You two did horribly. I need you to pick it up. I’ll let you work together today, but no more lollygagging. As of this moment you are both on doghouse probation.”
“Doghouse probation? What’s that?” asked Joe.
“You’ll need to prove to me that you’re committed to this task, or the Man is going to ship you off to the packing place.”
“Come on Clyde, give us a break. We’re stuffed to bursting with work,” said Joe.
“What!” snarled Clyde.
“I’m just stating the obvious.”
“The Man gives you everything you want, all you can eat, all the females you want, everything, and he expects your loyalty,” said Clyde.
While Clyde and Joe were arguing, Barry sheepishly wandered off, put his head down and went to work. He hated confrontation. He could feel Clyde’s brown eyes bearing down on him. He turned his head slightly and stole a glance.
“And you,” Barry looked up and saw Clyde was talking to him, “your numbers were worse than this dumbsky.”
“I’m really sorry Clyde,” said Barry. “I won’t let you down today.”
Clyde grumbled something and walked off.
Joe walked up to Barry. “What a jerk.”
“Joe, I can’t believe you.”
“What? I was raising a point. But Clyde doesn’t care. He’s just a tool for the Man, the company,” said Joe.
“Yep. I guess we’re all the same. He’s just taking orders and doing what the world wants him to do, just like us,” Barry said.
“Except he has sharper teeth,” laughed Joe.
Barry bowed his head. “Remember when we first got here? He was really an okay guy. He’s right, we have everything we want. But that was only good for a while. I’m tired of just coming out here and stuffing myself for the Man.”
“They don’t even shear us for our wool anymore,” said Joe. “Now they just want us to get their money and be productive.”
“Do you know what they call us? A livestock rental service! That is so humiliating. My father told me not do what he did. I had no idea why he told me that, but now I know. He used to tell me about the days when he had a shepherd, a caring shepherd. But then the shepherd went away, and he was given to the Man. And that’s when he started to look worn down, empty. That’s when he told me, ‘Don’t do what I do.’ But I guess I didn’t listen,” said Barry.
“What else would we do, we’re sheep?” said Joe.
Barry didn’t hear him. “I remember how fat my father got. Just eating, eating and eating. And why do they use us to clear the fields anyways? The goats are faster.”
Joe shook his head. “Apparently, the goats are a little too enthusiastic, and start getting crazy, ripping bark off trees, taking out good bushes. You know how they are. They’re nuts. He doesn’t want the goats. They know us sheep come from way back. They know our ancestors followed the caring shepherd, and they trust us. Plus, goats keep getting distracted, start dancing around and playing tricks on each other. Nope, way too unreliable,” said Joe.
“So, the sheep just sit back and take it,” Barry said softly.
“And they kill our kids,” said Joe.
Barry jerked his head up. “What?”
“I know. I just heard that one too. You know how a lot of the lambs just vanish?”
“Yes,” said Barry, “but I thought they just moved them to another sector?”
“So did I, but Stanley from the East Sector told me they take them to the packing place. I hear the Man sells them to humans for their tender meat. I guess they really crave it.”
“That’s disgusting,” said Barry. “Why didn’t anyone tell us?”
“Not something they want us to know, I guess.”
A cool breeze gently blew across the green field. Barry inhaled the sweet and sour smell of the clean air. He thought of the lambs and felt guilty.
Joe looked up from where he’d been grazing. “Hey Barry, look at it this way, at least it puts food in our bellies.”
Barry shook his head. “How can you say that? I used to love being out here and just eating and eating. But now, it’s like taking a beating every day. I swear, I feel like a lawnmower.”
“You kind of are, Barry.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t treat us like stupid animals. Keeping us moving with their psychopathic dogs. Sending the orders through the chain of command from the top to bottom. The only time the Man even comes to the fields is to show us off in front of his rich friends, and to brag about how big his flocks are. Ugh. That is so aggravating.”
Joe laughed. “Yep, and there is always that one person who thinks they speak sheep because they can say ‘bah.’ One day I just want to say, ‘look, that’s not a bah. What is that? You’re speaking total nonsense.’”
Barry looked across the field, way to the edge, where the blue hit the green and formed a perfect line. He thought about his father. “My dad knew his shepherd,” said Barry. “His shepherd called him by name, his shepherd was there 24/7. When there was trouble, his shepherd would be there. Last week, Doug in Sector 5 got caught in a barbed wire fence, and they only found him two days later. He’s lucky he lived.”
“It’s pretty awful now,” said Joe.
Barry grew silent. He felt so small. He turned and looked at Joe, who had gone back to eating.
“I saw him once,” he said.
“Who?” asked Joe.
“My father’s shepherd.”
“I’d been eating and stuffing myself the whole day, and I looked up, just for a moment, and he was there. He looked ancient. His face was filled with so many wrinkles and scars, that it looked like a dried-up creek bed. He was stooped over so much, that I wasn’t sure he saw me. But then he looked up.”
Barry stopped speaking for a moment. He felt like he was going to collapse straight to the ground under the heaviness of the memory.
“And?” asked Joe.
“He looked at me and called me. He actually called me ‘Barry’. His eyes were so gentle. I started to walk to him, but I stopped.”
“Why?” asked Joe. He had stopped chewing and looked up.
“I didn’t want to lose this. Plus, I didn’t think he was real.”
“What?” Joe almost shouted, “He was right in front of you.”
Suddenly, Barry’s voice grew louder, and it sounded like a growl. “What was I supposed to do? I had everything I wanted. I wasn’t going to chase after this ancient guy. What if he left me? What if he died?”
“People say he’s dead now,” said Joe.
“I’m not sure. Sometimes when I look out there, I imagine he’s still watching.”
“Maybe,” said Joe.
“Here, at least we get fed,” said Barry.
“Yep. Food and females. The best things in life,” said Joe. “And you know what they say, the Man will never die.”
Off in the distance, Barry heard Clyde snapping out commands, barking at some other guy.
“At least it isn’t me,” he thought. He looked up and saw Clyde’s black and white figure moving all over the field. He saw his terrified companions shuffling to and from, until Clyde funneled them through a gate to another part of the field.
Barry sighed, lowered his head, and started choking down the grassy blades, the ones he used to gulp down with so much joy.
Erik Priedkalns is an attorney (nonpracticing by choice) who lives in Japan. He taught English when he first got there, but now he, his wife, and his dog live on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, where they intend to spend the rest of their days.
One thought on “The Man and the Fields”
Well done, Erik!